Browse the international media coverage of Hungary over the last several weeks and a handful of keywords stand out: migration crisis, NGOs, transparency, media, Central European University and George Soros. While much of the coverage lacks balance, the keywords themselves can be instructive, shedding light on a far-reaching, ideologically driven and wholly undemocratic network that pushes George Soros’s “open society” agenda. At first blush, this all may sound like a typical eastern European conspiracy theory, but let’s take a closer look.
Here are a few of the oft-repeated myths about Hungary and the Soros network and some facts to put them in perspective.
Myth: In the struggle against Soros, the Hungarian government decided to close down the university founded by Soros, Central European University (CEU), thereby threatening academic freedom.
The amendment to Hungary’s education law does not discriminate against CEU, and it’s not the government’s intention to shutter the university. The new legislation requires every foreign higher education institution that is operating in Hungary and from a country outside the European Economic Area to have a campus in the institution’s country of origin and a bilateral operating agreement between the two countries. The purpose is quality control, and it’s remarkably similar to laws we find in 13 of the 16 German states, the Netherlands and Switzerland. It’s an administrative issue that does not need to threaten CEU’s operations. The university’s own FAQ on the topic says it would continue to operate in Hungary “under all circumstances.” László Palkovics, Hungary’s state secretary responsible for education, also pointed out a quick and easy administrative solution to allow CEU to operate even without a bilateral agreement or a campus.
In the past, Hungary and the United States have had three government-level agreements on higher education, so the claim by the rector of the CEU and the US Embassy in Budapest that it is impossible to meet the requirements of the Hungarian higher education law because the US federal government cannot sign such an agreement is not accurate.
April 6, 1977, the governments of Hungary and the USA signed an agreement on cooperation in cultural, education, scientific and polytechnic cooperation (here). November 30, 1988 on the American International School of Budapest (here). March 8, 2007 on setting up the Hungarian-American Exchange Program Committee (here). These were all agreements between the federal governments of the United States and the Hungarian government.
With the three other governments (Malaysia, Thailand, China) concerned, the negotiation is underway and with China, even a draft agreement has been written. The United States has not yet appointed a negotiator.
With two out of the three American universities concerned (Boston University and McDaniel College), the will is there to come to an agreement according to the new Hungarian higher education law. The US embassy talks only about CEU.
“Open society” adherents pushing for liberal immigration policies in response to uncontrolled migration to Europe find a serious opponent in the Orbán Government. These groups and their surrogates are exploiting the CEU issue to run a media war against the government and apply pressure on the real battlefield: migration.
In February, conservative historian Mária Schmidt wrote that the very presence of Soros’s academic outpost in Hungary demonstrates the strength of Hungary’s democratic foundations as well as its confidence and dedication to intellectual freedom – all this despite Soros’s efforts to undermine conservative leaders and actively support the political opposition. Perhaps this is why CEU’s backers have worked so hard to prove that CEU is in danger in the country. It is not.
Myth: Hungary’s new NGO law cracks down on civil society and labels NGOs as foreign agents if they receive funds from abroad, following the Russian example.
As of today, there is only a proposal before the Hungarian Parliament, and it addresses the same problem many nations face: the need to differentiate between grassroots civic organizations, which spring from citizen initiative and home-grown ideas about what’s best for the country, and nongovernmental organizations that are in practice local branches of international organizations with a global political agenda. Out of Hungary’s more than 60,000 nongovernmental organizations, the vast majority belong in the first category. But a loud minority of activists present themselves as NGOs when they’re effectively the paid employees of international interest groups seeking to advance an agenda.
According to the draft legislation, no one would ban the latter or label them agents. However, if they receive more than $25,000 in support from outside the European community, they would have to declare as much in the official registry and in their publications. I wrote a detailed post on the draft legislation, which is not based on the Russian but the American example, the FARA legislation. It is also noteworthy how the European Union applies double standards and bashes Hungary for this transparency requirement – one yet to be formalized in parliament – even as they plan a real crackdown on NGOs they don’t like.
Myth: Soros and the NGOs he’s supporting are helping refugees, whereas the Hungarian government wants to close borders.
“I think the world very much needs a conscience, not me personally, but I want my foundation network to be the conscience of the world….” That’s how George Soros himself put it in an interview to American public radio NPR.
This “conscience” can take curious forms, be it supporting militant activists of Black Lives Matter or opposing laws requiring voters to present proof of identification in the United States or organizations seeking to ensure migrants – no one is a legal refugee until his asylum request is approved – a paved route into Europe.
Recently, a Soros-supported NGO called the Hungarian Helsinki Committee took the case of two Bangladeshi citizens to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights and sued Hungary in their names for having to wait in a closed camp for migrants until their asylum requests were decided on. Of course, they celebrated it as a victory for human rights. But the ruling breeds chaos: a member state on the border of the EU’s Schengen Zone is punished for denying the free movement of what are usually undocumented migrants by requiring them to wait in camps until there is a final decision on their asylum requests. Punishing a member state like this takes away the right and means of a state – one which is by international law required to maintain order on the EU’s external borders to protect the internal community – to fulfill its treaty obligations. It’s madness.
Hungary’s refugee camps are no prisons: every asylum seeker who wants to leave can do so, by reversing course and traveling away from the borderless European zone and not into it. When Hungary was first forced to tell migrants to wait in the country until their case is decided on, the migrants, with the help of Soros-funded organizations, organized riots demanding to be let through to the West or sneaked through to other member states within the borderless zone, which is illegal. Germany deported a record number of migrants denied asylum in 2016, and that figure, according to officials, will rise again in 2017.
Soros is interested in creating chaos and weakening the nation states and political powers he doesn’t like. He has realized that it is more effective if he does that posing as the “conscience of the world,” his foundations, rather than through direct, hostile financial interventions like the ones he carried out against the British pound, the French Société Generale or Hungary’s OTP bank. But that should not fool anyone.
Myth: In this debate, Soros is on the side of democratic values.
According to the vast majority of the news items about Hungary, the row between Hungary’s government and billionaire George Soros is about freedom and democracy. In these reports, Soros is portrayed as a philanthropist and propagator of democracy, in stark contrast to Prime Minister Orbán’s convenient portrayal as an autocrat.
But as more and more details surface about Soros’s decades-long efforts to hijack the political left in the United States and in Europe; interfere with elections abroad, especially in the Balkans and eastern Europe; and destabilize entire regions – all while reaping financial gains along the way – such cartoonish portrayals lose all credibility.
Democracy means first and foremost accountability and the people’s right to participate in the decision making of their lives and futures. Governments, including the Hungarian government, are held accountable and can be voted out of power. The shadowy power networks of the “open society” are accountable to no one.
Check out Part 1 of this series here.