Soros Group to Stay in Hungary Amid Trump-Inspired Crackdown

  • Hungary’s ruling party pledges to purge group from country
  • Fidesz cites Trump victory in plan to ‘sweep out’ Soros groups

George Soros

Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

The foundation funded by billionaire George Soros will continue to work in Hungary despite a pledge by the ruling party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a past recipient of a scholarship from the philanthropist, to crack down on the group after Donald Trump takes office.

The Open Society Foundations responded to a pledge on Tuesday by Orban’s ruling Fidesz party to “sweep out” the non-governmental organizations funded by the Hungarian-born financier. The group, which finances over 60 Hungarian NGOs, has spent more than $1.6 billion on democratic development in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

“The Open Society Foundations will continue to work in Hungary despite government opposition to our mission of fairer, accountable societies,”’ the organization’s president, Christopher Stone, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg News on Wednesday. “In Hungary and around the world we are more focused than ever on working with local groups to strengthen democratic practice, rights, and justice.”

Orban, the first European leader to publicly back Trump’s campaign, has ignored criticism from the European Commission and U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration for building a self-described “illiberal state” modeled on authoritarian regimes including Russia, China and Turkey. In 2014, Orban said civil society groups financed from abroad were covers for “paid political activists,” and lawmakers will start debating a bill this year to let authorities audit NGO executives, according to parliament’s legislative agenda.

Orban Scholarship

On Tuesday, Fidesz Vice President Szilard Nemeth denounced the NGO, saying it seeks to put “political correctness over national government” interests. Trump’s election provides “an opportunity internationally” to crack down.

Asked which groups he meant when saying Hungary will “use all tools at its disposal” to “clean out” NGOs funded by Soros, Nemeth confirmed in an interview with ATV on Wednesday that he had been referring to the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, Transparency International and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.

The OSF started work in Hungary in 1984, before the fall of the Iron Curtain, where it supported anti-communist groups including one led by Orban, which later became Fidesz. In 1989, Orban, a liberal anti-communist student leader, received a Soros scholarship to study at Oxford University to familiarize himself with multi-party democracy.

After first becoming prime minister in 1998 and returning to power in 2010, Orban isn’t alone in targeting Soros-backed initiatives. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration banned the charity in 2015, adding it to a list of “undesirable” foreign institutions, saying that it threatened the country’s security and constitution. Authorities in the former Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan shut down the group’s local office in 2004.

Trump Ad

Orban’s critics say that the government’s threat puts pressure on organizations charged with shining a light on opaque public finances. Hungary ranked ahead of only Madagascar and Venezuela in government transparency among 138 countries in the 2016 Global Competitiveness Index of the World Economic Forum

Trump, who will take office next week, has also accused Soros, 86, of being part of “a global power structure” that “robbed” the working class in favor of putting “money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.”

In a pre-election commercial, he showed images of Soros along with Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, all of whom are Jewish. The Anti-Defamation League criticized the ad for touching on “subjects that anti-Semites have used for ages.”

— With assistance by Ladka Mortkowitz Bauerova

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.