Hungarian government files 'Stop Soros' bill to parliament

Hungarian government files 'Stop Soros' bill to parliament
Hungary's ruling party used Soros as scapegoat in its recent election campaign.
By bne IntelliNews May 29, 2018

The Hungarian government filed the draft package of bills called "Stop Soros" to parliament on May 29. The bills criminalise the organisation of illegal migration, making it punishable by imprisonment. The cabinet also submitted amendments to the Constitution aimed at creating a legal basis for refusing to accept migrants under the EU's relocation scheme.

The government had submitted the legislation to parliament before the election but lacked the supermajority to pass the draft. After the landslide election victory, Fidesz politicians are referring to their strong electoral mandate to step up their fight against organisations they deem to promote migration. 

The bill is targeted at what the government claims to be a campaign by the Hungarian-born American financier George Soros to undermine the country's security by promoting mass immigration. The legislation, which has received criticism from foreign governments and NGOs, is seen as further eroding the civilian control of Viktor Orban's government, which has the required two-thirds majority to pass the controversial legislation. 

The bill defines the promotion of illegal migration as an organised activity which illegally helps a person not in danger of persecution to submit an asylum request or to obtain a title of residence. People found guilty of financially supporting illegal migration face criminal prosecution and one-year of imprisonment.

Illegal activities also include surveilling the border and soliciting, collecting or distributing data with a view to promoting illegal migration. Hence handing out leaflets may also constitute a violation of the law. Setting up a network to organise illegal migration is also a punishable offence.

George Soros' Open Society Foundations (OSF) announced the closure of its Budapest office on May 15 after 24 years in Hungary as its operations came under mounting pressure; they will relocate to Berlin. "The government of Hungary has denigrated and misrepresented our work and repressed civil society for the sake of political gain, using tactics unprecedented in the history of the European Union," said OSF President Patrick Gaspard at the time.

The fate of the Central European University founded by Soros in Budapest is still unresolved as the Hungarian government has failed to ink an agreement with the State University of New York that has been on the table since September 2017. 

The right-wing government has waged a ruthless campaign against George Soros not just in the election campaign but since the start of the migration crisis. Orban has demonised the philanthropist liberal Soros – seen as the illiberal Hungarian prime minister’s public enemy no. 1, which has gained him immense popularity and a third supermajority victory in April 2018.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has called on Hungary to withdraw the package, saying that the legislation would deprive asylum seekers of critical aid and services, and "further inflame tense public discourse and rising xenophobic attitudes".

In a press release, the UNHCR said it was "particularly concerned that the government is targeting those who, in a purely humanitarian role, help people who are seeking asylum". It called on the government "to halt any measures that would further increase the vulnerability of people who are simply looking for a safe haven".

Constitutional amendments

The government submitted the seventh amendment to the constitution on Tuesday. One of the articles to be amended is in connection with illegal immigration and aims to create the legal context for not allowing in migrants under the European Union's refugee allocation scheme. It says that "the mass settlement of a foreign population is declared forbidden". The amendment reinforces the principle of international law that the "state has the right to determine who can live within its territory," Hungary's Justice Minister said. 

Soros addresses ECRF meeting 

In related news, George Soros delivered a keynote address entitled "How to save the European Union" at the Paris meeting of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). Soros observed that populist politicians after the economic crisis have exploited the resentments of people.

Eluding to the migration crisis in 2015, Soros said that "unscrupulous leaders" have exploited the situation even in countries that have accepted hardly any refugees, referring to Hungary. Prime Minister Viktor Orban based his reelection campaign on falsely accusing me of planning to flood Europe, Hungary included, with Muslim refugees, he said.

"He is now posing as the defender of his version of a Christian Europe that is challenging the values on which the European Union was founded. He is trying to take over the leadership of the Christian Democratic parties, which form the majority in the European Parliament," Soros said.

Soros then reaffirmed his position on the allocation of refugees, which should be entirely voluntary, he said, adding that member states, in turn, must not close their internal borders. The idea of a "fortress Europe" closed to political refugees and economic migrants alike violate both European and international law and in any case, it is totally unrealistic, he noted.