Orban Zeroes In on Soros-Backed NGOs After Dominating BallotBy and
Ruling Fidesz party set for third-straight supermajority
Future of philanthropist’s Hungarian operations is at risk
In its first act after dominating Hungary’s parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s party vowed to crack down on civil society activists, a move likely to exacerbate ties with his European Union peers.
After clinching a new two-thirds parliamentary majority, the ruling Fidesz party will advance legislation dubbed “Stop Soros,” a spokesman said Monday. Named after Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros, who Orban has accused of trying to flood Europe with refugees, the bill is aimed at limiting, and potentially preventing, foreign funding of non-governmental organizations and penalizing those seen as supporting illegal immigration.
With the fragmented opposition in disarray, the “Stop Soros” law targets one of the last remaining sources of scrutiny into Orban’s government after eight years in which he has stacked independent institutions with loyalists, tightened his grip over media and allowed well-connected oligarchs to take over much of the economy. It also drives home Orban’s unbridled anti-immigrant campaign message, which has made him a role model for anti-establishment parties challenging the EU’s democratic values from Poland to France.
“Budapest’s ongoing confrontation with the EU will deepen over the next four years,” Eurasia analyst Nas Masraff said in a report.
The EU has sued Hungary over its perceived crackdown on civil society as Orban follows a trend among other countries that have targeted Soros-funded organizations. Russia banned them in 2015, saying that they threatened the country’s security and constitution. Uzbekistan shut down the group’s local office in 2004. In Israel, lawmakers required foreign-funded NGOs to disclose the source of donations from abroad. Soros, 87, is also a target of criticism among right-wing groups in the U.S.
Opposition leaders decried Orban’s authoritarian tilt during the campaign in which the 54-year old Orban unleashed no-holds-barred rhetoric about Muslims overrunning Christian Europe.
Fidesz shattered even its own expectations in its election victory, driven by a campaign that observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe described as “intimidating and xenophobic.” It said the elections were “were characterized by a pervasive overlap between state and ruling party resources, undermining contestants’ ability to compete on an equal basis.”
The OSCE overstepped its authority, and making a political assessment isn’t part of its remit, Gergely Gulyas, the ruling party’s parliamentary leader, was cited as saying by the state-run MTI news service.
“We want to call out what’s ailing this continent,” Orban said late on Sunday. “We don’t want to go against Europe and the EU, we want Europe and the EU to be strong and successful. But before that we need to be honest about what’s hurting us.”
The win opens the way for Orban to become Hungary’s longest-serving prime minister and follows populist gains in the past year by groups including Austria’s Freedom Party and the League and the Five Star Movement in Italy.
The opposition was disadvantaged because of the ruling party’s dominance of public media and the overlap between government and Fidesz campaign advertisements, the OSCE said.
With the European Parliament deciding later this year on whether it should strip Budapest of its EU voting rights for democratic backsliding, Fidesz’s new supermajority may embolden policies that have included squeezing independent media and may now turn to the mostly independent courts.
Hungary has tumbled to 66th place in Transparency International’s annual survey of perceived corruption in the past four years, from 48th. That’s the second-worst in the EU, with business groups and NGOs releasing reports alleging widespread government graft.
Orban’s administration has denied the accusations, but he pledged before the vote to hold groups that oppose him “morally, politically and legally” responsible. He has focused that ire on Soros. Beyond an array of NGOs backed by the philanthroper, the crown jewel of Soros’s network is also at risk.
Central European University, which Soros established in Budapest after the fall of communism to train democratically minded leaders in the former eastern bloc, is in legal limbo after the government failed to sign a deal ensuring its future operations in Hungary. CEU said it has been unfairly targeted with additional rules and has started talks on leasing property in Vienna as a satellite campus.
After Sunday’s election, CEU President Michael Ignatieff, in a letter obtained by Bloomberg, asked alumni to think about how to develop the university’s network with an eye on the planned Vienna campus. He added that CEU is still determined to say in Budapest.
— With assistance by Gabriella Lovas, Konrad Krasuski, and Helene Fouquet