Soros takes charity cash to America

June 20, 2003

Financier George Soros is to scale down his charitable activities in Russia to concentrate on a country he considers to be in greater need of support for an open society: the US.

Mr Soros, whose Open Society Institute has spent almost $1 billion (£600 million) supporting Russian science, education and social projects over the past 15 years, announced the switch of focus in Moscow last week. He praised Russia's economic and political advancements, but said the time had come to stop "subsidising the Russian state".

OSI investments in Russia's democratic and educational infrastructure would be cut from $25 million to $10 million a year from 2004, he said. The money would be channelled through a new structure that merged the OSI with the US government-backed Eurasia Foundation.

Mr Soros, who is credited with playing a significant role in saving Russian science and higher education from collapse in the 1990s, said: "The economy is now recovering and the state is restored. That is why I think it is right for us to conclude our activities in their present form."

Political developments in the US and its current role in international affairs prompted the decision. "The struggle for a global open society must be fought primarily in the US, because it has clearly become the dominant power in the world," Mr Soros said. He added that the White House had slipped under the influence of a "group of ideologues" who were neglecting the first principle of an open society: that no single group can claim a monopoly on the truth.

Andrei Melville, chairman of the OSI's Development of Education in Russia Megaproject, and a pro-rector for political science at Moscow's MGIMO Institute of Foreign Affairs, said Mr Soros had had a major impact on the post-Soviet development of Russian higher education.

He added that support of the so-called "Soros professions" in the early 1990s, when qualified scientists in key research disciplines were each given a grant of $500 (enough to live on for a year at that time), had been critical to the preservation of the "nucleus of Russian science and education".

The megaproject, set up in the late 1990s to support regional universities, intra-regional academic links, the development of curricula, text books and independent research, had helped Russian higher education survive the years when Soviet-era structures, funding and networks all collapsed.

"Russian universities are better off than they were five or ten years ago and I'm optimistic that the worst years are behind us," Professor Melville said.

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