What has George Soros ever done for us?

October 2, 2014

Orbán Viktor
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, right, in discussion with Heti Valasz journalist Balint Ablonczy

When the pro-government magazine Heti Válasz accused George Soros of “plotting against Fidesz” this week, TV station ATV quickly responded with a report that listed the many senior party figures who have benefitted from his largesse.

The most notable beneficiary of Soros’ billions is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán himself, who the US-Hungarian financier bankrolled to learn the ways of Western democracy at Pembroke College, Oxford, although he cut short his year to join the Velvet Revolution in Prague in autumn 1989. Many other members of the early Fidesz leadership including MEP József Szájer and former foreign ministry state secretary Zsolt Németh also attended the British institution, thanks to a Soros Foundation grant.

Furthermore, the outgoing Hungarian ambassador to Oslo, Géza Jeszenszky, served as a board member of the Soros Foundation for higher education matters for much of the 1990s.

Many other Fidesz officials have enjoyed Soros’ support over the last 25 years. Alongside the Open Society Institute, which is headquartered in Budapest, Soros’ most significant contribution to Hungarian life has arguably been Central European University (CEU), which would be far and away Hungary’s top university in the global rankings, if they  listed postgraduate-only institutions. CEU graduates close to the present government include former international spokesman Ferenc Kumin, incumbent Zoltán Kovács and Brussels embassy secretary Károly Grúber.

Perhaps most surprisingly of all, the historian and director of the House of Terror Museum Mária Schmidt received Soros funding from 1988 for historical research on the Hungarian Holocaust, with the 1941 deportations of Jews to Kamenets-Podolskiy her specialist area.

Bálint Ablonczy’s article in the pro-Fidesz magazine cited “an Israeli source” saying the activities of Soros’ liberal civil organizations follow “political interests”. He wrote that “conservative politicians often say it is unclear what interests the NGOs… actually represent, and on what kind of financial means they rely. The same questions are raised in connection not only with Hungary but with those liberal activist groups around the globe that are mainly financed by György Soros’ foundation empire.”

Ablonczy adds that “this conclusion was reached by the Israeli organization NGO Monitor in a report last year. The study examined the ‘Soros-universe’ and found that he has spent nearly USD 1 billion out of his USD 22 billion wealth, yet the decision-process and funding system of this Soros network remains quite unclear”.

Soros was born in Budapest and studied at LSE under the philosopher Karl Popper. He became involved in Hungarian public life in 1985, financing research projects at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He then sponsored scholarship for Hungarian researchers and opposition figures at leading international research institutes, with the aim of familiarizing them with key trends in Western political and academic thinking.

Fidesz’s shift to right-wing rhetoric after the victory of the Socialists in 1994 saw it develop a more critical communication towards liberalism and George Soros’ funding activities. Heti Válasz’s article has taken this message to a new level, presenting Soros as a financial figure aiming to “topple governments he does not like around the globe” by “infiltrating civil society”. The criticism of Soros can also be seen as linked to the Hungarian government’s co-ordinated crackdown on liberal NGOs that receive Norway Civil Grants.

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