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25th Jun 2018

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.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee was one of several which said on Wednesday (12 January) that the planned purge was “unacceptable”.

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The Helsinki group’s co-chair, Andras Kristof Kadar, told the ATV broadcaster that its work was non-political and designed to defend UN norms.

“When we criticise the government’s position on migration, then we want to hold the government accountable to the Geneva Convention and relevant EU norms,” he said.

The Soros-chaired Open Society Foundations (OSF), which is based in New York and which funds over 60 Hungarian NGOs, also vowed to defy Orban.

“[We] will continue to work in Hungary despite government opposition to our mission of fairer, accountable societies,” the OSF president, Christopher Stone, said on Wednesday.

They spoke out after Orban’s political party, Fidesz, on Tuesday said that the state would use “all tools at its disposal” to “sweep out” Soros-linked groups.

Soros, a Hungarian-born financier who lives in New York, has spent more than $1.6 billion promoting democratic development in central Europe.

The 86-year old survived the persecution of Jews in Hungary and fled the then communist country in 1947.

He used to work with Fidesz when it was an anti-communist party in the 1980s and a Soros scholarship even paid for Orban to go to Oxford University in 1989.

But Orban, now a self-proclaimed “illiberal”, clashed with civil society, as well as with the EU and the US, after he began to impose curbs on free press and on constitutional checks and balances.

He has also clashed with NGOs and with the EU on immigration, while accusing Soros of representing “intelligence connections” and of "organising refugee streams”.

The Fidesz party’s vice-chairman, Szilard Nemeth, said on Tuesday that the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, and Transparency International were among Soros-linked NGOs that had to go.

Trump effect

He also said that the purge was made possible by “an international opportunity”, alluding to the election of Donald Trump in the US.

Trump and Soros are also on bad terms, with Orban now expecting to get an easier ride from Washington.

Trump in a campaign ad called Soros part of “a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions” that had robbed the working classes, while Soros has called Trump a “con artist” and a “would-be dictator”.

Orban was the first EU leader to welcome Trump’s election and has cultivated ties with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The Orban crackdown on NGOs began in earnest in 2014 whenhe expelled entities funded by the Norway Grants .

In a similar move, Putin designated the OSF as an “undesirable” foreign entity that threatened Russia’s security one year later.

Democracy crisis

The Russian leader will visit Budapest on 2 February, just two years after his last trip there.

Soros wrote in a recent opinion article that “democracy is now in crisis" in Europe.

"With economic growth lagging and the refugee crisis out of control, the EU is on the verge of breakdown and is set to undergo an experience similar to that of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s,” he warned.

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