Witch Hunt Against George Soros and Migrants Might Soon Be Punished in Viktor Orban's Hungary

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's witch hunt against philanthropist billionaire George Soros, and his government's crackdown against migrants, could soon get the leader into hot water.

On Thursday, the European Union published a letter announcing that Hungary was in breach of European law over its "Stop Soros" bill, which makes it illegal for organizations or people to provide assistance to migrants and refugees. The letter was the first step toward taking Hungary to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over the controversial law.

Hungary has two months to respond to the letter before being taken to court. The move was welcomed by human rights advocates, but some analysts said it was not likely to stop Orban's crackdown against migrants completely.

"The steps by the European Commission are not surprising, because the laws clearly violate international standards. They also violate basic human decency: They criminalize helping others, 'rewarding' assistance with potential jail terms," Zselyke Csaky, a Central Eastern Europe expert at Freedom House, told Newsweek.

"Yet, if we look at previous infringement proceedings, there is little hope that such action will do much to deter the government," Csaky continued. "These proceedings can take months and years to get to the next stage and come in front of the European Court of Justice—which is more than enough time for the government to use the laws to intimidate NGO workers and critical voices. Symbolically, the commission's action was important; in real terms, it's unlikely to achieve much."

A billboard with a poster of Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist George Soros is seen in the 22nd District of Budapest on October 16, 2017. Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

The letter was issued just one day after Hungary pulled out of the UN's global agreement on migration. The U.S. is not part of the agreement, which outlines international standards for addressing migration.

The European Commission also announced Thursday that it would take Hungary to the ECJ for breaking European rules on asylum claims. In 2015, when hundreds of thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Northern Africa began passing through Hungary while escaping violent conflict and poverty, Budapest closed its borders and began setting up detention camps along its southern border with Serbia to stop migrants from entering. Asylum seekers were housed in shipping containers until their claims could be heard.

"The Commission considers that the indefinite detention of asylum seekers in transit zones without respecting the applicable procedural guarantees is in breach of EU rules," the European Commission said in a statement Thursday.

Orban has built his recent political career on a campaign of fear over migrants, and by peddling conspiracy theories about Soros, a Hungarian-born financier who uses his wealth to support democracy, multiculturalism, rule of law and humanitarian assistance. Soros has been demonized in Orban's Hungary, and a smear campaign against him has been made widespread through billboards and pro-government media. The Stop Soros law, passed shortly after Orban won reelection in April, ties the Hungarian government's fear of migrants and fear of Soros together.

A migrant boy waits in front of the Hungarian border fence at the Tompa border station transit zone on April 6, 2017. Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

Experts, meanwhile, said the Soros law also breaks the European convention on human rights, because it violates freedom of expression by criminalizing the distribution of informational materials to migrants.

The European Union's decision to sanction Hungary comes as Orban travels to Israel to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Orban's visit to Israel was marked by protests by people who believe the Hungarian leader is anti-Semitic due to his attacks on Soros, who is Jewish, and his controversial statements about Hungary's World War II–era collaboration with the Nazis.

Protesters are blocking Orban's convoy in Israel as he exits Yad Vashem. https://t.co/tA56a5b0Ld

— Lili Bayer (@liliebayer) July 19, 2018

Orban has also cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent years. Some analysts said he was attempting to maintain a healthy relationship with Europe while simultaneously courting strongmen leaders.

"Apparently he decided to re-strengthen Western relations, especially with the U.S. and Germany, or at least he is pretending to limit [the] one-sided anti-Western, pro-Russian tone of the Hungarian government," Edit Zgut, an expert on EU affairs and illiberalism, told Newsweek.

"Orban has been invited to Berlin recently, where, together with [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel, they announced the plan of a new NATO headquarters in Hungary—which might be a wishful thinking, given [the] limited capacity of the Hungarian military," Zgut continued. "But it was suitable to demonstrate his commitment to the transatlantic western alliance, for sure."