Who is Soros?

George Soros (in Hungarian: Soros Gyorgy), is a Hungarian Jew who was born in 1930, survived the Nazi occupation and moved first to the United Kingdom and then to the United States of America. He is now an American citizen and a New York resident (Nielsen, 1996: 77; Whitfield, 2018: 418). Soros has since made a fortune as a hedge fund manager. However, right-wing politicians like Orban do not attack him for his financial speculation, but for his philanthropic work. Beginning with the 1980s, Soros contributed to several Eastern European political and social movements to help the collapse of communism and development of liberal, capitalistic societies. He distributed scholarships to dissident Eastern European intellectuals - he supported, among others of the time, back then liberal intellectual Viktor Orban (Balcer, 2019: 75). Even after the fall of the communist regimes, he has continued to invest in the region. In 2001, he provided what was at that time Europe’s largest higher education endowment to the Central European University in Budapest (Lewin, 2001).

In 1993, Soros founded the Open Society Foundations, an international grant-making network, whose name was inspired by Karl Popper’s 1945 book The Open Society and Its Enemies. Soros’s philanthropy agency works towards ‘vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable and open to the participation of all people’ (Cressey, Helmer & Steffensen, 2014: 297). The foundation supports human rights organisations in more than one hundred countries and funds a range of initiatives, which promote various progressive agendas, has a focus on post-communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe and other democratising nations (Stone, 2012: 178). As philanthropy expert Waldemar Nielsen (1996: 77) put it, Soros ‘has undertaken through his philanthropy nothing less than to open up the once-closed communist societies of Eastern Europe to a free flow of ideas and scientific knowledge from the outside world’. According to Nielsen (1996: 78), Soros

ranks with the greatest American philanthropist ever. His international efforts constitute a heroic chapter in the history of philanthropy - in terms of creativity, courage, timeliness, and scale of commitment. Not since Rockefeller and Carnegie has such a force been seen in the field of donorship.

Soros is the perfect enemy: he’s liberal, rich - and Jewish. Eventually, he became a magnet for conspiracy theories. For decades, he has been a key figure of conspiracy theories, especially in the post-communist countries. When complex world events take place, such as the end of communism and transition to a capitalist economy in Central and Eastern Europe, black-and-white conspiracy theories offer easy and popular explanations. Istvan Csurka, former leader of the far-right Magyar Elet es Igazsdg Pdrtja (MIEP, 'Hungarian Justice and Life Party’) used Soros as a symbol of the Jewish world conspiracy as early as in 1992 (Barna et al., 2018: 325). In the same year, conservative Magyar Demokrata Forum (MDF, 'Hungarian Democratic Forum’) member of the Hungarian Parliament Gyula Zacsek published an article with the title Termeszek rdgjdk a nemzetet, avagy gondolatok a Soros-kurzusrol es a Soros-birodalontr6l (‘Termites are devouring our nation: Reflections on the Soros Regime and the Soros Empire’). Ironically, Zacsek (1992) attacked the young and liberal MP Orban in his article, identifying him as a puppet of Soros for the scholarship he received from the philanthropist: ‘Look at the role of Viktor Orban. The Soros Foundation has been investing in him for years. They want him to play a key role after the upcoming elections’.1

The narrative has not changed with time. Nineteen years later, Csurka (2011) stated that

George Soros is the mighty representative of the Israeli and American Jewry, a speculator, who is behind the instability of the Hungarian currency’s, the forint’s exchange rate ... George Soros is a big power in Hungary who threatens, terrorizes, speculates and decides over fates and identities, in questions of freedom of press and censure.

Conspiracy theories about Soros were to be found also outside of his homeland. In 1995, Jan Slota’s far-right Slovenska ndrodnd strana (SNS, ‘Slovak National Party’) demanded in parliament that the Soros foundation be banned from operating in the country. The SNS claimed that it has information that Soros’s circles plan to invest in destabilising Slovakia. Slota himself warned of a ‘parliamentary coup d’etat’. (Cibulka, 2010: 119). But these conspiracy theories became even more popular and international after the 2015 so-called refugee crisis.

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