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Hungary's anti-Soros campaign now includes anti-immigration bills

Right-wing PM Orbán has unveiled tough laws aiming to stop the liberal billionaire and the causes he supports.

by Tim Hume
Jan 19 2018, 5:36pm

Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has ramped up his campaign of character assassination against George Soros, unveiling a new bundle of tough anti-immigration laws dedicated to “stopping” the liberal billionaire.

Orbán has made attacks on the Hungarian-born American financier, who has used his fortune to promote liberal values and open societies in Eastern Europe, a central part of his political platform, branding him a “public enemy.” Now Orban’s Fidesz party is escalating the longstanding one-way feud in a bid to appeal to its base ahead of elections on April 8, analysts say.

The latest broadside against 87-year-old Soros is the unveiling Thursday of details of three proposed immigration laws, branded the “Stop Soros package” by the government, which could be voted in as early as next month.

“It has been a central part of Fidesz's campaign, and has largely been successful because most Hungarians are anti-immigration,” Gergely Rajnai, of Hungary’s Center for Fair Political Analysis, told VICE News.

The new laws would allow the government to register, penalize, and ban those it deems to be supporting illegal immigration. Foreign-funded NGOs seen to be supporting the “illegal entry, transfer, or stay” of asylum seekers would face a 25 percent tax on foreign donations – to be put to the defense of Hungary’s borders – while activists engaged in such work could be banned from border areas, and foreigners deported. Pro-government media reported that the bills could even result in Soros, who holds both U.S. and Hungarian citizenship, being banned from the country.

Hungary’s government accuses Soros of being the mastermind of a plan to flood Europe with hundreds of thousands of immigrants each year. Its campaign against him has included laws cracking down on NGOs he backs and a Budapest university he founded, and a “national consultation” campaign, in which surveys were sent to Hungarian voters asking if they agreed with Soros’s liberal politics. The government has also run anti-migrant billboards depicting the billionaire’s face, imploring citizens: “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh.”

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs accused the financier once again in a radio interview Thursday of undermining Europe’s future through support for open borders. “It is a political programme in which migrant-assisting groups disguised as human rights organisations take part,” he said.

Soros has previously characterized Hungary’s campaign against him as “distortions and lies” intended to build him up as an external target to rail against for political gain.

Orbán’s Fidesz party is expected to win easily in April, but he has been campaigning strongly on the issue of migration in a bid to ward off the growing challenge from the even more right-wing Jobbik party, polling in second place.

“Soros is an easy target,” Rajnai told VICE News. “For Orbán, but more importantly, for a lot of Hungarian voters, Soros represents external influence on domestic issues.”