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Orban, Soros; Hungary, Poland, from Peter Myers

(1) Soros mercenaries: Orban blacklists 200 critics who, he says, are funded by Soros

(2) Soros-funded foundations plan to leave Hungary

(3) Soros' Central European University may move to Vienna after Orbán victory

(4) Investigative Journalists side with Soros against Hungary

(1) Soros mercenaries: Orban blacklists 200 critics who, he says, are funded by Soros

Hungary's Viktor Orban targets critics with 'Soros mercenaries' blacklist

A pro-government magazine has published the names of hundreds of Viktor Orban critics, including academics, civil rights activists and journalists. Does the news mark a new step in Hungary's ongoing political escalation?

On March 15, Hungary's national holiday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared in a speech before tens of thousands of supporters that "after the elections we will take revenge — moral, political and legal revenge." Now, mere days after his overwhelming electoral victory, Orban is apparently about to make good on his threat.

On Thursday, pro-government magazine Figyelo published a blacklist with the names of 200 Orban critics. The list, dubbed "the investors' people" and spanning two whole pages, includes academics, journalists and nongovernmental organization workers, labeling them "mercenaries" of US-Hungarian billionaire investor George Soros. The accompanying article claims that one hundred individuals have been identified who work for and belong to Soros' Hungarian network.

The list includes the names of:

- Numerous academics who teach at the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, which is largely financed by Soros' Open Society Foundation.

- The entire staff of several NGOs, among them the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International's Hungarian section.

- Several journalists, including the editorial staff of investigative platform Direkt36, which over the previous three years reported on many corruption cases involving individuals close to Orban and his Fidesz party, leading to a range of investigations by the European Anti-Fraud Office.

- A number of formerly liberal-leaning and conservative politicians and economists who once were sympathetic to Fidesz policies, including Attila Chikan, who served as minister of economic affairs in Orban's first government during the 1990s.

Intimidation tactics

The blacklist immediately made headlines throughout Hungary and sparked condemnation from many of those named. Major news platform criticized that drawing up lists with names of alleged enemies of the government was reminiscent of the "darkest days of Nazi and Communist times." In a statement, CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff said that publishing the list was "contemptible" and "a flagrant attempt at intimidation that is dangerous for academic freedom and therefore for all of Hungarian academic life."

Many NGO workers who have been named also expressed their consternation. Marta Pardavi, co-chair at the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, told DW the publication was "shocking" and an "extreme and primitive way of vilifying individuals."

Indeed, the appearance of the list alone — featuring white lettering on a black background — leaves little doubt that its purpose is to intimidate all those named. And the wider political context shows that it was not the coincidental product of some zealous Fidesz supporters. For years, Orban has singled out Soros, directly targeting him with campaigns and political attacks. Orban himself, incidentally, once was the recipient of a Soros-funded scholarship, as were several other government and Fidesz party members.

Today, Orban claims Soros is attempting to destroy the Hungarian nation and Europe's Christian identity by promoting the settlement of millions of Muslim migrants. He alleges Soros employs paid "mercenaries" and in March claimed in a video message that his government knows the names of 2,000 such "Soros mercenaries," hinting that they are being kept under surveillance.

'Enemies of the nation'

Figyelo is owned by Orban ally Maria Schmidt, a historian and intellectual progenitor of the politics of Fidesz. The name of her publication translates to "observer" which, in light of the recent blacklist, acquires a particularly cynical connotation. Figyelo often functions as a organ to pave the way for Orban's contentious campaigns. In early 2017, for instance, an article in the magazine first introduced the notion of a "Lex CEU," a controversial bill that changed the laws regarding higher education, as a way of shutting down Hungary's "Soros university."

 Pro-CEU Protese in Budapest (picture-alliance/AP Photo/MTI/J. Marjai) Thousands of people in Hungary have protested against the Orban government's attempts to shutter the CEU

Accordingly, Attila Tibor Nagy from the Budapest-based Centre for Fair Political Analysis thinks that the recently published blacklist is meant to pave the way for passage of the so-called "Stop Soros" package of laws in early May. The legislation aims to empower the government to limit the activities of NGOs "illegally promoting immigration." Nagy says that by "publishing this list of names, all of which are government critics, they are being cast as enemies." And so, he believes, "this seems to be not all that surprisingly a continuation of the anti-Soros campaign."

Orban's European allies

Nagy insists Hungary is far from the kind of democratic erosion comparable to what has happened in Russia or Turkey. But he, like many other observers, nevertheless regards this as a new low in a process of ongoing political escalation. The latest developments could stir debate within the European Union and the European People's Party (EPP), of which Fidesz is a member, over how to deal with Orban. On Thursday, Judith Sargentini, a Dutch member of the European Green Party in the European Parliament, presented a critical report on the status of Hungary's democracy.

After Orban's re-election, fierce debate has once again ensued in the EPP about whether or not Fidesz should be expelled from the political group. Manfred Weber, member of Germany's conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) and chair of the EPP, vehemently rejects the idea, arguing that Orban could be dealt with better if Fidesz remains in the political group. The Helsinki Committee's Pardavi, in turn, is critical of this approach. "All Western politicians who are still in some way or form defending Orban should now realize in what political direction Hungary is headed," she says.

Figyelo has meanwhile announced it will continue publishing names. And while it has apologized for previously also listing the names of already deceased individuals, the magazine dismissed the "hysteria" and "tsunami of concerns" following the initial publication of the blacklist as unwarranted and unnecessary. It said that anybody wishing to be taken off or added to the list should simply send an email.

(2) Soros-funded foundations plan to leave Hungary

Soros-funded foundation questions future in Hungary -  Government crackdown on NGOs prompts review.

By Lili Bayer

April 20, 2018, 12:05 PM CET Updated April 24, 8:47 AM CET

The Open Society Foundations, a nonprofit founded by American-Hungarian financier George Soros, said it is considering the future of its operations in Hungary in the face of a government-led campaign against its work.

Its statement came after a report in Austria’s Die Presse newspaper that the organization has informed its Budapest staff they will soon be moving to Berlin.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government has publicly campaigned against Soros, as well as NGOs and journalists, accusing them of meddling in domestic politics. Rights activists and other critics, including members of the European Parliament, have alleged Orbán is putting the country on a path to autocracy.

Next month, Hungary’s parliament is expected to approve a package of laws the government has dubbed “Stop Soros,” which would in effect allow the government to ban some NGOs from operating in the country.

“The Open Society Foundations are closely watching developments around the draft legislation that would dramatically restrict the activities of civil society in Hungary,” the group said in a statement. “We are considering various options, as the security of our staff in Budapest and the integrity of our work is of paramount importance.”

Under the new legislation, any groups working on migration-related issues would need to obtain a permit from the interior ministry.

Orbán, who won reelection with a landslide victory earlier this month, continued his criticism of Soros and NGOs in a radio interview on Friday morning.

“I know that they won’t accept the election’s outcome, they will organize all kinds of things, they have limitless financial tools,” he said.

Last week a pro-government magazine published a list of approximately 200 NGO employees and reporters it described as “Soros’ mercenaries.” In his Friday interview, Orbán defended the creation of the list of civil society members, saying that he trusts the media to uncover “networks.”

Under the new legislation, any groups working on migration-related issues — including advocacy — would need to obtain a permit from the interior ministry. The state would also levy a tax of 25 percent on foreign donations to groups that work on migration, even if the funding came from bodies like the European Commission or United Nations.

OSF, which functions primarily as a grant-making institution supporting civil society and human rights, was previously banned from Russia in 2015.

Orbán’s big win in Hungary’s April 8 parliamentary election prompted several of the country’s few remaining critical media outlets to shut down and raised fears of a new crackdown on the judiciary.

NGOs are not the only ones preparing for the possibility that working in Hungary would no longer be viable.

The Soros-founded, Budapest-based Central European University, which has faced legal trouble under Orbán, is planning on opening a new campus in Vienna, a move many observers have interpreted as a first step in downsizing its presence in Hungary.

(3) Soros' Central European University may move to Vienna after Orbán victory

CEU president resists move to Vienna after Orbán victory

Yojana Sharma

11 April 2018 Issue No:501

The president of the embattled Central European University, Michael Ignatieff, said last week: “I don’t want to move the entire operation to Vienna.” This in the wake of a landslide election victory last Sunday by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, delivering him a third successive term in power.

The international Central European University or CEU has been at loggerheads with the Hungarian government since last year, when a law was passed restricting the ability of foreign universities to set up in the country.

In particular the government stipulated that institutions had to be established via an agreement between Hungary and the state where the university originates, “which out of the blue required a bilateral agreement with the government”, Ignatieff noted.

He was delivering the keynote speech on the topic of academic freedom at the Centre for Global Higher Education’s 2018 annual conference held at the UCL Institute of Education, University College London, on 11 April.

Ignatieff said the university, which was founded by Hungarian-born financier George Soros after the collapse of communism in Europe, has signed an agreement with the City of Vienna to open a new secondary campus there from 2019, in addition to its main campus in Budapest and its site in the United States at Bard College in New York state.

Plan A

He vowed to do his level best to keep CEU in the Hungarian capital. But new restrictions brought in by the government last year would not allow CEU to exist in Hungary as a stand-alone institution – it has to be a branch. The 2017 restrictions “dropped on us without warning, without consultation, without precedent”, he said.

“We decided that we needed a satellite campus in Vienna because there are things we can do in Vienna, which is a great international city, which we cannot do in Budapest.

“I don’t want to move the entire [CEU] operation to Vienna,” he stressed. It would not only be a logistical nightmare, but also “a university that is there to defend free minds and freedom of institutions should not be pushed out of a country by a regime. So we are trying to find a way to stay.”

Publicly the Hungarian government has stated that it is not trying to close CEU down, but is merely ensuring all institutions “play by the same rules”.

CEU would continue to offer “programmes and activities in Budapest”, Ignatieff said. The need to go to Vienna was to “hedge the political risk” and would also give CEU students opportunities that they might not have in Budapest.

Truth to power

Ignatieff noted that standing up to a regime was unusual for a university. “One of the institutional dispositions of universities is to be very quiet, thoughtful, avoid conflict, avoid standing up. Our lesson is that sometimes you’ve got to fight.”

However, if the other side would not talk or engage in dialogue, then “you’ve got to put some troops on the ground”.

He said CEU had rallied its extensive network of alumni and networks of colleagues in universities in Europe. This led to huge demonstrations in Budapest in support of the institution’s freedom to exist.

“Universities should not underestimate their public support,” Ignatieff said. “And there are occasions where standing up can raise the price for the other side. You sometimes have to fight political battles.”

As a consequence, the Hungarian government reluctantly agreed to negotiate with the state of New York in the United States, where CEU is accredited. “At the end of last summer, we got a deal which allowed us to remain in Budapest. In return we would establish educational activities in the United States – it made sense to compromise, so we compromised.”

“For nine months we have been waiting for the government of Hungary to sign this agreement,” he added.

With Orbán winning a “thumping majority” in election results announced last Monday, “he now holds all the cards. I am not able to tell you whether he will or will not sign the agreement that will allow us to stay in Budapest.”

“If we can’t remain in Budapest I will have to move an entire university across a European frontier to a European state.”

Defend academic freedom

Ignatieff admitted: “Until we got into this jam I did not think that hard about academic freedom” as a key freedom “that protects us all. We are not just fighting for a corporate privilege for ourselves, we are defending a counter-majoritarian institution whose function is to serve and protect and defend whole societies’ capacity to know anything at all.”

He appealed to British and other academic institutions to say “loud and clear that an attack on academic freedom anywhere in Europe is an attack on our academic freedom. Please speak [out] if the government of Hungary decides to close us down.”

What the Hungarian government’s decision will turn on, Ignatieff said, is whether pushing out CEU “turns out to be so popular inside [Orbán’s] own party that he will turn back at the last moment”.

Meet The Funders: How Hollywood is supporting investigative journalism

At the 75th Golden Globes Award ceremony, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announce it would donate $1 million to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists. ICIJ relies on big donations like this, as well as smaller individual donations, to support our investigative journalism. ...

(4) Investigative Journalists side with Soros against Hungary

International Consortium of Investigative Journalists investigating important global issues.running in-depth investigative stories.uncovering the world's illicit tax networks.unmasking the dark side of the global financial system.

MAY 7, 2018

REPORTING BY Dean Starkman

At the heart of Hungary’s battle for democracy: journalism

A couple of weeks before Hungary’s recent, fateful national election last month, one of the nation’s leading public intellectuals, Miklós Haraszti, had a message for an audience of journalists and their supporters:  “The media are the ultimate frontiers in defending freedom in society.”

As if to prove Haraszti’s point, days after the election, the largest opposition paper, Magyar Nemzet, abruptly shut down, as did the English-language opposition site, Budapest Beacon.  Meanwhile a government-allied magazine, Figyelo˝, published – dramatically, on black paper in white ink – a blacklist of supposed “mercenaries” of financier George Soros.

On it were prominent journalists, including András Petho˝, co-founder of the investigative site Direkt36 and a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, along with the rest of the organization’s staff and board, and about 200 other intellectuals and activists.

“It’s kind of a strange feeling when you see your name on a list in such a context,” Petho˝ says. “You just accept that is the reality.” 

Government-allied magazine, Figyelo˝, published a backlist, including ICIJ member Andras Petho.

Hungarian democracy – once characterized by competing, autonomous centers of intellectual production – is hanging by the thinnest of threads. 

That was underscored by recent elections that left the government of Viktor Orbán, which won less than 50 percent of the vote, in control of two-thirds of parliament and the constitution itself. Where the country goes from here – whether the government makes good on its threats against civil society organizations or succeeds in forcing the departure of Central European University, the American-Hungarian institution with which I am affiliated – remains an open question.

To understand the rise of the anti-democratic right that began with Orbán’s election eight years ago, it is important to realize the extent to which media – and even more to the point, journalism – rests at the center of the story. 

The Orbán story is a media story.  His rise was built on it. His consolidated power rests on it.

Orbán, 54, grew up in the small village of Felcsút about 40 kilometers from Budapest and has long been at odds with those perceived as Budapest’s liberal elites, including members of the city’s once vibrant and diverse media.

Trained in law, Orbán helped to found Fidesz in the late 1980s as a movement of youthful, idealistic liberals. He made a name for himself with a 1989 speech in Budapest’s Heroes’ Square at a demonstration recalling the failed 1956 Revolution, which had boldly called for free elections and the removal of Soviet troops.

The following year, he received a scholarship from the Soros Foundation, established by his future nemesis, to study at Oxford. But he cut his studies short to run in Hungary’s first post-communist parliamentary election in 1990. His shift to the right a few years later was as abrupt as it was absolute, purging the party of its liberal founders and leaving Orbán firmly in control.

In 1998, he became one of Hungary’s youngest-ever prime ministers at the age of 35, leading a coalition government through a tumultuous term that ended in defeat – one shocking to Orbán personally – four years later.

Even before the defeat, Orbán  and his allies had considered the need for “media balancing” to counter a perceived left-leaning bias in Budapest media. This had been a government priority, and, with his then-main business ally, Lajos Simicska and other allies, he began shoring up Fidesz-allied media assets, which then included the major daily, Magyar Nemzet, and a conservative weekly.

After the defeat, the party’s media empire-building began in earnest. “This was the first time Fidesz realized it needed a stronger and wider media portfolio,” media scholar and analyst Attila Bátorfy wrote in 2015.  Fidesz-allied and sympathetic business leaders created a news cable channel, Hir Television; a current affairs channel, Echo TV and then acquired another major daily, Magyar Hirlap.  As the left-liberal coalition wobbled after the 2008 financial crisis, business leaders close to Fidesz acquired two billboard companies, then one of the country’s two main radio frequencies, Class FM.

But it was only upon assuming power after a stunning victory in 2010 that Orbán and Fidesz brought to bear the full extent of their media strategy.

The new government’s first major piece of legislation was the landmark Media Law, enacted in  2010. The meticulously prepared law (an English translation, including rebuttals to criticism, runs 189 pages) centralized licensing and regulation under a new panel made up entirely of government allies. It also required media outlets to register with the government, removed legal protection against the disclosure of journalists’ sources and threatened significant fines for a range of vaguely worded infractions (e.g. “imbalanced news coverage” and material considered “insulting” to a particular group or “the majority”).

The new Media Council would also have definitive say over media mergers, a key element in driving out foreign (and independent) media ownership.  While some provisions were rolled back or overturned, most remain in place. The law served as a symbolic marker of the government’s determination to dominate the Hungarian media market and served as a powerful tool to do so.

Public broadcasting became a second front in the war on independent media, with the government obliterating any semblance of independence and more than doubling the state broadcasting budget.

Public TV and radio stations were turned into a “propaganda machine” reminiscent of the communist era, according to the respected public interest media research organization, Mérték Media Monitor.  “It is very telling that colloquially the term ‘state media” is increasingly widely used, even though in the past two decades one was tempted to believe that we would only encounter this notion in history books,” the organization observed in a 2015 report.

In a market the size of Hungary, with a population less than 10 million, the government exerts enormous power over the media market. It succeeds both because large companies are reluctant to support news organizations viewed as problematic by the government and through massive direct advertising through various government agencies, such as the lottery and the public transit company.

A business news site,, found that the government was the country’s largest media advertiser in 2016, after a 80 percent jump in spending from the previous year. And numerous studies have shown that agencies pumped money to the government allied press as though through a firehose.

Batorfy has illustrated how money flowed to the government-allied press.

The orange area shows public advertising flowing to an Orban ally, then plummeting after the ally and Orbán had a bitter public falling out in early 2015. Afterwards, the funds shifted to other

At its height, the Fidesz-allied media portfolio included five billboard companies, one national and one Budapest-based commercial radio station,  three major daily papers, two weekly magazines, two cable channels and the sprawling public media system with several television and radio channels. Other media outlets fell into line, including TV2, one of two main commercial broadcasters, Batorfy said.

The pro-government press, both state-owned and ostensibly private, has pumped out a relentlessly anti-immigrant message, in line with the government’s policies, and has uniformly attacked Soros with an essentially made-up conspiracy theory that he controls European immigration policy and is trying to destroy the Hungarian way of life.

Posters in Hungary attacking George Soros have been likened to Nazi propaganda featuring “laughing Jews”

— The Times of London (@thetimes) July 10, 2017


If the campaign were only about ballooning pro-government media, that would be one thing. But alas, it is not. A third prong of attack has been to eliminate, through market and regulatory means, the most potent institutions of independent journalism.

When, in 2014, one of the largest news sites,, reported that Orbán’s undersecretary in the office of the prime minister had racked up lavish expenses on business trips abroad, the site’s editor-in-chief, Gergo˝ Sáling, was abruptly ousted. His firing prompted a mass walkout of the editorial staff, including Petho˝, who had authored the original stories.

The same year, the government introduced an advertising tax which would have overwhelmingly impacted a single network, RTL Klub, owned by German media giant Bertelsmann, and then a reliable source of hard-hitting reporting. RTL Klub protested: “The objective of the introduction of this tax is nothing less than an aggressive attempt by the government to undermine the biggest media company of the country, which has proved its independence from the political parties and the government over the past 17 years.

— Márton Éder (@martoneder) October 8, 2016

Perhaps the most significant blow to an independent press in 2016, was when the country’s largest daily, Népszabadság, after a string of hard-hitting stories that had exposed corruption at the highest levels of Hungarian society and government, including Orbán’s family, was abruptly shuttered.

Its publisher, Mediaworks, was owned by a Viennese private equity firm whose principal had close ties to Hungarian oligarchs. At the same time, the publisher sold its portfolio of a dozen local papers, which had a combined circulation exceeding even Népszabadság’s, to an ally of the government, bringing virtually every local paper in the country into government-friendly hands.

Critics noted that every paper began to run the same pro-government stories, as this screenshot of several different local papers illustrates:

Screenshots of a variety of local papers in Hungary.

And while some had hoped that Hungarians would be able to see through the relentless and crude anti-immigrant messaging, there were early signs that it was having an effect.  A widely watched video in October 2017 by, one one of the few remaining independent digital sites, chillingly depicted the fears of residents of a small lakeside town, where an local innkeeper had invited a couple dozen refugee women and children to visit.

The signs were confirmed by the election results of April 8, which, while hotly disputed as the result of rigging and manipulation, nonetheless showed substantial support for the government.

Now, in many ways, hopes for Hungarian democracy rests on the work of journalists like Petho˝, who formed Direkt36 with Sáling in 2015, and Tamás Bodoky, who founded in 2011.  Both sites have relentlessly exposed corruption among Orbán’s family members and cronies.

Earlier this year, the European Union’s Anti-Fraud Office rocked Hungary’s political establishment with a scathing report that found “seriously irregularities” in the Orbán government’s handling of important EU-funded public contracts. The bulk of the findings of the report had been previously reported by Direkt36 and Atlatszo.

And now, Petho˝ and the other journalists are government targets.

If nothing else, the Hungarian media experience of the last eight years settles one question:  for anyone doubting whether journalism matters, Viktor Orbán knows it does.

Peter Myers