November 24, 2018

NUANCE REQUIRED:

The Truth About George Soros: Understanding the Jewish billionaire--who is neither the villain of right-wing caricature, nor the angel of left-wing hagiography (James Kirchick, November 18, 2018, Tablet)

Back in the days when I worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, covering the politics and societies of a vast expanse of territory stretching from Belarus to Kyrgyzstan, hardly a day went by without my encountering the good works of George Soros. It was in Prague, my home base, where the Hungarian-born financier began as a backer of worthy causes by presciently supporting Charter 77, the pro-democracy movement led by the dissident playwright Vaclav Havel. My boyfriend at the time hailed from neighboring Slovakia, a country whose authoritarian leader, Vladimir Meciar, had been brought down in 1998, partly through the dedicated work of groups funded by Soros' Open Society Foundations (OSF). Another ex took his graduate degree from Central European University, the Budapest-based institution founded by Soros and which is currently under threat of being expelled from the country by right-wing nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

By the time I finished my European tour of duty, it had become axiomatic that, were I to encounter a democracy activist in Baku, a lesbian-rights campaigner in Bishkek, or a press freedom advocate in Belgrade, more likely than not they would have been beneficiaries of a Soros grant, scholarship, or in his employ. To take but one example of his generosity and foresight usually overlooked both by his detractors and fans, he is by far the largest private benefactor to the cause of the Roma--those long-persecuted, socially excluded, forgotten people of Europe.

Soros was remarkably clairvoyant about the vast amounts of money, expertise, and political commitment that would be necessary to repair the damage Communism had wrought on Central and Eastern Europe. At a 1989 conference in Potsdam, just months before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Soros proposed a Marshall Plan for the region. He was, he later recalled, "literally laughed at." So Soros did what he has since repeatedly done upon encountering a problem that no one seemed intent on fixing: He shelled out his own money.

Over the course of the subsequent three decades, Soros spent billions of dollars funding organizations and initiatives devoted to promoting liberal democracy, independent media, good government, transparency, and pluralism across the former Soviet space. It was all work that the United States and its allies in Western Europe should have been funding, but, as a consequence of the post-Cold War hangover, shortsightedly scrimped. A Holocaust survivor, Soros personally experienced the fragile nature of democracy, and rightly worried that the region could revert back to its dark traditions unless the West consolidated democracy, human rights, the rule of law and market economies. Almost 30 years since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, his fears look evermore prescient.

"The system of robber capitalism that has taken hold in Russia is so iniquitous that people may well turn to a charismatic leader promising national revival at the cost of civil liberties," Soros wrote in 1997, three years before a former KGB colonel named Vladimir Putin would be plucked from relative obscurity to become president of that benighted land. "As things stand, it does not take very much imagination to realize that the global open society that prevails at present is likely to prove a temporary phenomenon."

Obviously, America could greatly use the steadfast defender of political inquiry and free thought that George Soros was, and continues to be, in Eastern Europe. But here in America, Soros chose another route, to support a team rather than a mission. And on that team are some of the forces of illiberalism that threaten to rip apart the open society here in the same way that those on the other end of the political spectrum are ripping it apart in Europe.  [...]

The American conservative critique of George Soros carries a different valence than the European right-wing nationalist one, and for two reasons. The first is rooted in simple geography. When the government of Hungary, a country from where over 600,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz with the connivance of a local gendarmerie whose efficiency impressed even the SS, launches an all-of-government crusade against a prominent Jewish figure, and does so in the midst of an already extensive campaign of Holocaust revisionism encompassing the creation of new historical institutes, museums, history textbooks, and a memorial in Budapest's most prominent public square dedicated to whitewashing the country's past crimes, it is unquestionably anti-Semitic.

Why? Because it is clearly part of a large, concerted, overtly anti-Semitic campaign of historical revisionism, which aims to demonize Jews while at the same time whitewashing atrocities committed against them, on behalf of people who claim a direct historical descent from the perpetrators of those atrocities.

When, on the other hand, American conservatives, who claim no such blood-and-soil fascist pedigree, and operate in a completely different socio-cultural-political environment, assert that George Soros generously funds a variety of partisan Democratic and left-wing organizations--a well-documented fact, despite the protestations of The Washington Post's "Fact Checker"--well, it certainly has the potential for being anti-Semitic, if those conservatives deploy traditionally anti-Semitic tropes. But the mere mention of George Soros' name in connection with the many political outfits he funds is not intrinsically anti-Semitic. Many American conservatives oppose Soros not because he's Jewish. They oppose him because he's liberal.

Jonah Goldberg's discussion with Mr. Kirchick was excellent, Remnant Podcast: Episode 72: A Riot of Nuance (November 20, 2018).  The obvious point is that you have to be able to recognize when the critic is exploiting implicit tropes.


Posted by at November 24, 2018 9:04 AM

  

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