Anna Porter: Buying a Better World, a book review

Anna Porter, a Hungarian-born Canadian writer and publisher who since 2004 has been devoting her time to writing, is out with a new book, her third in eight years. All three in one way or another, fully or partially, have something to do with Hungary. In 2007 she wrote Kasztner’s Train, the story of Rudolf Kastner (Rezső Kasztner) and his controversial effort to negotiate with Adolf Eichmann for the release of hundreds of Jews. Three years later The Ghosts of Europe, a history of post-Soviet Eastern Europe after 1990, appeared. And now she has given us an introduction to George Soros’s philanthropic activities, Buying a Better World. Again, Soros is not only Hungarian by birth but also began his crusade for his Open Society in Hungary in 1984.

Soros has spent 12 billion dollars since 1984 “in his efforts to change the way people think,” and along the way he has encountered plenty of disappointment. He established a university in South Africa only to abandon the project a year later. His efforts in Russia also bore little fruit. Viktor Orbán, who has been busily building an “illiberal state” in Hungary, was once the beneficiary of Soros’s largesse. He received a scholarship to Oxford for the academic year 1989-1990 but left after four months to lead Fidesz in the election campaign for the first democratic parliament. By now Orbán has little use for the liberal philanthropist.

PorterI will concentrate here on Soros’s activities in Hungary and his efforts on behalf of the Roma of Europe. Although Soros is disappointed with the results of his efforts in Eastern Europe and in particular in Hungary, I think that in the long run his financial input has not been wasted. Perhaps few people know that Soros was already active in Hungary during the Kádár regime. The Soros Foundation was established in 1984 with the assistance of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Since then the Magyar Soros Alapítvány has supported 40,000 projects and given out several thousand scholarships to artists, scholars, and students.

Perhaps Soros’s best-known activity in Kádár’s Hungary was to supply copy machines to universities and libraries. Until then the few available copy machines belonged to the government and were under strict control. As the number of copy machines grew, the government lost exclusive control over information.

Although Soros may complain about the futility of his efforts, he should be pleased with the Central European University (CEU) he established in Hungary. The original idea was to have three campuses: in Prague, Warsaw, and Budapest. After Václáv Klaus became president, the Prague campus’s fate was pretty well sealed. Klaus hated Soros. The Warsaw campus also closed its doors after a few years. The Budapest campus, however, is thriving. Some Hungarians who worked closely with Soros in the early days of CEU think that, although Soros was initially reluctant to establish a university, it may be his most lasting contribution.

According to Porter, “at first Soros rejected the idea of founding a university. He didn’t think it was an effective way to influence a society. The best results, he said, are from inside a society, ‘infusing existing institutions with content’ and allowing local individuals to spend money on causes they believe to be worthwhile.” Yet, he eventually accepted the argument that “there was a need in eastern Europe for a university that encouraged independent thought,” which had been in short supply in the region. CEU has an international faculty, its language of instruction is English, and students come from throughout Eastern Europe.

In the chapter on “The Struggles of the Roma” Anna Porter gives the reader a vivid description of the plight of the Roma in Slovak and Hungarian villages. “This is the grim challenge Soros chose for the Open Society Foundations. Their programs include workshops for the Roma on advocacy and health and education in history, media, communications, and civil and human rights.”  In 2009 alone the Open Society Foundation assisted 30,000 Roma children and 800 university students. CEU is also active in Roma studies. Yet, as Anna Porter rightly points out, “it is hard to see the results of Open Society’s intervention” on behalf of the Roma. She continues: “It is difficult to verify [the] claim that OS has created a ‘heightened level of awareness worldwide, and a sense of urgency’ in Europe.” The Open Society Foundation has put an incredible amount of effort and a lot of money into trying to uplift the Roma population in the eastern part of Europe, but so far it has failed to make a significant difference.

Here I have concentrated on a very small part of Buying a Better World. The book takes us all over the world, everywhere George Soros has been using his fortune to achieve a better, more open society.

Anna Porter, Buying a Better World: George Soros and Billionaire Philanthropy (Toronto: TAP Books, 2015).

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buddy
Guest

I would just like to point out that Angéla Kóczé, who is a signatory to yesterday’s petition against the proposed national consultation, has done impressive work in the field of Roma studies and awareness. She also received her MA and PhD from CEU.

Webber
Guest

You might add that Kóczé is Roma, and a great example for other Hungarian citizens regardless of their ethnic background. She also happens to be a nice person. That might sound odd or irrelevant, but I mean it sincerely. The few times I’ve bumped into her in the past I’ve found her to be very pleasant.

i-doubt
Guest

Soros had good intentions, but he has yet to find worthy people to lead his Open Society.

He has probably become a hostage of anarchist, many non-democratic, non enlightened scared staff members.

My feeling is that the Open Society is not managed well, or governed by not very sound principles.

Webber
Guest
If you mean Soros’s Open Society initiatives (foundations and the rest), you might be right and you might be wrong. Soros might have given the world an example of an enormously frivolous waste of money, or he might have made the world a much better place than it might have been – or something between the two. Who knows? If you mean open society as an ideal, I think you’re wrong. “Open societies” in the sense Popper described them (Soros follows Popper) don’t have leaders, but they aren’t anarchies either. Among the many attributes assigned to them, open societies are capitalist countries (private property is a cornerstone), encourage innovation, and give all talented people a chance to get ahead (meritocracy). They also have some form of democratic government that changes regularly in response to societies’ needs and desires. As with most ideal systems, these features conflict in some ways with one another (example: the inheritance of accumulated wealth by the mediocre is not meritocratic – but is unavoidable if private property is considered sacrosanct) I may be wrong, but I seem to recall Soros and others pointing to the United States and Sweden are examples of more-or-less open societies, though… Read more »
Latefor
Guest

Webber,
For the life of me: how could a small ex-communist country like Hungary become an “Open Society”? Open for what? Exploitation? At least Mr Soros believes “the imperfectability of any systems.”

Webber
Guest
Latefor I’m not a great fan of Popper’s theory for reasons I won’t go into here. I just don’t think it should be misrepresented. Open to good ideas and to change for the better, I believe is the “correct” Popperian answer to your remarks Whether it’s possible to change society in positive ways is certainly a valid question (reading between your lines, that’s what I derived – maybe I misread you though), and it’s one that a conservative would rightly ask. Your comment about “open for what? Exploitation?” sounds a little like neo-Marxist rhetoric, so perhaps you made it in jest. If not, I’ll ask whether you really think the alternative – a “closed” society (closed to capital and ideas) – is a good idea? The only really closed society that comes to mind just now is North Korea. That may be an unfair example, though, because it’s such an outlier. Perhaps there have been less awful ones? Anyway, while I am the first to admit that societies change and sometimes change is instituted from the top for the better (slavery was ended in the U.S., for example), I too am generally leery of any (necessarily faulted – because human)… Read more »
Webber
Guest

P.S. As far as I know, Soros has never made a penny out of business in Hungary. He has only poured money into the country.
He made a huge pile of money “breaking the pound” back in 1992, and I know British people who still dislike him for that.
Some people in the States hate him for backing legalization of marijuana.

Latefor
Guest

Webber
Soros never cheated “little people”, he is known in Hungarian circles as the great son of the motherland, who “broke the Bank of England”.

Webber
Guest

Which Hungarian circles do you mean?
Magyar Nemzet (until recently) Magyar Hírlap, and all press organs to the right of those two dailies have depicted Soros as the devil incarnate.
Honesty is the best policy. Let’s not pretend Soros is seen as a hero by “Hungarian circles.”

Latefor
Guest

Webber
He’s seen as a super clever financier!

István
Guest

Jordi Vaquer is the regional director for Europe at the Open Society Foundations and a co-director of the Open Society Initiative for Europe. I don’t see him or any of the other staff as being anarchists or supporters of authoritian rule in Central Europe. Heather Grabbe is another critical leading staff member of Open Society Initiative for Europe and her background really in not that of some type of random European radical either.

Here is a link to rescent reports on Hungary supported by the Initative http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/search?key=Hungary I honestly don’t see any anarchist tendencies in these reports.

I have some disagreements with the Open Society Foundation in relation to US military actions and the use of drones in eliminating IS militants and Taliban militants. But I do not see Soros or his policy people in anyway as supporting any form of non-democratic capitalism. So I ask who are these Foundation staff or grant recipients in Europe that people see as anarchists?

steve397
Guest
“Patriotism is the last bastion of the scoundrel.” Is something that comes to mind reading about Mr.Orban’s policy of opposing migration or the possible infiltration of refugees into Hungary. One should remind him and all the xenophonic Hungarians, most of whom support the Right, that during WWII even Regent Horthy’s not exactly democratic governments allowed Polish refugees in 1939 and escaped French and English POWs later free and in some cases assisted passage to Romania and hence to England. I happen to have lived enjoying total freedom in England as a Stateless refugee, after I escaped Hungary and in 1956 I saw the treatment refugees from the Hungarian refugees enjoyed in both New Zealand and Australia. I would also remind the supporters of xenophobia in Hungary that they once had an enlightened ruler in Joseph II who virtually invited migrants to establish industries in Hungary, such as the Goldbergers and Weisz Manfred, amongst some lesser known foreigners who brought their skills and benefited Hungary. Similarly, a recently as 50 years ago Australia was insignificant as an industrial nation of 5 million Anglo-Saxon people, but today has a population of 23 million, with a multi-cultural background and has built industries which… Read more »
Latefor
Guest

Steve,
When was the last time you drove through Geelong? 🙂
Multiculturalism is working in Australia because we are all recent migrants in a country which is only 227 years old. (Since Captain Cook’s arrival) Sorry, Mate… wrong comparison!

steve397
Guest

First fleet not Captain Cook, but what is I have missed out by not having been for at least 20 years in Geelong?

Latefor
Guest

Steve,
Why don’t you take a nice drive to Lorne, and see for yourself. 🙁
Cheers

steve397
Guest

Hi, you are tantalizing me. I am too old to go to VIC, just to check. Also others might want learn what Geelong or Lorne has to do with us. Please don’t keep us in suspense.

Latefor
Guest

Beautiful seaside towns!

buddy
Guest

Today’s required video viewing for Hungarian speakers: “Fidesz or Jobbik?” András Kósa of VS interviewed random MPs in Parliament and asked them the same questions about reintroducing the death penalty, and the connection between immigration into Europe and terrorism. They obscured the MPs’ faces and voices, and asks the viewer to guess if it was a Fidesz or Jobbik party member who said it.

Nothing really new in this, but it continues to confirm what has been obvious for the past few years.

http://vs.hu/video/na-ezt-vajon-jobbikos-vagy-fideszes-mondta-0502#!s62

Guest

There have been regular outbursts of Fidesz politicians against “NGOs financed from abroad”, usually meaning financed by Soros – for example reported here:
http://www.politics.hu/20141002/govt-friendly-weekly-claims-to-expose-alleged-influence-of-ngos-financed-by-gyorgy-soros/

On the other hand we know that Orbán himself got some money from Soros many years ago – so did something happen, a kind of fallout between the two or whatever?

Or is it just that Soros reminds Fidesz that it used to call itself a liberal party once?

Member

OV had a brain meltdown.

faas
Guest
Member

OV talked about immigration on the tv news this evening. It was disguisting!

petofi
Guest

Hungary is ‘great’ enough to hate everyone, except the Russians.

In that direction they only practice genuflection…

The journey from 1950 was a circular one.

HAJRA MAGYAROK!

petofi
Guest

Orban habituating Hungarians to servitude: ‘proud Christians serving heroic country’–nightmare as dream.

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