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Just Like Richard Nixon, Hungary's Viktor Orban Has a List of Enemies

The creation of former President Richard Nixon’s “enemies list,” published in newspapers across the United States in 1973, is perhaps the most well-known incident in recent history when a government publicly named its political opponents. Today, inclusion on Nixon’s list is still considered a source of pride for many who opposed him, and the list included luminaries like actor Paul Newman and Pulitzer Prize-winning political journalist Mary McGory.

Today in Hungary, another political leader is making lists of his enemies. And reports suggest that people are just as pleased to be included on the list as many of the nearly 200 politicians, journalists, celebrities, businessmen and others who were singled out by Nixon.

Shortly after his third election victory last month, Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban, who has been accused of reducing media freedom and eroding the rule of law in his country, published his own list of so-called enemies, people he called “Soros mercenaries.”  

In the lead-up to the election, Orban and his political allies launched a full-throttled attack against Jewish billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who funnels his wealth to liberal causes around the world through his Open Society Foundation. Orban has framed Soros as his ultimate enemy and launched a smear campaign many analysts say has not-so-subtle anti-Semitic undertones.

"For the first time since the end of communism, we Hungarian Jews are justified in fearing for our security, given the Hungarian Government’s apathy towards Soros, and far-right rhetoric," two members of the Jewish Hungarian cultural organization Maron wrote in a recent op-ed for The Independent

"As a Jewish group working on social justice, we are not optimistic towards the current situation. The Government’s well-documented campaign against George Soros plays with obvious antisemitic representations from the 1930s, which has drawn wide criticism," they continued. 

The Hungarian version of the enemies list, published in the pro-government weekly paper the Figyelo, named roughly 200 people who the government claimed were being paid by Soros to topple the government and open the country’s borders to immigrants. The list included journalists, people working for non-governmental and human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Transparency International, and academicians working for the Soros-funded Central European University. The government officially took no responsibility for the list's publication, but most analysts agree that the list would not have been published without its approval.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post published a report suggesting that many Hungarians are laughing at the list, and that thousands are mockingly requesting to be included on it. Many seem to believe that such lists are, if ominous, ultimately harmless. After all, congressional investigators in the 1970s determined that neither the FBI nor the IRS had been used to harass the people included on Nixon’s list. But some analysts argue that narratives promoting the concept of public enemies can have serious consequences.

“Lists like this are always representative of a serious deterioration in the public discourse in a given country and their main danger lies in their ‘unintended consequences.’ The publication of a such a list normalizes a discourse that regards political opponents and practically anyone disagreeing with the government as ‘traitors’ or ‘enemies.’ This could eventually spill out into people’s private lives by bolstering far-right elements in a society and encouraging action on their part,” Zselyke Csaky, a Central Europe analyst with Freedom House, told Newsweek.

“Violence is not present in Hungary, so this is not the case, fortunately. But such moves are certainly leading in a direction where the government’s rhetoric legitimizes such actions. It’s hard to know how long the current level of hatemongering could be kept up,” Csaky added.

Also on Tuesday, the Open Society Foundation announced that it will leave Hungary and set up a new base in Germany because its members are being harassed.

“OSF’s decision to leave the country after more than two decades is highly symbolic in that regard. The space for disagreement with the government, for pluralism of ideas, of opinions is narrowing fast,” Csaky said.

Members of Hungary’s government, however, told Newsweek Tuesday that they won’t be sorry to see the organization go.

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