Deception & Misdirection
George Soros’ Romanian Ghosts, Part Two
How Soros-funded NGOs and their Western allies in government push for revolution in Eastern Europe
Read Part one of George Soros’s Romanian Ghosts here.
Mirel Palada, one of thousands of young Eastern Europeans to receive a scholarship from George Soros’s Open Society Foundations (OSF), said the only requirement was that recipients return home after their study abroad ended. When Palada finished his year (1997-98) at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, he went back to his country of Romania, obtained a Ph.D in sociology, and—among other occupations—served as press secretary for former Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta.
At the time, Soros did me a favor. [He hoped] to see the favor returned—that I would feel indebted, and become one of his minions.
Today, however, Palada holds mixed feelings about the opportunity that Soros provided him.
In an interview with DC News, he credited Soros’s “praiseworthy scrupulousness” in building an influential Eastern European network, but argued that it works against Romania’s national interests.
[Soros] took novice, naïve, young folks, showed them America, paid for their studies, patiently building a network of people that would be grateful—that he could use when their time comes, and they become influential.
“Thank God, I’m not part of Soros’s network,” said Palada. “I’m part of those who love their country.
Many Romanians feel the same about Soros.
“This man and the foundations and structures he has set up … since the ’90s … have furthered evil in Romania,” said Social Democrat (PSD) leader Liviu Dragnea last January.
The country’s PSD-controlled Senate passed a law in November, joining a number of Eastern European governments seeking to curb Soros’s influence in their internal affairs. The law requires non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to report in detail their revenue sources biannually, and strips their eligibility for taxpayer funding as “public utilities” if they have engaged in political advocacy in the past two years.
Romanian opposition parties and NGOs accuse the PSD of using anti-Soros rhetoric as “cheap propaganda” from which to benefit politically. Although this represents a legitimate concern, do the accusations hold merit? Did Soros establish a Romanian network of NGOs so they could someday remake their country in his image?
The Soros Footprint
Romania’s communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena died by firing squad on Christmas Day, 1989. The day they were buried, on December 30, Romania’s first NGO, the Group for Social Dialogue (GDS) formed on the steps of the Bucharest Intercontinental Hotel.
Less than a week later, Soros paid the group a visit.
GDS’s founders included leading professors, philosophers, journalists, activists, and most notably, former editor of the Communist Party’s official newspaper Scînteia (The Spark) Silviu Brucan. Historian Alex Mihai Stoenescu refers to Brucan—a confidant of Soviet premier Mihail Gorbachov—as “the brains” behind both the revolution and the National Salvation Front’s (FSN) rise to power after Ceausescu’s downfall.
“I think I was the first civilian plane that landed in Bucharest,” Soros told Robert Turcescu on a Romanian television talk show in 2005.
Shortly after landing, Soros made his way to the GDS headquarters—the former Romanian Communist Youth building that the new FSN regime lent to the group—where he met with Brucan and other charter members.
Despite its title, however, the GDS intellectuals had little chance of sparking social dialogue among the blue collar, rank and file Romanian citizens. The organization’s would-be elite ruling class watched in dismay in May 1990, as Romanian voters voted for the FSN ex-communists by more than 80 percent in the country’s first post-Ceausescu election.
The following month, however, Soros launched his own NGO in Romania, the Soros Foundation, with an initial budget of nearly $1.5 million. Until at least the late 90s, it remained the country’s only grantmaking NGO. Its mission became to develop programs that would provide for the country’s lack of civic initiatives and educational alternatives.
Over the next four years, the Foundation worked with the Romanian Ministry of Education to introduce textbooks authored by its own members into Romanian schools.
By the mid-1990s, its annual budget had grown to $10 million, and the group had expanded its mission to include communication, culture, and health initiatives.
In 1997, it changed its name to Foundation for an Open Society (FSD), mirroring the name of Soros’s new U.S.-based Open Society Foundations (OSF).
Although FSD’s Romanian staffers gained a reputation for arrogance, it arguably accomplished more with an average annual budget of $10-$12 million than the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) did with $30 to $40 million. USAID sought to rapidly democratize and liberalize the post-communist country; Soros, meanwhile, understood that before a young, white collar, liberal elite can guide a country toward the kind of open society that he prefers, that young, white collar, liberal elite must first exist.
In addition to sponsoring Romanian students to study in Western Europe and the U.S., Soros founded Central European University (CEU) in his native city of Budapest, which attracted students from across Eastern Europe, including Romania. FSD also sponsored hundreds of Romanians to attend conferences on non-profit formation and administration, both at home and abroad.
By the turn of the century, FSD’s budget had peaked at almost $16 million. The Foundation then transitioned its programs into 12 splinter NGOs that found additional sources of Western funding to supplement their Soros dollars—Soros’s goal being to eventually make them self-sustaining. Their missions and methods, however, remained the same, and a new umbrella organization, Soros Open Network – Romania (SON), formed in 2000.
From Civic Education to Political Action
As Romania moved closer to European Union membership, or democratic maturity in the eyes of Soros’s NGOs, the Soros network began engaging in more overt political advocacy.
Rosia Montana marked the highest profile case of direct political activism that Soros joined in the country.
The Canadian gold mining company Gabriel Resources struck a deal with the Romanian government in 2000 to mine near the village of Rosia Montana in the Transylvanian Apuseni Mountains. However, as word spread in the West, leftist NGOs and journalists swarmed the area to rally opposition, despite most locals’ supporting it.
For instance, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation of Flint, Michigan, poured millions into the NGOs’ crusade, including $426,800 for the Environmental Partnership of Romania through the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Much of this funding went toward anti-mining propaganda aimed at Romanians who lived nowhere near Rosia Montana, who, after spending four decades under communism, already viewed private ownership of large industries skeptically.
European activist journalist Stephanie Roth likened the project to imperialist exploitation, and called Gabriel and another company “modern-day vampires.” For her attempts to slay her “vampires,” Roth received the $125,000 Goldman Environmental Prize from the San Francisco-based Richard & Rhoda Goldman Fund. Meanwhile, the village miners whom the project would have helped, lived on around $300 a month.
But did the NGOs offer any environmentally-friendlier alternatives to Gabriel’s mining to help the villagers? As one foreign activist said via email:
Why should any NGO come forward with alternative projects? That is not the job of civil society. We are not a humanitarian organization, but a militant environmental NGO. If the whole community is in favor of the project, we simply put it on the list of our enemies.
In June 2006, Soros vowed that OSF would use “all legal and civic means to stop” the mine, and proceeded to back the anti-mining NGOs to the tune of millions of dollars.
This won Soros some sympathy from many in both the Romanian pro-nationalization Right and the environmentalist Left because the media widely reported that the selfless, environmentally-conscious Soros owned stock in Gabriel (Soros’s partially-owned Newmont Mining held about a fifth of the company.). Although any gains that Soros would have received would likely have been insignificant for him, the impoverished Romanians had few points of comparison from which to draw. Furthermore, for Soros, money has always been a mere means to political ends.
Meanwhile, many of Soros’s Romanian colleagues and allies gained prominent influence within the Romanian government, particularly following the 2004 elections.
Sandra Pralong left her position as communications director at Newsweek in 1990 to organize and lead the Romanian Soros Foundation, becoming its first executive director. In 1999, while working as an advisor to Romanian president Emil Constantinescu, she published her first book—a homage to Soros’s mentor—aptly entitled: Popper’s Open Society after Fifty Years: The Continuing Relevance of Karl Popper.
GDS’s first president, Alin Teodorescu, also served as president of the Soros Foundation Romania Council from 1990-1996. He later became Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase’s (2000-2004) chief of staff, and later won a seat in the Romanian Parliament in 2004.
Renate Weber led the Council in two stints between 1998 and 2007, and took an especially active role in the Rosia Montana activism. When NGO-friendly President Traian Basescu won in 2004, Weber served as his constitutional and legislative adviser. In November 2007, with the country’s entry into the EU, she won a seat in the European Parliament, which she holds today.
The Great Recession
Throughout Soros’s career, he has exhibited a near schizophrenic fear of political extremism—albeit, nearly exclusively of extremism from the Right.
After Romania entered the EU, Soros saw his vision for the country largely accomplished. But when the economic crisis of 2008 hit, Romania’s GDP, which had been the fastest growing in Europe, fell by 20 percent. After a string of nativist parties started making noise—although they largely failed at the ballot—Soros feared that populism could undo his nearly two decades of investment. So he spent another $100 million dollars on NGOs in the region, justifying it to the Financial Times as necessary to combat the disturbing “rise of the chauvinistic, xenophobic far right.”
He also urged the EU to prop up not only its countries’ welfare states, but to do the same for non-EU countries like Ukraine.
“In the crisis period, the impossible becomes possible,” he told Newsweek at the beginning of 2012. “The European Union could regain its luster.” He insisted that the key to avoiding disaster would be to not let the crises go to waste.
Despite his generous, regional donation at the onset of the crisis, Soros reduced his direct funding of FSD and other Romanian NGOs, beginning in 2012. “He said now we are members of the EU,” Gabriel Petrescu, head of Romania’s Serendinno Foundation, an FSD spin-off, told Foreign Policy. “He had accomplished his mission of opening up these countries.”
In 2013, Petrescu (then FSD’s executive director) said that Soros planned to fund his Romanian organization directly through 2014, after which it would only receive OSF funds on a project basis.
In addition to direct funding from OSF, however, Soros has given millions to Romanian NGOs indirectly through the Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). In 2001, his Open Society Institute (OSI), along with five other liberal philanthropies, namely: the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Atlantic Philanthropies, the Ford Foundation, and the previously-mentioned Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and German Marshall Fund of the United States created CEE to channel funds to Central and Eastern European NGOs.
In addition to the 12 NGOs that originally formed SON, dozens of Romanian NGOs have sprung from them, seeking to transform Romania’s conservative, Orthodox Christian culture, by promoting socially liberal values.
Roxana Martin, an LGBT activist who received a Soros grant to study in Scotland in the 90s told Foreign Policy, “It changed my outlook on teaching and society and crap. And it was the first time I ever left Romania.” She added that “Everybody [who was on such a grant] goes, ‘Oh, yeah, I remember my Soros grant, my Soros trip.’”
Soros could reduce his direct involvement in Romania because he left in his wake a loyal army of grateful, civil society soldiers.
Why Such Staunch Opposition from the PSD?
It makes sense that foreign nationals might resent their fellow citizens who received American opportunities that they missed, or even resent a foreign billionaire’s meddling in their politics and attacking their traditional values. But why does the PSD, like many other Eastern European political parties, feel the need to castigate Soros, his NGOs, and their allies for being pure evil?
One likely explanation is that the party sees more at stake than simply bad publicity through Soros-friendly media outlets like Vice News Romania.
In the U.S.—as with most seasoned democracies—popular protests serve a purpose only if the protesters remember their cause next election cycle, or at least convince elected officials that they will remember. If the public is genuinely angry at its government, a peaceful change of power will follow through the ballot box (See the Tea Party movement in 2010).
The events of 1989, however, seared into the Romania’s national mythology the concept of popular street protests as a means to overthrow a corrupt government.
“We have this tradition in Romania of mass movements,” political scientist and commentator Cristian Pirvulescu told the New York Times during recent, anti-corruption demonstrations. “This was not just a movement against corruption. It’s a fight in defense of democracy.”
Such a culture provides fertile ground for Soros’s world view. If democracy doesn’t work as it should (i.e. voters don’t vote the right way), “democracy is in crisis.” Incidentally, Pirvulescu led the Romanian NGO Asociaţia Pro Democraţia (APD) as its president from 1999 until 2013. APD formed in the early 90s with the help of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), which loosely affiliates with the American Democratic Party. After SON formed in 2000, APD entered the Soros Network, and has remained one of its most prominent organizations.
Soros: Regime Change Catalyst
“My foundations,” brags Soros in his book The Bubble of American Supremacy (2004), “contributed to democratic regime change in Slovakia in 1998, Croatia in 1999, and Yugoslavia in 2000.”
Throughout the 1990s, the Clinton administration worked hand-in-glove with Soros to mold Eastern European policy. “I would say that [Soros’s policy] is not identical to the foreign policy of the U.S. government—but it’s compatible with it,” Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott told the New Yorker in 1995. Talbott served as President Bill Clinton’s Ambassador-at-Large to Russia and the New Independent States, causing Business Week to dub him the “Russian Policy Czar.” According to Talbot:
It’s like working with a friendly, independent entity, if not a government. We try to synchronize our approach to the former Communist countries with Germany, France, Great Britain—and with George Soros.
In countries with little accumulated capital, deep-state corruption, and a shaky rule of law, it became cliché among many of the politically aware in Eastern Europe that closer ties with the U.S. and EU would solve their economic problems. Many believed that acquiescing to the desires of NATO would lead to a mutual back-scratching. Thus, many common Romanians expressed genuine disappointment that the U.S. did not pave their roads after Romania contributed manpower to the American-led invasion of Iraq. This lack of national responsibility also gave many left-wing idealists like Soros a window to lend their weight to favorable EU candidates, political parties, and movements. Soros bragged to the New Yorker’s Connie Bruck in 1995 that because of his amazing wealth and influence, even Romania’s corrupt President Ion Iliescu “suddenly became very interested in seeing me.”
But Soros was just warming up with Serbia in 2000. The first decade of the 21st century would witness three more consecutive, non-violent revolutions in the former Eastern bloc—revolutions the West would come to know as the Color Revolutions because of the colorful flowers that the revolutionaries used as symbols.
In 2003, large-scale protests in Georgia, which came to be known as the Rose Revolution, led to the resignation of democratically-elected President Eduard Shevardnadze. Mikheil Saakashvili, who took over after Shevardnadze’s resignation, received coaching from U.S. Ambassador Richard Miles, who was also ambassador to Serbia in 2000. Soros’s OSI also openly supported Saakashvili and even paid for Georgian student activists to travel to Serbia to learn from veterans the art of non-violently overthrowing a democratically-elected government—a pilgrimage that Saakashvili himself made a year before his succession to power. The Guardian’s Ian Traynor noted:
In the centre of Belgrade, there is a dingy office staffed by computer-literate youngsters who call themselves the Centre for Non-violent Resistance. If you want to know how to beat a regime that controls the mass media, the judges, the courts, the security apparatus and the voting stations, the young Belgrade activists are for hire.
After gaining power, Saakashvili awarded Soros’s former Open Society Georgia Foundation executive director Alexander Lomaia a seat in his Cabinet.
The following year, history repeated itself—this time in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. Foreign Affairs reported that
Ukraine had benefited from more than a decade of civil society development, a good deal of it nurtured by donor support from the United States, European governments, the National Endowment for Democracy, and private philanthropists such as George Soros.
Soros’s Ukrainian wing, the International Renaissance Foundation (IRF), reported in October 2004 that it had given $1.2 million to Ukrainian NGOs for “election-related projects.”
Those projects paid dividends during Ukraine’s 2004 presidential run-off election, which pitted incumbent Russophile Viktor Yanukovich against the Western-oriented Victor Yushchenko. When the results showed a slight lead for Yanukovich—contrary to exit polls funded largely by Soros and his Western allies—hundreds of thousands of young adults staged protests, sit-ins, and strikes with the Yushchenko campaign’s blessing. Ukraine’s Supreme Court ordered a re-vote, which Yushchenko then won.
Writing in the Washington Post, Stanford political science professor Michael McFaul—whom President Obama later appointed as ambassador to Russia—defended American governmental and non-governmental interference in Ukraine’s election.
Did Americans meddle in the internal affairs of Ukraine? Yes. The American agents of influence would prefer different language to describe their activities — democratic assistance, democracy promotion, civil society support, etc. — but their work, however labeled, seeks to influence political change in Ukraine.
. . .
In the run-up to Ukraine’s presidential vote this fall, these … organizations concentrated their resources on creating conditions for free and fair elections. … Yet most of these groups believed that a free and fair election would mean victory for Viktor Yushchenko. And they were right.
Less than three months later, the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society (CDCS), an NDI-funded NGO in Kyrgyzstan, helped launch that country’s Tulip Revolution, which—like the Rose and Orange Revolutions—overthrew a democratically-elected president by paralyzing society through mass demonstrations. The head of CDCS, Edil Baisalov called his stint as an election observer the previous fall in Ukraine “a very formidable experience,” telling the Wall Street Journal, “I saw what the results of our work could be.”
Soros’s OSI provided funding to the leading Kyrgyz opposition newspaper “MSN,” led by American Freedom House project director Mike Stone.
London School of Economics and Political Science graduate Phaik Thien Poh identified four criteria for Color Revolutions:
- The incumbent leader must be very unpopular and face ‘lame-duck syndrome.’
- The anti-regime forces must be enforced by mass-media and foreign influences.
- The revolution must non-ideological, and champion platitudinal causes like freedom, democracy and economic development.
- The corrupted government must be perceived as supported by a foreign state which the people do not want, thereby bolstering the anti-regime forces.
In Romania’s case, Poh’s first criterion rests on shaky ground. Since the previously-mentioned Iliescu, Romania’s presidents have enjoyed Western support. However, NGOs have increasingly attacked the PSD-led Parliament with the same tactics that Soros-supported allies in Georgia and Ukraine attacked their heads of state before overthrowing them. With Soros’s extensive network and his Western-educated, well-funded Romanian repatriates in the country’s media and politics, Poh’s second and third criteria fully apply. On the fourth criterion, the Romanian Left has increasingly tried to tie the PSD to Russia, grasping at—among other straws—the PSD’s support for traditional marriage.
Poh noted that Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan all avoided Color Revolutions by barring foreign funding for media and politics—Uzbekistan going so far as to outright ban all foreign NGOs like Freedom House.
With the recent history of mass demonstrations overriding democracy, it is little wonder that Romania’s PSD might look at harsh-but-necessary means to avoid becoming the next notch in Soros’s belt.
But despite Soros’s attempts to bring greater transparency, democracy, and liberalism to Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, more corruption, poverty, heightened ethnic conflict, and civil war followed their Color Revolutions.
Georgian voters in 2012 decimated Saakashvili’s party after tapes surfaced of prison guards sodomizing prisoners with broom handles, allegedly with his ruling party’s knowledge. Saakashvili left Georgia for Ukraine in 2015, and gave up his citizenship to become governor of Odessa. Today, he faces criminal charges in both countries.
In Ukraine, Yanukovych became prime minister in 2006, and won the presidency again in 2010, completely undoing the results of the Orange Revolution. Yushchenko won just five percent of the vote. Ukrainians celebrated the Tenth Anniversary of the Orange Revolution with a reenactment—this time a violent one. The Ukrainian Parliament eventually forced the corrupt Yanukovych out and a Ukrainian-Russian race war ensued, along with Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Meanwhile, in Kyrgyzstan, corruption, cronyism, and economic stagnation accompanied Tulip Revolution benefactor Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s rule. Bakiyev had to flee to Belarus when his people staged another revolt—this time a violent one.
“It’s always easier to mobilize the public against something than for something,” Soros has said—clearly from experience. But with revolution the goal, mobilizing the public against the government is all one needs.
In the third installment of “George Soros’ Romanian Ghosts,” we’ll look specifically at how for the past two years, Soros’s powerful Romanian ghosts have relentlessly tried to undermine, and ultimately overthrow their own government—all with the backing of American leftist NGOs, left-of-center Western media, and even Obama administration holdovers in the U.S. State Department.