George Soros is a well-known business magnate, philanthropist and investor with Hungarian-Jewish origins, who emigrated to the USA after the World War 2 and is using his wealth to support open societies with his national open society foundations. He is also a regular subject of political discussions in Hungary nowadays, as the right wing media and the governing parties are using his name and fame for political purposes and hatemongering.
Hungarian parties, mostly those belonging to the opposition, struggle to finance their own operation, and need the support of so-called “money men”. These supporters are most of the time not very well-known and their names rarely appear publicly. According to the right wing public opinion, George Soros is one of these “money men”, who support left parties and civil organizations with the purpose of subduing the Christian-conservative course. There is heavy animosity towards civil organizations coming from the political right. This can be attributed to the fact that there are no classical right-wing civil organizations in Hungary – except for some newly established groups used as proxies by the government. Because of this, the governing coalition views civil society as a political enemy.
It is an interesting historical twist in the case of the governing Fidesz, which at the end of the communist era was a young, liberal party and a supporter of open society which not only represented the ideas promoted by Soros, but had also received his financial support. Viktor Orbán, the current prime minister of Hungary won a scholarship from the Soros Foundation to the Oxford University. Today, however, Fidesz politicians do their utmost to forget all this and rather use the name of Soros as a negative label and a political weapon.
How come is using the name of George Soros as a tool of intimidation such an effective strategy in Hungary? There are numerous reasons, because he fits the stereotypical description of the “Jewish businessman” created by the far-right: He migrated from Hungary, gained wealth as a speculator, he is a cosmopolitan man with international connections. Unfortunately, it seems like even the more moderate right voters are open to these anti-semitic interpretation and they are willing to accept that some mysterious hidden power is behind everything bad that happens. The Fidesz is continually building this theory and uses these slogans more and more since 2014. With this strategy, the governing party is trying to steal the more radical voters from the far right Jobbik party, as it is their greatest rival on the right. For these reasons, the Soros-stigma is regularly used as a weapon.
In 2013, the spokesperson of the Fidesz party accused the Hungarian Helsinki Committee of defaming Hungary and its government with the usage of financial support provided by George Soros. In 2015, Fidesz had to issue public apology to the Committee, forced by court. Combining their two favorite boogey men, they often accuse Ferenc Gyurcsány, former socialist prime minister, of using Soros’ money to run his party – the Democratic Coalition. George Soros, as an open society advocate, is advocating for the support towards refugees, which makes him a good target of Fidesz, as they are vocally opposing the idea of refugees in Europe.
The most recent “Sorosing” is the most outrageous. This week, teachers demonstrating in support of education reform in Hungary were accused by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of being secretly controlled by Soros. According to the Fidesz propaganda, it was civil organizations funded by Soros that instigated the pedagogues hatred against the government. This only shows that the governing party is completely disconnected from reality and the Fidesz-KDNP coalition will not take responsibility for their decisions. Whenever someone dares to criticize the government, they are on the spot labelled as agents of Soros, regardless of whether it is merely a mild critique issued by civil organisations.
This is an alarming direction for Hungary, where the Fidesz answers to every complex problem with the antagonizing image of hostile “others”. The governing party is free to entertain ideological differences with George Soros, but that does not justify the current campaign of paranoia which does nothing else but reinforce the racism and anti-semitism in Hungarian society.
It is very important that these governmental attacks do not break down the civil initiatives since they are essential in strengthening democratic control over the government. These civil organizations play an indispensable role in democracy by instilling in politicians a sense that their decisions bring consequences and they cannot act without listening to the voices of the citizens.