Open Society Foundations (OSF), the international charity led by billionaire George Soros, is to move out of Hungary after political threats.
Last night, the Austrian newspaper Die Presse reported that OSF will close its office in Budapest. The charity, which provides grants to civil society organisations, will relocate its eastern European operations to Berlin.
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The political climate in Hungary has become increasingly hostile to Soros. Viktor Orban, the populist Prime Minister who won a third term earlier this month, campaigned repeatedly against the Hungarian-born financier.
Orban claims that Soros is a corrupt member of a so-called global elite, and that he used OSF to flood Hungary with Muslim migrants.
Orban is staunchly anti-immigration, portraying migrants as an “invasion” that threatens Hungary’s national sovereignty and European stability.
He has refused EU migrant resettlement quotas since taking office in 2010 and in 2015 build a barrier on the Serbian border to stop migrants entering the country.
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In recent months, Orban’s government has been trying to push through legislation to ban non-governmental organisations that support migration.
Dubbed the Stop Soros bill, the new law would impose a 25% tax on foreign donations to NGOs that work towards migration.
Additionally, their activity would have to be approved by an interior minister who could deny anything declared as a “national security risk”.
The bill said:
[NGOs that] sponsor, organise or support the entry or stay of third-country citizens on Hungarian territory via a safe third country to extend international protection…qualify as organisations supporting migration.
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This is intended to apply to the OSF, which has been working in Hungary since 1984 and has provided more than $400 million in grants within the country.
The OSF describes its activity as supporting “individuals and organisations across the globe fighting for freedom of expression, accountable government, and societies that promote justice and equality” and it frequently promotes the need for liberal values and open borders.
Of the 50 charities, the OSF supports in Hungary, four work with refugees.
The Stop Soros bill was accompanied by a rigorous campaign, including billboards with statements such as “Soros wants to transplant millions from Africa and the Middle East”.
It has been accompanied by widespread misinformation, including a series of so-called Soros leaks published by pro-government media aimed at discrediting the OSF’s activities.
One inaccurate claim was that Soros had 2,000 employees in Hungary, despite the global total of OSF employees being just over 1,700. The newspaper Figyelo published a list of 200 people it called “Soros mercenaries” working in the country.
Many people on the list teach at the Central European University in Budapest, which is also funded by Soros.
The fate of the university remains to be seen, and Orban has also threatened to force it out of the country. Die Presse has reported that Austrian authorities have pledged space in Vienna that the university could use as a new campus.
The OSF has not yet commented on the move of their eastern European office, but the Hungarian news website 444.hu reported that their Budapest branch would shut by 31 August. The foundation will continue to operate in the 36 other countries where it has branches, coordinated from its headquarters in New York.