Hungary: Open Society Foundation closing in Budapest due to Government persecution
The Open Society Foundation, established by the American financier of Hungarian origin George Soros, will be relocating to Berlin from Budapest due to the repressive pressure of the Government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. OSF announced the move on its website and assured the public that it will continue to support civic groups in Hungary working in the areas of culture, education, freedom of the press, health care and transparency.
Reuters reports that Zoltán Kovács, a spokesperson for the Government, has refused to comment on the decision. Reuters also reports that the opposition and organizations defending human rights have long warned that the departure of OSF would represent a milestone in the shift toward authoritarianism in Hungary and its violation of EU principles.
The Hungarian Government rejects those accusations. Yesterday the Government informed the Hungarian Parliament's Justice Committee that the executive wants to further tighten a controversial bill meant to introduce harsher rules for NGO activities.
Among other matters, the bill would make it possible for the Interior Minister to ban any NGO working in the area of immigration if it would be deemed to represent a "threat to national security". The legislation is nicknamed "Stop Soros".
"Open Society Foundations will relocate its international activities currently coordinated from Budapest and its employees to the capital city of Germany, Berlin, as in Hungary OSF is facing increasing repressive pressures in the legislative and political environment," the foundation said in its statement. "The decision to leave Budapest comes at a time when the Hungarian Government is preparing to unleash more restrictions on NGOs through the legislative package called 'Stop Soros'."
Patrick Gaspard, the head of OSF, declared that the Orbán Government is discrediting the foundation's work, distorting the foundation's message, and suppressing civil society in order to retain its hold on political power. "He is using an approach that is unprecedented in the history of the European Union," Gaspard said.
The legislative package nickamed "Stop Soros" was characterized by Gaspard as just a continuation of the Government's conduct to date. "It is impossible for us to continue to protect our activities and our staff from arbitrary Government interventions in Hungary," Gaspard said.
The decision by OSF to relocate to Berlin will have a serious impact on the more than 100 employees of the Budapest headquarters, three-fifths of whom are Hungarians, the MTI agency reports. Prior to the April elections, Orbán described Soros as practically Enemy #1 of the Hungarian state, alleging that he was directing massive influxes of immigrants into Europe.
The attacks on the philanthropist have continued even after Orbán won the elections. For example, the Hungarian pro-Government weekly Figyelö published the names of 200 people last month from a group the Hungarian PM has labeled the "mercenary army of Soros".
The New York-based OSF was established by Soros in the 1980s and works in 100 countries, OSF spends about USD 1 million annually to support 30 NGOs in Hungary, Agence France-Presse reports.
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