Photo: EPA/ Alejandro Garcia

‘Sorosists,’ vandals and fascists

The “anti-Sorosist” hysteria in the Balkans is a witch hunt against civil society. Whether or not you’re funded by Soros matters little; if you’re against corruption and oppression, you are guilty.

“They sell their mothers, fathers and homeland for foreign money.” On the morning of January 27, 2017, the entrance of the Belgrade offices of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights – a nonprofit network in the Balkans – was found vandalized, and this slogan, among others, was mounted on the door. Two bags that were found outside contained crumpled paper with the inscription “From George Soros.”

This nonprofit was targeted after its activists interrupted a ‘heroic’ speech by Veselin Sljivancanin, a war criminal who was convicted by ICTY for his role in the Vukovar Massacre in 1991. During the incident, the activists were beaten up by participating nationalists, but Serbian authorities did not take any measures against the aggressors. The human rights organization did not receive funds from the Open Society Foundation (an international grant making network founded by George Soros), but their denunciation of war criminals was reason enough for them to be labeled as “enemies of Serbia” and “Sorosists.”

This is not an isolated incident. Various organizations, not only in Serbia but in almost every Balkan country, have received similar attacks, both physical and verbal. In many cases, funding from Soros was not a prerequisite for aggression or receiving the label “Sorosist.”

“Anti-Sorosism,” which until yesterday was a PR jingle exclusive to authoritarian regimes or countries that have serious problems with nationalism, gained new momentum after the election of Donald Trump as POTUS. Ever since the days leading up to the election, numerous satellite media outlets of the ‘Trump doctrine’ have pointed their fingers towards the billionaire old-timer, who gained most of his wealth through speculations in financial markets, accusing him of fueling controversy towards the new President.

A Hungarian-American with Jewish ancestry who survived the Holocaust, George Soros has an estimated wealth of 25 billion dollars, and donated over 11 billion dollars during 1979-2011 to various philanthropic causes. During the US presidential campaign, Soros donated around 20 million dollars to different causes, including direct support to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

The anti-Soros frenzy went so far that Trump supporters asked actress Rosie O’Donnell, who plays comedic roles that mock the president’s administration, how much Soros was paying her. Soros himself was not reserved about his impressions about the leader of the United States, arguing that Trump is a “would-be dictator” who “is going to fail.”

An Albanian psychosis?

These are a couple of facts. It is also a fact that the anti-Soros hysteria conquered public discourse in Albania after Donald Trump became the president of the ‘largest democracy in the world.’

But it is still subject to a multidisciplinary study with a focus on psychological investigations how “Trumpism” – as the opposite term of “Sorosism” – established itself on the other side of the world, conquering the Balkans. What made the enthusiastic Albanian supporters love one of the most controversial persons on the planet? Conservatives like him, although his family values resemble a harem telenovela. Nationalists support him, even though his foreign policy is going towards self-isolation while attempting a romance with Vladimir Putin.

The once inaudible anti-Sorosists, who at one point were just a few individuals with personal problems that escalated to social dimensions, have now increased their numbers and noise, often reiterating articles by Breitbart and other conspirators, who used to talk about freemasons and macabre plots (like the “fake climate change”) during the day, and lock themselves up in their basements and wear tinfoil hats so that the government does not read their minds at night.

Now they have removed their tinfoil hats and left their basements because they climbed the stairs to the White House, simultaneously giving a voice to people like them in the Balkans.

Discipline in madness

In January, Albania’s Head Prosecutor Adriatik Llalla, now an obvious opponent of the justice reform, surprised many by accusing Donald Lu, the US Ambassador in Tirana, of “typical Sorosist blackmail.” While the official meaning of this phrase remains a mystery, the trouble was Llalla’s tactical sabotage to the vetting, a tough process of sieving judges and prosecutors in order to refresh the Albanian judicial system. Lu reacted by openly accusing Llalla of impeding the reform, while Llalla answered by mentioning the institutional independence of the prosecution and… “Sorosism.”

Traditionally, Albanians have seen the justice system as one of the most corrupt sectors, and the reform was not met with popular opposition. As a result, the argument against the reform aiming to cleanse the judiciary of corrupt officials remains a mission within the boundaries of impossibility.

Before the “Sorosist” breakthrough, the opponents of the reform used the concept of “independence” to oppose the practice of intensive involvement of international institutions in the process. Different from what happened with Albanian Prince William of Wied in the beginning of 1900s–being that today’s battles for such issues happen primarily within the public opinion–today’s supporters of hermetic independence were not able to repel the international authority.

After these obvious failures, the clash between the involved actors catapulted the drama in a new playing field, where labels slapped on people and events are more important than slogans.

Before this event and to the present day, an organized squad of online tabloids have placed themselves on the front lines of the war against Soros (read: Justice Reform). While the government of Edi Rama and his close people were in the vanguard of the crusade for the reform, besides the EU, the United States, and a group of other international institutions, the “anti-Sorosist” populism was the only message that the opposition was able to find.

The selection of Soros as a unifying label against the civil society is not unintentional. A Jewish banker who became rich through playing with financial markets fits in well with conspiracy theories and concealed anti-Semitism. But, those who bought this message and whisper about the freemasons where Soros is “at least the vice-chairman” – those same people completely agree to Trump’s unconditional support for Israel and the systematic brutalization carried out against the Palestinian people.

They mention the (in fact uncontested) right of Israel to exist, and that according to the Bible (a religious book, not legal material), the land belongs to the Jews. An email leak from the Foundation for Open Society in 2016 showed that the tycoon supported Palestinian organizations with hundreds of millions of dollars, where among others, a document was found where Israel was accused of “racist and anti-democratic policies.” This fact caused a burst of anger from the Israeli lobby, but it did not surprise the “Sorosists” too much.

Thus, it may be speculated that a portion of today’s “anti-Sorosists” suffer from a specific kind of intellectual schizophrenia: they simultaneously are anti-Semites and pro-Zionists. Their manipulators do not care for either: they only want to achieve pragmatic objectives.

Sinners and saints

The tabloidization of a part of the Albanian public opinion with the “anti-Sorosist” messages seeks to justify itself by mentioning the first and last names of the alleged public enemies: flesh and blood “Sorosists.” Obviously, Prime Minister Edi Rama and Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj were the first targets. These two are not new to their cultivation of the Sorosist conspiracy. In the past, Rama and Soros had direct meetings where the latter did not conceal his liking for Rama. Other people close to Rama, including Veliaj, have worked with organizations that were granted financial support by the Open Society Foundation.

The fact that Veliaj, together with other founders of the Mjaft (Enough) Movement, joined politics and later ended up in Rama’s government not only added fuel to the fire of conspiracies, it also created problems for Mjaft itself. The Mid-term Development Strategy of Mjaft, written in 2010, clearly mentioned that the displacement of the founders from civil society to politics had shaken the trust of the public and the donors for this movement.

Either from the beginning or gradually, a part of the Mjaft squad – some for value-related issues and others simply because they were looking for stable jobs – followed the footsteps of their leader by becoming a part of the current establishment, while others decided to seek a future in independent directions.

It is relevant to mention that even in Mjaft’s case, Soros was not the main donor. There have even been cases in which projects deemed important by the organization were rejected by the Open Society Foundation. But, the public accusation against Mjaft is another debate that deserves another separate, deep, and long analysis.

Lately, the wave of “anti-Sorosist” hysteria has spread even further, including organizations and individuals outside of decision-making circles. About a month ago, a caricature in a second hand newspaper showed pictures of almost every known journalist or media leader in Albania, quivering on the tentacles of an octopus called “Soros.”

Another, more exclusive caricature, as far as the victims are concerned, included BIRN journalists in Tirana (where Soros is not the main donor), a media outlet which published a series of investigations that exposed the wrongdoings of the current central and local government. But BIRN’s critical approach against the government–and its exposing of serious corruption cases and abuses of power–did not save them from being labelled as allies of the current Albanian government, raising other new plot theories that BIRN is allegedly against Veliaj and pro Rama or vice versa.

According to these accusations, all of the evildoing committed by this medium was done to serve Soros. In fact, it is not important where someone stands as long as this game is played with labels and witch hunting due to the lack of concrete facts. Even in Serbia or other countries in the region, BIRN and other media are labeled as “Sorosists.”

Soros’ open support or contempt for various world leaders is, directly or indirectly, not a secret. For example, in an opinion piece on Ukraine in 2014, he said that the people who protested in the Maidan square were “the cream of civil society.”

“They are the leaders of the new Ukraine and they are adamantly opposed to a return of the ‘old Ukraine,’ with its endemic corruption and ineffective government,” he wrote.

But, despite this public support for the new generation of leadership in the country that shares a border with Russia and is in conflict with it, non-profits and civil society there have not given up on closely monitoring Petro Poroshenko’s government. According to the standards of hate prophets, even they are “Sorosists,” while simultaneously at the vanguard of the battle for protecting public interest.

The end of madness

These days, the thousands of nationalists that protested against the further rights given to the ethnic Albanian population in Macedonia accuse George Soros of being the freemason hand that is shaking up “national unification.” For different reasons than those in Albania, but similar in spirit, even there they have started naming “Sorosists” as enemies of the people, targeting the media and civil society. In December, the Nikola Gruevski led VMRO-DPMNE pledged that he would save the country from the influence of non-profits linked to Soros, a process that he called “de-Sorosization.”

The rancor against “Sorosists” thrives in other countries as well. In Viktor Orban’s Hungary, “Sorosists” are accused of wanting to “flood Europe with Muslim migrants.” In Romania, after massive protests against amnesty for corruption, the (socialist) governing party spat accusations that “Soros is financing evil.”  

In Serbia, “Sorosists” are accused by government officials, nationalists and their satellite tabloids, including those that support Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, of “wanting to destabilize the country.” Women in Black, an organization of women–including mothers of victims from the wars in Yugoslavia–who are opposed to militarization and nationalism was also labeled as “Sorosist.” Referring to them, Vojislav Seselj, a Serbian politician accused of war crimes, said: “They never bathe and they smell from kilometers away.”

The mothers of the victims are often accused in Serbia of advocating justice for “presumed crimes” against other ethnicities, but not for crimes committed against Serbs. Furthermore, a Serbian police official said that bringing in one of the women’s heads would be a good deed. He was investigated, but later accusations were dropped.

At this point, it is clear that the term “Sorosist” is simply a disguise for a witch hunt against civil society. It is not important whether you are funded by Soros or not; you are guilty, you are an enemy of the people and a despicable person, solely because you raise your voice against injustice and seek what is best for you and other people.

You are a “Sorosist” because you combat corruption, oppression, and war criminals, and because you seek equal rights. You are a “Sorosist” because you do not like the government. You are one even if you do not like the opposition. You are a “Sorosist” when you feel you are not represented by the political class whatsoever.

This is the essential truth of this pathetic global campaign, encouraged mostly by the corrupt, criminals, and despots who do not care about an old billionaire, but worry about the fact that young and old people, women and men and people of different religions, raise their voices and request what is right.

Thus, most of us are “Sorosists” whether we like it or not. And today more than ever, it is necessary to talk openly, not to protect a person or foundation, but to protect our freedom of expression and fearlessly advocate for the causes that are dear to our hearts.

This is a moment that calls for individual and collective courage, because it has been for some time now that media vandalism has turned into physical violence, and the next step is fascism. The latter has its basis on the values and methods of the enemies of democracy: hate against the Other and repression of free speech.

This is the time to react before it is too late.

Martin Niemuller, a protestant pastor who spent seven years in Hitler’s death camps, says in his famous poem: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

20 March 2017 - 14:28

Ervin Qafmolla

20/03/2017 - 14:28

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.