It is my great hope that the Open Society Foundations, in its reconfigured form, will be able to help the European project realize its full promise.
Alex Soros is the chair of the Open Society Foundations.
News reports that the Open Society Foundations (OSF) and Soros are “leaving Europe” are misleading. We are not leaving. Europe remains of huge strategic importance to the work of OSF, which began in the 1980s, when my father started funding independent thinkers in his native Hungary, then a Soviet satellite in Communist Eastern Europe. And today, for all its faults, the European Union still stands as a global beacon of the values that shape our work.
When looking at the current state of Europe, however, it’s clear that our foundation needs to change — just as it did after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when our efforts were centered on EU accession for Central and Eastern European nations; and just as it did after the economic crisis of 2008, when we stepped up our work in Brussels and Western Europe at scale for the first time.
In broad terms, in Europe we are witnessing a shift to the east. The war in Ukraine will have untold consequences, while the rise of Poland as a leading economy will eventually make it a net contributor to the EU. The future of accountable, democratic government in Europe is now being determined not just in Paris and Berlin but also in Warsaw, Kyiv and Prague.
So, as OSF retools the way it works globally, we are shifting our priorities in Europe accordingly. Yes, this means we will be exiting some areas of work as we focus on today’s challenges, as well as those we will face tomorrow. And yes, we will also be reducing our headcount significantly, seeking to ensure more money goes out to where it’s most needed.
But this isn’t any kind of a retreat.
In a surprise twist, a Hungarian government official got it right when he expressed skepticism about media reports. This isn’t about funding levels — it’s about priorities as the focus of funding shifts back to the Continent’s east.
To begin with, there should be absolutely no doubt that we will continue to support our foundation in Ukraine. We are proud that the network of civil society groups it has assisted, with over $250 million since 2014, has played such an important role in Kyiv’s resilience in the face of Russia’s horrific war of aggression.
Moreover, we will continue to support our foundations in Moldova and the Western Balkans as those countries work toward EU accession, which — in the case of the Balkans — my father first championed in the 1990’s. EU membership is vital for securing the entire Balkan region’s unity and stability to counter efforts to reignite conflict in Bosnia and Kosovo, for example, and give Russia an opening. In addition, EU membership will bolster European security and avoid creating a geopolitical vacuum.
We will also keep up — and dramatically increase — our efforts to secure equal treatment for Europe’s largest ethnic minority, the 12 million Roma (who mostly live in Eastern Europe).
And we remain committed to the Central European University (CEU), which was closed down in Budapest by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and has now found a new home in Vienna, thanks to the generosity of my father and OSF. Over the past three decades, the CEU has delivered accessible high-quality education to thousands of young people — and will continue to do so.
We will not be abandoning allies who stand up for democratic rights in the face of autocrats and would-be dictators — neither in Europe nor the rest of the world.
But we need to be ready and able to respond to an uncertain and dangerous future.
As someone who spends up to half their time working on the Continent and thinks former United States President Donald Trump — or at least someone with his isolationist and anti-European policies — will be the Republican nominee, I believe a MAGA-style Republican victory in next year’s U.S. presidential election could, in the end, be worse for the EU than for the U.S. Such an outcome will imperil European unity and undermine the progress achieved on many fronts in response to the war in Ukraine.
We are adapting OSF to be able to respond to whatever scenarios might emerge, on both sides of the Atlantic.
Like my father, I regard the EU as one of modern history’s great triumphs. It brought together countries that almost destroyed civilization to forge a common destiny, and it helped breakaway former Soviet republics and satellites move toward democracy. But there remains more work to be done.
And it is my great hope that OSF, in its reconfigured form, will be able to help the European project realize its full promise.
—————————————————17 септември 2023