$18bn boost for Open Society – but CEU held in ‘legal limbo’


George Soros, who built one of the world’s largest fortunes through a famous series of trades, has turned over nearly $18 billion to Open Society Foundations, according to foundation officials, a move that transforms both the philanthropy he founded and the investment firm supplying its wealth, The Wall Street Journal reports:

Open Society’s activism has sometimes angered nationalist governments, such as the current one in Hungary, which targeted a university Mr. Soros founded and which has run poster campaigns singling him out for his support of refugees. Mr. Soros has urged developed countries in Europe and elsewhere to share the burden of increased migration from conflict-ridden countries. Anti-Soros politicians in Macedonia, Poland and some other European countries have attacked foreign-funded groups, including Open Society, for what they see as outside interference in their affairs.

The president of Budapest’s Central European University has decried what he says is a “travesty of the rule of law” after Budapest deferred an agreement meant to safeguard the institute’s status. Hungary in April tightened rules for foreign universities, prompting fears for the future of the Budapest-based CEU and accusations of an attack on academic freedom, The Financial Times reports:

The European Commission has launched a legal action against Budapest over the changes. …. CEU president Michael Ignatieff said the university was being held in “legal limbo”. “A university that is being deliberately kept in a state of legal uncertainty to suit their political convenience is a university that is in danger,” he said on Tuesday.

A ludicrous – and sadly, often effective strategy – of heaping blame on an external bogeyman is emblematic of the political populism that is rising in the region, analyst Tomas Liutkus writes for Modern Diplomat:

Such conspiracy theories, and the tendency to blame them on Soros-funded NGOs, are the symptom of a wide and concerning trend across Central and Eastern Europe – one replicated not only in Hungary and Romania, but also in Macedonia, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, and Bulgaria, where populist politicians are manipulating citizens’ fears for their own ends. For more liberal-minded states in the EU and for Brussels, this trend is deeply worrying.

Open Society’s name is drawn from the title of a book by the philosopher Karl Popper, “Open Society and Its Enemies,” in which he argues for democratic governance, free expression and respect for individual rights, The New York Times adds.

Mr Soros’s foundations have played a key role in promoting liberal democracy and building institutions and civil society across ex-communist eastern Europe for almost three decades, The FT notes:

Countless officials in governments across the region benefited from Soros Foundation grants to study at western universities. But in recent years, as populism has surged and “liberal” values have come under attack in some countries, Open Society has suffered a backlash and faced accusations that it has tried to undermine governments.

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