Fringe politicians find convenient bogeyman

  • 2006-02-01
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - Network structures, systems of control, drug dealing, an oligarchic power grab, international political conspiracy 's these are just some of the charges that have been aimed at George Soros (photo) and his eponymous foundation over the last 18 months by media houses in Latvia and Lithuania.

News Analysis

In Latvia, leaders from Latvia's First Party and the Greens and Farmers' Union, which generally occupy the center of the political spectrum, have become increasingly vociferous in an ongoing media campaign against the Soros Foundation. Neatkariga Rita Avize, a daily paper that trumpets the viewpoints of Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs, runs critical exposes of Soros on a regular basis.

In Lithuania, the Liberal Democrats and the Labor Party have colluded to call for investigations into the workings of the Soros Foundation and the projects it funds. The Liberal Democrats are headed by impeached President Rolandas Paksas and the Laborites by renegade populist Viktor Uspaskich.

"We are observing the merging and activities of Soros-financed institutes, funds and organizations that seek to legalize, in various ways, drugs or at least the use of drugs in third countries," Ramune Visockyte, chairwoman of the Lithuanian parliamentary commission on drug prevention said last September.

Neatkariga Rita Avize has even fashioned itself as the vanguard in the resistance to Soros' alleged influence in Latvia. As the paper wrote last March: "Neatkariga's ironic reminder of the United States' experience, where in George Soros' organization's campaign against U.S. President George Bush was used the personal services of the criminally charged, Latvia's municipal employees were not surprised at all 's most of them knew about facts concerning the destructive work of Soros' organizations in the world, and its links to criminals."

Not surprisingly, the accusations leveled at Soros and his NGO are opaque. In most media reports the nature of the "crimes" is left unexplained. But even Lithuania's Respublika and Latvia's Neatkariga have reported on an alleged clandestine network in each other's countries. In a Jan. 17, 2006 article in Neatkariga entitled "The Sorosists web in Lithuania: The Lithuanians are not giving up," the writers compare the Soros Foundation to McDonald's.

Julius Veselka, a Liberal Democrat, told the paper, "From the Sorosists' statements, one gets the impression that we no longer live in an independent country. All these Sorosist stories about a civil society degrade me as a person, because for the people contracted by foreign money they work to pay back this money, teaching me how one must live correctly in a democracy."

Those were the days

When the Soros Foundation first appeared in the Baltics during the insecure, impoverished years after the fall of the Soviet Union, it was welcomed. The foundation provided support for art and the translations of philosophical works, funding civil society programs and educational exchanges at a time when few other resources were available. It fortified Baltic independence when Russian troops were still located at bases down the street.

Fifteen years on, the situation has changed dramatically. Now Soros' financial resources have elicited suspicions of conspiracy, hegemony, an intricate web of pliant proxies allegedly wield power and subvert the democratic will of the people.

What's more, those unfamiliar with the extent of the media attacks may be surprised to learn that they are abetted by mainstream politicians who continue to hold key positions.

In Latvia, Indulis Emsis, a former prime minister and current head of Parliament's national security commission, and current Transport Minister Ainars Slesers have both alleged that some sort of conspiracy is taking place. Both have impugned the Soros Foundation and organizations it supports.

Emsis has claimed that the ouster of Rolandas Paksas in Lithuania was orchestrated by a network structure operating in the country, while the revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia were "further evidence" of how far the shadowy tentacles reached.

In both countries the campaign persists on the strength of an "unholy alliance" of politicians and media, whose direct or indirect owners appear to be involved or possibly even ordering the negative articles. In Latvia, the main antagonist has been Neatkariga Rita Avize, which is published by Preses Nams, a company that is owned by Ventspils Nafta, which is controlled by Ventspils chieftain Lembergs. (The ultimate owners of Ventspils Nafta are unknown and are domiciled offshore. The Latvian government has requested legal assistance from the Swiss to ascertain the identity of Ventspils Nafta's owners.)

However, last year investigative reporters discovered that a press release from Lembergs had been created on a computer belonging to Neatkariga.

Lembergs regularly speaks out from his Ventspils redoubt to condemn Soros and recently referred to Latvia as a "Soros subsidiary."

In Lithuania, the forces united against the Soros conspiracy consist of the populist Labor party, the no less populist Liberal Democrats and the newspaper Respublika, which is particularly scandalous. Its publisher, Vitas Tomkus, wrote a four-series treatise claiming that gays and Jews controlled the world. Condem-nation poured in from across the world after the article's appearance in 2004.

Tomkus now owns Elta, a leading Lithuanian news agency, which has begun to distribute the allegations of conspiracy.

While articles in Neatkariga have avoided the insinuation that the ongoing conspiracy has Semitic roots, similar pieces appeared in Vakara Zinas, a yellow paper, two years ago and written by the same writers in Neatkariga. It used stock terminology such "international grand bourgeoisie" and "cosmopolitan" to describe Soros, comparing him to the Nazi propagandist Goebbels.

During the Soviet period the word cosmopolitan was often used as another word for Jews.

The repeated attacks in Lithuania's media were answered in December by an open letter by prominent intellectuals calling for the campaign to end. Finally, The Economist published a critical article on the anti-Soros media campaign in Lithuania