Tag Archives: Open Society Foundation

Daniel Penev, What Central European University stands for: An insider’s perspective

Daniel Penev, 23, is a Bulgarian journalist and a member of the Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria (AEJ-Bulgaria). He has a double-major B.A. degree in journalism and political science and international relations from the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG). Since September 2016, Daniel has been pursuing an M.A. degree in international relations at Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, Hungary.

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On the evening of 28 March, Michael Ignatieff, President and Rector of the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, Hungary, sent an email to students, faculty, and staff, informing them about proposed amendments to Act CCIV of 2011 on National Higher Education, tabled in the Hungarian parliament earlier that day. If adopted, the amendments would prevent CEU from operating as a higher education institution in Hungary.

This email kicked off one of the most turbulent weeks in the history of CEU, which celebrated its 25th anniversary only last year. The controversial draft bill, seen by many as a direct attack on CEU, has made the headlines across Europe and North America, with stories published by Reuters, the BBC, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Bloomberg, Foreign Policy, Deutsche Welle, Politico.eu, and EurActiv.com, among others. Ambassadors of various countries and other politicians have rallied behind the university, calling on the Hungarian government to withdraw the proposed amendments. The thousands of statements, letters, emails, and social media posts in support of CEU came from university presidents, rectors, professors, and researchers.

One open letter, in which over 150 prominent scholars, including 14 Nobel Prize laureates, urge the Hungarian government to withdraw the tabled legislation, merits a special note because it highlights CEU’s contribution to education and research.

“We would like to express our admiration for Central European University, which is a leading university in the region, and is well integrated in the broader system of Hungarian and European higher education,” the scholars wrote. “We have learned a tremendous amount from, and cooperated productively with, researchers from CEU. We have been fortunate to meet many students who received postgraduate degrees at CEU, after obtaining a world-class basic education in Hungary – and other Central and Eastern European – public universities. CEU’s integration in and cooperation with other academic institutions in the region is fundamental to the success of Hungary.”

As a CEU student pursuing an M.A. degree in international relations, I see the support and the praise CEU has received as a confirmation of the rightness of my decision to continue my education in this institution. Since I arrived in Budapest in September last year, I have had the privilege and the pleasure to acquire new knowledge, work with peers and faculty with diverse cultural and academic backgrounds, and listen to guest lectures by prominent speakers just a few hundred meters away from the Danube – all of this thanks to CEU. The past seven months have allowed me to learn what CEU is, what it does, what it stands for, and what it should continue to be, do, and stand for. In Budapest.

There is no doubt that the government’s actions constitute a ruthless attack not just on one particular institution but on academic freedom and integrity more generally. At the same time, this awkward and frustrating situation presents us with a wonderful opportunity to remind ourselves what CEU represents and why and how it matters.

At a time when education features among the most important, yet most financially formidable, investments in one’s life, CEU allows thousands of students like me to complete high-quality graduate and postgraduate degrees for little or no money – something they would never be able to do if they could not rely on the generous scholarships that CEU offers. As a Bulgarian, I know the vital role education plays in shaping the political, economic, social, and cultural development of a country, especially one in transition from one-party rule and a planned economy to democratic governance and a free-market economy.

According to the 2017 QS World University Rankings, many of the degree programs offered at CEU rank in the world’s top 50 (politics and international relations), top 100 (social policy and administration, sociology, philosophy), top 150 (history) and top 200 (economics, law). The presence of such an educational center in Central and Eastern Europe gives aspiring academics, researchers, analysts, politicians, diplomats, lawyers, historians, economists, and businessmen the chance to receive the kind of education they have long dreamt about regardless of their families’ financial situation. This matters particularly to people from Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, as they can study closer to home and in a city with a fantastic location, a rich history, and an intellectually stimulating environment where living costs are much lower compared to cities like London, Paris, New York, Washington, or Toronto. Add the state-of-the-art classrooms, the fairytale-like library, and the enormous amount of diverse research resources and facilities, and CEU becomes a utopia-turned-reality for anyone seeking to expand his/her intellectual horizons.

CEU’s significance is not limited to the degree programs and services it offers. What makes this institution special is the approximately 2,000 people who study, teach, do research, and keep the administration running, along with some 14,000 alumni across the globe. A cliché or not, it is these people of different ages, nationalities, religions, milieus, and academic backgrounds who have helped make CEU the institution it is today. CEU is the place where students can express their opinions freely and count on the assistance of faculty and staff at any time. CEU is the place where professors enthusiastically share their expertise and experience with students but also have the courage to acknowledge the gaps in their own knowledge. CEU is the place where the president and rector says that he wants “to hear the sound of laughter in the corridors [on campus]” and that if “that happens, I’ll know we’re learning together.” CEU is the place where any staff member, from the guards at the entrance of the various buildings to the ladies at the restaurant to the librarians, greet you with a smile that helps even the most timid person feel at home. CEU is the place where people exchange information quickly and transparently via multiple channels and look for solutions to problems together. The CEU community’s response to the proposed legislative amendments perfectly illustrates the human element behind the three-letter abbreviation.

In line with the values and principles of open society, CEU has since its establishment brought to Budapest prominent thinkers and scholars to discuss the most pertinent topics of the day and further inspire students and faculty. Whether it is a guest lecture, a discussion panel, a conference, or a workshop, it doesn’t matter much. What matters, instead, is the fact that CEU hosts multiple and diverse events virtually every day throughout the entire academic year. If I confine myself to the guest lectures of interest to me only during the winter semester (9 January – 31 March), I can, with great delight, say that I had the chance to listen to internationally renowned speakers, politicians, and diplomats like Timothy Garton Ash (professor of European studies at Oxford University), Mark Lilla (professor of humanities at Columbia University), Jan-Werner Müller (professor of politics at Princeton University and a visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna), Ivan Krastev (chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna), Jacques Rupnik (professor at Sciences Po), Morgan Johansson (Minister for Justice and Migration of Sweden), and Liubov Nepop (Ambassador of Ukraine to Hungary). Events of this kind not only benefit CEU students and faculty but contribute to the academic vibe of Budapest and Hungary as a whole.

Budapest has been CEU’s home for more than two decades. In return, CEU has made Budapest a more visible and attractive spot on the academic and cultural map of Europe. CEU and Budapest need each other.

In case you still wonder how CEU matters to Hungary and why it should remain in Budapest, you’d better turn to Zoltan Kovacs for more information. Among other academic achievements, Kovacs has an M.A. in History (1993) and a Ph.D. in History (2002) from CEU. Kovacs, as you might know, is the spokesperson of Viktor Orban’s government – the very same government that aspires to make CEU’s operation in Hungary impossible or, in the very least, impracticable.

April 1, 2017


Karl Pfeifer: The Orbán regime takes Horthy’s Hungary as an example

I have known the dark ages of Hungary. As a child, during World War Two, I experienced first-hand Hungarian ultra-nationalism and anti-Semitism. I managed to avoid deportation and murder in Auschwitz by fleeing to Palestine in 1943, along with 49 other Jewish children.

Decades later, I returned to Hungary during the years of Communism. As a journalist writing for major Austrian newspapers, my reporting included interviewing dissidents. As a result, the Kadar regime expelled me four times from the country, the last time in 1987.

This personal history makes me extremely sensitive to current developments in Hungary and the shadows that are once again rising there.

Consider, for example, the current government campaign against the work of the Hungarian-born American billionaire George Soros. Mr. Soros’s Open Society Foundations has given more than $200 million to Hungarian groups since the fall of Communism, supporting a host of humanitarian issues—including independent groups that support human rights and are often critical of the government.

As a result, George Soros is demonized and presented as the source of all evil by the government. The rhetoric used reminds me of the anti-Semitic propaganda from my childhood, according to which the Jews were responsible for all of Hungary’s problems, like poverty, ignorance, and landless peasants.

Moreover, the government media portrays Mr. Soros as an agent of “international finance.” We know that this is a code for “Jews.” You don’t have to be explicitly anti-Semitic, you can be implicitly anti-Semitic – the message is quite clear for mainstream Hungarian society, which has never come to terms with its own prejudices against Jews.

Finally, Soros is presented by the government as responsible for mass migration to Europe. Did the 86-year-old investor really go to Syria and Iraq to politely ask people to come to Europe? This is a worldview deeply rooted in conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism.

This goes beyond the attacks on Soros. When Orbán refers to “ethnic homogeneity” as a factor of prosperity for the country, I am worried. This reminds me of a 1941 law that banned all forms of sexual intercourse between Jews and Gentiles, in the name of ethnic purity. This was done under the rule of the ultra-nationalist and Nazi collaborator Miklos Horthy. In Horthy times, anti-Semitism was a national policy. It is not the case today, but hatred against Jews has free flow and conspiracy theories are clearly targeted at the Jewish community, the largest one in Central Europe.

This poisonous rhetoric is the product of a political system that has grown increasingly authoritarian under Mr. Orbán’s Fidesz government, and it is being used by that government to strengthen its control. The Fidesz government and its allies own the majority of media outlets, including all of the TV and radio stations which have large audiences in rural Hungary, where the vast majority of the party electorate resides. Media outlets presenting views in opposition to the government are not accessible to the average Hungarian, therefore most people believe what the government propaganda tells them. And that message is straightforward: if you criticize the government, you are an enemy of the nation.

The government is now seeking to extend its power with a new law tightening controls on the funding of groups such as the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee—rights groups which receive some of their funding from…yes, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. Thus the rhetoric of anti-Semitism is being deployed to serve the government’s ultimate political aim of consolidating its control – while supposedly remaining a democratic member of the European Union.

It’s worth remembering that under the Horthy regime too there was a parliament, and it was possible to express critical views in a handful of opposition papers. Yet that did not make the regime a democratic one.

Fidesz is a member of the European People’s Party, the club of conservative parties in the European Union. But Fidesz is not a conservative party. Conservative parties do not mobilize mass rallies to defend the “sovereignty of the Hungarian nation,” unlike in 2012 when 400,000 people took to the streets of Budapest at the urging of the government media – with the infamous anti-Semitic journalist Zsolt Bayer marching in the front rank. Conservative parties do not touch private property, unlike Fidesz, which nationalized pension funds in 2010 to finance the state’s expenditures. Conservative parties do not falsify history, unlike in Hungary where the state established the national think tank “Veritas,” downplaying the participation of Hungarians in the murder of 500,000 Hungarian Jews during the Second World War.

The upcoming law on NGOs will further silence the last opposition voices in a member state of the European Union. The government propaganda plays with the fear of “the other”: the migrants, the Jews, foreign capital. But who pays attention to Hungarians? Who is concerned about the disastrous state of healthcare and education in the country? By annihilating critical voices, the anti-NGO law will spring the trap on the real victims of the government: ordinary Hungarians.

Karl Pfeifer is an Austrian-born journalist of Hungarian Jewish origin and a member of the board of the Archives of the Austrian Resistance.
He is author of several books. A movie about his life can be seen at https://vimeo.com/124834106

March 26, 2017

What’s next? Expulsion of George Soros’s Open Society Foundation from Hungary?

A vicious media attack is underway in Hungary in the wake of the release of about 2,500 documents by hackers calling themselves DC Leaks. All of the documents are related to George Soros’s Open Society Foundation. The hackers describe Soros as “an architect and sponsor of almost every revolution and coup around the world for the last 25 years.” And, they continue, “the USA is thought to be a vampire due to him and his puppets…. His minions spill blood of millions and millions of people just to make him even more rich.” We may know nothing about the identity of the hackers, but we can say with confidence that whoever wrote this is not a native speaker of English.

The Hungarian right-wing media were ecstatic about this introduction to the leaked documents. And what a happy coincidence! George Soros has been a thorn in the side of the Hungarian government for some time over the refugee issue. Moreover, in the last few weeks the pro-government media has been having a heyday with stories about George Soros’s financial support of Hillary Clinton, whom the Orbán government does not want to see elected.

Journalists discovered a right-wing site called The Free Thought Project, which described “globalist Soros as Hillary Clinton’s Puppet Master.” The proof for this assertion is an e-mail from George Soros to Hillary Clinton dated January 23, 2011 in which Soros calls attention to political unrest in Albania that has produced fatalities. Soros thinks that the U.S. administration should convince Prime Minister Sali Berisha to appoint “a senior European official as mediator” and suggests three names, one of whom was actually chosen. Hence, claims the author of the article, Clinton is Soros’s puppet. Indirectly, U.S. foreign policy is being shaped by the billionaire financier.


Source: The Free Thought Project

In addition to this one letter discovered by DC Leaks, the Hungarian sleuths found a list of the grant recipients under Open Society’s “European Elections 2014 Project.” 444.hu received a grant of $49,500 to monitor possible election fraud at the 106 precincts in the 2014 national election. After this revelation, the attacks from the pro-government right-wing media came fast and furious. Pesti Srácok, which a few months ago was discovered to have received 1.5 million forints from the ministry of agriculture for a series of articles informing the public about the government’s land auctions and writing anti-Simicska articles, had the gall to attack 444.hu. Magyar Idők’s editorial on the subject can only be described as savage. The journalists of 444.hu are accused of “professionally executed treason.” They are described as being “kept” by foreign powers, antagonistic to the government of their homeland. “They have been bought by the kilo.” A right-wing blog claimed that “Gyurka Soros bought half the [Hungarian] left for the price of half a dinner.”

Although the juiciest item on the list was 444.hu, Index.hu also received 7.7 million forints for its regular column EUrológus Online, which informs the public on the politics of the European Union. The pro-government, anti-EU media might find such information unnecessary, but actually EUrológus is a very informative site.

Also on the list are important civic organizations like the Hungarian Helsinki Commission, Transparency International, the Eötvös Károly Institute, TASZ (Társaság a Szabadságjogokért), Political Capital Intézet, Media Diversity Institute, and Prospekt Műhely Alapítvány. The list of recipients and the size of the grants can be found in 888.hu.

All in all, “Uncle Gyuri,” as Jobbik’s internet news site calls Soros, spent $8 million to keep a few civic organizations alive, without whom government corruption cases and human rights abuses wouldn’t have been uncovered. Without them the Orbán government could have pursued its illegal activities without the public being any the wiser. Even if Péter Polt, the chief prosecutor, makes sure that nothing happens to corrupt government officials, at least, thanks to these hard-working and upright individuals in the service of democracy, Hungarians can learn about these cases.

Source: 888.hu

Source: 888.hu

Most Hungarian businessmen are dependent on the benevolence of the Orbán government. They dare not support any of these organizations for fear of being dropped from the list of companies that receive government orders. As for the media, the government generously supports right-wing newspapers and internet sites via advertising and government subscriptions. It can easily happen that a municipality orders 20 copies of Magyar Idők and Magyar Hírlap and none of the opposition papers, which also receive no ad revenue from state companies. Thus, opposition media outlets are bled to death while pro-government rags like Pesti Srácok and 888.hu thrive. The English-language Hungary Today is, through a phony foundation, financed by the government. Most likely the same is true of CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fórum), which organized countless pro-government demonstrations that allegedly saved Viktor Orbán his job. Otherwise, “hidden forces” would have removed him from power. I assume, especially after all the Hillary Clinton bashing, that he suspects that one of those working toward his removal was Clinton herself, who was then U.S. Secretary of State.

I was taken aback when I read this afternoon that Béla Galló, a political scientist whom I always associated with the left wing of the Hungarian Socialist Party, agreed to a conversation about the newly released Soros documents on the state TV’s program “Ma Reggel.” In the course of the conversation Galló explained that Soros often gets involved in politics without paying attention to the possible consequences. He described Soros’s “politicking” as someone creating “theories that are arrived at a desk” but don’t work in the real world. Galló would have been wise to stop there. But Hiradó, the official government news, said that, according to Galló, “Soros’s political activities determine the future of the world; his money market speculations can shake the economic foundations of countries and thus [he] contributes to the destabilization of the world.” That’s exactly what the employers of the state television station wanted to hear. I will never understand why these people accept invitations to Magyar Televízió when it is obvious that whatever they say will be used for government propaganda.

After reading the articles about Soros’s grants to Hungarian newspapers and organizations, I became afraid that this is just the beginning of a process that might end with the expulsion of Soros’s Open Society Foundation from Hungary, taking a cue from Putin’s Russia. It is especially worrisome that 888.hu brought up the Central European University which, according to them, is financed by Soros for the sole purpose of pro-migration propaganda.

August 17, 2016

The anti-George Soros campaign intensifies in Hungary

A full-fledged witch hunt is taking place in Hungary against a not-at-all favorite son, George Soros. Two weeks ago I already wrote a post on the Orbán government’s reaction to the less than flattering remarks of Bill Clinton about Poland and Hungary, two countries that decided that “democracy is too much trouble [and] they want Putin-like leadership.” It was in this context that George Soros’s name was associated in Hungarian propaganda with Bill Clinton’s statement as well as with Barack Obama’s earlier critical words about Hungary. In the last two weeks, however, the anti-Soros campaign has sunk to new depths of depravity.

For anyone who has followed the escalation of the anti-Soros rhetoric in the last week, it is obvious that the effort is well-coordinated, enlisting the full force of the government propaganda machine. Magyar Idők leads the way in the smear campaign. The government paper published two opinion pieces a day apart which tried to counter the opposition’s description of Soros as a man whose Open Society Foundation works “to build vibrant and tolerant societies whose governments are accountable and open to the participation of all people.” The stated goals of Soros’s philanthropy may be “to strengthen the rule of law, respect for human rights, minorities, and a diversity of opinions, democratically elected governments; and a civil society that helps keep government power in check,” but all this is humbug, according to one of the authors. Soros is a CIA agent whose real objective is the destabilization of East-Central Europe and the Middle East. Operating under the cover of humanitarianism, he faithfully serves the global interests of the United States.


The second article in Magyar Idők concentrated on the “unfounded and unsubstantiated” accusations against György Matolcsy and the Hungarian National Bank, accusations that are really targeting the Orbán government. According to the author, it is Soros who stands behind the U.S. plans to topple the current Hungarian government, this time through Matolcsy’s alleged corruption. Hungary is not the first country where the United States has used the charge of corruption to try to get rid of governments that are “not friendly enough toward the American government.” A prime example of such U.S. interference in the domestic affairs of a foreign country is Brazil, where President Dilma Rousseff has been suspended. “One of her sins could have been that she rejected U.S. interference” in Brazilian politics. She was removed because the U.S. found “Brazil’s change of foreign policy direction intolerable: good relations with Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and China.” Of course, this charge exists solely in the imagination of the journalist of this pro-government and fiercely anti-American newspaper. Continuing his tirade, he claimed that American capitalists, in cahoots with the U.S. government, have tried several times to topple the Orbán government but have never succeeded. The only hope of these foreign agents is that they will be able to remove György Matolcsy, which would serve the interests of the unscrupulous speculators but would ruin the thriving Hungarian economy, which is the result of the remarkable performance of Matolcsy.

A few days later János Lázár at one of his Thursday press conferences went so far as to claim that the Hungarian government has proof from secret service sources that George Soros is ready “to actively participate against his most dangerous opposition, the Orbán government.” However, when a journalist asked him whether the civic groups financed by Soros had done anything unlawful, Lázár had to admit that they hadn’t. Soros’s sin is that by financing some of the watchdog organizations he has become part of the opposition.

The government-financed internet site 888.hu came out with a “list of pimps of the Soros network.” Members of this network, according to the site, belong to a loud, aggressive minority that has a much greater influence on the media than their numbers would warrant. The list includes 13 civic groups and think tanks and five or six media outlets. Despite 888.hu’s claim, the fact is that most of these organizations receive only a very small portion of their budget from the Open Society Foundation.

Andy Vajna’s newly purchased TV2 joined the anti-Soros campaign. Its reconstructed formerly popular “Tények” (Facts) now has a five-minute segment called “Tények Extra” that tells the stories of “Billionaires in Hiding.” Needless to say, the first of these segments was devoted to George Soros. Viewers learned how Soros beat his wives and liked to suffocate his lovers.

All this still wasn’t enough for the Orbán government. Now MTI and other pro-government media outlets are gathering information about possible Soros involvement in opposition movements in other countries. Magyar Idők found an interview with Robert Fico, prime minister of Slovakia, who complained that in the March presidential campaign, which he lost, he had to battle not so much his political opponents but “those civic organizations that are often financed from abroad.” 888.hu joined in with a Macedonian case. The internet site discovered that former Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski recently charged that it was George Soros who financed the Macedonian civil groups’ anti-government activities. Just like Fico, Gruevski claimed that he has two oppositions: the Macedonian Social Democratic Association and “the paid opposition.” These groups, when “they are not fighting the government, organize all sorts of training sessions and political debates or show up in the media.” According to the former prime minister, Soros and others are especially active in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

The younger generation of journalists who were probably unfamiliar with George Soros’s activities in Hungary in the 1980s and early 1990s are especially fascinated by the sizable amount of money Fidesz and Fidesz politicians received from the American financier. They are the ones who keep asking uncomfortable questions about who, when, and for what purpose Soros gave money to those who now find him to be the devil incarnate. As a result of all those uncomfortable questions, Viktor Orbán apparently told János Lázár that he is ready to pay the billionaire back “if Soros needs the money.” That “generous offer” includes the three million forints Fidesz as an organization received from the Soros Foundation. I don’t know whether this amount includes the 400,000 forints received in 1987 to launch the periodical Századvég. Yes, the establishment of this by now notorious Fidesz think tank was made possible through George Soros’s generosity.

I wonder what the next step will be. Will Orbán’s propaganda machine continue its threatening propaganda against civic groups, especially against legal think tanks? Or, after a few weeks of contemptible attacks on Soros, will the government decide to stop this harassment? I think it all depends on whether the government is able to contain the scandal surrounding György Matolcsy’s corruption case. As long as the case remains a hot issue both at home and abroad, the anti-American, anti-Soros campaign will continue. This way the government can argue that antagonistic foreign sources, i.e. the United States, with the assistance of domestic paid agents, are responsible for blackening the good name of a financial genius. All because their real goal is the removal of Viktor Orbán from power.

May 27, 2016

George Soros and Viktor Orbán: From friend to enemy

Anyone who thinks that Viktor Orbán’s charge that George Soros is responsible for the refugee crisis is too bizarre to be believable should think again. The propaganda is working. Nyugat.hu, an internet site serving western Transdanubia, reports regularly on Körmend, the town where a camp for about 300 refugees was set up. Although there have been no incidents resulting from the presence of the refugees, parties and civic groups have organized several town meetings. First, Jobbik and a local political organization invited a Hungarian Reformed minister to speak about Hungarians’ Lebensraum (élettér), whose connotation in Hungarian is no better than it is in German or in English. The next day Fidesz held a meeting where one of attendees confidently announced that “if the mercenaries of Gyurkó Soros were annihilated, then Hungary would have no such problems.” Orbán’s message had obviously sunk in.

While Viktor Orbán is busy orchestrating an attack on Soros, the Clintons, the Democratic Party, and the Obama administration, the Hungarian opposition is countering, pointing out how beholden Fidesz and Viktor Orbán in particular are to George Soros. The Demokratikus Koalíció website states that “Orbán owes his political career to George Soros.” This is an exaggeration, but it is true that Fidesz, before it became a party, received generous and sustained financial support from Soros’s Open Society Foundation.

Everybody I talked to who knew Orbán and the other young activists of Bibó College had a very favorable impression of them. Soros was no exception. It was Miklós Vásárhelyi, press secretary of Imre Nagy during his short-lived tenure as prime minister of Hungary, who introduced the young activists to George Soros. Vásárhelyi became a close friend and representative of Soros. In the 1990s he was the chairman of the Open Society Foundation in Hungary. During these early years Fidesz received 4.7 million forints, which would be worth roughly 200 million forints today. I remember vividly that the foundation supplied copy machines to several burgeoning political groups, which I thought was absolutely brilliant. Prior to that gift, producing the necessarily very short-run samizdat material was a slow, cumbersome process. Soros also funded scholarships for Viktor Orbán, József Szájer, László Kövér, and Tamás Deutsch to study at British universities. Orbán received a monthly stipend of 10,000 Ft from a Soros-funded organization, which allowed him to devote himself to politics.

Although after Fidesz became a party it no longer received financial help from the Open Society, the relationship between the party leaders and Soros remained friendly. They parted ways, however, when in 1993 and 1994 Viktor Orbán led his party to the conservative camp. According to an Origo article published in 2010, after Orbán won the election in 1998 Soros hoped for a while that the young new prime minister would take the country in the “right” direction. But after about a year and a half into Orbán’s term, relations between Soros and the prime minister deteriorated. It is hard to know who was responsible for that turn of events, but I suspect it was more Orbán’s decision than Soros’s. According to Anna Belia, who was program director of the Open Society Foundation in Hungary at the time, the foundation tried several times to initiate meetings with the prime minister, but their requests were left unanswered. The problem was that Soros’s foundation “supported movements and publications that were not to Viktor Orbán’s liking.”

From 2000 on, Soros began to curtail his involvement in Hungary, claiming that soon enough Hungary would be a part of the European Union and his philanthropy would not be needed. And indeed, by 2008 the sole remaining program of the Soros foundation was the Roma Education Fund.

George Soros offers help in October 2010 / Ssurce: Origo / Photo Csaba Pelsőczy

George Soros offers help in October 2010 / Source: Origo / Photo Csaba Pelsőczy

Two years later, however, Soros was back. He offered one million dollars toward the cleanup efforts of the red sludge environmental disaster. At the same time he gave millions for Hungary’s Roma program, the Decade of Roma Inclusion, in addition to his Roma Education Fund, through which he partially funded the Hódmezővásárhely integration program, which was considered to be a great success of János Lázár, mayor of the city. At that point Soros was planning to expand the program and was hoping that within five years the number of children taking part in the program would be raised to 30,000. I must admit that I don’t know much about the current situation, although I know that the foundation’s scholarship program is a real success in Hungary. As for the integration project, I doubt that Soros is satisfied with the attitude of Zoltán Balog, who is a strong proponent of “loving segregation.” No rational arguments against such a solution can change his mind.

Ildikó Csuhaj, Népszabadság’s sleuth when it comes to information being leaked from Fidesz, reported today that in Fidesz circles the number of Soros’s “domestic agents” is growing. By now, even former SZDSZ politicians and Ronald S. Lauder are being accused of serving Soros’s agenda. Some people in government circles are convinced that the large American investment banks conspired with Soros to launch a concerted financial attack against Hungary. Apparently their “source” is a novel by Tamás Frei, A bankár. Of course, it is fiction but, according to the book by György Matolcsy’s secretary, after reading it, even the head of the Hungarian National Bank saw the light. Matolcsy is convinced that this novel describes a real life situation. In government circles there is also the strong belief that Soros is responsible for influencing the U.S. State Department through his accusations that “the Hungarian right has Fascist attributes.”

Finally, Jane Mayer has a long article in The New Yorker about a clumsy effort “to perpetrate an elaborate sting on Soros.”

May 21, 2016

Anna Porter: Buying a Better World, a book review

Anna Porter, a Hungarian-born Canadian writer and publisher who since 2004 has been devoting her time to writing, is out with a new book, her third in eight years. All three in one way or another, fully or partially, have something to do with Hungary. In 2007 she wrote Kasztner’s Train, the story of Rudolf Kastner (Rezső Kasztner) and his controversial effort to negotiate with Adolf Eichmann for the release of hundreds of Jews. Three years later The Ghosts of Europe, a history of post-Soviet Eastern Europe after 1990, appeared. And now she has given us an introduction to George Soros’s philanthropic activities, Buying a Better World. Again, Soros is not only Hungarian by birth but also began his crusade for his Open Society in Hungary in 1984.

Soros has spent 12 billion dollars since 1984 “in his efforts to change the way people think,” and along the way he has encountered plenty of disappointment. He established a university in South Africa only to abandon the project a year later. His efforts in Russia also bore little fruit. Viktor Orbán, who has been busily building an “illiberal state” in Hungary, was once the beneficiary of Soros’s largesse. He received a scholarship to Oxford for the academic year 1989-1990 but left after four months to lead Fidesz in the election campaign for the first democratic parliament. By now Orbán has little use for the liberal philanthropist.

PorterI will concentrate here on Soros’s activities in Hungary and his efforts on behalf of the Roma of Europe. Although Soros is disappointed with the results of his efforts in Eastern Europe and in particular in Hungary, I think that in the long run his financial input has not been wasted. Perhaps few people know that Soros was already active in Hungary during the Kádár regime. The Soros Foundation was established in 1984 with the assistance of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Since then the Magyar Soros Alapítvány has supported 40,000 projects and given out several thousand scholarships to artists, scholars, and students.

Perhaps Soros’s best-known activity in Kádár’s Hungary was to supply copy machines to universities and libraries. Until then the few available copy machines belonged to the government and were under strict control. As the number of copy machines grew, the government lost exclusive control over information.

Although Soros may complain about the futility of his efforts, he should be pleased with the Central European University (CEU) he established in Hungary. The original idea was to have three campuses: in Prague, Warsaw, and Budapest. After Václáv Klaus became president, the Prague campus’s fate was pretty well sealed. Klaus hated Soros. The Warsaw campus also closed its doors after a few years. The Budapest campus, however, is thriving. Some Hungarians who worked closely with Soros in the early days of CEU think that, although Soros was initially reluctant to establish a university, it may be his most lasting contribution.

According to Porter, “at first Soros rejected the idea of founding a university. He didn’t think it was an effective way to influence a society. The best results, he said, are from inside a society, ‘infusing existing institutions with content’ and allowing local individuals to spend money on causes they believe to be worthwhile.” Yet, he eventually accepted the argument that “there was a need in eastern Europe for a university that encouraged independent thought,” which had been in short supply in the region. CEU has an international faculty, its language of instruction is English, and students come from throughout Eastern Europe.

In the chapter on “The Struggles of the Roma” Anna Porter gives the reader a vivid description of the plight of the Roma in Slovak and Hungarian villages. “This is the grim challenge Soros chose for the Open Society Foundations. Their programs include workshops for the Roma on advocacy and health and education in history, media, communications, and civil and human rights.”  In 2009 alone the Open Society Foundation assisted 30,000 Roma children and 800 university students. CEU is also active in Roma studies. Yet, as Anna Porter rightly points out, “it is hard to see the results of Open Society’s intervention” on behalf of the Roma. She continues: “It is difficult to verify [the] claim that OS has created a ‘heightened level of awareness worldwide, and a sense of urgency’ in Europe.” The Open Society Foundation has put an incredible amount of effort and a lot of money into trying to uplift the Roma population in the eastern part of Europe, but so far it has failed to make a significant difference.

Here I have concentrated on a very small part of Buying a Better World. The book takes us all over the world, everywhere George Soros has been using his fortune to achieve a better, more open society.

Anna Porter, Buying a Better World: George Soros and Billionaire Philanthropy (Toronto: TAP Books, 2015).

The Hungarian right’s latest: The Soros-Clinton-Obama axis

In liberal circles almost everybody is certain that the warnings of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama will not inspire Viktor Orbán to abandon his relentless pursuit to make the very existence of independent civil groups impossible. In fact, the smear campaign has only intensified in the last couple of days.

Official Hungary is quiet on the subject unless one can take seriously the comments of a newcomer to the ministry of foreign affairs and trade, Undersecretary Mónika Balatoni, who just can’t get over the fact that “western Europeans don’t understand us,” the freedom-loving people of Hungary. After all, already in St. Stephen’s time Hungarians “chose Christianity.” And there is Tibor Navracsics, whose “European commitment cannot be questioned.” This is, of course, merely a repetition of Szijjártó’s reference to freedom-loving Hungarians.

It is true that the Christian Democrats chimed in by repeating the government’s claim that Obama’s criticisms are groundless. In their opinion, the attack on Hungary is taking place because the Hungarian government opted for Christian democracy instead of liberal democracy. Jobbik naturally is on the side of the government with the difference that they say what the Orbán government does not want to: The president of the United States “openly admitted that his country constantly interferes in other countries’ internal affairs.” Since Obama talked about the United States’ national security, which is served by the existence of strong civil groups, Hungary in turn should restrict the foreign-financed groups which pose national security risks to Hungary.

But the real dirty work is being left to the government media and so-called  pro-Fidesz “political scientists.” In the political scientist category there is Gábor G. Fodor, “strategic director” of the Fidesz think tank Századvég. According to him, Obama’s speech was not about Hungary and other authoritarian regimes but about the United States. The speech shows the weakness, not the strength of America. After all, the president spoke of “national security interests.” And because of Obama’s confession about American national security interests, “it’s possible the Norwegian monies don’t come from Norway.” In plain English, the United States is funneling money into Hungary and other countries through Norway.

Spiler, a blogger, goes farther than Fodor. He notes that George Soros and Norway are the most generous supporters of the Clinton Foundation, and the same George Soros and Norway support Hungarian liberal groups. With a leap of logic our blogger lays the groundwork for a charge of conspiracy. Perhaps Clinton’s critical comments are payment for the generosity of George Soros and the government of Norway. On the basis of Spiler’s blog, Szilárd Szőnyi of Válasz is already talking about George Soros’s “civilian armies.” He describes Spiler’s post as a reliable source on the Soros-Clinton-Obama-Reykjavík axis. (I trust he doesn’t think that Reykjavík is the capital of Norway.)

George Soros, the bogiey man

George Soros, the bogeyman

The attack on the Hungarian civil groups was intensified by an article that appeared in the print edition of Heti Válasz today. The author is Bálint Ablonczay, a journalist with the reputation of being a moderate Fidesz supporter. But it appears that when the chips are down and the regime he supports receives harsh criticism from important sources, Ablonczay becomes a fierce defender of the regime. In this article, which is not available online, he justifies the Orbán government’s harassment of the civil groups by trying to prove that these NGOs are not really independent but are “liberal activist groups.” After all, they approach the question of abortion only as a women’s rights issue. They are interested in families only as places of domestic violence. Or they concentrate on alternative lifestyles. Finally, he cites an article published by an Israeli organization, NGO Monitor. It was written last year by Alexander H. Joffe, who claimed that the Soros-supported NGOs were adding to Israeli-Palestinian tensions. His conclusion is that Soros’s network is a powerful international tool that works against individual governments through these civil groups.

Ablonczay did a lousy job at fact checking. Csaba Tibor Tóth, a blogger, immediately wrote a post with the title “Heti Válasz and the Israeli Right against Soros.” NGO Monitor’s founder and president worked for a number of years in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. The organization is really an arm of the present Israeli government, which hates the Israeli NGOs about as much as Orbán hates the Hungarian ones. NGO Monitor finds all independent groups “extremists.” Even groups attached to the UN are extremists. According to Tóth, NGO Monitor is something like the Hungarian CÖF, except much more sophisticated.

Magyar Nemzet published an article today about an alleged Soros conspiracy. The paper learned that George Soros cast his net over the civil groups. It was George Soros who financed the organizations in charge of the disbursement of the Norwegian funds throughout Eastern Europe. The article lists Romanian, Polish, Estonian, Lithuanian, Slovenian, and Bulgarian NGOs somehow connected to George Soros’s Open Society Foundation. The implication is that there is a supranational network organized by George Soros to do what? To topple these governments? How is it that no other governments in the region sent a squad of policemen to the office of one of these disbursement centers or suspended the tax numbers of all of them? Are they not worried about this conspiracy?

The problem is not with Clinton, Obama, the Norwegian government, George Soros or the NGOs but with Viktor Orbán’s government. They can concoct conspiracy theories to their hearts’ content about a supranational global attack on Christian Hungary, but I doubt that anyone will fall for that nonsense with the exception of Hungary’s right-wing voters.