George Soros is one busy man, particularly for an octogenarian. If the rumors are to be believed, he is single-handedly funding agitators in the United States and Hungary (and likely other Central and Eastern European countries as well). He is funneling money into Black Lives Matter and importing Muslim refugees into Europe in order to destroy Christian white Europe. He is the mastermind behind lobbying groups masquerading as civil sector organizations in Hungary that have the goal of bringing down the Hungarian nation. In short, he is the perfect enemy. Nick Cohen writes in a recent Guardian article, “If he did not exist, they would have to invent him. As the ‘George Soros’ they credit with supernatural power does not exist, you could say that they have invented them.”
In a recent interview with Magyar Idők, Viktor Orbán says of Soros “I say that George Soros is not to be underestimated. He is a powerful, resolute billionaire who respects neither God nor man when it comes to his interests.” Soros is the enemy, the exemplar for all that is wrong, the man about whom anything can be said. But who is George Soros, actually? Soros is an 86 year old Hungarian-born American. He is a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to England after fleeing Nazi-occupied Germany. A billionaire, he made his money in banking and investing and is now one of the 30 richest people in the world. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, he pledged to use his wealth to prevent another wave of xenophobia in Europe. To this end, he helped establish Central European University and Open Society Foundations and has funded projects that promote civil society, openness, and democracy.
One could argue that Soros made possible the smooth transition from state-sponsored socialism of the Soviet era to a democracy with a market economy that Hungary experienced. However, by the time Hungary joined EU, Soros’ presence had diminished. In fact, during the time I was doing field research in Hungary (2004-2008), many of my informants (NGO workers) spoke of funding “moving East” to the greater need outside of Europe’s borders. Soros is a figurehead, albeit a powerful one; but his direct influence over day-to-day operations in Hungary is minimal at best. For example, at CEU, a School of Public Policy he wanted to see as part of the university was established in 2012. Soros is also traditionally present for commencement events. However, aside from activities such as these and lending his name and image, he is not involved in operations. While he has donated money to fund refugee projects and has spoken out against Europe’s failure to handle the refugee “crisis” well, his focus as of late has been on Donald Trump anti-immigrant policies, not Orbán’s. Soros is a United States citizen and seems to identify more with the US rather than with his country of birth. He is truly an invented super villain.
Why? What purpose does it serve to construct Soros as the enemy of Hungary? It is more than just rhetorical, but is rather another powerful tool of populism. Margaret Atwood actually said it best in a 2006 interview with Bill Moyers. Atwood and Moyers were commenting that her book, The Handmaiden’s Tale, is a fictionalized account of something that has happened and could happen again:
“When societies come under stress these kinds of things happen. People start looking around for essentially human sacrifices. They start looking around for somebody they can blame. And they feel if only they can demolish that person, then everything’s going be okay.”
Orbán’s use of Soros as the “human sacrifice” is done so masterfully that policies and practices which on their surface can be easily identified as detrimental are rendered necessary in the face of evil. The response of the Hungarian public to the higher education amendment is a testament to this. While the international media has largely focused on the threat to democracy embedded in the threat to close CEU, inside Hungary it has been constructed as move necessary to constrain the lawless Soros and get him to act within the rules. No one is above the law, says Orbán, not even George Soros. A recent survey by Századvég Foundation shows that 86 percent of people were aware of the protests generated by the law but 70 percent agreed with the law and only 22 percent disagreed. This survey does not measure respondents’ attitude toward Soros, but it does indicate that the public is overwhelmingly agreed that the act is justified.