Orban decries foreign meddling in Hungary as protests roll on

Hungary’s prime minister sees billionaire George Soros behind growing criticism

Thousands of Hungarians, mostly students, protesting on Saturday against what they said were attempts from the right-wing government to silence critical voices. Photograph: Bernadett Szabo/Reuters

Thousands of Hungarians, mostly students, protesting on Saturday against what they said were attempts from the right-wing government to silence critical voices. Photograph: Bernadett Szabo/Reuters

 

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has dismissed protests against his alleged crackdown on civil society and a major university, calling them part of a campaign by hostile foreign forces led by billionaire financier George Soros.

Thousands of people marched through Budapest again on Saturday, suggesting there is no loss of momentum in the largest demonstrations that the populist Mr Orban has faced during seven years in power.

The rallies were sparked by education reform that threatens to force the closure of Budapest’s acclaimed Central European University (CEU), which was founded by Mr Soros in 1991 as part of his efforts to foster democracy across the old communist bloc.

His vision of an open society is at odds with Mr Orban’s dream of “illiberal democracy” however, and the government is now also backing legislation to tighten financial scrutiny of Hungary’s NGOs, many of which are funded by Mr Soros.

The European Union and United States have criticised Mr Orban’s policies, and leading academics and intellectuals – including author Colm Tóibín – have decried the apparent attack on CEU.

Hardline policy

Mr Orban claimed this weekend that the protests and criticism of his rule are essentially a reaction to his hardline asylum policy and refusal to accept refugees under any EU quota plan.

“Today we live in a time when international politics is a battlefield. The independence and freedom of European nations are at stake. And at the centre of the battlefield is migration,” he told the pro-government Magyar Idok newspaper.

Mr Orban, who warns that Muslim refugees threaten Europe’s security, culture and identity, said the dispute over CEU and NGOs in Hungary were “secondary battlefields”.

“All this is about the fact that – through his organisations in Hungary, and hidden from the public gaze – George Soros is spending endless amounts of money to support illegal immigration.”

Mr Orban suggested the protests in defence of CEU would dwindle once the Bill on NGO funding was passed.

“I do not believe that the civic intelligentsia will be happy to be allied with people whom the impending legislation will clearly show to be operating with foreign funding, serving foreign interests, and following instructions from abroad,” he said.

With a view to next year’s parliamentary elections, Mr Orban said that “the most important thing at stake is whether we will have a parliament and a government that will seek to serve the best interests of the Hungarian people or . . . foreign interests.”