A rising tide of anti-Semitism in Hungary has prompted the Open Society Foundations, the philanthropic organization founded by billionaire George Soros that supports civil society in democratizing nations, to move its international operations out of Budapest.
Against what OSF President Patrick Gaspard called “tactics unprecedented in the history of the European Union,” the organization is not only decamping to Berlin—itself a historic statement, given Germany’s emergence from the legacy of the Nazis—but sending its non-Hungarian staff out of Hungary as well.
Hungary’s recently re-elected prime minister, Viktor Orban, won a third term last month after relentlessly demonizing Soros, who as a child survived the Nazi takeover of Budapest, in terms redolent of classic anti-Semitism. Orban portrayed Soros as a puppet master engineering a push to flood Hungary with Muslim migrants to turn it into what Orban called an “immigrant nation.” His party is now pushing “Stop Soros” laws to make it harder for nongovernmental organizations to aid asylum seekers.
“The government of Hungary has denigrated and misrepresented our work and repressed civil society for the sake of political gain, using tactics unprecedented in the history of the European Union,” Gaspard said in a press release. “The so-called Stop Soros package of laws is only the latest in a series of such attempts. It has become impossible to protect the security of our operations and our staff in Hungary from arbitrary government interference.”
From Russia to the United States, the currently ascendant nationalist right has transformed Soros from a human being into a synecdoche for a shadowy, powerful cabal bent on transforming Western countries into something alien and unrecognizable—a rhetorical maneuver conspicuous in hundreds of years of European anti-Semitism.
This time around, the transformation of Soros has been fueled and disseminated widely online, with substantial aspects of it emanating from Russia. The St. Petersburg-based troll farm that special counsel Robert Mueller indicted for conspiracy to manipulate the 2016 election and elect Donald Trump used imposter Twitter accounts to spread messages like, “RT if you think President Trump should put George Soros on the FBI Most Wanted list!” The Russian military intelligence alias known as DC Leaks, which leaked the Democratic National Committee’s stolen emails, set up a website to discredit Soros in August 2016. And in January 2017, Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik mused on Orban’s similarities “with President Putin, as the two leaders are openly against the shadowy Soros network and champion conservative values.”
In the U.S., the fascists and fascist sympathizers collectively known as the alt-right have portrayed Soros similarly. A New York “Deplorables” party earlier this year featured panel speakers who called Soros, according to a Guardian reporter in attendance, “the head of the snake.” Alt-right accounts in the U.S. promoted a slander that the Parkland students who survived a mass shooting to mobilize on behalf of gun control were crisis actors bankrolled by Soros. Alt-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones accused ousted national security adviser H.R. McMaster of being an “an active operative of globalist billionaire George Soros.” “Globalist” is a favored alt-right euphemism for “Jew.”
Thanks to years of misreporting on Soros’ childhood Holocaust history, most importantly in English by former Fox News host Glenn Beck, Soros himself has been transformed from Holocaust survivor into Nazi collaborator. Now, once championed in the west as a hero of democratic emergence from communism in Europe, Soros’ foundations find themselves unable to work in Soros’ native country.
“Soros came back to Hungary in 1984 to support the changes that gradually led to the fall of Communism, aware that the ideas of freedom and democratic governance could not be suppressed forever,” Leonard Benardo, the Open Society Foundations’ vice president, told The Daily Beast. “We may have been forced to move operations out of Budapest, but the ideas that we represent—and those who defend them—remain, and they will outlive the current misguided debate.”