The Open Society Foundations have announced plans to close its Budapest office and move its international operations and staff to Berlin.
The announcement comes as the Hungarian government, which has taken measures to crack down on foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations in recent years, prepares to impose further restrictions through a "Stop Soros" package of legislation aimed at demonizing and curbing the activities of OSF founder George Soros. Citing national security interests, the legislation seeks to block any organization from advising or representing asylum seekers and refugees without a government license. In 2017, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party sought to shut down the Soros-funded Central European University in Budapest, while ahead of elections this April Fidesz ran a billboard campaign featuring Soros that — together with Orbán's repeated calls to preserve Hungary's "ethnic homogeneity" — led to accusations of anti-Semitism.
"Together with other international funders, Open Society will continue to support the important work of civil society groups in Hungary on issues such as arts and culture, media freedom, transparency, and education and health care for all Hungarians," the foundation said in a statement.
Soros, who was born in Hungary, opened his first foundation there in 1984 to promote freedom of expression during the last years of Communism and support the country's transition to democracy. In 1989, Orbán, then a liberal anti-Communist student leader, received a Soros scholarship to study at Oxford University; since 2014, however, he has moved vigorously to discredit and end liberal democracy in the country.
"The government of Hungary has denigrated and misrepresented our work and repressed civil society for the sake of political gain, using tactics unprecedented in the history of the European Union," said OSF president Patrick Gaspard. "The so-called Stop Soros package of laws is only the latest in a series of such attempts. It has become impossible to protect the security of our operations and our staff in Hungary from arbitrary government interference."
(Photo credit: Open Society Foundations)