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The Open Society Foundations created by Hungarian-born US billionaire and philanthropist George Soros have decided to move their Budapest-based European headquarters to the German capital, Berlin. The decision was announced by the President of the organisation, Patrick Gaspard, on May 15.
Gaspard stated that “the government of Hungary has denigrated and misrepresented our work and repressed civil society for the sake of political gain, using tactics unprecedented in the history of the European Union”. He also claimed that “it has become impossible to protect the security of our operations and our staff in Hungary from arbitrary government interference”. The present Hungarian government has long had a strained relationship with foreign NGOs operating in Hungary and with the Open Society Foundations in particular. Ironically, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has launched a “Stop Soros” package of legislation, is a former grant holder of Soros.
The Open Society Foundations promote liberal values, the freedom of expression and thought, civil rights, democracy and the rule of law. The focus of their activities was and predominantly still is on Eastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union. The organisation is mainly a grant-making body.
Another Budapest-based organisation with links to Soros, the Central European University (CEU), is highly likely to shut down its operations in Hungary, too. Hungary’s law on higher education allows the operation of foreign universities in Hungary, but only if they also run academic operations in their ‘country of origin’. The CEU has US (and Hungarian) accreditation, but did not, until recently, run teaching or research activities at its legal seat, New York State. CEU has now changed this, hoping to avoid a shut-down of the Budapest campus. Sources believe that this will not avoid the end of the Budapest operations. The university had earlier this year announced to move a small part of its operations to Vienna, but it is now highly likely that all their operations will need to transfer to the Austrian capital.
The Austrian government has, for a long time, tried to attract the CEU, and is currently renovating premises which could accommodate all CEU operations. Renovation is scheduled to be finalised by 2022. In the likely event that CEU needs to shut down its Budapest campus earlier, it would even need to find interim locations.