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Financier's Radical Social Programs Aim at Changing Society

NEW YORK, DEC. 6, 2003 (Zenit) - The recent overthrow of Georgia's President Eduard Shevardnadze put billionaire financier George Soros back in the headlines. Voices soon circulated that the Open Society Institute, the philanthropic foundation established by George Soros, was one of the major players in the power changeover in the former Soviet republic. In an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa on Wednesday, Shevardnadze himself accused Soros of being behind his fall from power.

Indeed, the Open Society Institute financed trips for Georgian political activists to learn from the experience of the Otpor movement that helped topple Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. According to a Nov. 26 report in the Canadian daily The Globe and Mail, the young group Kmara! also received $500,000 from the foundation last April, and simultaneously began a poster-and-graffiti campaign attacking government corruption. Last summer, the foundation paid for trips to Georgia by Otpor activists, who ran courses teaching more than 1,000 students how to stage a peaceful revolution.

Soros' foundation also funded a popular opposition television station that, according to the Globe and Mail, was crucial in mobilizing support for Shevardnadze's fall from power. And Soros himself, reported the article, "has a warm relationship" with Mikhail Saakashvili, a New York-educated lawyer who is a favorite for Georgia's presidential elections next Jan. 4.

Soros also has his heart set on seeing another president out of office: George Bush. "It is the central focus of my life," Soros said in a Nov. 11 report in the Washington Post. The financier declared that seeing Bush defeated in the next presidential elections is "a matter of life and death."

The article came just after Soros announced a $5 million donation to MoveOn.org, a liberal activist group. This brought to $15.5 million the total of his contributions to the organization so far. His interest in U.S. domestic politics is recent. According to the Post, Soros gave a mere $122,000, mostly to Democratic causes and candidates, in the 2000 elections.

Lavishing on the left

The Open Society Institute is, in the words of its 2002 annual report, "the hub of the Soros foundations network, a group of autonomous foundations and organizations in more than 50 countries."

According to the report, Soros founded the Open Society Institute in 1993 to support his foundations in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. In more recent years the network has expanded its reach to Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Mongolia, Southeast Asia, Turkey and the United States.

In the past, Soros' financing of radical social initiatives has raised eyebrows. The February and April issues of the Capital Research Center's bulletin, Foundation Watch, presented a roundup of this funding. According to the Washington, D.C.-based organization, the Open Society Institute "lavishes donations on liberal political advocacy groups and activists of the radical Left."

Based on the foundation's annual reports, the Capital Research Center noted a number of particular grants. Many of them involve political groups and activists. But other areas of interest include contraception, abortion and feminism.

From 1998 to 2003, the Open Society Institute gave no fewer than 150 grants, worth $31 million, to pro-abortion programs. Major recipients include Planned Parenthood, which received almost $1 million in 2001. The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, now called NARAL Pro-Choice America, received $700,000 for a television ad program. And the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy received $1.5 million.

Another area of interest is legalization of drugs. Soros gave $4 million over a five-year period from 1994 to the Lindesmith Center, described by Foundation Watch as "a pro-marijuana legalization think tank." Three years ago the Lindesmith Center merged with another Soros-funded body, the Drug Policy Foundation, to form the Drug Policy Alliance. In 2000 the Open Society Institute gave about $3.5 million to the latter.

In past years Soros financed marijuana legalization initiatives that failed in Arizona and California. And other groups active in relaxing laws on drug use, such as Drug Strategies and the American Civil Liberties Union, have received multimillion-dollar donations.

Euthanasia is another Soros project. Starting in 1994 the Open Society Institute helped finance the activities of the Project on Death in America. In 2000 the foundation awarded the organization a three-year $15 million grant. According to the Capital Research Center, "Soros' goal is to transform American attitudes toward death by changing public attitudes about physician-assisted suicide." In 2000 the Soros foundation also funded the Death with Dignity National Center, to the tune of $100,000, and the Oregon Death with Dignity Legal Defense and Education Center, which received $75,000.

This activism continued unabated in 2002, according to the foundation's annual report posted on its Web site. Overall, the Soros foundations network's expenditures totaled $474 million last year. Some of these funds were contributed by George Soros out of current income while other funds were derived from charitable entities established by the Soros family. Of this total, just over $90 million went to programs within the United States.

In terms of its political activities overseas, the Open Society Institute in its annual report said it "engages in limited discreet activities in several of the most closed countries on earth." Information on what this may entail is not forthcoming. "We do not provide information about these activities because to do so would jeopardize the safety of individuals with whom we work," stated the report. Regarding the foundation's activity in Georgia in 2002, the report stated that its funding amounted to $5.3 million.

Spending on reproductive health programs, in many cases involving the promotion of contraception and abortion, in the United States for 2002 amounted to $5.5 million. Activity in this area is also a priority in overseas countries, noted the report. The document lamented pro-life successes in countries such as Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia. In reaction to this the report noted that "in 2002, funding was provided to strengthen local and regional advocacy capacity, especially in countries in the region where abortion rights are being undermined."

A sea change

The foundation's recent political activism is part of a major strategy change in the funding priorities of the Open Society Institute. An article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, published June 27, 2002, reported on a letter from Soros to charity leaders that outlined his plans to shift his giving toward advocacy and global issues.

Excerpts from the letter published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy detailed the foundation's role in past years in helping with the transition period in the former Soviet Union. Now, said Soros, "our new goal is to foster a global open society."

This means a change in how the foundation is organized. According to Soros: "It has to be global in scope and it has to be able to make an impact on how governments and international institutions conduct themselves."

According to the Chronicle, Soros has given away more than $3.8 billion since 1982. He now plans to reduce current annual spending, from around $430 million to about $300 million, in order to prolong the foundation's life span. The change also reflects a decline in the foundation's funds due to the downturn in financial markets.

Within the United States, foundation spending will be concentrated on one topic: justice. Programs in other areas funded up until now -- drug policy, death and dying, abortion and contraception -- will be gradually phased out. With its past record, observers will no doubt want to keep a keen eye on where Soros is sending his millions.

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