Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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#9 - JRL 7220
New York Times
June 12, 2003
Opening Russian Society

When George Soros's Open Society Institute set up shop in Russia in 1987, the Communist Party still ruled, and hopes for greater democracy seemed linked to the uncertain political future of Mikhail Gorbachev. Mr. Soros's bold ambition was to nurture a broader base for democratic transformation. To a remarkable extent, he succeeded. The progress of Russian democracy has plainly been uneven. Yet rudiments of a grass-roots democratic culture clearly exist there today, and Mr. Soros's visionary philanthropy deserves at least some of the credit. Now, after more than 15 years and nearly a billion dollars spent promoting democratic institutions and activism, the institute is winding up its Moscow operations.

Its activities there extended well beyond the immediate sphere of politics. Mr. Soros recognized that a healthy democracy required more than just a plurality of political parties and an uncensored press. The institute also sponsored cultural activities and projects promoting financial accountability, more adequate health care and prisoners' rights. Financing for some of its more popular programs should now come from wealthy Russian institutions and individuals. More controversial programs will get continuing support provided by Mr. Soros, from grants channeled through other organizations.

Mr. Soros made billions of dollars speculating in the hot financial markets of the 1980's and 1990's. That has made him one of the few private individuals rich enough to endow his own foreign policy. For the most part, he has spent his money wisely and generously. Russia and the other Eastern and Central European countries he has helped toward democracy owe him their appreciation.

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