Three decades ago, billionaire financier George Soros paid for a young Viktor Orbán to study in Britain. And as recently as 2010, Soros donated $1 million to Orbán’s government to help the cleanup effort following the infamous “red sludge” disaster.
But the once-warm relationship between the two men has deteriorated substantially over the past seven years, as Orban has drifted further to the right. In 2014, the leader of Hungary’s Fidesz party declared he would seek to model Hungary’s government after “illiberal” democracies like the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Since then, Orban has elicited horrified condemnations from his peers in the European Union and NATO over his purported drift to the far right. His government constructed a border fence in defiance of the European Commission’s plan to evenly distribute migrants across Europe. His opposition to accepting refugees and Muslim immigrants has drawn accusations of Islamophobia. And his crackdown on domestic political opponents has also raised hackles with the Amnesty International set.
And now, some of his domestic critics are levying accusations of anti-Semitism, as his political battle of wills with his former mentor has morphed into an all-out propaganda campaign playing out on billboards across Hungary.
As Bloomberg points out, Orban’s Fidesz party has targeted Soros, whose “Open Society” organizations work to spread democracy and globalist values across Eastern Europe, in a nationwide, taxpayer-funded billboard campaign that’s been criticized as anti-Semitic. Soros’s image has been splashed across billboards, where he stands accused of being a political puppet master.
The campaign is just the latest salvo in the feud between the two men, which spilled into public view earlier this year. Back in June, Soros famously accused Orban of transforming Hungary into a “mafia state” and of using Soros’s visage to scare Hungarians into supporting his party.
“He [Orbán] sought to frame his policies as a personal conflict between the two of us and has made me the target of his unrelenting propaganda campaign,” Soros said.
As Bloomberg adds if Orban’s call for Europeans to “take back control of their nations” from Brussels resonates, it could be a sign that ties are rapidly eroding in the former communist east.
Of course, Hungary isn’t alone in its rejection of western values: Poland is undergoing a historic fallout in political relations with the EU, of which it is a member. In Austria, a 31-year-old anti-immigration candidate led his party to victory in Parliamentary elections earlier this month. In the Czech Republic, a populist tycoon named Andrej Babis who’s been described as the “Czech Donald Trump.” Babis led his party to a landslide victory, making him the frontrunner to become the republic’s next prime minister. Italy's two richest regions overwhelmingly voted for autonomy over the weekend, and so on.
That said, with his unlimited financial resources, Soros is more than capable of striking back against Orban. The billionaire financier donated $18 billion in assets from his family office to his “Open Society” foundation, which oversees a network of dozens of nonprofits that seek to promote Soros’s political values. Incidentally, the final showdown - financial or otherwise - may be not between Soros and Orban but Soros and Putin whose wealth, according to some estimates as much as $200 billion, is orders of magnitude higher than that of Soros.