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  Nr. 3657 de vineri, 23 iunie 2006 
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Biting the hand that fed you
Perhaps in time, the director of this newspaper will realise the miscalculation he has made with his claim that George Soros's Fundatia Societatea Deschisa (FSD) is probably riddled with figures who collaborated with the ex-Securitate. In the early 1990s, it was a favourite tactic of Corneliu Vadim Tudor and the pro-FSN press to claim that those in civil society who opposed them were 'false dissidents' with a compromising past. The prevalence of conspiracy theories produced a sense of fatalism in many Romanians which made them easily manipulable by forces determined the country must remain shaped by the values of the pre-1989 times. One of the undoubted achievements of the last fifteen years is that most citizens are able to think for themselves. Certain press titles played a big role in this breakthrough, Ziua included. It was a newspaper whose investigative journalists exposed the murky deeds of the powerful, often when the penalties for such boldness could be severe.
Ironically, this climate of media pluralism would not have emerged so easily without George Soros. While big states and the European Union had a fatalistic attitude towards the prospect of Romania becoming a solid democracy and distanced themselves after the June 1990 mineriada, that was exactly the moment he chose to get involved. He wanted to build a strong civic space that would act as a barrier for the monopolistic ambitions of the FSN. There is little doubt that opportunists and even people with past Securitate links benefited. But it also enabled a lot of people with energy, vision, and ambitions not just for themselves, to become part of a philanthropic exercise designed to push the country in a much better direction. Nepotism was not absent, but I also know of a married couple, Elek Szokoly and Smaranda Enache, both at different times office-holders in the FSD, who worked tirelessly to make its values of mutual tolerance and cooperation across ethnic lines, a reality in their city Tirgu Mures and indeed wider afield.
I think Vadim will be rather annoyed with Sorin Rosca Stanescu for inventing up a scandal of the kind which he has always preferred to promote. If the CNSAS was to devote its energies to investigate the background of Romanians who were successful in receiving Soros grants or else were office holders, it would be occupied by it for a long time and probably it would come up with very inconsequential results.
One of the FSD's great strengths was to support a multitude of small projects through a decentralised and open system of awarding and monitoring grants. This was different from the style of other donors, including the EU, which have preferred to support large projects often from familiar people and whose benefits for the country are not always apparent. If Ziua's Director is suggesting that Romania has become a pawn in the hands of a mercurial figure planning complicated power games, then he joins a long list of figures from Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic to Mahathir of Malaysia who have doubted Soros's motives and disliked his involvement in their country. George Soros has made mistakes. But he has been more willing to admit them than most figures who have risen high in politics and the media. His legacy, in hastening the end of Soviet repression in Eastern Europe, empowering civic groups which have hampered the rise of a new authoritarianism, and criticising a mediocre US leader for massive policy errors which threaten to give the global initiative to a new generation of dictators, is one he should be proud of.
Soros made a big difference in Romania which could easily have gone the way of Milosevic's Serbia or Lukachenko's Belarus. Gheorghe Dumitrascu, the pre-2000 FSN/PDSR deputy, cursed his party's stupidity for allowing a free media which he believed lost it the 1996 election. Today, the chauvinist values which this politician stood for are championed in different branches of the media which Ziua has always previously stood firmly apart from. OTV, Vadim and Adrian Paunescu will welcome any effort to discredit the work of the Soros Foundation in Romania.
Unless Ziua decides to turn into a paper that is unrecognisable from one that promotes responsible capitalism and strong democratic institutions, including civil society, it will recognise that these are also the values at the core of the FSD's work in Romania. Its reputation is secure in the post-1989 story of a democratising Romania. Ziua also deserves a very honourable mention in this story, but its position in this role of honour is one that could easily be threatened by sailing - in a fit of absent-mindedness, or worse - towards the wilder shores of nationalism.
Tom Gallagher 
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