Soros's Foundation May Exit Hungary as Orban Purges Civil Groups

(Bloomberg) -- Billionaire philanthropist George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, a group that funds dozens of non-governmental organizations in Hungary, may move its staff out of Budapest amid a crackdown on civil society by Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

OSF is “considering various options” and is “closely watching developments around draft legislation that would dramatically restrict the activities of civil society in Hungary,” the charity said in an emailed statement on Friday. The foundation will move about 100 employees to Berlin, Austrian newspaper Die Presse reported on Thursday, without citing anyone. Speaking on public radio on Friday, Orban said he wouldn’t shed “crocodile tears” if the organization left Budapest.

The European Union has sued Hungary over its perceived crackdown on civil society as Orban leads a trend of leaders in Europe who have targeted Soros-funded organizations. Orban, re-elected to a third consecutive term this month, demonized the Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and pledged to punish NGOs he supports. Orban has condemned the EU’s multicultural democratic model, based on checks and balances and a thriving civil society, and has worked to create an “illiberal state” modeled on Russia and Turkey.

OSF established its first office abroad in Budapest in 1984 to support the democratization of the then communist country. Active globally, the charity is the main conduit for aid to more than 60 Hungarian NGOs and has spent more than $1.6 billion on democratic development in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in the past 30 years.

In its statement, the foundation said it would remain committed to continuing work in Hungary, but was looking at options to maintain the integrity of its work and the security of its staff in Budapest.

Battles, Wars

Orban, who received a Soros-funded scholarship in 1989, has pledged to pass a bill his government submitted to parliament before the election to tax funds that NGOs receive from abroad and to penalize people who are deemed as supporting “illegal” immigration.

“You can win battles, but you will never succeed in completely winning the war; that’s impossible,” Orban said on state radio Friday in connection with the OSF announcement. “We should never think that they will give up. This is a combat sport.”

Central European University, another institution established by Soros in Budapest and targeted by the premier, has announced plans for a satellite campus in Vienna as it considers whether it can continue to operate in Hungary.

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