The 'Soros plan' and the 2015 'refugee crisis'
In 2015, hundreds of thousands of refugees and immigrants arrived in Europe escaping from war-torn Syria and other Middle Eastern and North African warzones and areas made uninhabitable due to climate change. In the peak of this so-called crisis, Hungarian state officials turned to the simple and powerful narratives of conspiracy theories. They explained that this migration was not a spontaneous process caused by any of the above developments but was calculated and well-organised (Vidra, 2017: 17). Ever since then, the Hungarian government has accused one person by name of attempting to ‘Islamise’ and ‘de-Christianise’ Europe by supporting ‘mass migration’: George Soros.
In September 2017, after the Court ofjustice of the European Union (CJEU) rejected the joint lawsuit of Hungary and Slovakia against the relocation of asylum-seekers from Greece and Italy, the Orban government announced that it would organise a new national consultation on the so-called ‘Soros plan’ to bring this message to the Hungarian households. This was the seventh ‘national consultation’ (as mentioned) that Prime Minister Viktor Orban has rolled out since coming to power in 2010. Just like the previous ones, this ‘consultation’ was essentially a referendum designed to confirm the government’s line, in this case in condemning Soros and his alleged views on immigration. In October 2017, the government-funded questionnaire was sent to all four million households and was meant to solicit the adult population’s views on Soros (Juhasz, Molnar & Zgut, 2017: 20).
The questionnaire asked for people’s views on seven statements describing the philanthropist’s alleged plan to ‘flood’ Europe, and Hungary in particular, with millions ofMuslim migrants and refugees (Sereghy, 2018: 313). The seven points of the alleged ‘Soros plan’ included the following:
- 1. Soros wants Brussels to move at least one million immigrants per year into the EU member states, including Hungary.
- 2. Soros and the ‘Brussels elite’ plan to tear down border fences in EU member states, including the one on the Hungarian-Serbian border - which the government raised in 2015 amid international controversy - and open the borders for immigrants.
- 3. Soros forces an EU-wide distribution of immigrants that have arrived in Western Europe, with a focus on Eastern European countries, including Hungary.
- 4. Soros wants Brussels to make all EU member states, including Hungary, pay nine million Hungarian Forints (approximately 27,000 Euros) per immigrant in welfare.
- 5. Soros works for milder criminal sentences for the crime immigrants commit.
- 6. Soros intends to push the different European languages and cultural identities aside so that integration of illegal immigrants happens much more quickly.
- 7. Soros initiates political attacks against countries which oppose immigration and will try to severely punish them (Sereghy, 2018: 313-314).
To sum up, the referendum suggested that under Soros’s pressure, the EU institutions wished to accelerate the approval of a mandatory, permanent quota system based on the redistribution of asylum seekers. As many government officials - including the prime minister - stated, the essence of this ‘Soros plan’ is to bring one million illegal immigrants to Europe, and the CJEU’s verdict brought the execution of the ‘American speculator’s plan’ only closer (Juhasz, Molnar & Zgut, 2017: 20). These seven points of the alleged Soros plan were based on an article by George Soros (2015) on the Project Syndicate website. However, they are all false statements which were not actually made by the philanthropist. Soros issued a statement on 20 November 2017 clarifying his own position and denying the accusations of the Hungarian Government. His statement was printed in the weekly Hungarian language political news magazine 168 ora (‘168 Hours’) (Biro, 2017).
Parallel to the national consultation on the Soros plan, the government started a fear-mongering public campaign against Soros. Government-funded antiSoros billboards have popped up in cities and villages all across the country. Advertisements with dramatic music and threatening messages were aired on television and radio and two-page ads were printed in newspapers. One TV ad that was aired as a public service advertisement on both public and private channels said the following:
Millions of migrants arrived in Europe. But nowadays, the fence on the Hungarian border stops them. According to George Soros, this fence should be torn down, and further millions should be immigrated from Africa and the Middle East. This is dangerous - so the Soros plan should be prevented. Stop Soros!
(‘Stop Soros’ advertisement, 2017)
Eventually, George Soros and Soros-funded NGOs became the main targets of the government and the governing party Fiatal Demokratak Szovetsege (Fidesz, ‘Alliance of Young’) communication. As Bartek Pytlas’ research (2019: 19—20) revealed, in the year of 2018, within the asylum framework, no other aspect was brought up by Fidesz so often as Soros. Notably, 35 per cent of all statements in connection with the refugees involved the figure of Soros. Due to dramatic restrictions on media freedom in the country, most citizens consume only government propaganda (Balcer, 2019: 72). The continuous propaganda against Soros has been successful. Results of Publicus Research polling showed that in 2016 only 29 per cent of Hungarians believed that ‘George Soros wants to overthrow the Hungarian government’. By 2017, 42 per cent agreed with this statement. The ‘culture of fear’ worked, and the Soros conspiracy theories managed to fuel societal polarisation (see Molder in this volume).
Action soon followed. In 2018, Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen filed a package of bills on behalf of the government called ‘Stop Soros’. The legislation limits the scope for action by non-governmental organisations, making their employees and activists liable for jail terms for helping refugees. The laws passed easily in the parliament with its Fidesz-majority and lead to a stigmatisation of several human rights NGOs, including those funded partially by the Open Society Foundations (Boros, 2018).