Update: This story has been updated to include a response from the Hungarian government.
A mob of about 50 far-right radicals attacked a Jewish community center in Budapest, Hungary on Wednesday, tearing down and burning a rainbow flag before covering the building with neo-fascist slogans.
The Aurora community center was closed when it was targeted by members of the ultranationalist Legio Hungaria group, and no one was hurt, according to Adam Schönberger, director of Marom Budapest, the Jewish youth group that runs the center.
But the incident was just the latest in a series of far-right stunts targeting Aurora, which receives funding from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations and acts as a hub for NGOs representing minority groups, including the LGBTQ community, Roma and refugees.
Last month about a dozen radicals they threw a dead rat into the building during an LGBTQ event and then loitered outside harassing people, Csaba Csontos, spokesman for Open Society Foundations, told VICE News.
Csontos said he believed the Hungarian government’s smear campaign against Soros and his philanthropic work had helped pave the way for the far-right attacks on the center.
“These groups felt authorized to act, partly because the place was so stigmatized,” he said.
Since 2015, Hungary’s nationalist prime minister Viktor Orban has demonized the Hungarian-born billionaire philanthropist as a public enemy. Orban used extensive propaganda campaigns drawing on anti-Semitic tropes to paint Soros as a shadowy, globalist mastermind intent on undermining the Hungarian leader’s conservative brand of so-called “illiberal democracy.”
Csontos said the Aurora center, which includes a bar, concert stage, and offices for civil society groups, had been routinely criticized in government-controlled media as a “headquarters” for the Soros movement, while local authorities, until recently controlled by Orban’s Fidesz party, had repeatedly tried to close the center.
“This place is an ideal target for government propaganda,” he said. “It seems this triggered the far-right actions.”
In March 2017, members of far-right group the Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement filmed themselves spray painting "Stop Operation Soros" on the center’s walls and surrounding pavements.
The center was targeted on Wednesday by members of Legio Hungaria as its members gathered in central Budapest for a nationalist march to commemorate the 1956 uprising against Soviet occupation.
On the group’s website, on which it describes itself as “extreme right,” Legio Hungaria said that Wednesday’s march was a “tribute to our predecessors, who fought against the oppressive red terror … and a protest against the continued spread of new leftist ideas.”
Csontos said the group’s attack appeared motivated by a mix of anti-Semitic, homophobic and anti-Soros prejudice, and seemed calculated to grab attention and announce its arrival on the far-right scene.
A representative for the Hungarian government told VICE News that the group behind the attack had ties to the far-right opposition Jobbik party. The government denied any role in emboldening extremists, claiming that since Orban assumed office in 2010, Hungary has had “a policy of zero-tolerance towards anti-Semitism.”
Hungary’s campaign against Soros — which have included restrictions on a Soros-funded private university, and a “Stop Soros” law criminalizing NGOs deemed to be supporting illegal immigration — forced the Open Society Foundations to close its Budapest office last year and relocate to Berlin. Open Society has provided funding to Aurora since it was founded in 2014, with the goal of creating a space for civil society in an increasingly illiberal country.
Cover: Screenshot of Aurora community center from Google street view.