The demonized Open Society Foundations to leave Hungary

After investing $400 million in Hungary since 1994, the Open Society Foundations of George Soros have announced that they are closing their offices in Budapest and are relocating to Berlin. The decision comes on the heels of a relentless anti-Soros campaign on the part of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government, the highly controversial publication of a list of so-called Hungarian “Soros mercenaries” by government propaganda site Origo, the expected passing of the “Stop Soros” bill currently before Parliament and comments by the prime minister on Good Friday about how Hungarian national security authorities are tracking, by name, some 2,000 enemies of the state.

Open Society Foundations employed 100 staff members in Budapest (60% Hungarian) when it announced the closure of its offices this week. Over the past two and a half decades, these foundations have engaged in wide-ranging anti-poverty initiatives in Hungary. For instance, in the nineties, Mr. Soros’ foundations dedicated $5 million to provide Hungarian elementary school children with free breakfasts. The foundations recognized that Hungarian families were struggling as the country transitioned to capitalism. Also in the nineties, the foundations purchased ultrasound scanners for Hungarian hospitals.

Following the worldwide economic crisis of 2008, the foundations made available $8.6 million for anti-poverty initiatives in Hungary, funding 150 different local groups throughout the country.

In 2010, after Viktor Orbán returned to power, the Soros foundations provided $1 million to help decontaminate the Danube and other waterways following Hungary’s red sludge environmental catastrophe.

Open Society Foundations funding in Hungary

As some of our readers will know, Mr. Soros was already active in Hungary in the dying years of the Kádár regime and played a critical role in supporting pro-democracy activists, including the young Viktor Orbán. In fact, starting in 1985, foundations associated with Mr. Soros spent $4.4 million buying equipment and supplies (particularly photocopiers) for Hungarian libraries, hospitals and other public institutions.

Mr. Soros’ greatest investment in post-communist Hungary was the establishment of Central European University in Budapest, with an initial injection of $250 million. Central European University, under assault by the Orbán government for over a year, announced this March that it intends to open a campus in Vienna. For now, CEU hopes to come to an agreement with the Orbán government and thus maintain its Budapest campus as well.

Losing the Open Society Foundations is a blow to Hungary and particularly to Hungarian civil society–though hardly surprising given the way in which the Hungarian government has demonized George Soros for the past two years.

The plan is to close down the Foundations’ offices in Budapest in August 2018. Initially, the organization will move to Vienna and then eventually to Berlin.

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