Created by Hungarian-born billionaire philanthropist George Soros in 1979, the OSF confirmed on 15 May that it is moving its Budapest office to Berlin. The possibility was already raised on 20 April after the right-wing populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, won another election.
The decision was prompted by Orbán’s election campaign promise to pass a “Stop Soros” law under which the OSF could be banned in Hungary as a “national security risk.” The OSF funds programmes that promote press freedom, health and education, inter alia. It has a presence in around 100 countries and employs around 100 people in Hungary.
By funding independent media, the OSF has promoted democratic transparency in Hungary, where the government’s domination of news and information has been almost complete since the April election, especially in print press and radio.
The OSF’s departure is major blow for the publications it has been funding. As the funds they receive from the OSF will henceforth be coming from abroad, they will have to register as “foreign agents” if the proposed law is adopted.
They include such websites as Magyar Narancs and Direkt36, an investigative journalism platform that has exposed many cases of alleged corruption involving Orbán associates. Direkt36 has already been attacked by pro-government media and several of its reporters were included in the list of “200 Soros mercenaries” allegedly trying to “change Hungary” by encouraging immigration, which the weekly Figyelo published in April.
“We are disturbed by the Open Society Foundation’s decision to close its Budapest office as a result of the Hungarian government’s constant harassment,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk. “In a country where the media landscape is increasingly dominated by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s associates, the OSF’s vital support for independent media will be weakened by its departure.”
As well as the frequent attacks on their work, media outlets and other entities that criticize the ruling Fidesz party are themselves subjected to constant direct attacks from Orbán and his allies.
Hungary is ranked 73rd out of 180 countries in RSF's World Press Freedom Index, a position that reflects the media’s very worrying situation in this European Union member country.