Trans-Europe Express | Soros: Return of the scapegoat

Sent out every Friday at noon, Trans-Europe Express gives you an insider's view of the most important coverage from across the EURACTIV media network, its media partners and much more.

SOROS: RETURN OF THE SCAPEGOAT

If his name were Bill Gates, he’d be treated differently. But, after decades of serving as a scapegoat for conspiracy theorists, the former György Schwartz, AKA Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros, must be used to it by now.

Routinely attacked for his support of liberal causes and NGOs in the US and Europe, the billionaire Holocaust survivor has been transformed into a caricature out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Few European leaders are better at assigning Soros that role than Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Well-known for his attacks on the expat, the populist premier tends to treat the Open Society founder as though he were the country’s only opposition leader.

So routine are Orbán’s attacks, they tend to blur into one another, as though they’re meant to create an atmosphere, more than to say anything remotely specific about the man himself. Orbán needs a bogeyman. Soros is an easy foil.

But, in his annual State of the Union address last Friday (10 February), Hungary’s premier went a little further. While invoking the usual moneylender stereotype of a behind the scenes banker up to no good, he blamed Soros for colluding with the EU to flood Europe with refugees.

Though not out of place in Orbán’s repertoire, the charge was nonetheless memorable. Together, Brussels and Soros had conspired to create a “worldwide network” to deliver “hundreds of thousands of migrants” into Europe. The refugee crisis now had a Jewish angle.

If this were any other era, it would be easier to write off such statements as the paranoid fantasies of a backwaters politician. But this is a time in which taboos limiting hate speech are collapsing. Ideas that were once consigned to the margins are becoming mainstream again.

To date, no one on Europe’s populist right has blamed the Rothschilds for the refugee crisis. But, using the concepts and language typical of 19th century anti-Semitism, Orbán had used the figure of Soros to do just that. It wasn’t a big jump. Eventually someone would have done it.

Hungary punches far above its weight.  The torchbearer of European ‘illiberalism’, it exercises a significant amount of ideological leadership in the EU. Particularly concerning the refugee crisis, where it has helped make it safe to say no to tolerance and migrant resettlement.

That the leader of a an EPP group party can feel so free to dispense with such openly xenophobic politics, and finesse unease over globalisation into blaming Jews for the refugee crisis, should be troubling. Fidesz would be better off sitting with the National Front in the European Parliament’s ENF group.

If this is the new normal, the EU should want no part of it. No wonder, for example, Marine Le Pen can now tell Jews they won’t be able to hold dual citizenship with Israel anymore, if she wins the French elections this year. Viktor Orbán helped make it easier for her to do so.

THE INSIDE TRACK

There is hope, yet. According to the Budapest Beacon, the Hungarian Socialist Party’s nominee for prime minister, László Botka, is within two points of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in a poll published on Thursday (16 February). The survey found that Botka is viewed favourably by 44% of Hungarians compared to 46% for Orbán.

You can just feel the love. Xenophobic Dutch politician Geert Wilders kicked off his election campaign with a predictably hate-filled message. Debuting a new campaign advert on Thursday, the video warns of the dangers of Muslim immigration, and concludes with the slogan “The Netherlands is ours again.”

He’s probably right. Wilders said on Sunday that promises by other parties not to work with him would be quickly forgotten if, as expected, his far-right Party of Freedom gets more than 30 parliamentary seats in next month’s election.

The war was awful and France lost. Presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron described colonisation as a “crime against humanity” during a visit to Algeria this week, sparking outrage among rightists. The En Marche! leader was promptly condemned by National Front VP Florian Philippot, and scandal-wracked François Fillon.

Macron is being targeted by Russian media and cyber-attacks, with the goal of helping the election campaigns of his pro-Moscow rivals, Macron’s party chief said on Monday. RT and Sputnik are being blamed for spreading ‘fake news’ about Macron’s homosexuality, to rouse family values-oriented, homophobic voters.

Relations between Serbia and Kosovo may seem tense. But, according to Euractiv Serbia, a new poll by an NGO shows that an overwhelming majority of Serbians wouldn’t support armed conflict in order to reclaim the province, which declared independence in 2008.

On Wednesday, Montenegro’s chief prosecutor decided to not arrest two opposition MPs, although parliament stripped them of their immunity for having plotted a coup. The move is intended to defuse a situation that may turn into civil war, writes Georgi Gotev.

On his first visit to Brussels, newly elected Prime Minister of Lithuania Saulius Skvernelis shared his fears with Euractiv.com about the building of a nuclear plant in Belarus, 40 KM from Vilnius, and of the hybrid war being waged by Russia against the former Soviet republic.

It is only through repression and fear that occupying regimes can stay in power, Crimean Tatar leader, and former Soviet dissident Mustafa Dzhemilew, told  Euractiv Poland. Proforma, as far as Moscow is concerned.

In the Visegrád Group, there’s a desire to both strengthen the powers of member states, but also defend the Schengen area and the four freedoms. Unsurprisingly, talk of treaty change is in the air. Euractiv’s Central European partners report.

Read the fine print. One in three Slovaks knew that the country held its first rotating presidency in the Council last autumn. But, according to a poll commissioned by Euractiv Slovakia, the rest were either unclear, or didn’t know about it.

Burning the EU flag is not a crime. A court in Bratislava acquitted extremist Marián Mišún of charges over burning an EU flag in front of Bratislava Castle in 2012, claiming he did not commit a crime. Mišún works for the far right People’s Party – Our Slovakia (ĽSNS).

 

Views are the author’s.