George Soros’ Romanian Ghosts
How the Open Society Foundations’ NGO network tries to influence politics in Eastern Europe
Capital Research Center has exposed liberal billionaire George Soros’ funding of left-wing movements and organizations in the United States, including Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and the communist-connected Color of Change. But the billionaire’s goals have always been bigger than one country. In fact, in 2017, the U.S. only received 15 percent of his Open Society Foundations’ (OSF) dedicated funding—the rest went to foreign countries and global projects.
Soros has given particular focus to exporting political unrest to the former communist countries of Eastern Europe, including his native Hungary. In fewer than 25 years, OSF has poured $1.6 billion into the region for “democratic development.”
But why would the organization spend such a sum on countries that are already democratic?
Soros’ motto, “If I spend enough, I will make it right,” provides an answer, as well as insight into his philanthropic activity, almost all of which entails political—not humanitarian—ends.
During the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Soros spent at least $25 million supporting Hilary Clinton and other Democratic candidates. But when all that spending didn’t “make it [the election] right,” Soros declared in an op-ed, “Democracy is now in crisis.”
Apparently, Soros’ definition of democracy means people electing only candidates of whom he approves.
In the op-ed, Soros lamented that the U.S. under President Donald Trump will become so embroiled in internal fighting and trying to protect its own minorities from violent attacks that “it will be unable to… promote democracy in the rest of the world.”
For Soros, however, democracy abroad—as in the U.S.—isn’t free if it doesn’t follow his ideology.
Uncle Sam joins Team Soros
The U.S. State Department often teamed up with Soros and OSF to “promote democracy” in Eastern European countries. This often consisted of targeting nationalist governments by infusing socially liberal propaganda through NGOs and Western-sponsored media—often going so far as to influence those countries’ elections.
One example is the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s reported meddling in Macedonia’s elections in 2016. According to USAID’s website, between February 27, 2012 and August 31, 2016, the agency gave $4,819,125 to Open Society Foundations – Macedonia. In April, the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit against the State Department and USAID, for failing to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records and communications dealing with the funding and political activities of OSF’s Macedonian arm. Judicial Watch reported that with the help of then-President Barack Obama’s U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia, Jess L. Baily, the U.S. government spent “millions of taxpayer dollars to destabilize the democratically elected, center-right government in Macedonia by colluding” with Soros.
One NGO funded by the USAID-Soros alliance paid for the translation into Macedonian of far-left activist Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, which CRC Vice President Matthew Vadum calls “the seminal book for community organizers.” A Macedonian government official even referred to the American-funded activists as the “Soros infantry.”
In a 2006 Organization Trends detailing leftist NGOs’ influence in Romania, Neil Maghami observed that “in a sense NGOs are filling a power vacuum left by the collapse of the Soviet Union.” Many of these NGOs are funded by Western philanthropists like Soros, “whose dreams of leftist solidarity … die hard,” work to thwart investment from Western capitalists, while infusing their host countries with liberal social values.
The West has cause to celebrate the 28th anniversary of the end of communism in Eastern Europe. Western investors, business people, and consumers enjoy increased living standards in no small part because Eastern Europe embraced economic freedom. But while many Westerners took advantage of the economic opportunities that the economic opening brought, others, including Soros, saw an opportunity to wield enormous political influence in the region.
In the next installment of “George Soros’ Romanian Ghosts,” we’ll look specifically at how Soros has infiltrated Romania since the fall of communism and how OSF’s progeny dominates much of the political discourse in that country.
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.
George Soros’ Romanian Ghosts: “Colectiv” Horror
How Soros-affiliated NGO’s threaten democracy in Romania
Read Part One of “George Soros’ Romanian Ghosts.” Part Two explains how Soros-funded NGOs and their Western allies in government push for revolution in Eastern Europe.
How did 60,000 well-organized protesters in a country of 20 million manage to force the government of Romania to resign? It all started with a fire.
Colectiv, the former Bucharest factory-turned nightclub, had an 80-person legal capacity. But on October 30, 2015, over 400 people—most in their teens and twenties—packed the century-old building, as heavy metal band Goodbye to Gravity released “Mantras of War,” its first album with Universal Music’s Romanian subsidiary.
At 10:00 PM, the band took the stage, and with two shots of pyrotechnics, opened with its lead single “The Day We Die.”
A girl in the audience, who refused to give her name because her parents didn’t know she was there, told the news website Magyar Nemzet that around 10:30 PM she felt sick, and she asked her boyfriend to take her out to get some air. As they headed toward the club’s only exit, two more, larger shots of fireworks sprayed from the stage.
“That wasn’t part of the show,” joked lead singer Andrei Găluț, as a pillar with acoustic foam lit up from sparks that landed too far. He calmly asked for a fire extinguisher—but no one had time to find one.
In mere seconds, the fire climbed to the top of the post. Panic spread, as the ceiling exploded into a gulf of flames, dropping burning debris on the attendees, as they trampled each other to escape. When the crowd forced the club’s double doors open, the gust of oxygen produced an explosion that drove the fire’s temperature over a thousand degrees. Within a minute and 19 seconds, the fire had engulfed the entire dance floor—carbon monoxide and cyanide quickly filling the club, killing many within minutes before they had a chance to reach the door.
The girl who felt sick to her stomach and her boyfriend, meanwhile, waited outside the entrance for their two friends to come out.
“I was the luckiest one there,” she told the paper. “People were barely walking. One of them told us that at the exit, a pile of bodies about [five feet] high had formed that he had to get over.”
One of their friends had burns on 70 percent of his body; the other never made it out. In the end, 64 died, including four of Goodbye to Gravity’s five members and its sole survivor’s fiancée.
In the days that followed, mourning turned to outrage toward Bucharest’s Sector 4 mayor’s office, as many believed that bribes had allowed the club’s owners to operate over capacity and ignore safety codes. But singer Andy Ionescu told Digi 24, a major Romanian television station, that he believed if authorities conducted serious inspections, every club in Romania would be shuttered. Bianca Boitan Rusu, PR manager for an alternative rock band, attributed this to the fact that all the clubs in Bucharest had been converted from former factories.
On November 3, however, tens of thousands took to the streets demanding not only the mayor’s resignation, but also that of Prime Minister Victor Ponta and his entire cabinet for what they saw as the country’s entrenched kickback culture. Many waved the national flag with a hole in the center–reminiscent of the 1989 revolution when demonstrators cut out the communist emblem.
“Corruption kills” became their battle cry, as demonstrators in multiple cities blamed politicians for the tragic deaths. One protester held a sign with the Prime minister, Sector 4 mayor, the Minister of Internal Affairs, and Romanian Orthodox Patriarch in flames, with the message: “You all should have burned.”
On November 4, Prime Minister Ponta gave in to their demands, along with the entire cabinet.
“I hope my resignation … will satisfy those who protested,” he said, adding that it’s impossible to positively govern in a climate of political instability. “I’m not referring to anyone in particular … from my experience, those who bet politically on people’s suffering, sooner or later, will pay a heavy price.”
His opponent Klaus Iohannis, meanwhile, took a victory lap: “My election was the first great step towards this kind of new, clean, and transparent politics [that you wanted],” he told viewers during a televised press conference. “People had to die for this resignation to happen.”
But two days later, the first poll after the tragedy showed a sharp disconnect between the Romanian population and those protesting in the streets.
Only seven percent of respondents said that they held the government responsible for the tragedy, the same percent that blamed the deceased band members. Furthermore, just 12 percent blamed “the political class” in general. 69 percent even rated the government’s response to the tragedy favorably.
A month later, a different polling firm found a similar result, with only 14.8 percent blaming the central government. This poll included the option of blaming the fireworks company, but that inclusion appeared to take more blame away from the mayor’s office than from the central government.
Somehow, in a country of 20 million people, less than 60,000 protesters, with the sympathy of less than 15 percent of the population, managed to force the government to surrender. Who was behind it?
In the fourth installment of “George Soros’ Romanian Ghosts,” we’ll look specifically at how Soros’ powerful team of Romanian activist “ghosts” rose from to political power.
George Soros’ Romanian Ghosts: Explaining the Democratic Society
How the Open Society Foundations’ NGO network tries to influence politics in Eastern Europe
Liberal billionaire George Soros has a plan to spread his brand of “democracy” to the countries of Eastern Europe. But is it really democratic?
“The president of the country calls, and you don’t even answer?” an acquaintance asked Monica Macovei over the phone, on Christmas Day 2004. An unknown number had obnoxiously harassed her cell while she was trying to spend quality time with her parents and son. But she had no idea it could be the president-elect of Romania, Traian Băsescu—or why he was calling her, for that matter. She knew the acquaintance from legal advocacy that she had done in Parliament. The newly-elected president must have got her number from him.
When Băsescu called her again, he asked if she would be his Minister of Justice. Stunned, she needed time to think about it, and asked if she could call him back at any time. “The Minister of Justice can call the President at any time,” he assured her.
Macovei’s mother urged her to politely decline the offer. She spent a lot of time away from her family already. In fact, at that moment, most of her things were in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, where she was working on justice reform with the Council of Europe. Macovei also served as president of a nonprofit in Romania—something else that she would have to give up if she entered government. She needed to discuss it with someone else before deciding.
Macovei had graduated fourth in the country in 1982 from the University of Bucharest Law School. She then worked as a prosecutor both during and after the fall of Romania’s communist regime, headed by Nicolae Ceaușescu. After the Iron Curtain fell, she became one of many young Eastern European professionals who benefitted from American philanthropy—funded in large part by the Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros, aimed at “democracy development” in the region.
In Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism, political scientist Joan Roelofs identifies “leadership training” as one of the main ways in which Western NGOs (along with hundreds of millions of dollars) provided “technical assistance” to post-communist Eastern Europe. She lists the National Forum Foundation, the Pew Economic Freedom Fellows Program, and the Eisenhower Exchange Fellowships as three examples of institutions that educated “future elites” in the 1990s and brought them into international networks.
In 1992, Macovei received a full scholarship to Soros’ Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, Hungary, which he had created one year before to provide a platform to spread his ideology. She graduated two years later, with a Master of Law. She would later join CEU’s Board of Trustees.
After graduating from CEU, Macovei consulted for several NGOs, including Soros’ Open Society Institute (OSI), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Soros-funded Defense of Human Rights in Romania – The Helsinki Committee (APADOR-CH), and the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC). ERRC blogger Adam Weiss sums up Soros’ connection to the latter in his retelling of a time when the philanthropist paid the organization a visit:
Impressing Mr Soros is important; his Open Society Foundations helped set us up and continue to support us. I imagine everyone was told months in advance he was coming. My messiest colleagues probably cleaned their desks. Some people surely spent a few extra minutes picking out their clothes that morning.
In a 1995 interview, Soros gave two simple reasons for his massive funding of foundations in Eastern Europe: “I care about the principles of open society, and I can afford it.”
“I recognize that I am not an organization man,” he said. “But I retain the right to formulate strategy.”
Soros’ strategy has remained the same since 1984, when he established first Eastern European foundation in his native Hungary: locate people who share his vision of an “open society,” and provide them with the means to spread it. Asked what exactly his foundations do, he responded, “It’s impossible to say.”
In each country, I identified a group of people—some leading personalities, others less well known—who shared my belief in an open society and I entrusted them with the task of establishing the priorities.
When asked how he defines “open society,” Soros said that the philosopher Karl Popper taught him that “concepts shouldn’t be defined; they should be explained.” In his philosophy, open society is grounded in “imperfect understanding. Nobody is in possession of the ultimate truth.”
Macovei’s NGO involvement and reform-minded work attracted attention in the West, which led to speaking opportunities on the Romanian legal system.
In 1996, she criticized her country’s laws to the Brussels Subcommittee on Human Rights for providing broad immunity to office holders and government officials. She argued that “the lack of criminal investigation of Members of Government and Parliament leads to the population’s mistrust in the political and judicial system.”
In 1997, she received an Eisenhower Exchange Fellowship, meant for mid-career “men and women of outstanding achievement who are expected to assume positions of national influence” after Eisenhower Fellow Manuela Ştefănescu, who worked for APADOR-CH, nominated her.
After completing the Fellowship, Macovei resigned from her position as prosecutor. In her resignation letter, she cited differences in understanding of the role of the Prosecutor’s Office in a democratic society.
She soon went to work full-time for APADOR-CH, co-directed by Open Society Institute president Renate Weber. Weber would later become the longest-serving president of the Romania Soros Council. Macovei, meanwhile, took over APADOR-CH as president in 2001.
Now, faced with her greatest career challenge, yet also the greatest opportunity of her life, she decided to call Ştefănescu for advice.
“Don’t go!” her friend urged. The job of civil society was to hold government accountable, not to join it. Crossing over would be akin to treason.
Unconvinced, Macovei called another Soros-funded NGO president and close friend, Alina Mungiu-Pippidi.
Mungiu-Pippidi, who sits on the Open Society Foundations (OSF)’s European Advisory Board would make a solid candidate for Ideologue-in-Chief of Romania’s Soros society. A political scientist, she has been widely published in English, French, and Romanian, and has lectured frequently at Ivy League universities on Eastern Europe’s transition to a market economy. She contributed early on to the magazine 22, the publication of the Group for Social Dialogue (GDS), with whom Soros met less than two weeks after Ceaușescu’s execution. In 1996, she founded Romania’s premier think tank, the Romanian Academic Society, which has received hundreds of thousands in grant dollars in the past decade alone from the Soros-founded and funded Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE).
Mungiu-Pippidi has also tried her hand at playwriting. Her greatest hit, “The Evangelists,” presented a pornographic, balkanized retelling of the story of Jesus. A highly misogynist Apostle Paul dictates the Gospels to a philosopher and his students, four of whom are named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. At the Last Supper, Paul poisons the students, and when Jesus objects, Paul kills him too. After rising from the dead, Jesus then looks at one of his girlfriends and says, “today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
After most of Romanian society and press criticized the play strongly, but civilly, Mungiu-Pippidi revealed her real intentions behind it. She told the French newspaper Le Monde,
I was expecting a violent reaction, but I would have preferred that my play not reveal the primitivism of our society. We live in a hypocritical society just like in the days of dictator Ceaușescu. At that time, we were all communists, today we are all Orthodox. Our showboat Christianity hides an incredible backwardness.
When Macovei asked her for her advice on the Ministry of Justice, unlike Ştefănescu, Mungiu-Pippidi cut her off mid-sentence, and flatly told her to accept the offer. If she didn’t accept, it would make the civil society network look cowardly. “You’re going,” Mungiu-Pippidi insisted.
Băsescu’s Truth and Justice coalition reminded many of the Ukrainian Orange Revolution happening at the time. Most Western observers and NGOs viewed his victory as the triumph of Western reform over post-communist corruption.
In the National Review, former Romanian defector to the U.S. Ion Mihai Pacepa praised Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, and claimed that because of it, Ukrainians were finally free. With Băsescu’s election, Pacepa said that Romania “for the first time in 60 years–has a government without any Communists in it.”
No one can blame the elation over Băsescu’s election both in Romania and internationally. He had run on a populist, anti-corruption, pro-NATO, pro-U.S. platform. His opposition, the Social Democrats, had helped usher Romania into NATO, but they still had the stench of Iliescu’s National Salvation Front (FSN) all over them.
Băsescu was an outsider, and he was looking for outsiders to surround him with. The NGO network that Soros and other American philanthropists had funded provided a great pool from which to choose candidates. Most of them were Western-trained, Western-connected, and best of all, hadn’t been corrupted by outside politics—yet.
George Soros’ Romanian Ghosts: Corruption and the EU
Liberal billionaire George Soros has a plan to spread his brand of “democracy” to the countries of Eastern Europe. But is it really democratic?
George Soros’ campaign to promote his vision of “open society” democracy picked up speed in the mid-2000s.
Western philanthropists’ investment in Eastern European “democracy development” began to pay off by the mid-2000s. Although left-wing billionaire George Soros lost around $27 million in his attempt to unseat President George W. Bush, he found greater success in the former Eastern bloc: Soros-favored candidates won elections, and his well-oiled NGOs helped to overthrow opponents through political activism. Meanwhile, Soros’ NGOs and “open society” activists stood ready to fill these vacancies in Eastern European governments.
Central European University (CEU) graduate and former NGO activist Monica Macovei provides a prime example of how Soros-aligned activists took power in Eastern Europe.
In 2004, Romanian President Traian Băsescu picked Macovei to serve as his government’s Justice Minister. He also picked Soros Foundation Council president Renate Weber to serve as his constitutional and legislative adviser. Macovei and Weber were so well-connected with one another through Soros-related NGOs that they even rode together to their first day of work in the Romanian capital.
Corruption and the European Union
For the new Romanian government, preparing to enter the European Union (EU) proved to be the most pressing challenge.
Soros’ Open Society Foundations (OSF) played a key part in bringing post-Soviet states into the EU. The OSF delegated itself the task of helping candidate countries and the EU assess accession readiness by publishing reports in areas within governments and cultures that they found problematic.
In July 2002, the Romanian magazine Dilema named one of its weekly editions “Trust in Justice,” publishing polls by the Soros Foundation (among others) that claimed that 90 percent of Romanians believed corruption had either increased or remained the same since the previous election. This helped spur the governing party to create the independent National Anti-Corruption Office (PNA).
Dilema‘s founder, Andrei Pleșu, was a Soros-connected philosopher, and later an adviser to President Băsescu. Pleșu helped to organize the Group for Social Dialogue (GDS), which we introduced in Part 2. In 1990, Soros met with GDS through Hungarian-Romanian contact Salat Levente and presented an offer they couldn’t refuse: he’d gift the group one million dollars with which to build a favorable NGO network in Romania.
But “not realizing the importance of resources for the success of ideas,” writes another GDS founder, the group turned down the offer to maintain an aura of independence. One of its ranking members, Alin Teodorescu, however, remained in contact with Soros, and helped him set up his Soros Foundation later that year. Teodorescu even served as the Foundation’s first president.
Pleșu later joined Weber and Levente on the Soros Foundation’s governing council.
The EU Commission’s 2002 Report—which came out four months after the Dilema issue—identified corruption as the primary problem preventing the organization from admitting Romania to the EU. The report noted that “independent observers” concluded, “there had been no noticeable reduction of corruption during the reporting period.” It pointed to just 343 persons convicted of corruption in 2001—fewer than in 1999.
These supposedly “independent” observers did not seem to consider that there may have been less corruption in 2001 than in 1999.
In 2004, to show that it was making progress, the Romanian government lowered the financial threshold for graft investigation. The EU Commission’s report that year praised the effort but argued that it would likely lead the PNA to focus on petty crime, noting that it had so far only led to 86 prison convictions—most of them minor.
“The PNA should ensure that it remains focused on its core mandate of investigating high-level corruption,” scolded the report—it needed to fry some big fish.
A Constitutional Roadblock
Macovei, meanwhile, stood more than ready to oblige; but early in her mandate, she hit a roadblock. The Romanian Constitutional Court ruled that, because the PNA fell under the Ministry of Justice, it could not investigate members of the Romanian parliament because of their legislative immunity.
Romania’s pre-Soviet, 19th-century constitution was modeled on the Belgian constitution and provided Western-style limited legal protections for members of the parliament. After it achieved independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Romania’s new constitution extended complete immunity to members of parliament, even from criminal investigation. (The country eventually amended this problematic clause in 2003, allowing Members of Parliament to be investigated or sued for non-speech-related issues—however, only through the General Prosecutor’s Office attached to its supreme court.)
To solve the immunity problem and move forward with his corruption investigation, Băsescu placed the PNA under the control of the General Prosecutor’s Office…without giving the General Prosecutor’s Office complete control. Macovei, who had continually criticized the PNA, then awarded Freedom House—another Soros-funded NGO—roughly 40,000 Euros to conduct an audit of the agency.
Unsurprisingly, her Freedom House friends found the PNA to be underperforming. The administration then turned the PNA into the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), and Macovei’s Ministry of Justice—rather than the Superior Council of Magistracy (CSM)—assumed responsibility over both the General Prosecutor and the DNA’s Chief Prosecutor.
As a result, the media and NGOs in Romania managed to successfully smear legislators who objected to the new anti-corruption agency on civil liberty grounds. Macovei removed the unfriendly PNA director and prosecutors and replaced them with cronies loyal to her and to the new administration.
With Macovei at the helm of justice, high-profile indictments increased substantially.
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Cheers from Romania!