The foundation of Budapest-born financier George Soros said on Friday it was considering its future in Hungary after enduring repeated attacks from Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who offered the liberal body an unfond farewell.
Asked about media reports that it would move its regional centre to Berlin, the Open Society Foundations (OSF) said it was closely watching a draft law from Orban’s right-wing administration on non-government organisations, saying this “would dramatically restrict the activities of civil society in Hungary”.
“We are considering various options, as the security of our staff in Budapest and the integrity of our work is of paramount importance,” it said in a statement.
Orban, a champion of “illiberal democracy” who won a third term in a landslide election victory this month, responded with sarcasm when asked about the OSF’s likely departure.
“You might understand if I don’t cry my eyes out,” he told state radio MR1, adding that the main issue he and Soros differed on, migration, would remain at the top of the European agenda.
Critics say the nationalist premier has put Hungary on an authoritarian path by increasing control over the media and putting allies in control of formerly independent institutions. His stand on refusing to accept large numbers of migrants in Hungary has also put him in conflict with the European Union.
Orban said a summit of EU leaders in June should not make broad changes to the way the bloc handles immigration, adding that such decisions should be made after elections to the European Parliament next year to ensure EU voters get a say in the matter.
“Governments must operate of the people, by the people, for the people,” he said. “Therefore to create a framework in the migration issue one year before the elections is unfair, undemocratic. I urge Europe’s leaders to exercise restraint.”
Orban has hardened his stand on non-government organisations (NGOs) after his campaigning mostly on migration and fighting U.S.-based Soros and his organisations brought him the election success.
The NGO legislation, nicknamed the “Stop Soros” bill, is expected to be one of the first laws to be passed by the new parliament.
It allows the interior minister to ban NGOs that support migration and pose a national security risk. The government says the bill, which would also impose a 25 percent tax on foreign donations to NGOs that back migration in Hungary, is meant to deter illegal immigration Orban says is eroding European stability and has been stoked in part by Soros.
The OSF, founded to promote liberal values after the fall of communism, said it remained committed to its work in Hungary.
Asked about a vote in the European Parliament on Thursday to support NGOs through a new European Values Instrument, Orban said he expected the conflict with liberal civil groups to continue regardless of any OSF move.
“There are always those who want to hurt the community one represents, in this case Hungarians, and, say, want to turn Hungary into an immigrant country.”
Referring to the OSF, he said: “If they think a strong Budapest presence helps them they will stay. If they prefer to leave and fight from the outside, then they will go. But never think they will give up.”
Orban said his new government’s structure would be largely unchanged. Economy Minster Mihaly Varga, who is staying in office, is expected to aid the 2019 budget through parliament before summer break, Orban said.