Soros slams ‘mafia state’ in bat­tle over univer­sity

Gov­ern­ment tar­gets bil­lion­aire’s school


BU­DAPEST, HUN­GARY | In­vestor Ge­orge Soros hit back Thurs­day against Hun­gar­ian Prime Min­is­ter Vik­tor Or­ban over the leader’s at­tempts to shut down a Bu­dapest univer­sity. which Mr. Soros founded af­ter the fall of com­mu­nism.

In a speech in Brus­sels, the Hun­gar­ian-Amer­i­can bil­lion­aire and fun­der of lib­eral causes in the U.S. and abroad, ac­cused the na­tion­al­ist prime min­is­ter of build­ing a “mafia state” in Hun­gary. In do­ing so, he reached for a term that has gained cur­rency among Mr. Or­ban’s crit­ics, who see the prime min­is­ter as lead­ing an in­creas­ingly au­thor­i­tar­ian and cor­rupt po­lit­i­cal sys­tem in which he and those in his in­ner cir­cle are grow­ing richer, of­ten with Euro­pean Union funds.

Mr. Soros praised the Hun­gar­i­ans who have staged large street demon­stra­tions in past months in de­fense of the Cen­tral Euro­pean Univer­sity, a grad­u­ate school that Mr. Soros founded in 1991 in or­der to strengthen rule of law across the re­gion. Mr. Or­ban’s Fidesz party passed new leg­is­la­tion in April that threat­ens its con­tin­ued ex­is­tence in Bu­dapest.

“I am full of ad­mi­ra­tion for the coura­geous way the Hun­gar­ian peo­ple have re­sisted the de­cep­tions and cor­rup­tion of the mafia state that Or­ban has es­tab­lished,” Mr. Soros told pol­i­cy­mak­ers and eco­nomic lead­ers in a speech at the Brus­sels Eco­nomic Fo­rum.

Hun­gar­ian gov­ern­ment spokesman Zoltan Ko­vacs said Mr. Soros’ words re­veal he “has his own po­lit­i­cal agenda.”

“Who ex­actly is Ge­orge Soros and what does he have to do with Europe and its fate? Why should what he says carry any weight? The demo­crat­i­cally elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the mem­ber states will de­cide,” Mr. Ko­vacs said.

Mr. Soros, an 86-year-old Holo­caust sur­vivor from Hun­gary, has emerged as one of the global fig­ures most hated by pop­ulists and na­tion­al­ists. They de­nounce his sup­port for lib­eral causes, in­clud­ing LGBT, women’s and refugee rights, and fault his fi­nan­cial spec­u­la­tion as a cause of the pain felt by many in the af­ter­math of the fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

Mr. Soros’ ad­mir­ers praise him for the many good causes he has sup­ported and feel is be­ing used as a scape­goat by au­thor­i­tar­ian politi­cians, not­ing trou­bling par­al­lels be­tween the lan­guage used against him and anti-Semitic con­spir­acy the­o­ries of the past.

In late April, Mr. Or­ban de­scribed Mr. Soros to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment as a “fi­nan­cial spec­u­la­tor ... who is now at­tack­ing Hun­gary.”

Mr. Soros de­cried how Mr. Or­ban “has made me the tar­get of his un­re­lent­ing pro­pa­ganda cam­paign.”

“He cast him­self in the role of the de­fender of Hun­gar­ian sovereignty and me as a shady cur­rency spec­u­la­tor who uses his money to flood Europe, par­tic­u­larly his na­tive Hun­gary, with il­le­gal im­mi­grants as part of some vague but ne­far­i­ous plot,” Mr. Soros told his Brus­sels au­di­ence.

“That is not who I am. I am the proud founder of the Cen­tral Euro­pean Univer­sity that has, af­ter 26 years, come to rank among the 50 best uni­ver­si­ties in the world in many of the so­cial sciences.”

Hun­gar­ian of­fi­cials ear­lier this week con­firmed a date for talks with New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo on the fu­ture of Cen­tral Euro­pean Union, which is char­tered in New York state. An aide to Mr. Or­ban is set to travel to New York later this month for talks.

Amid street protests in Bu­dapest in sup­port of the school, the Euro­pean Union has ini­ti­ated le­gal pro­ceed­ings against the Or­ban gov­ern­ment, The prime min­is­ter has said the new law seeks only to elim­i­nate “ad­van­tages” Cen­tral Euro­pean Univer­sity has over other Hun­gar­ian uni­ver­si­ties.

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