The Cable

Hungary’s Orban Targets Soros in New Anti-Immigrant Campaign

The Soros posters are part of an ongoing battle over Hungary’s political future.

QIONGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 08:  (CHINA OUT) Founder of Soros Fund Management LLC George Soros attends the Boao Forum for Asia on April 8, 2013 in Qionghai, Hainan Province of China. State and government leaders from Asia and other regions have been invited to attend three-days of economic meetings for the annual Boao Forum for Asia in Boao, a coastal town in south China's Hainan Province.  (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
QIONGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 08: (CHINA OUT) Founder of Soros Fund Management LLC George Soros attends the Boao Forum for Asia on April 8, 2013 in Qionghai, Hainan Province of China. State and government leaders from Asia and other regions have been invited to attend three-days of economic meetings for the annual Boao Forum for Asia in Boao, a coastal town in south China's Hainan Province. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Hungary has launched a new anti-immigrant campaign featuring — who else? — the smiling picture of Hungarian-American financier and philanthropist George Soros.

“Don’t let Soros have the last laugh,” the new advertisement reads, plastered on billboards across the country and in major publications. It’s the latest chapter in an ongoing battled over Hungary’s political direction, which in recent years has run headlong toward nationalism and illiberalism.

Soros, who is Jewish, survived Axis-allied, then German-occupied Hungary during World War II, and emigrated to the United States in 1947, where he eventually became a billionaire investor and hedge fund manager. A vocal critic of the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, he frequently funds projects and institutions that promote democratic values and equitable resettlement for refugees around the world, often putting him in the crosshairs of right-wing conspiracy theories.  

In Hungary, his philanthropic efforts are increasingly cast as the work of a “globalist” bogeyman threatening Hungarian traditional values. In April, Orban’s government passed a law widely seen as a ploy to shut down the Central European University in Budapest, an institution founded by Soros in 1991 to train democratic thinkers as the country emerged from decades of communism. In recent years, Orban’s right-wing Fidesz-led government has clashed with the European Union over academic freedoms, clampdowns on foreign-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and EU refugee acceptance plans.

A Hungarian Jewish rights organization called on the government to end the anti-Soros campaign; some of the Soros billboards have been vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti, like “stinking Jew.” But Orban denied the advertisements have anything to do with anti-Semitism and said it was his duty to protect Hungarians from illegal immigration. In a letter posted by the state news agency MTI, he framed Soros’ philanthropic efforts as a menace to Hungarian rule of law.

“The person who uses his wealth, power, influence, and a network of NGOs funded by him to settle millions of migrants in Hungary and the European Union puts our future in jeopardy,” Orban wrote, apparently oblivious of the welcome abroad given to hundreds of thousands of Hungarian refugees after the 1956 revolution.

“The billionaire speculator George Soros has made it quite clear repeatedly that this is precisely what he wants to do.”

Soros’ spokesperson rejected the characterization as a “fantasy.”

“Soros’s actual position on migration is that the international community should provide more support to the developing countries that today host 89 percent of refugees and that Europe should accept several hundred thousand fully screened refugees through an orderly process of vetting and resettlement,” he said.

Photo credit: VCG/Getty Images

Kavitha Surana is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy, where she produces breaking news and original reports with a particular focus on immigration, counterterrorism, and border security policy. Previously, Kavitha worked at New York magazine’s Bedford + Bowery blog, CNNMoney, The Associated Press in Italy, and Fareed Zakaria GPS and has freelanced from Italy and Germany for publications like Quartz, Al Jazeera America, OZY, and GlobalPost/PRI. In 2015, she was awarded a Fulbright trip to Germany, as well as a grant from the Heinrich Böll Foundation to report on migration and integration. She also reported from Rwanda and Senegal. Kavitha studied European history at Columbia University and holds a master’s degree in journalism and European studies from New York University. She has studied in Italy and Peru and speaks Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. @ksurana6

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