A Foundation Behind the Iron Curtain

  • Public-Policy Reform
  • 1984

In 1984, currency speculator George Soros established the first private foundation in a communist country, in his native Hungary. The government in Budapest hoped that by sponsoring Hungarian students to study in Western countries the Soros Foundation-Hungary would improve the regime’s scientific knowledge. But the returning students also brought back pro-Western ideas. In addition, the foundation equipped Hungarian libraries with copy machines, making it easier for dissidents to publish underground newspapers and spread samizdat literature.

“The formula was simple,” wrote Soros. “Any activity or association that was not under the supervision or control of the authorities created alternatives and thereby weakened the monopoly of dogma.” As the Cold War ended, Soros spent $123 million, between 1989 and 1994 to establish similar foundations across Central Europe, aiming to encourage the development of democracy and human rights.

Later, Soros started operations in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Everywhere he went he called for the creation of “open societies,” which he defined as threatened by both communism and what he dubbed “market fundamentalism.” Critics, as in a 1997 Forbes cover story, noted that Soros projects generally “have an exclusively left-wing bias.”

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