CLOSINGS: View Closings

The smears against George Soros are dangerous

Just over a year ago, the far-right provocateur Dinesh d'Souza launched a series of attacks on the American ...

Posted: Oct 3, 2018 1:30 PM
Updated: Oct 3, 2018 1:30 PM

Just over a year ago, the far-right provocateur Dinesh d'Souza launched a series of attacks on the American philanthropist George Soros. There were viral clips on Facebook and Twitter, an article in the conservative attack-blog The Daily Caller and the big flourish: a movie entitled "Death of a Nation: Can We Save America A Second Time?" in which d'Souza portrays Soros as a Nazi collaborator.

D'Souza's smear of Soros, born a Hungarian Jew in Budapest in 1930, has been comprehensively debunked elsewhere. The claims are largely based on grotesquely edited and misrepresented clips from an interview Soros gave to "60 Minutes" about his experiences as a 14-year-old boy trying to survive in occupied Budapest. In return for money from the child's desperate family, Soros was hidden by an older non-Jewish man who did collaborate -- a very different matter. Soros recalls spending most of the time in this man's care terrified and trying to ensure nobody saw his circumcised penis.

Budapest

Business figures

Charities and charitable giving

Continents and regions

Dinesh D'Souza

Donald Trump

Eastern Europe

Europe

Europe-Mediterranean migrant crisis

George Soros

Government and public administration

Government bodies and offices

Human rights

Hungary

Immigration

Immigration, citizenship and displacement

International relations and national security

Misc people

Political Figures - US

Society

US federal government

White House

Discrimination

Racism and racial discrimination

Societal issues

But the smear still sticks. Earlier this year, Roseanne Barr used false Nazi accusations about Soros to attack Chelsea Clinton. Donald Trump Jr. retweeted it. Barr was sacked from her TV show; Trump Jr., in his role as son of the President of the United States, is slightly harder to dislodge.

How does the trajectory of a Twitter smear, climbing from the dregs of the internet all the way up to President Donald Trump's family, affect lives in Eastern Europe? How much does it matter now? The answer: more than most Americans might realize.

Last Monday, Soros' network of charities, the Open Society Foundations, announced they would be taking the Hungarian government to the European Court of Rights in Strasburg. The Open Society Foundations funds community projects across Hungary -- when I was in the southern city of Pecs this March, where my family has roots, I visited a day care center that helps suburban mothers enter the workforce, set up first by local parents and later funded in partnership with the OSF. But for all these good works, many in Hungary's ruling Fidesz party like to frame the OSF's work less as benign philanthropy and more as social engineering.

They have something of a point. The boundary between philanthropy and meddling can be thin, but it needn't be malign. In reaction to Hungary's experiences under fascism and communism, Soros has spent decades pouring his fortune into charities that build democratic frameworks and resist authoritarian governments. If there's a manual to Soros' political thought, it is what the philosopher Karl Popper called "The Open Society" -- hence the name of Soros' foundation. The idea is that there is no better way to banish the clouds of racism and tribal hatred than to encourage education and financial independence, including in rural areas and among women. So much for the idea of Soros the Nazi.

According to Soros' hero Popper -- who spent the 1930s as a committed critic of Nazism himself -- open societies are open to ideas, to people and to markets. Closed societies are open to none of the above. Closed societies are based on shared tribal fears and superstitions; open societies encourage critical thinking among their citizens.

The contemporary left disdains the open society as a neo-liberal capitalist dream; the right fears its skepticism toward tradition. But for the last five decades, most of America and Europe's prosperity and peace have been based on an open society consensus, which for a brief moment after the end of the Cold War, it looked like Western thinkers like Soros had succeeded in importing to Eastern Europe. Markets opened to foreign investors. In 1991, Soros founded the Central European University with campuses in Prague, Warsaw and Budapest, a US-funded education center committed to critical thought and the study of democracy. Ironically, given recent developments, the CEU's headquarters moved from Prague to Budapest when the Hungarian government of the time appeared more welcoming than the Czech.

That was then. The current Hungarian government, as Guy Verhofstadt wrote earlier this month, is probably the most illiberal and authoritarian in Europe, shutting down newspapers, corruptly capturing major facilities like water and energy, wrenching control of cultural and educational centers. Just like d'Souza, Barr and Trump Jr., the Hungarian government attacks Muslim migrants and Soros. During last spring's election, when I was last in Hungary, you couldn't turn without spotting the ruling Fidesz party advertisements, which featured crude photoshopped images of Soros personally cutting open the Hungarian border fences designed to keep out Muslim migrants. Like most authoritarian regimes, the Hungarian government inspires loyalty by stoking the fires of ethnic supremacy. Hungary, which spent centuries fighting the Ottoman Turks, has seen itself as Europe's border with Islam since long before the current migrant crisis. The American alt-right laps up this talk of a clash of civilizations.

Keeping down Hungary's already low rates of Islamic immigration might be the government's excuse for an iron fist on civic freedoms, but it is clearly suspicious of any influences on culture and community that it can't directly control. Hence its efforts not only to expel the Central European University, but to rewrite the national curriculum, redesign the history displayed by national museums, and even require kindergartens to promote: "national identity, Christian cultural values, patriotism, attachment to homeland and family."

One can't help but be reminded of those famous Nazi instructions to women: Kinder Küche Kirche -- Children, Kitchen, Church.

So recent "Stop Soros" laws are framed, likewise, as bulwarks against immigration. Organizations will only be allowed to offer help or even broad legal advice to migrants with a special license from the government; these are thought unlikely to be given generously. Organizations that promote or portray migration positively will face a 25% tax on their funding.

But as the OFS intends to argue at the European Court of Human Rights, the law defines migration so loosely that any organization that promotes a critique of indigenous "Hungarian cultural values" could be targeted. The law in question covers work with any kind of educational facility -- so what will it mean to ban from schools, as the legal rubric puts it, "propaganda that paints immigration in a positive light"? Will it mean removing from the curriculum writers and scientists with the wrong kind of ancestry? How long before non-ethnic Hungarians are themselves forbidden from working as teachers?

At stake is the basic liberty of freedom of expression -- hence the decision by the Open Society Foundation to contest it under the European Convention on Human Rights. This isn't just a George Soros move to protect his own interests. The Hungarian branch of the Helsinki Freedom Committee, which defends the spirit of the 1975 Helsinki Accords on human rights, filed a similar suit last week.

But the Hungarian government clampdown on human rights continues. It is justified by a government campaign that tries to teach ordinary Hungarians to hate and fear an individual man named George Soros. (Not that all Hungarians are so pliable; thousands of Hungarians this year have protested first Viktor Orban's attacks on the CEU, then his election victory.) Thanks to the ease with which Orban has demonized the Open Society Foundations, migrants may lose a support system, but so, too, will the working Hungarian mothers I met in Pecs, the university students studying on OFS scholarships in Budapest or the schoolchildren hoping to learn about cultures beyond their own.

When hard-right figures in the United States contribute to attacks on Soros, or spread conspiracy theories about his upbringing, they endorse the rhetoric of an illiberal, racist government in Europe. Be careful when you share them on Twitter.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 289303

Reported Deaths: 3434
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin616511100
Ramsey25903487
Anoka20522218
Dakota20096183
Washington13066109
Stearns1291098
St. Louis7935101
Scott782754
Wright702436
Olmsted626134
Sherburne538640
Clay463856
Carver432213
Blue Earth387112
Rice386033
Kandiyohi373819
Crow Wing334631
Nobles298729
Chisago29358
Otter Tail282818
Benton278642
Winona258128
Mower241323
Douglas237631
Polk234423
Morrison219524
Lyon201911
McLeod195610
Beltrami194615
Becker187512
Goodhue185727
Steele17826
Itasca176124
Isanti174316
Todd171612
Carlton165710
Nicollet150823
Freeborn14465
Mille Lacs141630
Le Sueur138110
Waseca134011
Cass12849
Brown125011
Pine12458
Meeker11308
Roseau10503
Hubbard103822
Martin101920
Wabasha9611
Redwood83718
Dodge8060
Chippewa8057
Watonwan7984
Cottonwood7682
Renville75119
Sibley7414
Wadena7376
Aitkin69826
Rock6829
Pipestone67818
Houston6422
Fillmore6320
Yellow Medicine59311
Pennington5856
Kanabec54912
Murray5493
Swift5366
Faribault5081
Pope4990
Stevens4643
Clearwater4536
Marshall4438
Jackson4361
Unassigned38759
Lake3816
Koochiching3535
Wilkin3465
Lac qui Parle3383
Norman3227
Lincoln3171
Big Stone2841
Mahnomen2704
Grant2516
Red Lake2033
Kittson1917
Traverse1360
Lake of the Woods931
Cook600

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 222064

Reported Deaths: 2319
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk33019331
Linn13877164
Scott1085683
Black Hawk10730134
Woodbury10159121
Johnson935536
Dubuque907691
Story669721
Dallas624657
Pottawattamie612469
Sioux364625
Webster353033
Marshall343545
Cerro Gordo342644
Clinton319839
Buena Vista300014
Des Moines281719
Muscatine280968
Warren274011
Plymouth268941
Wapello251171
Jones227913
Jasper212443
Marion201719
Lee197916
Carroll195422
Bremer191312
Henry18037
Crawford173015
Benton166217
Tama152240
Jackson142113
Delaware140221
Washington137414
Dickinson134210
Boone134011
Mahaska125327
Wright12156
Buchanan115010
Clay11314
Hardin113010
Page11134
Hamilton10809
Clayton10715
Harrison106129
Cedar104913
Calhoun10487
Kossuth10236
Floyd102216
Mills10177
Fayette10159
Lyon10058
Poweshiek97913
Butler9746
Winneshiek95412
Iowa92312
Winnebago90223
Hancock8497
Louisa83916
Grundy83811
Chickasaw8354
Sac8297
Cherokee8134
Cass79721
Appanoose77310
Mitchell7704
Allamakee76811
Union7546
Humboldt7525
Shelby75010
Emmet74724
Guthrie73715
Franklin72921
Jefferson6852
Madison6734
Palo Alto6454
Unassigned6320
Keokuk5737
Pocahontas5532
Howard5419
Greene5160
Osceola5131
Clarke4774
Ida46813
Taylor4563
Davis4508
Montgomery44911
Monroe43712
Adair4298
Monona4212
Fremont3543
Van Buren3525
Worth3520
Lucas3216
Decatur3150
Wayne2957
Audubon2942
Ringgold2022
Adams1642
Rochester
Clear
28° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 27°
Feels Like: 22°
Mason City
Clear
30° wxIcon
Hi: 38° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 23°
Albert Lea
Clear
30° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 30°
Austin
Clear
30° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 30°
Charles City
Clear
28° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 23°
A Sunny and Mild Saturday Expected
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Aaron's Friday Evening Forecast

Image

Increased demand for real Christmas trees

Image

Santa visits Rochester for drive-thru parade

Image

Salvation Army needs bell ringers

Image

Search for man stalking women

Image

Downtown Alliance for shopping locally

Image

Trump delaying presidential transition

Image

Minnesota state parks offer free admission today

Image

Black Friday at JCPenney in Rochester

Image

Tips to shop safely and prevent crime

Community Events