24th Mar 2018


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.

US billionaire Soros warns EU of 'existential danger'

The billionaire philanthropist, George Soros, said the European Union should use Brexit as a catalyst for change if it wants to survive, and called his native country Hungary a 'mafia state'.

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.

German ministries were at war over CO2 car cuts

Foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel was not the only German government official trying to water down an EU draft bill on CO2 emissions from passenger vehicles last year. In fact, three Berlin ministries were contradicting each other behind the scenes.

News in Brief

  1. EU wants 'Paris' climate strategy within 13 months
  2. Workload of EU court remains high
  3. Spain's supreme court charges Catalan separatist leaders
  4. EU calls for 'permanent' exemption from US tariffs
  5. Summit backs guidelines for future EU-UK talks
  6. Macron support drops as public sector workers go on strike
  7. EU leaders condemn Turkey for illegal actions in Aegean Sea
  8. Parliament must publish 'trilogue' documents, court says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Latest News

  1. Nordic states discuss targeted Russia sanctions
  2. Commission sticks to its line on Barroso case
  3. Germany and France promise new Russia sanctions
  4. EU rejects US trade 'gun to the head'
  5. Tariffs and Turkey will top This WEEK
  6. EU leaders roll over Brexit talks amid Trump and Russia fears
  7. Europe needs corporate tax reform - a digital tax isn't it
  8. EU data chiefs rally behind UK over Cambridge Analytica

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. CECEIndustry Stakeholders Are Ready to Take the Lead in Digital Construction
  2. ILGA EuropeAnkara Ban on LGBTI Events Continues as Turkish Courts Reject NGO Appeals
  3. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementEuropean Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  6. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  7. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights MovementSuing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name