Budapest Jewish NGO hub faces closure amid government crackdown

BUDAPEST — A major NGO center in Budapest said Friday it could be forced to close after authorities withdrew its trading licences, in what observers say is another attack on US billionaire George Soros.

Set in a shabby outer district of the Hungarian capital, the Jewish-run Aurora hub has been a key meeting place for non-governmental organizations representing minorities including Jews, Roma, refugees and the LGBT community.

The local municipality on Wednesday unexpectedly revoked the trading licenses for the center’s bar and catering areas, which the center says generates 80 percent of its income.

Earlier this month Hungarian MPs passed a tough law targeting foreign-funded non-governmental organizations, many of which are financed by the 86-year-old Soros.

Populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban has accused the financier’s Open Society Foundations (OSF) of orchestrating Europe’s migration crisis and meddling in Hungarian politics.

The OSF supports several NGOs at Aurora, described as “the Soros headquarters in Hungary” by a pro-government website this week.

Last month an ultra-nationalist group daubed anti-Soros graffiti on the Aurora building, days after British far-right figure Nick Griffin called it a “leftwing Jewish” venue during a speech in Budapest.

George Soros speaks onstage at Lincoln Center on April 18, 2017, in New York City. (Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Physicians for Human Rights/AFP)

Authorities said the move to revoke the trading licences for the center was due to a technical infringement and an ongoing probe after a police raid on June 10 that saw some 15 patrons at Aurora charged with minor drug possession.

Police were simply “carrying out their legal duty,” said a statement sent to AFP by Budapest police.

But Aurora spokesman Aron Lukacs denied that the center had broken any laws.

He said the hub was the latest victim of the government’s clampdown on civil society groups supported by Hungarian-born magnate Soros.

“All the signs point to coordination between police, the authorities and pro-government media,” Lukacs told AFP on Friday, citing a pro-Orban website which reported the authorities’ move before the orders were delivered.

Hungary’s largest Jewish organisation, Mazsihisz, said Friday it was “monitoring the events around Aurora with worry.”

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