Sunday

17th Dec 2017

Feature

Orban stokes up his voters with anti-Soros 'consultation'

Hungary's ruling party is gearing up for elections next year with a massive campaign against the US billionaire George Soros, featuring a so-called "national consultation" that officially ends this Friday (24 November).

This is the seventh 'national consultation' prime minister Viktor Orban's government has rolled out since coming to power in 2010.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Earlier this year another such consultation and an accompanying 'Stop Brussels' campaign prompted a detailed rebuttal from the EU Commission after the Budapest government made false claims about the EU's migration policy.

The consultations' choreography is the same: the Hungarian government sends out a questionnaire, stuffed with directed, false or half-true statements, to eight million voters and then uses the responses as political ammunition against critics.

In order to dominate the political agenda, a country-wide campaign accompanies the exercise with billboards, TV spots and news stories in the pro-government media that underline the statements in the questionnaires.

Earlier this year, out of eight million potential voters, some 1.25 million sent back answers, with 93.8 percent of these agreeing with assertions such as "money would be rather spent on Hungarian families, than migrants."

Those who take the trouble to answer, mostly agree with Orban's position.

The government has spent 7.2 billion forints (€23 million) on the anti-Brussels, anti-Soros campaigns from taxpayer money in the first half of the year, according to data gathered by Atlatszo, an investigative journalism site.

Soros targeted

The latest questionnaire asks people's opinions on a so-called 'Soros Plan' (a term coined by the government), that claims that the Hungarian-born US billionaire wants to transport one million migrants every year to Europe to dilute the continent's nations.

The Hungarian government says that the plan is executed by the European Commission, which it claims punishes any nation, such as Hungary and Poland, which is not welcoming migrants.

The Soros questionnaire is a prelude to elections in spring 2018, which Fidesz, Orban's party, is expected to win by a large margin.

"We are in election campaign. The most important goal is to mobilise Fidesz's core voters by identifying who is the opponent," Balint Ablonczy, columnist at the conservative weekly Heti Valasz told EUobserver.

Orban focuses on Fidesz's roughly 2 to 2.2 million voters that the party needs to mobilise to maintain an uncontested majority in parliament. It barely addresses the concerns of other voters.

It is a campaign that it is impossible to avoid when in Hungary.

Billboards with Soros's face, urging "Let's Not Keep Quiet About It" are plastered across the country. Pro-government and public media endlessly connect Soros, his Open Society Foundations, migration, and the EU, as one conspiracy in a series of false or twisted stories.

The government cites a couple of articles the US investor wrote at the height of the migration crisis, as proof of his efforts.

The questions on the most recent questionnaire are extreme, but without proof.

One states for instance that "the goal of the Soros Plan is to push the languages and cultures of Europe into the background, so that integration of illegal immigrants happens much more quickly."

Soros this week (Monday 20 November) dismissed the national consultation as "distortions and outright lies that deliberately mislead Hungarians about George Soros, migrants and refugees".

In a statement he said the campaign is stoking "anti-Muslim sentiment" and employs "anti-Semitic tropes reminiscent of the 1930s".

Pro-government news website Origo on Tuesday (21 November) was quick to hit back with the headline, "Soros threatened Hungary, and is lying indiscriminately."

Yet, even Tibor Navracsics, the current EU education and culture commissioner, who was previously deputy prime minister to Orban - tasked with defending in Brussels a controversial reform of Hungary's constitution - in recent weeks pointed out that the EU executive does not have a Soros Plan and thinks the anti-Soros push is a "rhetorical element" of the upcoming electoral campaign.

Navracsics was then later rebuked by his fellow Fidesz politicians.

"Mr Soros's network is strong enough, we believe, to use the alternative ways of enforcing the vision, including many NGOs and so-called expert groups [...]," government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told reporters in Brussels.

Sense of mission

Soros, whose foundation once supported Orban and other Fidesz leaders, embodies all that the Orban government dislikes: civil society, liberals, migrants.

"Soros represents everything that the right-wing does not like, he is a multi-billionaire and has a strong opinion, he supports NGOs that propagate democratic transition and defend migrants' rights," said Ablonczy.

Ablonczy added that he does not think the government deliberately intended an anti-semitic tone to the campaign focussing on Soros, but he acknowledges that "many hundreds of thousand of Hungarians feel disgusted" by the way it has rhetorical echoes with the 1930s.

The columnist however said that when the government elides those nuances, it can no longer control the hatred it has inspired.

That is palpable on the streets of Budapest among Fidesz-supporters, who seem happy to take part in the 'national consultation'.

"You are an evil-doer," one man lingering around a booth that publicised the consultation, told this reporter when simply asked why he supports the campaign. He refused to share more about his reasons.

"You must be waiting for the migrant masses, because you want to find a husband," a woman (who did not want to reveal her name) retorted when asked if she believed in the "Soros Plan".

The country is deeply divided between those who echo the government's arguments and those who think they are far-fetched.

The opposition, that includes an ideologically wide range of parties from liberals, greens, socialists to the once far-right Jobbik, is fragmented and weak, and has so far been unable to unite against Fidesz.

A recent study by the IDEA Institute showed that only 11 percent of Fidesz voters think that things are going in the wrong direction. That compares with 57 percent of all citizens (and over 60 percent among supporters in every opposition party) thaht think things are going badly.

While the EU is discussing how to combat fake news in general, it is less well-equipped with countering propaganda in a member state. Especially with leaders such as Orban.

"Orban has a clear sense of mission, in [a] historic proportion. He wants to save eastern Europe from what has happened to western Europe, namely multiculturalism. He thinks integration is not possible," Ablonczy concluded.

Anti-Soros university bill sparks protest in Budapest

Thousands gathered around the Central European University on Tuesday to protest against a legislative bill that targets it, while the US embassy and the German president expressed their support for the institution.

Soros-linked NGOs defy Orban purge

Hungarian NGOs funded by philanthropist George Soros have vowed to defy prime minister Viktor Orban’s plan to “sweep them out” of the country.

Romania searching for EU respectability

Ten years after its accession and a year before holding the EU presidency, the fastest-growing EU economy wants to "engage" more with its partners. But concerns over the rule of law continue to give the country a bad image.

News in Brief

  1. EU adopts 'track-and-trace' tobacco system
  2. Luxembourg appeals Amazon tax decision
  3. EU leaders agree to open phase 2 of Brexit talks
  4. Juncker: May made 'big efforts' on Brexit
  5. Merkel took 'tough' line on Russia at EU summit
  6. EU leaders added line supporting 'two-state' solution
  7. EU leaders agree to 20 European Universities by 2024
  8. Belgian courts end legal proceedings against Puigdemont

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Catalonia, Brexit, and Uber on EU agenda This WEEK
  2. Macron and Merkel take tough line on Poland
  3. Eurozone future needs structural reforms, EU leaders told
  4. Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June
  5. EU stresses unity as it launches next phase of Brexit talks
  6. Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap
  7. Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group
  8. EU mulls post-Brexit balance of euro and non-eurozone states

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level
  4. European Friends of ArmeniaPresident Sargsyan Joined EuFoA Honorary Council Inaugural Meeting
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Leaders Should Press Azerbaijan President to End the Detention of Critics
  6. CECEKey Stakeholders to Jointly Tackle the Skills Issue in the Construction Sector
  7. European Friends of ArmeniaLaunch of Honorary Council on the Occasion of the Eastern Partnership Summit and CEPA
  8. EPSUStudy Finds TUNED and Employers in Central Governments Most Representative
  9. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  10. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  11. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  12. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'