Soros Supports Development of Open Society

Maha Akeel, Arab News
Publication Date: 
Tue, 2005-02-22 03:00

JEDDAH, 22 February 2005 — The moderator for the first session on day three of the Jeddah Economic Forum, Prince Amr Al-Faisal, introduced the speaker George Soros as someone who is known for his brave but sometimes controversial words and actions.

Billionaire Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management, is a successful investment fund manager, and a philanthropist. He recently gained notoriety for being a severe opponent of George W. Bush foreign policy to the extent of campaigning against him getting re-elected while also writing a book about his reasons.

Yesterday Soros touched on these aspects of his career and views but focused mainly on his philosophy and support for the open society principle.

Soros, a Hungarian immigrant to the US, became active as a philanthropist in 1979 when he began providing funds for black students to attend the Cape Town University in apartheid South Africa. Today, through a network of foundations active in more than 60 countries, Soros gives away about $450 million per year to support the development of open society. In his presentation at the forum, Soros gave an overview of his philosophy of the open society, which guided him in both his business and philanthropy. “There is no perfect society,” declared Soros. In fact, he believes that repression in societies is sometimes the result of people in power thinking they have the ideal answer for the perfect society and force their ideas of perfection on the others.

“Nobody is in ownership of the ultimate truth, so we have to allow people with different views,” he said.

He set up the Open Society Foundation 25 years ago, first in South Africa, to foster critical modes of thinking and make a society vibrant. In order to have human capacity building, Soros believes that the societies have to be prepared for democracy through the process and principles of the open society philosophy, which is why he disagrees with President Bush on spreading democracy by force. “The collapse of a closed society does not necessarily lead to democracy, it might lead to total collapse,” warned Soros. The great unsolved problem of our world, according to him, is how to deal with a tyrant. He suggests being actively engaged in making an open society and not forcing one’s views as Bush is doing because the first principle of the an open society is to accept that you might be wrong, and this Bush does not subscribe to.

“America is the most successful open society but we don’t subscribe to its principles,” said Soros. Dealing with a tyrant should not be unilateral but by international understanding and enforcing rules. “Sovereignty belongs to the people. Rulers should ensure exercising that sovereignty and the international community has a responsibility of protecting it,” he said. “We need an America that is aware of its unique responsibility without exploiting its power for its own interests,” he added.

The problems we face together as humanity, whether poverty, infectious diseases, or global warming, we should work on them together. “Military power is not the only type of power. We need what is called ‘soft’ power, and this is neglected,” he said.

This part of the speech was interesting, but the main purpose of his trip to the region and participating in the forum is to consider supporting a proposition he received for establishing an Arab culture fund through the Open Society Foundation.

At the press conference that followed he and Basmah Al-Husseini, director of the Culture Resource, elaborated on this fund. “This fund will support arts and culture. We will offer prizes for best novel, poetry, theater and maybe documentaries. The Open Society is considering endorsing it,” said Soros.

He asked Al-Husseini to explain and she said that the fund was launched at the end of last year and it is composed of activists from 26 Arab countries. “The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture is accepting support from all sectors interested in the project and we are happy with the support we are getting from the Open Society especially at this early stage,” said Al-Husseini. They have also received positive response from other Western countries and Arab countries.

Main category: 
Old Categories: