The head of an organization funded by George Soros described how the group used its influence on one government to pressure another country for the benefit of the Hungarian-American billionaire.
The Civil Liberties Union for Europe is headed by Balázs Dénes, the group’s Berlin-based executive director. The organization was spun off from Soros’s Open Society Foundation in January 2017.
In recordings of a meeting in Amsterdam in January – between Dénes and someone he thought was a supporter – Dénes talked about his organization’s work to pressure Hungary to overturn a law limiting foreign funding for NGOs that was an attempt to rein in Soros’s activities in the country. The European Commission has said the law goes against the values of the European Union.
Dénes’s remarks show a focused effort by his organization to influence Hungarian law by leveraging German influence against the country. He detailed attempts to convince Germany to put heavy economic pressure on Budapest to abrogate the NGO law, because German companies have invested heavily and are major employers in Hungary.
When it comes to the NGO law, Dénes said, “We work very strongly. I’m having a meeting this week with a think tank, an organization which is influencing the German government and the Foreign Ministry of Germany, and I’m bringing them copies of the law, just translated from Hungarian, and I’m explaining them what they can do against it.”
Asked how Germany can fight a Hungarian law, Dénes pointed to factories in Hungary owned by Mercedes, Audi and Bosch.
“Germany, because of the German investors and German companies, is an influential player in Hungary. So if the German Foreign Ministry wants something, they can, they have means,” Dénes said.
THE ORGANIZATION is also “creating a task force, a group of lawyers who know how to use EU law in Hungary and these countries to protect the rights of NGOs.”
Many policies of Hungary’s nationalist government have been criticized by fellow EU countries and human rights groups. Jewish groups and others have protested the government’s moves to honor former Hungarian leader and Nazi collaborator Miklós Horthy, who oversaw the murder of over half a million Jews.
The Hungarian government sparked controversy last year with campaign against Soros’s pro-migration stances. The campaign – which spurred incidents of antisemitic graffiti throughout the country – featured Soros’s smiling face with the words “Let’s not leave Soros the last laugh.”
Soros’s Open Society Foundation is the main backer of the organization headed by Dénes, about which he said in the Amsterdam meeting, “We got a million dollars from the Open Society Foundation. Because it’s an OSF spin-off... it means that my project was running at OSF. And after four years, when we said, ‘Okay, now we’re ready, we can establish this thing’... Soros told me that, you know, we give you $3 million for the next three years.
“The big reason why I was recruited five years ago by OSF was the recognition that at the moment in Europe, there is no human rights group which is able to control the EU,” Dénes said.
In the recording, Dénes described that control as the ability “to fight back on certain things... and to organize people and launch public campaigns and mobilization.”
Soros, who is worth $8 billion according to the Forbes World’s Billionaires list, is a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor based in the US who runs his own hedge fund. He is a prominent philanthropist and supports mainly human rights groups and left-wing causes. His philanthropy has turned him into a bogeyman for right-wing politicians in many countries. Some criticism of Soros has featured antisemitic themes, in the vein of conspiratorial libels about Jews trying to control the world.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Soros of being responsible for a campaign against the government’s plan to deport Sudanese and Eritrean migrants to a third country in Africa. A 2016 leak of internal reports from Soros’s OSF on the now-defunct DC Leaks website showed that Soros donated to Breaking the Silence – which collects testimony from IDF veterans claiming war crimes by Israel – and Adalah, an Israeli-Arab legal aid organization. Both organizations have spoken out in international forums against Israeli actions.
Another recipient of Soros’s largesse is the New Israel Fund, a clearinghouse for Israeli civil rights groups, which received $837,500 from the OSF between 2002 and 2015. Soros is also a funder of J Street, which lobbies in Washington against policies of the current Israeli government.
Dénes confirmed his remarks in the recordings and told The Jerusalem Post he was not suggesting German companies divest from Hungary. However, he said, “If the German Foreign Ministry wants to achieve something in Hungary, their voice is probably strong enough to be taken seriously, because of the German investments in Hungary.”
As for whether it is legitimate to push Germany to influence Hungarian laws, Dénes said, “When those laws are not in line with the EU, and not in line with the Lisbon Treaty and the fundamental values of the EU, I do think that is an option.... The EU is seeking action at the moment because of the law I’m referring to. It’s not an innocent law regulating taxation or anything else, it’s a law limiting the rights of NGOs.
“We don’t influence legislation, we talk to decision-makers and the people directly, but we have no other means to influence legislation,” he said.
Dénes explained what he meant by “control the EU” by saying, “What the EU does in terms of human rights should be watch-dogged by civil liberty organizations. Human rights NGOs should be able to exercise a watchdog function over any public institution.... An international organization such as mine should be able to tell different foreign governments what could be their policy over another government’s policy. I see no problem with that.”