Soros foundation to leave Hungary by end of August

Open Society Foundations says move due to ‘repressive’ policies of Orban government, which railed against Jewish billionaire during election campaign

George Soros, Founder and Chairman of the Open Society Foundation, at a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels on April 27, 2017. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)
George Soros, Founder and Chairman of the Open Society Foundation, at a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels on April 27, 2017. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)

BUDAPEST, Hungary — The foundation run by US billionaire George Soros said Thursday that the last of its operations in Hungary would cease by August 31, with its activities being transferred to Berlin.

The Open Society Foundations (OSF) announced in May that it was leaving Hungary, citing what it called the “repressive” policies of nationalist firebrand Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

“There are still some colleagues working here in the office, but we will have closed for good by 31 August,” the OSF spokesman in Budapest Daniel Makonnen told AFP.

In an interview with the 168ora weekly, the head of OSF operations in Hungary, Katalin Koncz E., said she felt bad about the move.

“I have to put an end to 25 years’ work and watch as an institution I’ve spent my life building becomes a desert — everyone is clearing away their things and my colleagues are disappearing.”

She indicated that she herself would stay in Budapest, adding: “I take comfort in knowing that a brilliant office and great conditions are awaiting my friends in Berlin, where they will be able to take up the work with fresh energy.”

An anti-Soros poster reading “99 percent reject illegal migration” and “Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh,” in Budapest, Hungary, on July 5, 2017. (AP/Pablo Gorondi)

In April, Orban won a landslide victory in an election that handed him a third straight term as prime minister, and he has since indicated he wants to use this mandate to intensify his anti-migrant, nationalist, and culturally conservative agenda.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric was a key part of Orban’s election campaign and his government accuses Soros, who is Jewish, of using his organizations to orchestrate immigration and undermine the cultural and religious identity of Europe. Soros denies this.

In June, Hungary passed the controversial “Stop Soros” law, which includes a punishment of up to a year in prison for anyone assisting someone who enters the country illegally.

Soros accused Hungary’s government of waging an anti-Semitic campaign against him, though Orban and other Hungarian officials say they have “zero tolerance” for anti-Semitism.

The EU is taking legal action against Hungary over the law and its failure to resolve previous complaints over its treatment of asylum seekers.

In a recent speech Orban railed against “undemocratic” Western Europe states and branded the European Commission a “symbol of failure.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks at a campaign really in Szekesfehervar, Hungary, on April 6, 2018. (Laszlo Balogh/Getty Images/via JTA)

“The Stop Soros laws have started being applied recently, and in the so-called ‘transit zones’ those arriving from Serbia are automatically denied the right to claim asylum and are put into an expulsion regime,” Andras Lederer of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a group providing free legal aid to asylum seekers, told AFP.

“They can appeal against this regime but during that time they don’t receive any food, even the women and children,” Lederer added.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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