Hungarian-born financier George Soros spoke out against the Hungarian government’s massive campaign against him for the first time on November 20 in an interview with the Financial Times and published a rebuttal of claims on his website that he wants the EU to resettle at least one million immigrants to Europe.
The governing rightwing Fidesz party has demonised the 87-year-old US philanthropist – seen as the illiberal Hungarian prime minister’s public enemy number one. The government has launched a massive campaign against him, and what it has dubbed the Soros plan, in the form of the latest round of a national consultation, involving the sending out of millions of questionnaires, backed up by a massive media and billboard campaign.
Opponents say the campaign is not only stoking anti-Muslim sentiment but employs anti-Semitic tropes reminiscent of the 1930s, as well as costing taxpayers billions of forints.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who himself studied in Oxford University thanks to a grant by Soros in the 1990s, has seized every opportunity to hit at him, making the issue of migration a top campaign theme ahead of the 2018 general election. The government claims that the Democrat-supporting liberal is controlling the EU decision making process in promoting illegal immigration.
“I can’t remain silent anymore because I fear that the recent announcement that the Hungarian intelligence services will start an investigation means there is a danger that not only organisations but individual leaders will be persecuted," Soros told the Financial Times.
“It’s a tragedy for Hungary that its government seeks to stay in power through hate-mongering and misleading the population,” he added.
On his website Soros denies point by point the claims formulated by the government. “Statements in the national consultation contain distortions and outright lies that deliberately mislead Hungarians about George Soros’s views on migrants and refugees" the rebuttal says.
The government based its campaign against what it calls the Soros plan on two articles published by the philanthropist. In a 2015 opinion piece, he said that because of the war in Syria, the EU would have to “accept at least a million asylum-seekers annually for the foreseeable future. But a year later, when circumstances had changed, he suggested that the EU should make a “commitment to admit even a mere 300,000 refugees annually".
Soros also rebutted claims that he is planning to dismantle border fences, including the one in Hungary to open the borders, as he in of the view that the EU must regain control of its borders.
Citing his articles, Soros refutes the Orban cabinet’s claims that he is advocating the EU-wide relocation of migrants, as he has endorsed “a voluntary matching mechanism”. Unlike claims made by the government, Soros did not say that Hungary should be forced to pay HUF9mn in welfare to all immigrants. The sixth point of the questionnaire states that Soros wants milder criminal sentences for the crimes committed by migrants, which is a lie, according to the georgesoros.com website.
It is also part of the Soros plan to initiate political attacks against those countries which oppose immigration and to severely punish them, the government claims in the national consultation. “Nowhere has Soros made any such statement. This is a lie”, Soros said on his website.
Soros established his foundation in Hungary in 1994 and since then has donated roughly €350mn in scholarships, health care services, and humanitarian efforts. Soros has also supported opposition parties before the change of regime in 1990, including Orban’s fledgling liberal party, Fidesz. Soros told the FT: “It’s really Orban who has changed, from being a leader of the rebellion against the then-prevailing regime to having converted into the leader of a mafia state.”
The governments hastily approved legislation of the higher education act in the spring was also widely perceived as specifically targeting the Central European University, which was founded by Soros in 1991. Similarly, the controversial NGO law was approved by the governing parties with the explicit aim of impeding the operations of various liberal civil groups in Hungary receiving financing from Soros, amongst others. Since then parliament made minor amendments to the NGO law after the European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Hungary in July.