nettime's_roving_reporter on Fri, 17 Mar 2000 22:08:45 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Soros interview with _Delo_

_Delo_ (Ljubljana), early March?

You win if you prevent a catastrophe

     an interview with George Soros 
     by Ervin Hladnik-Milharãiã

I first heard about George Soros in the beginning of the eighties
in Budapest. People were talking about an American millionaire of
Hungarian origin who invested money into the free university and
supported marginal cultural projects. In connection with George
Soros they further mentioned Henry Bergson and Karl Popper, and
the concept of civil rights in open society which should become
the foundation for the development of democracy in Eastern
Europe. All of it sounded somewhat eccentric and not very

Years later I was sitting with Fran Nazi in his office at the
outskirts of Tirana, where young Albanians were framing the
concept and preparing other documentation needed for the
launching of radio stations. They introduced themselves as "Soros
people" and talked about open society which in Tirana sounded a
bit more realistic than in Budapest. Nazi was the executive
director  of the Albanian Open Society foundation and he was not
eccentric at all. He was an Albanian from Brooklyn who returned
to Tirana to help develop democracy in the country which was in
the midst of a terrible turmoil. He was successful. His conflict
with Salih Berisha led to his expulsion from the country.

Today in every capital in Eastern Europe one comes across the
name Soros. During the past twenty years he built the network
that spans the territory from Ljubljana to Kyrgyzstan. His
foundations finance newspapers, radio stations, English language
programs,  initiatives for reforms of local governments, and a
host of other initiatives that seem to be infinite. They can be
found in South Africa and the United States. The report for 1998
states that in that year alone he spent 574 million dollars of
his fortune to finance the operation of his network.

Many American financiers leave behind them artistic, scientific
or educational foundations, because in addition to their own
interests this practice is stimulated by American tax
legislation. Yet Soros network is outstanding, because it has
made him a noteworthy political factor in South-Eastern Europe.
One of the documents formulated by his foundation was the basis
for the Stability Pact which stirred up both much hope and
reluctance. Soros is one of the most enthusiastic advocates of
the Stability Pact and he continually supplies ideas for the
resolution of the crisis that followed the disintegration of

In his interview for Delo, given before his visit to foundations
in Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary, he explains why he devotes so
much funds and time to the Balkans and its difficulties.
Undoubtedly it would be no less interesting to hear him talk
about his financial activities, but he does not answer such

EHM: You travel to Slovenia just after two interesting changes
occurred in its neighboring countries. After a decade of
political darkness Croatia finally has a respectful democratic
government, while Austria, which was put forward as a model of
liberal democracy, ended up with the government with extreme
right-wing politicians. Being an expert on Central European
politics, were you surprised at such an outcome?

GS: Austria did not surprise me because the coalition there has
been growing weaker and weaker. However, I do not know Haider. I
never talked to him, so I have only second-hand information. I do
agree that the presence of such a politician in the Austrian
government arouses serious concerns. But I also think that he
cannot be simply driven away by our not agreeing to his presence
in the government. His climb reflects the weakness of democratic
forces in Austria. In addition, the reaction of the EU equally
seems to be above all the expression of weakness and fear that
the phenomenon could spread. Chirac is afraid of the rise of
extreme right-wing parties in France, which is the reason why he
supports the boycott with so much fervor. Germany, due to the
scandals related to CDU, is afraid that its own extreme
right-wing parties could become a political power of consequence.
I think that the reaction in Europe was in the first place a sign
of the weakness of democracy.

EHM: And what reaction would be appropriate?

GS: An expression of  concern is entirely justifiable, while the
direct boycott could have an opposite effect. Such moves make
Haider even more attractive for nationalist sentiment in Austria.
People wonder what right do European countries have to dictate to
Austria the composition of its coalition. Rather than resorting
to a direct attack it would be better to employ an indirect
approach to ensure the strengthening of the democratic
alternative in Europe. From my standpoint, what is needed is to
see that the Stability Pact succeeds. That would be an investment
into democracy.

EHM: But at the same time Croatia has strenghtened its democracy.

GS: Yes. That is exctly what I am saying. It is a very important
test. The new government should be helped to achieve better
results than Tu_man's government did. To do away with corruption,
to create prosperity and bring about political reforms. The
development of democracy in the countries like Croatia takes away
legitimacy from the projects like Haider's.

EHM: Why were the United States so reserved in both cases?

GS: I am myself very cautious too when criticizing Austria.
American reservations seem justified to me. To condemn Haider
because of his past is dangerous. He must be judged by his
actions. The strong reaction of the Europeans originates in
internal weaknesses. That is not healthy. A healthy reaction
would be an accelerated investment into open societies. Let
Haider sink under his own weight. The Austrians could be warned
that their government is not attractive, and left to take care of
it themselves. Let them vote differently as Croatians did.

EHM: Don't you think that these two events affect the planned
changes in the region?

GS: On the contrary. The changes in Croatia will have massive
impact on Bosnia and Yugoslavia. There will be local elections in
Yugoslavia. People in Yugoslavia can ask themselves why the
changes cannot be effected in their own country as they have been
in Croatia. The authorities can fabricate election results to a
certain extent, but only to a certain extent. The changes in
Croatia represent a much more significant positive move for the
development of events in the Balkans than do the changes in
Austria represent a negative one. The outcome in the Balkans, on
the other hand, is not critical only for the region but for
Europe as a whole. This is the project through which the EU could
justify its existence and prove that it could act constructively,
that it has ideas and knows how to implement them. The European
Union is a process of integration, of the formation of open
society and economic prosperity through the common market.
Yugoslavia went through the process of disintegration. The legal
system disintegrated, ethnic conflicts led to the collapse of
institutions and economic sunset. The West reacted defensively
attempting to maintain status quo and stop the disintegration. It
was not successful. Europe could now offer the concept of
integration and reverse the course of history. The Balkans must
become a part of Europe. That is the answer. That would lend a
new meaning to Europe and have significant effects on the
development of the whole world.

EHM: Of the whole world? Isn't it somewhat exaggerated?

GS: We live in the era of global economy, but we do not have
global society. The political structures across the world do not
keep in step with modern economic developments. I think that it
is necessary to establish global open society. As an idea this
may seem utopian. But if we proceed bit by bit and bring about
realistic changes in the Balkans based on the principles of open
society, we will make the important first step. We could show
that it is in the interests of existing open societies that the
whole world should become the world of open societies.
Democracies should work on a gradual development of open
societies in all parts of the world where it is in their
interests. The Balkans is the first trial. If we succeed there,
the idea of open society will become less utopian. If we fail,
there is no point in talking about global open society. If we
cannot resolve the situation in the region so close to Europe,
then there is no point in further considerations. The Stability
Pact is a good starting point.

EHM: Who do you have in mind when you say "we"? Which subject
could take on the management of the project? The United Nations
is an awkward organization enmeshed in a network of national
politics. NATO is a military organization with the one-way
political agenda. Europe is a concept still in development.

GS: We need an alliance of democratic states. The alliance of
open societies which should promote open societies relying on
constructive and not military means. We need a political
counterbalance to NATO. That is to say, a political alliance
which will insist on free compliance with the principles of open
society instead of imposing sanctions against those who violate
rules. Sanctions do not work. Economic sanctions are
non-productive and they help consolidate corrupted regimes. The
smugglers who breach sanctions are the allies of these regimes
and they create the symbiosis of the criminals and officials.
Sanctions create franchise for the regimes which should be
punished, so they remain in power thanks to the breach of
sanctions. Military sanctions are equally destructive and on
their own do not lead to positive changes. Bombing is not a cure
for social diseases. Something constructive should be done. But
the possibilities for constructive intervention are very limited.
There is no money needed for it, there is no an adequate
organization. There has been no progress made so far. After the
military intervention in Kosovo we were very slow to establish
the rule of law and the ethnic cleansing continued in the
opposite direction. People in Kosovo continue to live in fear of
men carrying guns . That is not the best formula for building
democracy. The police action in Kosovo has failed. The answer is
the Stability Pact, which is a fine idea, yet it has not come
very far for the time being.

EHM: What stage of implementation has it achieved in fact?

GS: There will be a meeting towards the end of March at which we
will talk about finances. This meeting will show whether this
project is serious or not. Quite a lot of serious financial
substance must be invested into the Pact or it will remain an
empty shell. I myself work on ensuring the success of this
meeting, but I cannot assure it though.

EHM: The Pact has been on the agenda for quite some time now.
What is the problem?

There are two problems. The first is money. The second is
organization. They are related. We do not talk about vast sums of
money. We will need a lot of money for infrastructure, yet this
funds could be obtained later through loans and investments. We
do not need more than one billion dollars of direct financial

EHM: Who will manage this fund?

GS: We talk about a project that is similar to Marshal's plan.
Marshal's plan was an American enterprise and it was managed by
America. The plan for stability should be an European enterprise.
But the European Union is not in top form. There are too many
cooks. Look at Kosovo. There is KFOR which is a military
formation more or less composed of NATO members. Then there are
civilian structures. UNMIK are United Nations. And there are four
pillars. The European Union, OSCE, UNCHR, and a fourth one which
has now slipped my mind. There are too many authorities and they
continually find excuses for their failures by laying the
responsibility at other's doors. When different authorities come
into conflict, they establish another authority to coordinate
them. That does not work. The Stability Pact gave to the
resolution of the conflicts a clear form and organizational
structure. But it has many enemies because it was shaped by
foreign ministers, so  financial ministers are now very
unforthcoming when it comes to allocating financial means. I hope
that there will be formed the common fund which will coordinate
the donations. The EU itself has no money, it can obtain it from
donors only. And donors will then want to have supervision over
the spending of the funds. These two problems must be resolved.
Money and organization.

EHM: Your description depicts the standard procedure of all
foreign political projects of the EU. Mutual jealousy always
leads to a standstill.

GS: They must transcend it. They must form an action group,
determine who is responsible for its work and give authorizations
to him. The most evident candidate is Chris Patten. Other
commissioners should remain under his leadership. Which is
difficult because all commissions are equal and everybody has to
give agreement for each decision. They should find a mechanism
which would enable them to accomplish their task.

EHM: We have seen this many times before. The situation is
resolved in this way or another only when the United States steps

GS: This time the United States is less important because the
protective umbrella must be provided by Europe. The region has to
be integrated into Europe, not America. America could set an
example and offer, say, trade concessions, but the bulk of work
must be done by Europe. The project must be led by Europe. The
idea implies the reducing of the significance of the state
borders and the creation of better cooperation in the region
which should gradually grow closer to Europe. This is the
European business. The United States could support the project,
but they cannot lead it.

EHM: You are one of the more successful American financiers and
you make the impression that you are a satisfied man. You devoted
a lot of time, energy and money to the activities in the
countries which seemed to belong to the empire of Dracula. Why?

GS: The idea of open society is a universal one and it is not
tied to one or two countries. I would like to bring the world
closer to global open society. This is an abstract concept which
I would like to transform into more concrete form. I began in the
eighties when the situation in Eastern Europe was very clear. On
the one hand, you had closed societies which enforced upon their
people their own special version of the truth. On the other side
were open societies where nobody had monopoly over society, which
means freedom. The difference was very clear. Open society was
much desired, because closed society was very oppressive. The
idea of open society was the idea of freedom. Things are
different today. The Soviet system collapsed, we have global
economy but no global society. On what basis could society be
organized? In my opinion the basis should be the recognition that
nobody is in possession of the ultimate truth. At the same time
everybody should recognize that we are all part of common society
in which we are concerned about the conduct and interests of
others because they affects us. I try to serve common interests.

EHM: Which of the local organizations that you finance yielded
most results?

GS: Different organizations in different times. The Albanian
foundation was unbelievably successful. In Albania the foundation
of open society has been perceived as an institution which
largely contributed to Albanian democracy. The Sarajevo
foundation was very important during the siege of Sarajevo,
because it helped preserve life within the city. Slovenian
foundation is not so significant for the state, because Slovenia
does not need this foundation as much as other countries do. Yet
the foundation in Slovenia is very good because it shows concern
for its neighbors. Today Slovenia is in a very good position to
help, say, Montenegro in their reforms. The foundation organizes
workshops in which Slovenian experts for education share their
experience with experts from Montenegro who need such exchange.
On the other hand, I had to shake up the Ukrainian foundation
because it came under a too strong influence of its environment.
The Ukraine is a very corrupted environment and I had to purge
the foundation thoroughly. The Ukrainian foundation was not a

EHM: What has been built with your investments into tens of
programs from Slovenia to Kyrgyzstan?

GS: The network of open society foundations in which individual
units function as prototypes of open society. They are
self-organized and have substantial autonomy in bringing
decisions. They accept responsibility for their actions. They
serve the idea of open society by functioning as open societies.
The network is well positioned so that it can contribute to the
success of the Stability Pact. It cannot accomplish the task on
its own, because western democracies must show willingness to
join in and help. Another thing needed is the capacity to absorb
help, and that is where the foundations could offer their expert

EHM: And that should be carried out by the United Nations of the
western world mentioned before?

GS: That should be an association of democratic states. The
objective is to promote open society all around the world and to
create global open society. There are two objectives in fact. The
first is the internal development of individual countries, the
second is the international development of the rules and
standards of conduct, and institutions to support those rules.

EHM: Yet there are so many international organizations, agencies,
non-governmental organizations, private forums, which rush to
every crisis spot so that it has become difficult to count all of
them. Each follows its own course and they often make an
impression that they do not know exactly what course that is.
Doesn't this point to the failure of traditional organized
structures rather than anything else?

GS: That is a kind of pluralism. Different organizations with
different forms of support operate independently. The idea that
there should be some supreme authority which caters for all needs
is a relict of the communist era. We are simply a network. And
there are many networks. Some achieve better results in  certain
areas, others do in other areas. The idea of open society is
based on self-organization and not on any pre-meditated plan.

EHM: Yet the networks have become so widespread that they have
turned into an important employer.

GS: It is clear that sooner or later this may turn into a
business. The organizations must obtain money from donors.
Therefore they must be visible when mediating aid. They cannot
just send money directly to those who need it even though it
would be perhaps the most effective way of giving help.
Personally I am not especially keen on participating in purely
humanitarian operations. As a rule, once there is a need for the
humanitarian action, it is already too late. I find it much more
sensible to organize political structures which could prevent
humanitarian catastrophes. Much less money is needed to build
democracy and dynamic market economy than to amend catastrophes.
One can prevent the victories of politicians who exploit ethnic
conflicts and lead nations into the wars which finally create
need for humanitarian aid. If we have to come and make the
cleaning after the conflict, it means that the idea about open
society has been defeated. You can talk about victory when such
action is not needed because you have prevented the catastrophe.
One of the lessons learned from the disintegration of Yugoslavia
is that the prevention never begins too early. The opposition to
Miloseviç should have been put up as soon as he took away
autonomy from Kosovo and Vojvodina. At that time Milo”eviç had
not any significant power in his hands and had he met with the
opposition then, he would have never become the big authority. It
is not possible to guess just like that which event could lead to
a catastrophe. Therefore, you need general principles. These
could be solely the principles of open society, democracy, human
rights and so on. It is necessary to react each time they are
violated and to perceive immediately every critical violation.

EHM: Who could oppose the elimination of the autonomy in Kosovo
and Vojvodina save for the constructive elements within the
federation of that time?

GS: Europe. An external diplomatic pressure on the former
government could have been very effective. As the time passed it
became much more difficult. Of course we will never manage to
turn this world into the garden of paradise. Catastrophes will
always happen.

EHM: Russia has just finished off the war in Chechnya which
fulfills all of these criteria. Why nobody reacted?

GS: We could not do anything for Chechnya. It was too late. Had
we tried to assist in building open society in Russia, something
could have been done perhaps. Perhaps in that case we would not
even hear about Chechnya. Why there is war in Chechnya?  Because
thanks to the disintegration of political environment Russian
politicians have used Chechnya as a vehicle for securing Putin's
popularity. If we had tried to create a different environment,
Putin would have not risen to power through war.  Do not forget
that between ninety four and ninety six the Russian public
opinion resisted the military action in Chechnya and thus stopped
it. The situation in Russia has worsened since then. We cannot do
anything about Chechnya because there is so much resentment
against the West that it would be counter-productive and would
only reinforce nationalistic sentiment. But in the Balkans we can
do something. The ball is in our court. We have made the military
intervention, so now we have to justify it and bring a visible
progress to the region. That calls for a constructive action.
That is the Stability Pact. That is why it is so important.

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