Who is George Soros? The question has preoccupied the largest international media, and many reports have focused on the major investor, who although he gained a reputation as a ruthless speculator, has placed his riskiest bets in politics and not the markets.
The spectre of Soros recently cast its shadow on Greek politics. At an 16 October cabinet meeting, defence minister and junior coalition partner Panos Kammenos, according to the assertion of former foreign minister Nikos Kotzias in an interview, said that, “Soros is funding the government to buy off politicians. I was the only one who responded. Not even the prime minister said anything.”
The “leaks” from that cabinet meeting indicated that Kammenos said that the funding reached 50mn euros, and was earmarked for expediting the approval of the Greece-FYROM Prespa Agreement. The defence minister later denied it. “It is a lie, and that is proven in the minutes of the meeting and by those who were present,” Kammenos wrote in a tweet.
New Democracy and the Movement for Change (KINAL), demanded that a prosecutor immediately investigate the extremely heavy charge, the SYRIZA-linked Avgi daily wrote that these are conspiracy scenarios, but because no action was taken, the issue is poisoning political life in Greece, FYROM, and Albania. Bribery charges are difficult to prove, but they always act corrosively and in a sly manner.
Remarks at the cabinet meeting
That was not the first cabinet meeting in which Kammenos mentioned George Soros.
In the last three months, he publicly linked the investor to “irredentist groups in Skopje” to which “he has contributed billions”, to the “slanderous attack” against the minister regarding the management of funds earmarked for refugees, with the “contract” against a pro-government newspaper, with the toppling of the government (when on 5 July in parliament he asked, “Why should we topple the government, to do the bidding of Soros and the domestic troika?”).
At the time, he also spoke of “willing parliamentary reserves of the Soros system shaping new parliamentary majorities…Did you forget (Potami Party leader)Mr. Theodorakis?”
Kammenos was not the only person to speak of Soros’ role in Skopje. Byzantinist Eleni Glykatzi-Ahrweiler, in her book A life without Alibis, recounts her conversation (which had been made public) with shipowner Yannis Latsis, in which he told her that he would have bought Skopje to bring calm to Greece if Soros had not beaten him to it.
In January, 2018, Athens University professor of geopolitics Ioannis Mazis maintained that UN Greece-FYROM mediator Matthew Nimetz and Thessaloniki Mayor Yannis Boutaris were linked to Soros’ foundations. In February, veteran New Democracy MP Nikitas Kaklamanis said on television panel, “Forget about Mr.Nimetz, as he is the employee of Soros, who is the real boss in Skopje.”
Recently, independent MEP Notis Marias attributed to Soros and other power centres the idea of “pulverising peoples so as to create a single European municipality”, along with a “massive importation of migrants who will settle in special economic zones, pushing down wages and addressing the demographic problem.” Even segments of the Church accuse the “atheist Soros” of trying to wipe out Greek identity in Macedonia.
Demonisation and profiteering
The 88-year-old Soros has been demonised more than anyone else in Europe and the US, and he is the leading man in dozens of conspiracy theories, even anti-Semitic ones, due to his Jewish heritage.
All the theories about Soros that are bandied about are equally if not more interesting than the actual facts that shape an enigmatic personality. His enemies accuse him of using his money to direct the fortunes of the world. His friends insist that he is an impassioned ideologue who simply “is not interested in feeding nonsense” by responding to all that is said about him.
He is considered one of the biggest speculators ever on Wall Street, and that reputation still accompanies him, even though he stopped investing other people’s money years ago.
He became known as the man who destroyed the Bank of England on “Black Wednesday”, 16 September 1992, when he submerged the Pound sterling, garnering a profit of $1bn as manager of the Quantum investment fund, while the British government lost $5.5bn.
“I did it to make money. No one can demand that an investor worry about the social consequences of his actions,” he said. “My activity has been overestimated. I did not destroy the Bank of England. The markets did it. I simply led the way.”
Collaboration with the Nazis
Soros was born in Hungary in 1930, but is now a US citizen. When the Nazis occupied his country, his father, a lawyer, obtained for his children forged ID cards, so that they would not be taken to concentration camps. Gyorgi (as his name was then) stayed with a local officer who was a friend of his father, and who, following orders, confiscated the property of the Jews. Because of that, a reputation as a Nazi collaborator has since chased him.
At the age of 17, he went to London and studied at the London School of Economics, and in the 1950’s moved to New York, where he founded the Soros Fund Management. In London, he was a student of Karl Popper, the philosopher who taught the theory of the “open society”, which in turn became his life’s goal. His humanitarian activity, which began in 1979, has since distributed $32bn to the Open Society organisations, which are active in over 100 countries.
The world’s ‘Dr. Evil’ with a Don Quixote mentality
Despite his extensive humanitarian activity, George Soros remains an unpopular figure. Those who have met him speak of a simple, friendly, and humble person, who despite his wealth leads an ascetic life. He travels with regular airlines, has no yacht, is just in his professional relations, and has a penetrating sense of humour. He is the author of 11 books and considers himself a philosopher, although he has been criticised for his less than inspiring language.
The same people describe a Don Quixote mentality as regards his beliefs and principles, which has led to failed decisions, while his involvement in politics has made him a target. The first attacks came in the US, when the Democratic Party targeted funders of the Republicans, and their reprisal actions put Soros, one of the biggest contributors to the Democratic Party, in the eye of the storm.
In 2003, he opposed the Iraq war and in 2007 Fox News declared that he is the “Doctor evil of the whole world of leftwing foundations”. In 2014, in a fiery article in the New York Review of Books”, entitled “Wake up, Europe!” he demanded the awakening of the EU in regard to Vladimir Putin. “The member-states of the EU should wake up, and act like countries indirectly involved in a war. What is in danger is not only the survival of the new Ukraine, but also the future of Nato and the EU itself,” he had underlined.
The target of Trump and Orban
Moscow replied by characterising the Open Society Foundation as “undesirable”. Donald Trump accuses him of funding demonstrations against him, and Israel criticises him for his pro-Palestinian positions. In his birth land of Hungary, he has been labeled as an “enemy of the people”, even by PM Viktor Orban, who previously enjoyed Soros’ favour, as the investor funded his unfinished studies at Oxford, and later the extension of his Fidesz party offices all over the country.
Orban was re-elected in April, charging that Soros had a plan to pack the country with Muslim migrants. In fact, Soros supported the decision of the European Commission to proportionally distribute refugees in all EU countries. That did not keep the Hungarian PM from filling the streets of Budapest with posters of Soros, with the words “Stop Soros” and “Don’t let Soros laugh last”. In December, the move of the graduate-level Central European University (founded by Soros) from Budapest to Vienna will be judged.
With all that is going on in Europe and the US, Soros is confronted with the prospect that his vision will fail. “I support principles regardless of whether I win or lose. Unfortunately, I am losing a lot and on many fronts these days,” he told the New York Times, in which he wrote an Op-Ed piece characterising the Greece-FYROM Prespa Agreement as an “historic opportunity”. Last week, an explosive device was found outside his New York home.
The Levy Institute and Papadimitriou
Political leaders in Poland, Romania, and Turkey have criticised Soros’ activities. It costs Panos Kammenos little to join the fray to attack him as well. Still, when certain things are said in a cabinet meeting, they take on a special weight and raise questions, including whether SYRIZA is or is not linked to Soros. Events do not help one come to a decisive conclusion.
In 2013, then main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras’ visit to the US was organised by Bard College’s Levy Institute, which has been heavily funded by Soros. The institute is headed by Dimitris Papadimitriou, whom Tsipras later appointed Economy and Development minister. A source who is aware of events in that period says that Papadimitriou and Soros were introduced to each other, but a relationship did not take root.
In September, 2015, at the well-known Tsipras-Bill Clinton public discussion at a Clinton Global Initiative event in New York, Soros was sitting in the front row.
In August, 2016, there was an uproar regarding Tsipras’ advisor Matthaios Tsimitakis, who was said to have collaborated with Soros’ foundation in producing a study regarding Greece’s supposed indifference to the Ukraine crisis, due to Athens’ relations with Moscow.
Former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said in 2015 that, “My only encounter with Mr. Soros was on 13 April, 2016 in Berlin, when we both participated in a panel discussion about the euro. Afterwards, all twelve of the panelists sat down for a meal together. I exchanged views with Mr. Soros for about five minutes. That was the extent of my relationship with him.”
A few days ago, Varoufakis recalled a passage in his book Adults in the Room:
“A month before the referendum in 2015 he (Soros) used common acquaintances and asked me to arrange for him to speak with the prime minister. He did not want to speak with me at all. I told Tsipras and he asked, ‘What do you recommend?’ I replied that he (Soros) might want to give him some important information, as he knew people and situations, but that he is a controversial figure. It might not be good if it becomes known that you spoke with him”
“ ‘Call him up and let me speak with him’, he said. I gave him the phone and when he hanged up he said with a smile, ‘You know what he wanted to tell me? To sack you.’ According to him (Soros), Europe was confronted with two crises, Greece and Ukraine, and that it could not withstand that. Hence, I had to go because I wouldn’t sign the memorandum,” Varoufakis said in a radio interview.