Philanthropist to the world George Soros: Billionaire's gift to Russia is just part of his global effort to promote stability.

October 24, 1997

GEORGE SOROS has been a lucky gambler. From humble beginnings as a hawker of souvenirs and cheap jewelry, the Hungarian-born naturalized American is now one of the world's most successful money managers. Speculating in currencies and trading in securities, he has amassed a $5 billion fortune. He has given back in a big way, too, committing $1.5 billion to social projects through foundations set up in 31 countries.

In August, Mr. Soros pledged to spend $25 million in Baltimore over the next five years on programs designed to fight drug abuse. That is small potatoes, though, compared to his gifts to the former Soviet Union. In Russia alone, he has spent over $350 million since the collapse of communism. He recently committed up to $500 million more in the next three years.

"I have not become a player in Russian politics. . . . I have become a player in the Russian market," the 67-year-old financier said of his canny investments in Russia's private sector, which he has coupled with philanthropy.

In Russia and other countries where he is active, Mr. Soros is controversial. High Malaysian government officials have accused him of eroding local currency markets, which have taken a severe pounding in recent weeks. Belarus kicked out Mr. Soros' foundation, which in one year channeled more aid to that former Soviet republic than did the U.S. government.

Soros foundations are committed to sustaining free media, encouraging political pluralism and defending human rights. The goal is an open society. "An open society thrives while a closed society collapses. The more open societies there are, and the more open each is, the greater the chances for all human society to survive," explains Yekaterina Genieva of Mr. Soros' Open Society Institute in Russia.

Money may not buy stability. But in a country like Russia that is still trying to develop a post-communist civil society, Mr. Soros' millions breathe life into ideas that otherwise might have no chance of being discussed and implemented.

Pub Date: 10/24/97

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