Faced with an increasingly repressive political and legal environment in Hungary, the Open Society Foundations are moving over 100 of their Budapest-based staff to Berlin.
The decision to move operations out of Budapest comes as the Hungarian government prepares to impose further restrictions on nongovernmental organisations.
‘The government of Hungary has denigrated and misrepresented our work and repressed civil society for the sake of political gain, using tactics unprecedented in the history of the European Union,’ said Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundations. ‘The so-called Stop Soros package of laws is only the latest in a series of such attempts. It has become impossible to protect the security of our operations and our staff in Hungary from arbitrary government interference.’
The new legislation would block any organisation from advising or representing asylum seekers and refugees without a government license. The government has indicated that these laws are intended to stop the work of leading Hungarian human rights organisations and their funders, including the Open Society Foundations.
This development continues a trend of a rise in restrictive laws shriking the space for civil society, despite European foundations joining forces to fund initiatives aimed at strengthening civil society and safeguarding democratic values in Europe only last year.
The Open Society Foundations are the first of several prominent foundations increasing its activities in Berlin and it seems on cusp of becoming a major philanthropic capital. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are expanding their office, and British foundations with an eye on Brexit evaluating their options.
Around 60 per cent of the staff being moved to Berlin are Hungarian nationals, including several who have worked for the Open Society Foundations for more than a decade. The Association of German Foundations has co-created an ‘Arrival Program’ for international staff of philanthropic institutions which will include specialised legal advice, and life and family support in addition to membership to the association.