Friday, December 09, 2005

Billionaire Blues

After the fall of Communism, Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros helped many of the newly restored democracies of Eastern Europe to find their feet again after decades of Soviet occupation. One such country was Lithuania, where Soros spent some 65m dollars on educational, cultural, medical and other projects. Now, however, Edward Lucas notes that
over the past three weeks, detailed attacks on Mr Soros in Respublika, a leading tabloid, have painted him as a malevolent outside meddler in Lithuania's affairs. It is a familiar theme. A series last year asked, "Who rules the world?" (Jews and gays, it concluded).

The new attacks are also aimed at religious and political figures only indirectly connected with the Soros foundation, including the country's pro-western president, Valdas Adamkus. The targets are all disliked by the ruling Labour Party, which, with its allies, has asked Lithuania's security services to investigate the Soros foundation's "financial schemes and networks", on the ground that they "pose a threat to national security" and are "targeted not at consolidating, but dividing, society.

Sorosites stayed aloof at first, but they have now counter-attacked. An open letter signed by many of the country's best-known intellectuals has asked Respublika to stop its "destructive" attacks.

What is going on? Some blame Russia. Soros-funded outfits in other ex-Soviet places, such as Georgia and Ukraine, have come under similar-sounding attacks. "Stoking a fictitious scandal about secret western influence neutralises real fears about Russia," suggests one senior official. Another theory is that the anti-corruption campaigns financed by Mr Soros have been too successful: they have highlighted big kickbacks in the distribution of European Union aid.

Mr Soros is winding down his efforts in the richer parts of the post-communist world, where the "open societies" that he favours seem to be thriving. Perhaps he should hang on a bit in Lithuania.

Update - see also this EDM article by Zaal Anjaparidze on how Georgia's political opposition is taking steps not only against President Saakashvili, but also George Soros:
The anti-Soros movement confirms the increasing polarization of the already extreme Georgian political spectrum and reveals the ongoing clash of basic values that has become particularly visible since the Rose Revolution. Saakashvili's team has dared to shake the seemingly entrenched, archaic belief systems largely inherited from the Soviet past but identified by segments of Georgian society as "national values."

"I regret that I used a Soros grant," lamented Maia Nikolaishvili, a well-known forensic expert and co-founder of the movement. "Is it possible that Georgian society still has not become aware that Soros is the enemy of Georgia and each of us?" she asked.

The anti-Soros movement unites a diverse group of politicians and civic leaders, including followers of former president Eduard Shevardnadze and the former leader of Ajaria, Aslan Abashidze. The anti-Soros movement members seek to protect "national" values against creeping Western values.

Several leaders of the movement, including Nikolaishvili, believe Tbilisi must rebuild its relations with Russia to protest the excessive "Westernization" of Georgia. "Uprooting Soros-ism" in Georgia is viewed one of the tools to accomplish this task. The "Anti-Soros Movement" also plans to oust Saakashvili's government but in a constitutional manner. The anti-Soros group claims that Saakashvili's government places instructions from Soros above the Georgian Constitution.
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