Hungary: Pro-govt weekly prints list of ‘Soros mercenaries’
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A Hungarian magazine published Thursday the names of more than 200 people it claimed Prime Minister Viktor Orban had in mind when he alleged U.S.-Hungarian billionaire George Soros paid “mercenaries” to topple the government and open the country to immigrants.
Those listed by the weekly Figyelo included members of rights organizations such as Amnesty International, anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, refugee advocates, investigative journalists and faculty from the Soros-founded Central European University.
Some of the people named are dead.
Figyelo is a formerly highly respected business magazine which took on an unabashedly pro-government slant after it was acquired in December 2016 by Maria Schmidt, a historian and Orban ally. Since then, the great majority of the ads in the magazine are from the government or state-owned companies.
Orban was re-elected to a fourth term as Hungary’s leader in Sunday’s parliamentary election. He based his campaign on demonizing migrants, blaming Soros and organizations supported by his Open Society Foundations for wanting to allow thousands of immigrants into Hungary.
Last month, Orban said the government knew the names of some 2,000 members of the “Soros mercenary army” paid to “work toward bringing down the government.”
“We know precisely who these people are, we know names ... and how and why they are working to transform Hungary into an immigrant country,” Orban said on state radio.
The government’s International Communications Office, when asked Thursday about the magazine’s list and whether the names matched the ones compiled by the government, referred all questions to the publication.
The U.S. Embassy in Budapest, as well as the ambassadors of Canada and Sweden, expressed their support for those on the list.
“Civil society = ordinary citizens working to make their country a better place,” the embassy tweeted. “The United States condemns Figyelo’s attempt to intimidate these citizens.”
In a statement, the magazine characterized reaction to the article as “hysteria,” apologized to families of the deceased named in the story and said its list was “far from complete.”
The publication also vowed to add to the list anyone who asked to be included and to remove those “embarrassed that we included them in the Soros directory.”
Investigative journalist Andras Petho, who was named by Figyelo, said the Direkt36.hu website he writes for is partly supported by Soros’ foundation, most of its funding comes from readers and crowdfunding efforts.
Direkt36 regularly publishes stories on the business dealings of Orban’s family and allies, as well as the business activities and interests of government and opposition politicians.
“We’ve never had any requests or expectations expressed about our reporting or stories by the Soros fund,” Petho said, noting that Direkt36′s donors were listed on its website.
Several other organizations named by Figyelo rejected the article.
“The publication of such a list, in the context of the recent election campaign, is contemptible,” Central European University Rector Michael Ignatieff said. “This is a flagrant attempt at intimidation that is dangerous for academic freedom and therefore for all of Hungarian academic life.”
The Orban government is delaying signing an agreement which would guarantee CEU’s permanence in Budapest, where it has been since 1993.
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, which provides legal services for asylum-seekers as part of its work, said the list was “a dangerous figment of the imagination, a fabrication whose copyright belongs to the government, not the magazine.”
“Blacklisting has to stop now, until it’s not too late,” the group said.