Open Society, 25 Years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall

The fact of the matter is that up until 1989,
the peoples of Eastern Europe were denied their fundamental democratic rights. During Soviet system, there was one opinion,
there was one right answer. In Eastern Europe, before the Berlin Wall
came down, there was a very, very explicit aspiration towards what you might call civil
society or the open society. There was a powerful students’ movement
and of young intellectuals in defense of human rights, of constitution provisions. A lot of people began to search for ways how
they could introduce more freedoms. This was a very good point for Soros to intervene,
to step into the picture. I set up a foundation. I reflected what it is that I really care
about, and it turned out to be a rather abstract concept of an open society. The freedom of thought. Democracy, transparency, and accountability. These purposes did have a common denominator,
which was opening up the country. The open society, which is part of a big tradition
of political reformism, is based on two very simple assumptions: that capitalism is a system
that have a capacity for self correction, and, secondly, that democracy is a system
that have a capacity for self correction. Anything that was an alternative, an expression
of civil society, we were ready to support. He helped, of course, first of all financially. But it wasn’t just about money. It was about ideas, about the theory of open
society. The Central European University was also—I
think—incredibly important in order to exchange ideas, in order to exchange experiences. The foundation also financed the travels of researchers,
scientists, grants. In those days, it was simply helping individual
actors, to give them space, to give them opportunities. Bringing a book to someone was a real success. We justified our claims for better life in
terms of the justice, and the entire struggle that followed—and that eventually brought
down communism—was based on human rights. It’s relatively easy to rewrite the constitution,
but it’s more difficult to change people’s attitudes towards power. People started to think that if communism
was bad, then we should have absolutely free markets. There’s no time for discussion. We will introduce—implement—these ideas, not searching for—not looking for—democratic legitimization for it. With hindsight, I think that the problem was
that all those little things we had been given by the regime, the strength and our attitude
of dependence from this power. In Russia, they reconstructed something that’s
not all that different from communist systems that collapsed—it’s also an authoritarian
system. Societies don’t just close back up. They’ve changed by the experience of being
open, even for a short time, and that change is there and can be the foundation for another
period of openness. You have to fight when you feel that your
autonomy, your humanity, has been taken away or you are not able to live it out. Before, people when they realized that something is wrong, you know, with this world, they tried to organize. Now, when they realize that something is wrong,
they try and individually to adapt to this imperfect situation. To revive it, we need ourselves, we have to
be closer to each other. But, also, what is needed, I think, is imagination. Imagination is creativity, and without that
nothing moves. And since open society is an ongoing struggle,
you can’t do anything without imagination. When you are engaged in trying to improve
the world, you have to keep on changing what you do.


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