The latest article from our Senior Research Fellow Farid Hafez.
There was probably a time when the current leader of the Hungarian conservative party, Fidesz, Viktor Orban, was quite grateful to George Soros. Back in 1988, as a 25-year-old fresh law graduate, he became a member of the Central-Eastern Europe study group funded by the Soros Foundation. A year later, he received a Soros scholarship to study British liberal political philosophy at Pembroke College, Oxford University.
And in more recent times, Soros donated $1m to Orban’s government to cope with the environmental disaster in the town of Devecser, which was flooded with toxic sludge from a nearby aluminium factory in 2010.
But today, Orban has no words of gratitude for Soros. Rather, he has launched a vicious campaign against his former benefactor. And while his aggressive rhetoric is verging on anti-Semitism, the Hungarian prime minister has also – strangely enough – managed to weave in Islamophobic threads into his verbal attacks on Soros. And surprisingly (or not), this symbiosis of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia has been well received elsewhere in Europe and even the US.
A symbiosis of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia
Although Orban is said not to be anti-Semitic himself but rather deeply opportunistic, he has turned his former benefactor Soros into the ideal scapegoat for the Hungarian government’s failures. Pushing for illiberal policies and anti-EU reforms, Orban has been using Soros’ name in his populist rhetoric on a regular basis. He has been pandering to anti-Soros conspiracy theorists in Eastern and Central Europe, many of whom hold anti-Semitic views and enthusiastically spread their theories about “Jewish conspiracies” to dominate the world.
Orban has not shied away from using anti-Semitic tropes, talking of Soros’ “wealth, power, influence and a network of NGOs” and has called him “billionaire speculator”. It was no surprise that when his government launched an anti-immigration campaign spreading posters of Soros with the slogan “Let’s not let Soros have the last laugh”, some of them got defaced with anti-Semitic statements like “Stinking Jew”.
Anti-Soros politicians in Eastern and Central Europe have also joined in the chorus, with one Polish MP calling him “the most dangerous man in the world”.
While propagating anti-Semitic stereotypes, Orban has also managed to accuse Soros and the EU of wanting to “Muslimise” Europe. In a speech in late July, he said that the “Soros Empire” is using “money, people and institutions to transport migrants into Europe”.
In Orban’s rhetoric, Soros – and his alleged “co-conspirator” the EU – threaten the Christian character of Europe. “Europe is currently being prepared to hand its territory over to a new mixed, Islamised Europe. […] In order for this to happen, for the territory to be ready to be handed over, it is necessary to continue the de-Christianisation of Europe – and we can see these attempts,” he said.
Orban’s Islamophobic accusations against Soros have been shared by far-right groups in Europe and the US which have attacked the Hungarian philanthropist for his perceived support for “Islamisation”.
Leading Islamophobic voices polemicise against Soros. Some portray him as a Nazi sympathiser involved with Islamists, who are supposed to be “the last of Adolf Hitler’s World War Two coalition partners that have yet to be vanquished”- as one right-wing website put it.
“Could it be that ‘spooky dude’ George Soros is playing god again? Is it really possible that the grand puppet master is pulling the strings on Europe’s demise?”, says an Islamophobic right-wing blog and goes on: “George Soros has all sorts of ideas – dictates, really – for how Europe must sign up for its demise by importing hordes of Muslims”.
The anti-Soros campaign even managed to get into the US Congress. Six senators signed a letter calling on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to investigate USAID funding for Soros’ Open Society Foundation and its activities in Macedonia and Albania. Apparently, the letter was based on a pamphlet sent to Congress by a Macedonian group called Stop Operation Soros.
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