Hungary PM Orban, U.S. financier Soros clash as elections loom

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday he would use all means necessary, including secret services, to combat what he called efforts to undermine him by U.S. financier George Soros.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban attends the China-CEEC Economic and Trade Forum in Budapest, Hungary November 27, 2017. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

Soros said in a video that Hungary under Orban was more oppressive than it was during the Cold War Soviet occupation. “He cannot reach me, but he exploits and oppresses the people who are in opposition in Hungary.”

The spat marks a new high in the conflict between Orban and Soros, allies in dismantling Communism during the 1980s who have grown apart. Soros has described Orban as a dangerous autocrat while Orban accuses the financier of interference in Hungarian politics through its support of opposition groups.

“We want a different future, was my duty to enlist all possible tools of the state, including intelligence, the secret services, legal and public debate,” Orban said in an interview. “Therefore we ordered an intelligence report on the composition, workings and Hungarian and European influence of this Soros machinery.”

Orban told public radio that Hungarian secret services had completed a report this week about a network of non-government organizations and other groups funded by Soros in Hungary and in Europe. He did not disclose its findings.

At the heart of their conflict is immigration, which Orban rejects as an existential threat to the continent, while Soros has promoted a more lenient policy mix, including controlled immigration and aid to migrants in Europe and at home.

The ruling Fidesz party faces elections in April next year, and Orban - a strong favorite for a third consecutive term - said he expected Soros to work on behalf of his pro-immigration opponents.

“They will support publications, do propaganda, strengthen civil groups, and pay hundreds, thousands of people.”

“By election time they will establish ‘civil centers’ which will work like campaigning parties, meaning the Soros network has entered the Hungarian election campaign.”

Daniel Makonnen, a spokesman for Soros’ Open Society Foundations (OSF) in Budapest, told Reuters that OSF planned two new funding centers in the east and south of the country.

The centers, in the cities of Debrecen and Pecs, will make grants of a total of $1 million each this year and next for local education, health care and anti-poverty programs, he said.

Immigration or electoral politics will not be on their agenda, nor will they open more branches, Makonnen added.

“We have differences we cannot bridge because he considers us enemies,” Soros said of Orban in a video message which surfaced online after Orban’s interview on Friday. “I have no personal grudge but a difference in principle. I oppose his system.”

A government spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Soros’s latest remarks.

Soros said Orban wanted to expel his organizations.

“I think the current system is more oppressive than it was during the Russian occupation.”

Reporting by Marton Dunai; editing by Ralph Boulton