Who is George Soros? Here are 4 things you wanted to know (but were afraid to ask) | CBC Radio (2024)

The Current

As Hungary’s prime minister pushes for his country to enact a set of "Stop Soros" laws, we look at how George Soros — an investor turned philosopher and philanthropist whose generosity was championed in the '90s — became a modern-day liberal bogeyman.

Hungarian Prime Minister set to press ahead with ‘Stop Soros’ laws

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Who is George Soros? Here are 4 things you wanted to know (but were afraid to ask) | CBC Radio (1)

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Update, Oct. 24, 2018:Authorities sayabomb was found Monday in a mailbox at the suburban New York home of George Soros, the liberal billionaire philanthropist who has been denounced by U.S. President Donald Trump and vilified by right-wing conspiracy theorists.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secret Service reported interceptingtwo suspicious packages they described as "potential explosive devices." The packages were addressed to former U.S. president Barack Obama and two-time presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

  • 'Hateful rhetoric' cited after bomb found at George Soros's N.Y. home
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Original story, published May 15, 2018:

Depending on who you ask, investor and philanthropist George Soros is either a generous benefactor who has donated billions to improving the lives of others, or a shadowy figure plotting to send millions of illegal migrants to attack Hungary's national identity.

That latter is what's driving the "Stop Soros" laws, a collection of measures proposed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The legislation aims to stop an allegedly dangerous influx of migrants, who Orban argues could be potential terrorists. He plans to do that by stopping the foreign funding of non-governmental organizations(NGOs) that Soros supports, limiting their ability to help asylum seekers and expose corruption. TheSoros-funded Open Society Foundationsannounced it will move its offices from Budapest to Berlinin response.

How did Soros — an investor turned philosopher and philanthropist whose generosity was championed in the '90s — become a liberal bogeyman who inflames the passions of so many?

Who is George Soros? Here are 4 things you wanted to know (but were afraid to ask) | CBC Radio (2)

Who is George Soros?

Born in Budapest in 1930, Soros survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary and moved to Britain after the Second World War. He later moved to New York, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1961.

He made his fortune as an investor, turning a $1 billion US profit by short sellingpound sterling during the 1992 Black Wednesday U.K. currency crisis. The move earned himthenickname "The man who broke the Bank of England."

Thefinancier is also famously active as a philanthropist. Through his Open Society Foundations, he has given billions toNGOsin more than 100 countriesto "build vibrant and tolerant democracies," according to its website.

Why is Soros controversial?

Emily Tamkin, a staff writer for Foreign Policy magazine, compares Soros's public image to a mirror in the Harry Potter novels. When a character looked in that fictionalmirror, they would see what they desired most.

"He's like that, but with the thing that you revile most," she told The Current's Anna MariaTremonti.

It's always easier tocry foul against an enemy who is not there.- Anna Porter,author of

"In Hungary, he's this Jewish person who left, and he made his money, and now he's turned against Hungary," she said. "If you go to Israel, he's a Jewish person who is too pro-Palestinian for the current government's liking.And so on and so forth.

"You can always find some part of himto rally your base around."

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Soros was instrumental in opening up the Eastern Bloc countries after the fall of communism, by funding NGOs and setting up educational facilities like the Central European University, but Tamkinargued thatthe rhetoric around him changed "when people saw that: 'Oh, this path that we're on is not going to magically fix all our problems.'"

That disillusionment has been seized on by politicians eager to paint Soros as a foreign interfererand distract from domestic problems,she added.

Who is George Soros? Here are 4 things you wanted to know (but were afraid to ask) | CBC Radio (3)

What impact does he actually have?

Anna Porter, author of Buying a Better World: George Soros and Billionaire Philanthropy, said Sorosis heavily engaged in political causes around the world, from Myanmar to Bosnia.

The billions spent in the name of philanthropyhave helped individual cases, she explained, and may have even saved lives.

But his influence on the wider political landscape has amounted to "nothing," she argued.

"He did have an impact in Sarajevo by getting water in, when people couldn't get water, or had to line up for water and were shot," she said.

Who is George Soros? Here are 4 things you wanted to know (but were afraid to ask) | CBC Radio (4)

What motivates the 'Stop Soros'movement?

Soros is a useful enemy for politicians in Eastern Europe, said Porter, largely because he is absent.

"It's always easier tocry foul against an enemy who is not there," she said.

"For Mr.Orban to run an entire election campaign on the anti-Soros ticket is astounding," she added. "I can't remember, from my reading of history, when an incumbent government was able to run a re-election campaign against a party that doesn't exist."

Who is George Soros? Here are 4 things you wanted to know (but were afraid to ask) | CBC Radio (5)

The Hungarian embassy in Ottawa told The Current in a statement that the newly proposed lawswould prevent all activities that facilitate illegal entry of migrants into Hungary, as a matter of national security.

It also blamed a recent string of deadly attacks in Europeto the current wave of immigrants and refugees, saying"they had not accepted the European way of life and their social integration became a failure."

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Tamkin argued that if Orban were to accuse an official opposition party of risking Hungarian security in this way, he would be forced to engage them on a level playing field.

"With Soros, he doesn't do that. He just has this perfect enemy who is not actually in Hungarian politics to fight back," she said.

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.

Written byPadraigMoranwith files fromCBCNews. This segment was produced by The Current's Samira Mohyeddin and Danielle Carr.

More from this episode

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  • May 15, 2018 episode transcript
  • FULL EPISODE: The Current for May 15, 2018

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Who is George Soros? Here are 4 things you wanted to know (but were afraid to ask) | CBC Radio (2024)

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