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‘Propaganda machine’: George Clooney takes aim at Hungarian media and officials who accused him of Soros links

Actor and activist George Clooney speaks at a news conference about South Sudan in London on Sept. 19, 2019. (Alastair Grant/AP)

Hollywood star George Clooney this week accused the “propaganda machine” of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of lying about him, adding that he would be ashamed if he didn’t speak out against Hungary’s “authoritarianism” and listing illiberal measures taken by the European Union member state.

“The Orbán regime owns all the media, forces all the companies to comply by draconian taxation policies, silences the free press, requiring permits to photograph their razor wire fences, demonizes the disenfranchised, and winks at far right extremists,” Clooney said in a statement.

Clooney’s criticism of Orbán’s government came after Hungarian officials slammed the actor for “foolish” remarks about Hungary and suggested that he was repeating the talking points of George Soros, a Hungarian-born U.S. billionaire and Orbán foe.

The dispute between the American actor and the Hungarian state was sparked by a brief remark Clooney made in an interview with GQ Magazine that was posted Nov. 17 on YouTube.

In the 35-minute video, Clooney breaks down the most iconic characters he has played during his career. Speaking about his new film, “Midnight Sky,” he describes how real life had affected his decision to play the role of a scientist in a post-apocalyptic world.

“We weren’t in the middle of a pandemic [during production], but there were still all these other elements, these elements of how much hate and anger all of us are experiencing in this moment of history, all over the world — go to [President Jair] Bolsonaro in Brazil or Orbán in Hungary,” Clooney said.

“Look around. Lots of anger and hate,” the actor said, before adding that although his film is set in 2049, it shows what could happen “if that kind of hate is allowed to fester.”

Clooney’s passing comments did not appear in the Hungarian media until days later, but they soon sparked irate responses from Orbán administration officials. In remarks that were shared on his official Facebook page, Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Tamás Menczer said Sunday that Clooney’s comments were “foolish” and “nonsense.”

Government spokesman Örs Farkas said in a statement to Hungarian media outlets that Soros was to blame for Clooney’s comments about Hungary. “It is quite disappointing that there are actors, even nonpolitical actors, who carry out Soros’s political intentions,” he said.

Soros, who was born in Budapest in 1930, is a backer of global liberal politics. He has frequently criticized Orbán, who has led Hungary for more than a decade. Soros has accused the Orbán administration, which espouses nationalistic and anti-immigrant policies, of turning Hungary into an “illiberal democracy.”

Pro-government media outlets have portrayed Clooney, who is active in left-wing politics and married to human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, as a friend of Soros’s.

Origo, a news website with ties to Orbán’s Fidesz party, published a photograph on Sunday of Clooney with one of Soros’s sons and said Clooney was “under the influence” of the billionaire.

In the statement released Monday to liberal news organization Telex and later shared with The Washington Post, Clooney criticized the Hungarian news outlets that had repeated government claims about him and accused the government of lying about him.

“I met George Soros once at a UN meeting with the President of the United States on the subject of the refugee crisis. I met his son Alex once at an event in Davos,” Clooney said, referring to the annual World Economic Forum held in the Swiss town. “That is the extent of my communication with George Soros. So the Orban propaganda machine is lying, full stop.”

Clooney went on to praise Soros’s support for the poor and noted that Orbán himself had studied in England on a grant from the billionaire and that his government had later accepted money from Soros in “the good old days when Viktor Orbán fought against communism.”

“It’s as if 1956 never happened, when the world was flooded by Hungarian refugees fleeing Soviet rule,” Clooney said, referring to the anti-refugee policies of Orbán’s government.

Clooney also spoke of his visits to Hungary, which he said began in the early 1980s. They continued into the early 2000s, he said, noting that the country was a democratic success at the time. “I look forward to the day when Hungary finds what it once was,” he said.

Origo and other Hungarian media outlets have criticized the statement, noting that Clooney mistakenly suggests that the country was part of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. “It turns out Clooney has no idea about the situation in Hungary,” Origo wrote Monday.