Soros biographer says he is no stranger to controversy.
George Soros has seen his share of antisemitic tropes, so the recent spate of nasty attacks in the UK would hardly have been a surprise to him. He was a child during the Holocaust in Hungary. He has been attacked in central and eastern European countries from Macedonia to Poland and Romania to Serbia. Hungary has been leading the pack with last year’s all-too-obviously antisemitic billboard campaign accusing him of conspiring to flood Hungary with migrants.
Unlike his interest in promoting open societies in central and eastern Europe, Mr Soros has not played an active role in British political life. Since Britain has been a vibrant democracy, there was little incentive for him to do so. He had spent hundreds of millions in support of dissidents during the last decade of Communist rule, saved the lives of Soviet scientists when the Soviet Union crumbled, provided water to besieged Sarajevo and, more controversially, promoted membership of the European Union. He has been a vocal supporter of the ideas behind the EU, though critical of its methods in dividing member states into creditors and debtors. At the 2012 World Economic Forum in Davos, Soros was there to warn the assorted gathering of economists, statesmen, academics and assorted pundits of the consequences of a European break-up.
“The situation is eerily reminiscent of the 1930s,” he wrote in The New York Review of Books, blaming the Maastricht Treaty, the structure of the euro, the forced austerity without counterveiling fiscal incentives, and, above all, Germany’s self-centred politics. He went so far as to suggest that if Germany cannot lead the EU out of its woes, it should leave.
Contrary to the accusations of secretive meddling in the UK’s Brexit plans, Mr Soros was very vocal in his support for the Remain faction and very open about his financial commitment to Best of Britain, the anti-Brexit campaign fighting to keep the UK in the European Union.
All suggestions that he has acted in a clandestine fashion are malicious. Both Mr Soros and the Open Society Foundation (OSF) have been consistently clear about their aims and their spending is easily identifiable with the causes – however unpopular in some quarters – they espouse. Suggestions of a network of mysterious organisations with tentacles across the world is just another conspiracy theory that smells of antisemitism. It is the ancient fiction of Tsarist times that keeps popping up whenever those in power or those who would be in power need to point to a convenient “other”, or a foreign interloper they can set out to defeat.
As author, journalist and Soros admirer Kati Marton told me, Mr Soros has such a low opinion of human nature that he is rarely surprised by the harm we inflict on ourselves. He is also rarely surprised by the venom with which many people will treat ideas that are contrary to their own. One of the basic tenets of an “open society” is that you can disagree with your fellows without name-calling.
Whether Brexit wins or loses, I expect that Mr Soros will continue to push for greater European unity and a return to the ideals that had originally led to the creation of the EU.
He has had many losses during his years of supporting open societies. He is used to it. But that does not mean he will not do his best to help those who oppose Brexit to win this one.