Giuliani repeated the claim on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “November of 2016, [the Ukrainians] first came to me, and they said, ‘We have shocking evidence that the collusion that they claim happened in Russia, which didn’t happen, happened in Ukraine, and it happened with Hillary Clinton. George Soros was behind it. George Soros’s company was funding it.' ” Asked whether he accepts that this is untrue, Giuliani replied that it is true and that he can prove it, although he did not do so at the time.
Although Giuliani’s claims about Soros are untrue, they are also unsurprising. Soros, a Hungarian-born Jew and American billionaire, is a major political donor and favorite boogeyman on the far right in the United States. But in Central and Eastern Europe, where his philanthropic giving is a source of funding for many who fight corruption, politicians who find themselves embroiled in such scandals tend to claim that Soros is the real villain. It’s a neat trick, one used throughout the region — and now by one very prominent U.S. lawyer.
Soros, through his Open Society Foundations, has indeed been philanthropically engaged in Ukraine for decades. In his 1995 book, “Soros on Soros: Staying Ahead of the Curve,” Soros explained that Ukraine was particularly important to him because he thought the country’s independence was geopolitically important. “As long as Ukraine prospers, there can be no imperialist Russia,” he wrote.
At the time, Soros’s foundation in Ukraine was supporting a whole network: an institute to train public servants, a foundation to develop legal culture in the country and a center for modern art, among other institutions. He claimed that all of this was important because he wanted “to supply Ukraine with the infrastructure necessary for a modern state — and an open society.”
Soros said that he was initially skeptical about working in Ukraine, having heard harrowing stories about what happened to the Hungarian Jews who were deported to the country during World War II. But the writer Ivan Dziuba, who asked him to set up a foundation in Ukraine and who would later work at the country’s Ministry of Culture, told him that that was the point — “to build a different kind of Ukraine where those kinds of atrocities couldn’t happen.”
Since the mid-1990s, Open Society has funded other work in Ukraine: It sought to address health epidemics — such as hepatitis and HIV — in the country; paid for election exit polls (which in turn led Soros to be blamed by some in the region and even Western writers for the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, in which a Kremlin-supported candidate was ousted after the opposition protested electoral fraud); and held training on intellectual property. Perhaps most important, at least for our current political moment, it funded anti-corruption organizations. It is this last point that seems to have caught Giuliani’s attention. During his conversation with Ingraham, he alluded to AntAC, a Ukrainian anti-corruption organization that receives money from, among other places, Open Society. It was investigated by Ukrainian authorities in what appears to be payback for its anti-corruption work in 2016.
Learning of the AntAC-Soros link — the small kernel of reality buried deep within Giuliani’s conspiracy theory — I was reminded of a reporting trip I took to Romania and Slovakia in 2017. Protesters had taken to the streets in both countries that year demanding that leaders be accountable for their reported corruption. People who wanted to undermine the protesters blamed Soros, claiming he was the real power behind them.
I asked some of the protesters and anti-corruption groups working at the time if they received Open Society funding. And many, if not most, of them had. But that is different from Soros himself orchestrating efforts against political enemies, which is what their opponents were suggesting. The point of Soros’s philanthropic work has always been to create societies in which people have an equitable chance at civic participation. To do that, his foundations have tried to support free and independent media, rule of law, fairly monitored elections and, yes, anti-corruption organizations. Accordingly, many NGOs and institutes and centers in Central and Eastern Europe have, at one point or another, received funding from Open Society. His goal was to help people speak up for themselves. But his very ubiquity has made it easier for his critics to see those who do speak up as Soros’s puppets, his hands pulling civil society’s strings.
This is why Giuliani’s claims, though false, are wholly unsurprising. Soros, through Open Society, funds efforts to make governments more accountable, more transparent and less corrupt. There is, it’s true, a lot of Open Society money throughout Central and Eastern Europe. One could make the argument that an international organization should not be involved in the internal affairs of various countries. But that is not what Soros’s detractors claim. Instead, they say that it is Soros himself who is trying to undermine them. That he is the one who is corrupt, who is looking to take power that isn’t his, who tries to bend the rules to his will.
That’s what Romanian political leader Liviu Dragnea did when protesters balked at his attempts to get away with corruption. It’s what former Slovak prime minister Robert Fico did when protesters called for his resignation after investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee were murdered. It’s what billionaire and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis did when protesters — worried that their prime minister was going to try to undermine the independent judiciary — called for his resignation. It’s what aspiring autocrats do.
That Soros would run an organization in Ukraine to collect information on Trump makes little sense, not least of all because his work there long predates the president’s political campaign. But it makes all the sense in the world that Giuliani, caught in a scandal, would claim otherwise. It makes sense because Soros is the world’s boogeyman, one whose name is synonymous with nefarious misdeeds to many a Trump supporter. But it also makes sense because politicians tend to blame George Soros and his anti-corruption efforts when they’re called out for their missteps.
And what is Giuliani if not a politician who has stepped in it?