Connect with us

Eastern Europe

Why is George Soros still Eastern Europe’s biggest scapegoat?

Published

on

Blaming your nation’s woes on George Soros is becoming something of a cottage industry in Central and Eastern Europe. In recent weeks, both the Hungarian and Romanian governments have ramped up their anti-Soros rhetoric in an attempt to deflect from their own failings. Such a tactic, however, can only last so long.

The name of Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor, business magnate, and philanthropist George Soros has been a dog whistle for populists in the region for decades. As the Cold War came to an end, Soros set up the liberal-minded Open Society Foundations, the Central European University in Budapest, and a number of other progressive institutions, which have all proven to be soft targets for conservative and populist politicians in Central and Eastern Europe.

Currently, the most intense animosity comes from Viktor Orban’s right-wing Fidesz government. Their latest move was the decision to issue a national consultation’ questionnaire, which accuses Soros of overseeing a plot to flood Europe with more than one million refugees a year and of manipulating the European Commission the direct the plan. The questionnaire will ask citizens if they agree with Soros’ alleged support for certain measures, such as tearing down border fences.

It’s true that Soros argued in a 2016 op-ed that the EU should guarantee at least 300,000 places for refugees to minimize irregular migration. But he also argued vehemently against forcing European countries to accept refugee quotes. Despite this, the Hungarian government has labelled a 2015 decision by more than 20 EU member states to establish a refugee resettlement program a central part of the so-called “Soros plan.” Most recently, in a speech ahead of the questionnaire’s release, Secretary of State for Energy András Aradszki went so far as to frame his party’s campaign against Soros in explicitly religious terms. Speaking on the floor of the parliament in a discourse called “The Christian duty to fight against the Satan/Soros Plan,” he linked Soros with everything from abortion to same-sex marriage to euthanasia.

Such a ludicrous – and sadly, often effective strategy – of heaping blame on an external bogeyman is emblematic of the political populism that is rising in the region. In Hungary’s case, the timing of the questionnaire has been carefully calculated to harness this populism, as the national consultation comes six months ahead of parliamentary elections. Orban’s decision to put anti-Soros, anti-refugee, anti-EU rhetoric at the heart of the consultation – and of his political platform – is likely to succeed in further firing up Fidesz’s wide right-wing voter base, which is already backed by 55% of decided voters, as well as the radical, far-right supporters of the Jobbik Party.

The leader of Romania’s governing Social Democrats, Liviu Dragnea, has also seen the benefits of blaming some of his country’s most sensitive issues on Soros. The Hungarian-American billionaire is a useful foil for Social Democrats, especially given their lingering anxiety over fallout from anti-corruption protests last winter. Back then, the government-friendly channel Romania TV blamed – who else – Soros for paying protesters and their dogs to demonstrate against the ruling party.

In Romania, Soros is often linked with the ‘deep state’, a concept once prized by conspiracy theorists that has now become widespread. According to this line of thinking, the Romanian deep state is comprised of a select network of journalists, activists, and prosecutors bent on undermining democratically elected officials and sowing turmoil by pursuing anti-corruption efforts.

Piggybacking on this mind-set, a number of ‘deep state’ conspiracy theories have emerged around the Romanian Anticorruption Directorate’s (DNA). The most resounding one revolves around the body’s efforts to extradite Alexander Adamescu, the son of a Romanian business mogul who fled to the UK under charges of corruption. The DNA has issued a European Arrest Warrant for Adamescu, who allegedly bribed judges to avoid being charged for fraud – but the London-based fugitive is claiming that the deep state wants to silence him and has mounted an international lobbying campaign in an attempt to frame the charges against him as politically motivated attacks. His campaign plays well for an audience already primed to suspect the DNA and other state authorities of ulterior motives.

But that’s not all – seemingly every move in Romania can be blamed on Hungarian billionaire. A recent debate over an upcoming referendum that seeks to amend the constitution in order to ban gay marriage has been laced with Soros references. Conservative supporters of the amendment have been attempting to frame the choice as one between a traditional, family-orientated society on one hand, and one manipulated by “Brussels-supported, Soros-financed” NGOs on the other. The debate goes hand-in-hand with the government’s wider political strategy, one mirrored in Hungary and Poland, which aims to promote a conservative agenda focused on protecting the nation from outside threats – such as refugees, gay people or Soros. 

Such conspiracy theories, and the tendency to blame them on Soros-funded NGOs, are the symptom of a wide and concerning trend across Central and Eastern Europe – one replicated not only in Hungary and Romania, but also in Macedonia, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, and Bulgaria, where populist politicians are manipulating citizens’ fears for their own ends. For more liberal-minded states in the EU and for Brussels, this trend is deeply worrying.

To be fair, when it comes to initiatives like Hungary’s national consultation questionnaire, there might not be much that outside actors like the EU can do. But when confronted with more concrete moves that contravene the European acquis  – such as Hungary’s continuing refusal to acknowledge its obligations under the EU’s refugee-sharing program – Brussels should not hesitate to take more decisive action, such as closing off the spigot of structural funds. Otherwise, the anti-Soros campaign and all it stands for now risks snowballing out of control.

Continue Reading
Comments

Eastern Europe

Latvia developed new tasks for NATO soldiers

Published

on

Member of the Latvian Saemas’ national association “Everything for Latvia!” and Freedom”/LNNK Jānis Dombrava stated the need to attract NATO troops to resolve the migration crisis. This is reported by la.lv.  In his opinion, illegal migration from the Middle East to Europe may acquire the feature of an invasion. He believes that under the guise of refugees, foreign military and intelligence officers can enter the country. To his mind, in this case, the involvement of the alliance forces is more reasonable and effective than the actions of the European border agencies. Dombrava also noted that in the face of an increase in the flow of refugees, the government may even neglect the observance of human rights.

The Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia at Camp Ādaži consists of approximately 1512 soldiers, as well as military equipment, including tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.

Though the main task of the battlegroup in Latvia is country’s defence in case of military aggression, Latvian officials unilaterally invented new tasks for NATO soldiers So, it is absolutely clear, that Latvian politicians are ready to allow NATO troops to resolve any problem even without legal basis. Such deification and complete trust could lead to the full substitution of NATO’s real tasks in Latvia.

It should be noted that NATO troops are very far from being ideal soldiers. Their inappropriate behaviour is very often in a centre of scandals. The recent incidents prove the existing problems within NATO contingents in the Baltic States.

They are not always ready to fulfill their tasks during military exercises and training. And in this situation Latvian politicians call to use them as border guards! It is nonsense! It seems as if it is time to narrow their tasks rather than to widen them. They are just guests for some time in the territory of the Baltic States. It could happen that they would decide who will enter Latvia and who will be forbidden to cross the border!

Continue Reading

Eastern Europe

Changes are Possible: Which Reforms does Ukraine Need Now?

Published

on

Photo: Robert Anasch/Unsplash

The past 16 months have tested our resilience to sudden, unexpected, and prolonged shocks. As for an individual, resilience for a country or economy is reflected in how well it has prepared for an uncertain future.

A look around the globe reveals how resilient countries have been to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have done well, others less so. The costs of having done less well are almost always borne by the poor. It is for this reason the World Bank and the international community more broadly urge—and provide support to—countries to undertake economic and structural reforms, not just for today’s challenges but tomorrow’s.

One country where the dialogue on reform has been longstanding and intense is Ukraine. This is particularly true since the economic crisis of 2014-2015 in the wake of the Maidan Revolution, when the economy collapsed, and poverty skyrocketed. Many feared the COVID pandemic would have similar effects on the country.

The good news is that thanks to a sustained, even if often difficult, movement on reforms, Ukraine is better positioned to emerge from the pandemic than many expected. Our initial projection in the World Bank, for example, was that the economy would contract by nearly 8 percent in 2020; the actual decline was half that. Gross international reserves at end-2020 were US$10 billion higher than projected. Most important, there are far fewer poor than anticipated.

Let’s consider three reform areas which have contributed to these outcomes.

First, no area of the economy contributed more to the economic crisis of 2014-2015 than the banking sector. Powerful interests captured the largest banks, distorted the flow of capital, and strangled economic activity. Fortunately, Ukraine developed a framework to resolve and recapitalize banks and strengthen supervision. Privatbank was nationalized and is now earning profits. It is now being prepared for privatization.

Second, COVID halted and threatened to reverse a five-year trend in poverty reduction. Thanks to reforms of the social safety net, Ukraine is avoiding this reversal. A few years back, the government was spending some 4.7 percent of GDP on social programs with limited poverty impact. Nearly half these resources went to an energy subsidy that expanded to cover one-in-two of the country’s households.

Since 2018, the Government has been restructuring the system by reducing broad subsidies and targeting resources to the poor. This is working. Transfers going to the poorest one-fifth of the population are rising significantly—from just 37 percent in 2019 to 50 percent this year and are projected to reach 55 percent in 2023.

Third, the health system itself. Ukrainians live a decade less than their EU neighbors. Basic epidemiological vulnerabilities are exacerbated by a health delivery system centered around outdated hospitals and an excessive reliance on out-of-pocket spending. In 2017, Ukraine passed a landmark health financing law defining a package of primary care for all Ukrainians, free-of-charge. The law is transforming Ukraine’s constitutional commitment to free health care from an aspiration into specific critical services that are actually being delivered.

The performance of these sectors, which were on the “front line” during COVID, demonstrate the payoff of reforms. The job now is to tackle the outstanding challenges.

The first is to reduce the reach of the public sector in the economy. Ukraine has some 3,500 companies owned by the state—most of them loss-making—in sectors from machine building to hotels. Ukraine needs far fewer SOEs. Those that remain must be better managed.

Ukraine has demonstrated that progress can be made in this area. The first round of corporate governance reforms has been successfully implemented at state-owned banks. Naftogaz was unbundled in 2020. The electricity sector too is being gradually liberalized. Tariffs have increased and reforms are expected to support investment in aging electricity-producing and transmitting infrastructure. Investments in renewable energy are also surging.

But there are developments of concern, including a recent removal of the CEO of an SOE which raised concerns among Ukraine’s friends eager to see management independence of these enterprises. Management functions of SOE supervisory boards and their members need to remain free of interference.

The second challenge is to strengthen the rule of law. Over recent years, the country has established—and has committed to protect—new institutions to combat corruption. These need to be allowed to function professionally and independently. And they need to be supported by a judicial system defined by integrity and transparency. The move to re-establish an independent High Qualification Council is a welcome step in this direction.

Finally, we know change is possible because after nearly twenty years, Ukraine on July first opened its agricultural land market. Farmers are now free to sell their land which will help unleash the country’s greatest potential source of economic growth and employment.

Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to undertake tough reforms and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen the real-life benefits of these reforms. The World Bank looks forward to providing continued assistance as the country takes on new challenges on the way to closer European integration.

This article was first published in European Pravda via World Bank

Continue Reading

Eastern Europe

Liberal Development at Stake as LGBT+ Flags Burn in Georgia

Published

on

Photo: Protesters hold a banner depicting U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan during a rally against Pride Week in Tbilisi, Georgia July 1, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Protests against Georgia’s LGBT+ Pride parade turned ugly in Tbilisi on July 5 when members of the community were hunted down and attacked, around 50 journalists beaten up and the offices of various organizations vandalized. Tensions continued the following day, despite a heavy police presence.

On the face of it, the Georgian state condemned the violence. President Salome Zourabichvili was among the first with a clear statement supporting freedom of expression, members of parliament did likewise and the Ministry of Internal Affairs condemned any form of violence.

But behind the scenes, another less tolerant message had been spread before the attacks. Anxiety about this year’s events had been rising as a result of statements by the government and clergy. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili suggested the march “poses a threat of civil strife.” The Georgian Orthodox Church meanwhile condemned the event, saying it, “contains signs of provocation, conflicts with socially recognized moral norms and aims to legalize grave sin.”

For many, these statements signified tacit approval for the abuse of peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, the near-complete absence of security at the outset of the five-day event was all too obvious in Tbilisi’s streets and caused a public outcry. Many alleged the government was less focused on public safety than on upcoming elections where will need support from socially conservative voters and the powerful clergy, in a country where more than 80% of the population is tied to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The violence brought a joint statement of condemnation from Western embassies. “Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” it said. The Pride event was not the first and had previously been used by anti-gay groups. Violence was widespread in 2013 — and the reality of attacks against sexual minorities in Georgia remains ever-present.

In a socially conservative country such as Georgia, antagonism to all things liberal can run deep. Resistance to non-traditional sexual and religious mores divides society. This in turn causes political tension and polarization and can drown out discussion of other problems the country is marred in. It very obviously damages the country’s reputation abroad, where the treatment of minorities is considered a key marker of democratic progress and readiness for further involvement in European institutions.

That is why this violence should also be seen from a broader perspective. It is a challenge to liberal ideas and ultimately to the liberal world order.

A country can be democratic, have a multiplicity of parties, active election campaigns, and other features characteristic of rule by popular consent. But democracies can also be ruled by illiberal methods, used for the preservation of political power, the denigration of opposing political forces, and most of all the use of religious and nationalist sentiments to raise or lower tensions.

It happens across Eurasia, and Georgia is no exception. These are hybrid democracies with nominally democratic rule. Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and others have increasingly more in common, despite geographic distance and cultural differences.

Hungary too has been treading this path. Its recent law banning the supposed propagation of LGBT+ materials in schools must be repealed, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on July 7. “This legislation uses the protection of children . . . to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation . . . It is a disgrace,” she said.

One of the defining features of illiberalism is agility in appropriating ideas on state governance and molding them to the illiberal agenda.

It is true that a mere 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union is not enough to have built a truly liberal democratic state. Generations born and raised in the Soviet period or in the troubled 1990s still dominate the political landscape. This means that a different worldview still prevails. It favors democratic development but is also violently nationalistic in opposing liberal state-building.

Georgia’s growing illiberalism has to be understood in the context of the Russian gravitational pull. Blaming all the internal problems of Russia’s neighbors has become mainstream thinking among opposition politicians, NGOs, and sometimes even government figures. Exaggeration is commonplace, but when looking at the illiberal challenge from a long-term perspective, it becomes clear where Russia has succeeded in its illiberal goals. It is determined to stop Georgia from joining NATO and the EU. Partly as a result, the process drags on and this causes friction across society. Belief in the ultimate success of the liberal agenda is meanwhile undermined and alternatives are sought. Hybrid illiberal governments are the most plausible development. The next stage could well be a total abandonment of Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Indeed what seemed irrevocable now seems probable, if not real. Pushback against Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice is growing stronger. Protesters in front of the parliament in central Tbilisi violently brought tore the EU flag. Twice.

The message of anti-liberal groups has also been evolving. There has been significant growth in their messaging. The anti-pride sentiment is evolving into a wider resistance to the Western way of life and Georgia’s Western foreign policy path, perhaps because it is easily attacked and misrepresented.

To deal with this, Western support is important, but much depends on Georgian governments and the population at large. A pushback against radicalism and anti-liberalism should come in the guise of time and resources for the development of stronger and currently faltering institutions. Urgency in addressing these problems has never been higher — internal and foreign challenges converge and present a fundamental challenge to what Georgia has been pursuing since the days of Eduard Shevardnadze – the Western path to development.

Author’s note: first published at cepa

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Travel & Leisure4 hours ago

Four Seasons Hotel Mexico City Reveals Five of the City’s Hidden Gems

The Concierge team at Four Seasons Hotel Mexico City, members of the Les Clefs d’Or international association, invites you to...

East Asia6 hours ago

Will US-China Tensions Trigger the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis?

Half a century ago, the then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger flew to Beijing in the hope of seeking China’s alliance...

South Asia8 hours ago

The Indo-US bonhomie: A challenge to China in the IOR

The oceans have long been recognized as one of the world’s valuable natural resources, and our well-being is tied to...

Uncategorized10 hours ago

The day France fustigated Big Tech: How Google ended up in the crosshair and what will follow

At the beginning of April 2019, the European Parliament approved the EU’s unified regulation on copyright and related rights. Since...

Middle East12 hours ago

Politics by Other Means: A Case Study of the 1991 Gulf War

War has been around since the dawn of man and is spawned by innate human characteristics. Often, when efforts at...

Economy14 hours ago

The Monetary Policy of Pakistan: SBP Maintains the Policy Rate

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) announced its bi-monthly monetary policy yesterday, 27th July 2021. Pakistan’s Central bank retained the...

Intelligence16 hours ago

China and Russia’s infiltration of the American Jewish and Israeli lobbies

 – First: The reasons for the registration of (Communist Lobbyists in the Middle East in the United States of America)...

Trending