24 Oct 2017

George Soros -- the enemy every illiberal government wants to have

Despite playing an important role in countries from the Eastern block joining the European Union, or perhaps because of this, Soros is now the symbol of everything that illiberal governments are rallying their electorate against.

Editorial Team
Editorial Team NewsMavens, Europe
Source: Foreign Policy
Soros -- the enemy every illiberal government wants to have - NewsMavens
Niccolò Caranti - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Why this story matters:


George Soros is an 87 year-old Hungarian-American business magnate and philanthropist. He is one of the world's most successful investors. As of May 2017, he had a net worth of 25.2 billion USD, ranking him among the 30 richest people in the world. He is also the favorite punching bag of illiberal governments from Central and Eastern Europe.

His name comes up a lot these days in Poland, Hungary, Romania. Since the early 1980s, Soros has dedicated a large portion of his fortune to supporting intellectual elites and financing NGOs and educational institutions in this region.

Among many many other things, he is a shareholder in Agora, the Polish publisher of liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza and NewsMavens. Readers would also do well to note that Soros financed a student grant that a young Viktor Orban used to study at Oxford in the 1980's.

Despite playing an important role in countries from the Eastern block joining the European Union, or perhaps because of this, he is now the symbol of everything that the new conservative, illiberal governments are rallying their electorate against.

Emily Tamkin’s profile for Foreign Policy (below) details the story of Soros’s influence on the rise of democracy in the region. As Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Jarosław Kaczyński in Poland and Liviu Dragnea in Romania steer their relative communities on a crash course with EU values and in the opposite direction from liberal democracy, Soros has become a symbolic opponent.

Tamkin calls him a “boogey-man” and the object of numerous conspiracy theories. He can also be viewed as a useful tool.

 With opposition parties weak in all three countries, current ruling elites need an enemy, someone to blame for rising international criticism of local political changes. Illiberal rhetoric is built on a paranoia of foreign influence without which the domestic policies that are in clear contradiction to democratic values would be impossible to justify.

So, a meddling foreign influence personified by a Hungarian-American billionare who also happens to be Jewish is just what the illiberal doctor ordered. He is far enough away that most of the accusations hurled his way go safely unchallenged, his Jewish heritage plays into anti-Semitic roots that run deep throughout the region and finally, as an immigrant he betrayed his country by growing rich in the USA and leaving his people to their difficult Eastern European fate.  

The usefulness of this mythologized enemy is so great that all three governments wield him in exactly the same way. Discover the real story of George Soros’s influence on central and Eastern Europe in the excellent profile below.

Quote summary from Emily Tamkin's profile

George Soros is an 87 year old Hungarian-born, Jewish-American billionaire philanthropist

"Soros conspiracies are a global phenomenon."

"Suspicion of Soros is most obvious is Central and Eastern Europe."

"This week, Hungary is holding a "national consultation," essentially a referendum designed to condemn Soros and his views on immigration."

"In 1984 Soros established a network of Open Society organizations across Central and Eastern Europe."

"(In the 1990’s) Soros was celebrated in Hungary, where he set up the Central European University, funded NGOs, and gave out student grants, including one that, in the 1980s, sent a young man named Viktor Orban to Oxford University."

"Soros responded (to the global economic crises) by donating 100 million USD to Central and Eastern Europe to help people and NGOs recover."

"Yet in 2012, the central Open Society Foundation decided that it would pull back from funding the local chapters in the region."

"Soros the man may not have the same influence in the region as he once did, but Soros the myth, the ghost, the star of every conspiracy, looms larger than ever."


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
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