“Hungary’s left-wing media tycoon Zoltán Varga is being introduced into the Polish media market by Soros’ Pluralis B.V. right before the Polish elections. Interestingly, they do not even seem to care about the timing any more. A couple of years ago you would not have expected their network to act so openly, but now it seems they want very badly to have Donald Tusk and the liberals governing Poland.”
An interview by Olivier Bault with Csaba Faragó, the head of the International Department of the Hungarian Százádvég Foundation, Hungary’s oldest conservative think-tank and the second largest after the Mathias Corvinus College. Százádvég is also a leading conductor of opinion polls and surveys in Hungary.
You’ve certainly heard of the recent transaction involving Gremi Media, which is the owner of Rzeczpospolita, an important and prestigious daily newspaper in Poland. A Dutch company financed by a fund of George Soros, Pluralis, briefly took control over this company, in which it had already held a stake with an option to buy these additional shares, and then it sold its new shares on to a Hungarian billionaire, Zoltán Varga. Who is this Zoltán Varga and what is his position in the Hungarian media sector?
Zoltán Varga is a Hungarian businessman. For a long time he has been ranked in the top 50 richest people in Hungary. A couple of years ago, he bought a big Finnish media company with a presence in Hungary, Sanoma Media, which gave him a leading role in Hungary’s media landscape. In Hungary, if you ask people with an interest in public opinion what is Varga’s main product, they will tell you it’s 24.hu, one of the leading news websites in Hungary. It is very professional and has its sources, but it is purely leftist – even if it claims to be an independent and objective outlet. It has a clear left-liberal mindset, and of course is very critical of Mr. Orbán’s government and of conservative values.
Zoltán Varga claims he is being persecuted by the Orbán government because of a problem he is having with the tax authorities. According to Varga, it is precisely because of his media outlets that the Hungarian government is attacking him on taxes to try and get rid of the last opposition media. What do you make of these accusations?
I do not think it is an issue with the government. In Hungary, anybody can be fined by the tax office or have problems of this nature, regardless of whether they tend to be leftist, rightist, or have any other views. His claim is also a very common position. In Hungary, leftist billionaires and politicians like to present themselves as victims. They are not able to win elections and are frustrated because in other countries they would be more successful in shaping public opinion, while here in Hungary they are less influential, because the Hungarian people can see through them.
In April 2022, Mr. Orbán once again won a two-thirds parliamentary majority (for the fourth consecutive time). Nobody, not even from the left, is questioning his victory, but they feel frustrated and they say things like Zoltán Varga’s claims about the motives behind his problems with the tax office. However, if you just look at the facts, how they work, and how they operate, then you will see that they are not persecuted at all.
Actually, 24.hu is considered to be one of if not the most popular leftist Hungarian-language websites.
After Zoltán Varga’s acquisition of shares in Rzeczpospolita, Hungarian conservative media outlets have concluded that Varga now works with Soros. Do you agree with this assertion? Can we really say that Varga is now an ally working with Soros?
Yes, absolutely. They are now clearly working together in the media sector. We have to recognize how they have been smart in the past in maintaining a democratic and independent appearance. This is what they are emphasizing, as far as I know, in this acquisition: They will not intervene in creating and shaping the content of Rzeczpospolita. They always use the same rhetoric. Mr. Varga also said, when he became chairman of the board at 24.hu, that he would never ever in his life want to intervene in the job of the editorial team. And then we could see how they were becoming harsher and harsher toward the conservatives and more liberal-left-minded over time, after their acquisition by Zoltán Varga.
How would you describe the presence of the Soros family and funds in Hungary today, in particular in the media, but also elsewhere?
Viktor Orbán claimed in his victory speech in April 2022 that Mr. Soros had made his worst investments in Hungary, because he had lost again despite all his efforts and money. Their method has remained the same since the 1990s: they try to send money from the United States, be it taxpayers’ money or foundations’ money, often in a shifty manner. They organize calls for tenders, which are intended exclusively for their partner organizations in Hungary or elsewhere, which are the ones that are bound to get this money. Then they try to mentor them to produce a huge impact on a country’s public opinion.
What about the Central European University, which was founded and is funded by George Soros? There were lots of media reports that it had to leave Budapest for Vienna. But it seems it is still there in Budapest, right?
Yes, the liberal media claimed it had to shut down, and then a couple of weeks later you could see their academic year opening ceremony on the news. How can you celebrate starting a new year if you are closed? The truth is that nobody shut them down. In Hungary, we really care about the autonomy of universities. The Central European University has always had its autonomy.
You were referring to Soros’ interference in last year’s elections. I think you were referring to the US-based Action for Democracy, which is seemingly linked to the Soros network and which funneled quite large sums of money from the United States into the opposition’s electoral campaign last year. Could you tell us what happened? There’s been a parliamentary report. What was the nature of this interference?
Well, it was the same logic as usual: They organized tenders to give financial support to chosen organizations. In this case, the money went to the movement of the opposition’s joint candidate, Péter Márki-Zay, and to other like-minded organizations, for the opposition’s electoral campaign.
Some Hungarian conservative media outlets, like the Magyar Nemzet daily newspaper and the Origo website, have been raising the alarm after this transaction involving the Rzeczpospolita daily in Poland, claiming that Action for Democracy and the rest of the Soros network are now trying to meddle in the upcoming elections in Poland the same way as they did last year, unsuccessfully, in Hungary. What do you make of those claims? Is there a real danger of foreign interference of the kind you had in Hungary last year?
Yes, I do think there is a danger. If you look at the big picture, things tend to move in the same direction. Mr. Varga is being introduced into the Polish media market by Soros’ Pluralis B.V. right before the Polish elections. Interestingly, they do not even seem to care about the timing any more. A couple of years ago you would not have expected their network to act so openly, but now it seems they want very badly to have Donald Tusk and the liberals governing Poland.
As for Action for Democracy, it is just doing the same thing in Poland as elsewhere. If you have Action for Democracy funneling money into Polish NGOs at the same time as the Soros network is making moves on the Polish media market, it is easy to guess what they are up to.
Action for Democracy is said to have links to America’s National Endowment for Democracy, which, in turn, is often accused of acting as a cover for the CIA. Relations between the Orbán government and the Biden administration are not at all good, and the U.S. ambassador to Hungary is very outspoken in his criticism of the Orbán government. So do you think this interference from the USA in the run-up to the Hungarian elections was also, to some extent, a case of interference by the American government?
I do not have the necessary information to comment on this.
However, it is indeed important to mention the role of the current U.S. ambassador as well as former ambassadors. Since the beginning of Mr. Orbán’s governments, all the ambassadors sent by the American Democrats, when in power, have always been strongly critical of our elected government. Mrs. Eleni Kounalakis, Barack Obama’s appointee who served as ambassador to Hungary in 2010–2013, even wrote a book on this, which I would encourage you and your readers to read. Its title is Madam Ambassador: Three Years of Diplomacy, Dinner Parties, and Democracy in Budapest. She did not spare the Fidesz government very harsh criticism. Later there was just an interim acting ambassador, Mr. Goodfriend, who also openly sided with the Hungarian opposition, and it was only in 2015 that Obama appointed a new ambassador, Hollywood television producer Colleen Bell, who acted just the same. Now, under President Biden, there is ambassador Pressman, who is just doing his job as well, i.e. doing what he’s told and criticizing the Orbán government all the time.
The behavior of the U.S. ambassadors to Hungary appointed by successive Democratic administrations in Washington is what best shows Washington’s attitude towards Hungary’s conservative government.
Things look very different with the Republican side, of course. During Donald Trump’s presidency, relations with Washington and with ambassador David Cornstein were excellent. So Hungarian–American relations are very different depending on whether you look at them with red glasses or blue glasses, which are the colors, respectively, of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.
Relations between the Biden administration and Poland’s conservative government are very good, so we should probably not suspect it of being behind Action for Democracy’s focus on promoting a change of government in Poland, would you say?
Well, what we can see at the moment is that there is an ideological race in the world, and the liberals, the leftist-liberal side have been engaged for many years now in an effort to expand their ideas and their alliances all over the world. They would like the globalists to win everywhere in the world and the sovereignists to remain silent and always be a small minority.
Independently of whether a given country is considered a good ally of the United States or not so much of a good ally, there is this race to impose leftist-liberal and globalist views, with a high level of intervention in some countries’ elections. I cannot say whether this is coming from a specific government, but we can see that it is clearly coming from specific organizations whose affiliations are very well known.
What about Brussels’ involvement? Magyar Nemzet has claimed recently that Soros’ Open Society Foundations projects in Hungary are going to be boosted with EU funds. At the same time, we know that Hungary as a country is being refused EU funds to which it is entitled.
The whole idea is to reform the system and stop having cohesion funds and other funds distributed by national governments, but to have them distributed through intermediates and civil organizations. It is part of this global race by the globalists to exclude the sovereignists from the public debate and decision-making, both in the United States of America and in the European Union, as well as in other European countries.
What the European Commission is doing to the government of Poland and the Polish people, as well as to the government of Hungary and the Hungarian people, by blocking EU funds to which they are entitled, on the pretext of rule-of-law issues which they raise only with those two countries and not with others, is very unfair. But it serves precisely the purpose I mentioned, which is to prevent EU funds from being distributed by conservative governments, and it is also a way to help the left and the liberals win elections.
This interview was first published in Polish in the Do Rzeczy weekly on October 1, 2023.