Tag Archives: Hungarian Helsinki Committee

“Observer”: The Stop Soros bills–Hopefully only propaganda and nonsense

On 18 January the Hungarian government revealed its “Stop Soros​”’ package of three bills (SSB) targeting civil organizations “supporting illegal immigration:

–  Law on the social responsibility of organizations supporting illegal migration;
–  Law on immigration financing duty;
–  Law on immigration restraint order.

The disgraceful act made news around the world and sparked wide spread criticism from Al Jazeera and Bloomberg to Reuters and Yahoo and the alphabet in between.

There have been many bits of news and comments, which I would like to summarize for Hungarian Spectrum  here, including some parts of the SSB itself (in the unofficial English translation) and in Hungarian.

The Propaganda

The SSB package was tabled by the Interior Minister, but contrary to constitutional law, the so-called public debate is being managed by Antal Rogán’s “propaganda ministry,” which in the meantime is flooding the country with another tsunami of Stop Soros posters.

The preambles, descriptions, and justifications of the SSB repeat many of the government propaganda panels, the language of the preamble is uncannily reminiscent of the 1960s communist one: “The state has a duty to ensure the survival of the nation and to create a solid basis for future generations. It is the primary obligation and also the right of the Hungarian state to protect its citizens and our national culture. Recognizing the emergency, the Hungarian government has spent HUF 270 billion* from the budget to stop immigration.” ( The original budget for the fence was set at 20 billion.)

“Soros would resettle millions from Africa and the Middle East”

That is followed by another communist turn – the listing of the nefarious and damaging activities carried out by “the enemies within,” to use the old cliché, against the state, including “propaganda,” as any dissenting opinion or fact-finding report is labeled. “Any activity intended to promote illegal immigration and to intensify the migratory pressure is against Hungarian state interest and also causes quantifiable damage to the budget. The migration propaganda assists smuggling organizations and puts illegal border-crossers … at risk. Therefore a regulation is needed that identifies organizations that support migration and takes action against persons who jeopardize national security.”

The government of course claims that it is responding to the call by the people, all the people, one is led to believe: “The creation of the legislative package has been authorized by the citizens of Hungary: 98% of participants in the referendum clearly rejected the mandatory quota and 2.3 million people expressed their clear opinion in the national consultation on the Soros Plan.”

The numbers are coming from the government “consultation” process, which, as with most acts of the Orbán regime, is non-transparent and without outside control or scrutiny. Even access to the returned forms was denied, save for the one-hour-for-three-sites granted to Ákos Hadházy, who came out convinced that the numbers were grossly exaggerated. The government stalled for weeks before coming up with a figure close to that of the Fid voters’ number, yet “based on these results, Hungarians unanimously demand strong action against illegal immigration and promote strengthened protection of the borders instead of settling [migrants in the country].”

For those who know the Stalinist times, the language is pretty poignant – i.e. the government obliged “the people” with the SSB, but according to Antal Rogán the people are actually calling for even stronger measures, as it transpires from the more than 400 suggestions his office has received.

The Legal Nonsense

Both the text and the provisions of the SSB exhibit signs of a slapdash job hatched at the “Propaganda Ministry,” where only the desired effects are clear.

Act on the social responsibility of organizations supporting illegal migration*

Sec.1: “… an association and foundation seated and registered in Hungary that sponsors the illegal entry, relocation and residence of a third-country national … directly or indirectly from financial or property benefits originating from abroad shall be qualified as an organization supporting illegal migration.” [OSIM]

There are some fundamental legal problems from the very start here – who and at which point in time an entity qualifies as an OSIM, what is the redress/appeal against such a designation. It’s a gaping legal hole which leaves the whole SSB hanging in the air.

Sec.2.1 stipulates an OSIM “is obliged to notify” the court, but this is after the entity has been qualified as an OSIM. In view of this, the widespread criticism of the act for obliging entities to report their own violations of the law is on shaky grounds, which I’m not going to pursue.

The fact that only associations and foundations are included, but not companies or other legal entities, indicates the intention to target the NGOs, violating the principle of equality before the law. The other issue is the bizarre category of entity supporting an illegal activity. Under western law illegal activities are prevented and restricted, offending entities are punished, e.g. by fines, placing the entity under management or liquidation, but there is no example of classifying them as functioning law breakers.

Sec. 2 uses phrases like “OSIM that supports in any other way,” “to facilitate the unlawful,” “sponsors or otherwise supports” which make for an extremely broad scope, allowing for the incrimination of an entity for one of its members handing out a bottle of water; note the interpretation of the preamble that “The migration propaganda assists smuggling organizations,” making all participants accomplices.

Sec. 3  stipulates that if a foreign funded organization supports in any way other Hungarian entities, such support “shall be qualified as indirect financial or property benefits deriving from abroad” i.e., making the local organization also foreign funded. Since there are no limits on how far eventual assistance will carry the “curse,” numerous entities co-operating in other matters can be drawn into the foreign-funded NGOs category with its implications under the earlier law on these.

How about Sec 2.4 prescribing that an OSIM post “ its notification pursuant to Section (1) on the website pursuant to Section 2(5)-(6) of the Transparency Act and [illetve] in the media” ?! This unique, ham-fisted attempt to force NGOs to publicly “humiliate” themselves leaves numerous questions open: in what media, in what format, for how long, at whose expense, etc. (The Hungarian “illetve” can only mean “and” here.)

According to Sec 5.2, “If the OSIM fails to meet its obligations contained in the prosecutor’s notice, the prosecutor may initiate at the registration court that a fine be imposed in double the amount of the financial benefit originating from abroad.” This provision mixes the criminal law under which the prosecution office operates with the administrative law regulating the Registration Court.

Act on the immigration financing duty

The same problem of mixing different kinds of law arises in this act as well, where the tax office is to collect (Sec.6) a duty on the basis of Sec. 2:  “The  organization supporting illegal migration is obliged to pay an immigration financing duty if…” Here we also have the absurd concept of an entity being categorized as an OSIM and then punished by a regular duty instead of being punished for the particular illegal act. And only if the entity received benefits from abroad, which again violates the principle of equality before the law.

Act on immigration restraining orders

There is some misunderstanding of this act, I’m afraid,  since it has been widely condemned for introducing an administrative provision to restrict the movement of Hungarians as well, e.g., illustrated by the example of an absurd 8 km zone around the Vigadó border entry point on the Danube in the center of Budapest. (The misinterpretation may have come from  Sec.2.a which refers to “ a member of Parliament” in the Hungarian text without specifying which parliament.)

All of the elements of the act consistently refer only to “aliens…[or] third country nationals,” presumably non-EU citizens:

According to sec. 1 regarding “third-country nationals, in order to conduct alien police procedures in an unhindered manner, the minister in charge of immigration and refugee affairs … may ban any person whose residence in Hungary is contrary to Hungary’s national security interests or who poses a danger to the public interest, from the frontiers or from within an 8-kilometer zone of the frontier marks of the external borders.”

The above would still include people with resident status in Hungary, like NGO employees or representatives, journalists, activists or tourists who otherwise would be difficult to handle or intimidate (unlike the local ones, as the government may have assumed).

There are some drastic provisions restricting the appeal/judicial recourse in sec. 5.3.  “An immigration restraining order may be challenged on account of a breach of the essential rules of the procedure in a public administrative lawsuit within eight days.”  That is, the material facts and the judgment of the minister are incontestable. It should be recalled that the Orbán government has been pushing for the creation of a separate administrative courts system. On top of this there is the provision that “provisional measures of legal protection are not available in the lawsuit,” i.e. the judge cannot change the detention, confiscation, etc. measures taken until the end of the process.

It is almost laughable to read Sec. 3 mentioning “the period of the crisis situation caused by mass migration,” which the government still keeps in force even though there have been almost no migrants at the borders for a year now.

Impact on the NGO sector

The SSB follows on the heels of the 2017 Act LXXVI NGO Law on foreign-funded  organizations, which the European Commission recently contested in the European Court of Justice, and emphasizes the general strategy to eliminate all independent  institutions, in this case the NGOs –the real goal of the huge and hysterical government campaign, along with the scare mongering – vote winning double whammy.

The TASZ (Civic Liberties Union) has summarized the expected impact very well:  “Following up on the 2017 NGO Law on foreign-funded organizations, the latest draft laws are potentially lethal blows to civil society in Hungary: their novelty is that the threat is now existential and also targets individuals. Should the proposals be adopted in spring 2018 without major changes, they will cause grave and irreparable damage to Hungarian civil society. By the end of 2018, a number of NGOs will be unable to function or carry out core work due to five direct and imminent threats to their mission.

I. Funding for essential services will be cut and driven away

  1. All foreign donors who directly or indirectly give funds to targeted Hungarian NGOs should calculate losses, as their funds will be partly (25% tax) or fully (200% fine) seized by the government;
  2. The risk of the government taxing funding in an arbitrary manner could make yet unaffected donors pull away from funding civil society in Hungary;
  3. Domestic funding for the work of the civil sector is largely available from public funds administered by national or local government agencies, which is already politically conditioned and discourages public advocacy or exposing faulty or inefficient public services.

II. Trust in civil society and willingness to seek assistance will decline

  1. Smear-campaigns, compliance procedures and investigations will further stigmatize and discredit NGOs by accusing them of performing illegal activities;
  2. Authorities would gain access to the data of all persons working for, contracted by or receiving assistance from NGOs, thus intimidating individuals from supporting, working for or seeking help from them;
  3. An estimated 80-85% of about 900-1,000 prominent NGOs risk losing public benefit status, i.e. tax-free status and other advantages. This will dramatically raise costs for NGOs and for clients, who will have to pay taxes after the value of free services/assistance (15% personal income tax + 19.5% health care tax).

III. Sanction procedures and targeted tax investigations drain and divert NGO resources

  1. NGOs that have refused to register under the 2017 Law on foreign-funded NGOs can expect to face legal procedures for non-compliance once they publish their annual financial reports at the end of May 2018. These procedures are likely to roll out during the summer and will further aggravate the pressure.
  2. Politically-motivated tax investigations could pave the way for repressive criminal prosecutions against NGO leaders and human rights defenders.

IV. Threatened by enhanced government surveillance measures, NGOs will be effectively silenced

  1. Human rights defenders who work with targeted organizations could be declared a national security risk and be subjected to arbitrary and unlawful restrictions on their freedom of movement;
  2. NGOs will have to assume their work and staff are being monitored by intelligence services, pressuring them into self-censorship and impacting their families;
  3. Stigmatizing civic groups and individuals as national security risks will have a chilling effect on other groups, supporters and clients by sending a clear message that at any point in time they could become targets as well.

V. Serious risk of ‘mimicry effect’ by potential Europe-wide copying of worst practices related to shrinking civic space l. The proposed laws could serve as a model within the EU to thwart the valuable work of civil society organizations that fight for the respect of human rights in the European Union, a danger that the EU Fundamental Rights Agency has recently underlined.”

The conclusion is not difficult to arrive at: “The recently announced anti-civil organization bill is deceitful, arbitrary and harmful. It is deceitful because it creates the appearance that its purpose is to stop illegal immigration, while in reality it wants to crush the entire civil society. It is arbitrary because the government seeks to determine what would constitute a problem for the people and who is entitled to solve it. In a democracy, this kind of restriction is unacceptable. Finally, the new act is harmful because removing public-interest status from  organizations that receive a majority of foreign support could result in all Hungarian citizens being deprived of free civil assistance.”

*The quoted passages are taken from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee’s unofficial translation of the Stop Soros laws.

January 9, 2018

The Orbán government defeated in Luxembourg: Will it retaliate?

On January 25 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on a case that the Hungarian Helsinki Committee had brought to it in April 2015 on behalf of a Nigerian man seeking political asylum because of his homosexuality. In Nigeria’s 12 northern states that have adopted Shari’a law, the maximum penalty for homosexuality is death by stoning. The Hungarian authorities, on the basis of psychological tests, turned down his request. With the help of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, he appealed to the Szeged Administrative and Labor Court, where one of the judges decided to ask the opinion of the ECJ. He apparently had doubts about Hungarian law as it applied in cases like the Nigerian asylum seeker. As it turned out, not without reason.

Now, almost two years later, the court in Luxembourg ruled that “an asylum seeker may not be subjected to a psychological test in order to determine his sexual orientation” because “the performance of such a test amounts to a disproportionate interference in the private life of the asylum seeker.” This ruling is a great victory for the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, which was an early opponent of psychological testing. In fact, the organization received a 120 million-forint grant from EU sources to put together a training manual titled Credibility Assessment in Asylum Procedures, which was published in 2013. It is a 140-page, extremely thorough guide for those who have to decide the fate of refugees or migrants. The staff of the Helsinki Committee argued that these psychological tests, especially the ones used by the Hungarian authorities, are of no help; in fact, they can easily lead to unfair assessments of individual cases. If well-trained professionals do the questioning, the veracity of the asylum seeker can be ascertained in most cases without any psychological testing, the Helsinki Committee contended. Although there were earlier ECJ rulings on similar cases, this decision is especially significant because it is applicable in all 28 member states of the European Union. Moreover, the Hungarian court cannot appeal, which makes the Nigerian refugee’s chances for asylum much stronger.

The Hungarian authorities’ decision was based on a psychologist’s report that included an exploratory examination, an examination of the applicant’s personality, and the results of three personality tests: Draw-a-Person-in-the-Rain, Rorschach, and Szondi. The Rorschach test was developed almost 100 years ago in the 1920s; Lipót Szondi’s test is not much more recent. It first appeared in 1935. According to current opinion, “when interpreted as a projective test, results [of the Rorschach test] are poorly verifiable.” There is some evidence that it is still good for detecting such conditions as schizophrenia and psychotic and/or personality disorders, but I found nothing that said the test is good at proving or disproving homosexuality. When it comes to the Szondi test, it is not widely used in modern clinical psychology “because its psychometric properties are weak.” Both the Rorschach and the Szondi tests are available online. The third test is positively amusing. The subject is asked to draw a person in the rain, on the basis of which far-fetched conclusions are drawn. These conclusions are so bizarre that I urge everybody to pay a visit to the site, which explains the significance of every aspect of this drawing, starting with the position of the person on the paper to the handle of the umbrella.

Naturally, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee is delighted with the ruling, which “is the result of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee’s decade-long struggle to put an end to the humiliating and stigmatizing psychological testing of asylum-seekers’ sexual-emotional orientation in asylum procedures.” For Viktor Orbán, on the other hand, this is yet another blow from an NGO that he perceives as part of a centrally ordered and organized attack on his political system with a view to his removal from office. In opposition circles most people express their disbelief that Viktor Orbán can seriously think that George Soros, like a puppeteer, pulls all the strings that result in his repeated humiliation. I might be mistaken, but I think that Orbán’s repeated attacks on George Soros and his activities through the NGOs is more than a campaign stratagem. I suspect it is a reaction to what he perceives as a genuine threat to his power.

This latest defeat was answered by a plethora of belligerent articles and editorials in the government media. In Magyar Idők two relevant articles and one editorial appeared on the day following the release of the ECJ’s verdict. All three emphasize that the court opted to share “the point of view of the Soros-financed Helsinki Committee.” Calling the lawyers working for these civil rights organizations “human rights fundamentalists,” one of the articles accuses them of “removing the administrative barriers which hamper the admission of migrants to the European Union.” An article titled “According to the EU the immigrants are always right” is mostly concerned about the exclusion of psychologists. It charges that “in the future lay people will decide whether those who claim to be homosexuals are really ‘different’ or not.” Misinterpreting the Helsinki Committee’s handbook, the author accuses the organization and the European Court of Justice, which agrees with it, of always believing the words of the asylum seekers, even if their stories are confused and contain contradictory statements. These opinions reflect the judgment of the Hungarian ministry of justice. Undersecretary Pál Völner considers the ECJ verdict unprofessional because the judges failed to consult “the experts on the subject,” the psychologists. They are the ones who can pass judgment on the tests the Hungarian psychologists have been administering to asylum seekers.

Magyar Idők’s editorial titled “An absurd verdict” is frightening. According to the unsigned opinion piece, as a result of this new development the “Stop Soros action plan is not only justified and urgently needed but it is presumably insufficient against the systematic undermining of traditional European societies.” It continues: “to defend against the activities of the Soros organizations and to counter migration pressure further changes in the law will presumably be necessary.” Does this mean that attacks against the “Soros network” will intensify? Unfortunately, the government media’s predictions more often than not turn out to be an announcement of government policy. There is therefore a good likelihood that the answer to the Helsinki Committee’s success in Luxembourg will be another round of attacks on them and the other civil rights groups.

January 27, 2018

Miklós Haraszti: Countering illiberal usurpations of democracy

In my post about the visit of the European Parliament’s rapporteur to Budapest, I noted that coincidentally, in Brussels, there was a book launch for a new work by NGOs from Hungary, Croatia, and Serbia. The title of the book is Resisting Ill Democracies in Europe. The study is now available online in English, Croatian, Hungarian, Polish, and Russian. It documents the workings of illiberal governments through the experiences of the most important NGOs in the various countries. Hungary is represented by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.

The book has five chapters dealing with various aspects of the problems facing civil society in these countries: traditional values and illiberal trends, a case study of illiberal governments, human rights and the rule of law, practices and strategies to inspire civil society, and laying foundations for civil society to resist.

Miklós Haraszti wrote the foreword (“Countering Illiberal Usurpations of Democracy”) to the book, which is republished below. Haraszti is an author and director of research on human rights at the Center for European Neighborhood Studies of Central European University. In the past he wrote two articles for this blog, and, since he is a faithful follower of Hungarian Spectrum, he often contributes discerning comments to our discussions.


In recent years, an epidemic of anti-civil society laws has been hitting many new democracies on several continents. They are made to tighten the conditions for government-independent citizen activities. The latest legislative fashion is unrolling internationally, based on models designed in the Kremlin. It punishes global networking of civil endeavors or international sponsoring for non-profit activism, by labeling its actors as ‘foreign agents’.

The spreading of these restrictive regulations is a clear sign of the degradation of the freshly attained liberal constitutionalism toward illiberal or outright authoritarian governance. It is more than just a side-effect: the crusade against “unofficial” civil associations is basic household cleaning for illiberal regimes. They have set out to transform democracy from a cooperative and pluralistic enterprise into a disguise for a game where the winner sets the rules.

The illiberals have a reason. Civil activism is the nearest thing to the raw energy that fills and regenerates freedom in any society. Citizen activities are both the beginnings and the finest fruits of a democracy. When we see them purposefully hindered, cynically vilified, and even criminalized, this is in fact done to stop them from reaching out to society or from monitoring the government. We should remember that both these public roles are inherent in their independence.

Because populist power grabs are ‘democratically’ justified (“we have elections, don’t we”), it is not immediately clear for the public just how central the assaults on civil society are for the illiberal outcome. The watchdogs need to be silenced so the illiberal actions can go on: the elimination of transparency in the use of public money; the subordination of all branches of power to the executive; the systematic thwarting of autonomies; the streamlining of the judiciary; and the curtailing of the rights to free assembly, association, and media pluralism.

I suggest we take the rage of the illiberals against independent civil society at surface value. When the illiberal rulers stamp NGOs as foreign agents, they do not simply seek to diminish criticism using a nationalist ideology. The illiberals want the citizens to see the government not just as temporary and partial representatives of the nation – they want the government to be identified with the nation, and squeeze out independent activism as alien and even hostile to the nation.

So let’s react accordingly. Civil power, unhindered NGOs – just as a pluralistic media –are the ultimate frontiers in defending freedom in society. Unfortunately, under illiberal regimes, the traditional political process is not anymore able to correct the systematic distortion of competition rules, or put checks and balances back to work. This is because the populist illiberals and autocrats have utilized those very guarantees to first get to the top and then to eliminate the built-in barriers to absolute power.

Where can help come from, when the economy has been turned into a nepotistic fiefdom, political parties into parliamentary padding, and the media into mere decorations of preordained elections? Change could only come from the remaining unchecked, globally rooted social forces, the mercurial civil society, and its increasingly Internet-based communications strategies.

Importantly, the freedom of civil society and free media are growingly the same cause as internet-based connectivity becomes a fact of life. Can you tell apart what the illiberal rulers are angrier with: the fact-finding activities of the watchdog NGOs, or their communications-based ability to actually convey their findings to all citizens, despite that the rulers have occupied all traditional media? Russia’s Alexei Navalny or Hungary’s Márton Gulyás have practically reinvented public-service media, as part of their civic activity, illuminating the way to a reinvented, post-illiberal democracy.

One main weapon of the illiberals is the slogan of ‘internal affairs’, the notion of sovereignty utilized to push the management of global developments back into a territorial matter. Think of the laws aimed to domesticate the global Internet or sometimes simply to stall the growing bandwidth.

The illiberal regimes wage a two-level battle against any form of international togetherness of worldwide civic aspirations. One is, paradoxically, through the established intergovernmental organizations and legal instances. In such fora, they perfectly team up with all other governments that want to send internationalism back to hell. But the words they internally use for mobilization belie the elevated arguments about sovereignty. Domestically, the illiberal rulers are just plain nationalist populists. Their science consists of enhancing and weaponizing the explosive force of age-old basic instincts: ethnic or religious exclusivism and xenophobia.

Therefore, all international friends of civic freedom have to remember what is at stake here: the fate of universal human rights and ultimately, the guarantees of peace. Immanuel Kant, the reclusive philosopher from Königsberg (today Kaliningrad), is right on target, more now than ever. His triple formula of ‘eternal peace’ suggested that, for global peace to materialize, it is necessary but not sufficient to have democracies in all countries. Not even an international alliance of democracies will be enough to secure that goal. The final guarantee of peace must be, he said, the international enforceability of individual human rights.

See the new Berlin Wall erected: the ‘foreign agent’ type anti-NGO regulations. This time, the divides are built of legal provisions, not concrete and steel. But their function is the same: to eliminate the indivisibility of human rights, proclaimed by the international community after WW2 – and in fact, the main lesson of WW2.

I hope this handbook will help us deeper cultivate the rationale for civil society: freedom in peace, at home and worldwide. And that it will make us more mindful in countering the illiberal usurpations of democracy, at home and worldwide.

January 14, 2018

George Soros and George Orwell’s Emmanuel Goldstein

Ever since April 1, when thousands of hard-hitting Jobbik billboards appeared all over the country, a poster war of sorts has been going on in Hungary. The Jobbik campaign by all accounts irritated Viktor Orbán to no end, so he made sure that in the future he will not have to face billboards depicting him as a common thief. After some difficulty, Fidesz smuggled in an amendment to an otherwise innocent enough bill about “community image” that forbids political advertising at any time other than a few weeks before national and municipal elections. Of course, the government will be able to post “informational material” anytime it deems necessary. Which is practically all the time. One poster campaign ends, the next begins. This has been going on for over a year.

I must say that the thousands of posters and billboards, which are everywhere one looks, don’t do much for the “community image” or “beautification of the cityscape,” but apparently people on the spot have become inured to them. In the last few months there have been billboards on “More respect for Hungarians,” “Let’s Stop Brussels,” and “Hungary is a strong and proud European country.” Now they can enjoy a new 5.4 billion forint campaign with thousands of billboards featuring an enormous picture of George Soros. In small print the text reads: “99% reject illegal immigration” and in large letters: “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh!”

The first thought that popped into people’s heads when confronted with the billboard was the person of Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the People, who was the principal figure in the programs of the Two-Minutes Hate in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. One of these people was Gábor Török, a well-known political scientist, who quoted at some length from Orwell’s famous novel:

The sight or even the thought of Goldstein produced fear and anger automatically. He was an object of hatred more constant than either Eurasia or Eastasia, since when Oceania was at war with one of these Powers it was generally at peace with the other. But what was strange was that although Goldstein was hated and despised by everybody, although every day and a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in newspapers, in books, his theories were refuted, smashed, ridiculed, held up to the general gaze for the pitiful rubbish that they were – in spite of all this, his influence never seemed to grow less. Always there were fresh dupes waiting to be seduced by him. A day never passed when spies and saboteurs acting under his directions were not unmasked by the Thought Police. He was the commander of a vast shadowy army, an underground network of conspirators dedicated to the overthrow of the State.

Indeed, Soros has become Viktor Orbán’s Emmanuel Goldstein. Naturally, those who read Török on Facebook—and he has close to 50,000 followers—wanted to refresh their memories of Orwell’s book, which had been available in the Magyar Elektronikus Könyvtár (MEK). But as of today the Hungarian translation of the work has been removed for copyright reasons. I know this sounds suspicious, but from what I read on the subject MEK might have made the book public without properly checking the copyright status of the book.

Almost all commentaries on the billboard itself start with the observation that the message makes no sense. I disagree. For me it is crystal clear what the creator of this particular political message had in mind. It is a different matter that the message is based on false information and premises. The first problem is the unspecified 99% who say no to illegal migration. It gives the misleading impression that 99% of the whole population voted against allowing refugees to settle in Hungary, when the reference is actually to the so-called “national consultation” in which, according to the government’s own admission, only 1.4 million people participated while 7.1 million people stayed away. As for Soros’s last laugh, I think the message is that Soros wants Hungary to be invaded by millions of Middle Easterners and Africans. Once this task is accomplished, he will have a good laugh. But the present-day Goldstein will be stopped by the brave government of the 99%.

This new anti-Soros campaign elicited some vehement reactions. One of the strongest came from Lajos Bokros, former minister of finance and currently chairman of a small opposition group called MoMa, who called the campaign “anti-Semitic propaganda based on lies = fascism.” Albert Gazda of Magyar Nemzet claimed that Orbán’s system is totally void of value, ideology, and ideas. He simply wants to remain in power. All his political moves are subordinated to this end. András Heisler, president of Mazsihisz, the umbrella organization of Jewish religious communities, reacted cautiously to the poster and what’s behind it. In his opinion the poster campaign creates troubling thoughts in the Jewish community, but this was not the intention of the creators of the campaign. But, he added, the posters themselves may prompt anti-Semitic reactions in certain segments of society, which is something that should be avoided.

Heisler in that interview expressed his doubts that the government can be persuaded by Mazsihisz or any other group to stop this particular campaign because, for one reason or another, this Soros bashing at top volume seems to be a very important goal of the regime. Here a few examples from yesterday and today. Híradó reported that “Lajos Bokros admitted that he gets his money from George Soros’s university.” Sure, he is a professor at Central European University. “His money” is actually his salary. Bokros’s designation of Orbán’s political system as fascism elicited an answer from the Government Information Center: “Lajos Bokros is a member of the Soros network; he is paid by Soros; he lives on Soros’s money.” János Halász, undersecretary in charge of culture in the prime minister’s office, described Bokros as someone “who is simply George Soros’s political mercenary.”

Because of the upcoming Budapest Pride this weekend, a favorite topic on Lőrinc Mészáros’s Echo TV has been homosexuality. Yesterday three right-wing women discussed the dangers homosexuals pose to society. In no time George Soros was accused of pro-homosexual propaganda through NGOs he supports. It is time to recognize that George Soros’s activities are an open attack against families, they warned. Magyar Idők reported this morning that the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, also sponsored by George Soros, is giving “sensitivity training” to judges when “dealing with migrants, homosexuals, and other groups living at the periphery of society.” Once the paper found out about these activities, one of its worried journalists contacted the Országos Bírósági Hivatal (OBH), which reassured him that of 3,000 judges only 106 signed up for the sensitivity training.

Tamás Fricz, a so-called political scientist who has a regular column in Magyar Idők, found an article by Bálint Magyar titled “The EU’s Mafia State” published in Project Syndicate, which is, as he put it, “Soros’s own internet site.” Soros also called Orbán’s political system a mafia state and therefore, says Fricz, it is worth looking at these two people’s relationship. Magyar is described by Fricz as an ultraliberal who is against such traditional values as family, churches, and nations. Thus, “Magyar is one of Soros’s favorites.” After this introduction, Fricz accuses Magyar of being the secret agent of Soros who has been publishing book after book spreading the bad name of Viktor Orbán and his government. “Bálint Magyar is a good boy in the eyes of members of the global elite because he is working for [them] against his own country and therefore he gets lots of candy.” Soros has been in such close contact with Magyar that he “by now goes so far as to call the Orbán government a mafia state.” And now Magyar got the opportunity, I guess granted by Soros, to publish in Project Syndicate. The country must defend itself against the network to which these people belong. The fact is that Project Syndicate does receive some money from the Open Society Foundation, but it is funded by many other foundations as well, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is not Soros’s publication. As far as the description of the Orbán regime as a “mafia state,” by now this phrase is so widespread that any kind of mysterious connection between Soros and Magyar is outright ludicrous.

Origo, which practically overnight became a far-right publication, occasionally outdoes Magyar Idők in hate mongering and spreading false news. This time it attacked László Majtényi, president of Eötvös Károly Intézet (EKINT), for organizing all the Soros-funded NGOs under his own EKINT. Majtényi is also a trusted man of Soros, claims the paper. The truth is that Majtényi met Soros three times at large gatherings where he didn’t even have a chance to talk with him. According to Origo, George Soros is also relying on his son Alexander who was in Budapest lately to use NGOs as their instruments against the Hungarian government. Most of these connections described by the government propaganda machine as sinister are based either on nothing or on distorted facts. When reading these concocted stories, one really does have a feeling of total unreality, very much the same way as when one reads about Goldstein in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

There have been a few reports of defacement of some of the Soros posters where someone has scribbled the words “büdös zsidó” over his face. (“Büdös” literally means “stinking” but perhaps “filthy” would be a better match here, so “filthy Jew.”) I find such an outcome almost inevitable. This might be especially uncomfortable since Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to visit Budapest in two weeks’ time. At the Israeli request Péter Szijjártó already had to recant Viktor Orbán’s statement that Miklós Horthy was an exceptional statesman. Not surprisingly, the Israeli government wasn’t pleased given Horthy’s indisputable role in the Hungarian Holocaust. In fact, Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid party, wrote an opinion piece in The Times of Israel in which he insisted that “if Viktor Orban doesn’t personally and fully apologize, Prime Minister Netanyahu should cancel his visit to Hungary.” And now we have reports about the defacing of the Soros posters. It’s hard to imagine that the propaganda gurus didn’t anticipate such an outcome.

July 5, 2017