Compiled from my ten-part series at Capital Research Center
Colectiv, a former Bucharest factory-turned nightclub, had an 80-person legal capacity. But on October 30, 2015, over 400 young people packed the century-old building, as heavy metal band Goodbye to Gravity released its album “Mantras of War,” its first with Universal’s Romanian subsidiary.
At 10:00 PM, the band took the stage, and with two shots of pyrotechnics, opened with its lead single “The Day We Die.”
A girl in the audience, who refused to give her name because of her parents’ not knowing she was there, told the newspaper Magyar Nemzet that around 10:30 PM she felt sick and asked her boyfriend to take her out to get some air. As they headed toward the club’s only exit, two larger shots of fireworks sprayed from the stage.
“That wasn’t part of the show,” joked lead singer Andrei Găluț, as a pillar with acoustic foam lit up from sparks that landed too far. He calmly asked for a fire extinguisher — but no one had time to find one.
In mere seconds, the fire climbed to the top of the post.
Panic spread, as the ceiling exploded into a gulf of flames, dropping burning debris on the attendees, as they trampled each other to escape. When the crowd forced the club’s double doors open, the gust of oxygen produced an explosion that drove the fire’s temperature over a thousand degrees. Within a minute and 19 seconds, the fire had engulfed the entire dance floor — carbon monoxide and cyanide filling the club, killing many within minutes before they had a chance to reach the door.
The girl who felt sick and her boyfriend, meanwhile, waited outside the entrance for their two friends to come out.
“I was the luckiest one there,” she told the newspaper. “People were barely walking. One of them told us that at the exit, a pile of bodies about [five feet] high had formed that he had to get over.”
One of their friends had burns on 70 percent of his body; the other never made it out.
In the end, 64 died, including four of Goodbye to Gravity’s five members and its sole survivor’s fiancée.
Mourning turned to outrage toward Bucharest’s Sector 4 mayor’s office, as many believed that bribes allowed the club’s owners to operate over capacity and ignore safety codes.
Singer Andy Ionescu told the television station Digi 24, however, that he believed if authorities conducted serious inspections, every club in Romania would be shuttered. Bianca Boitan Rusu, PR manager for an alternative rock band, attributed this to the fact that all the clubs in Bucharest had been converted from former factories.
Nevertheless, on November 3, tens of thousands took to the streets and demanded not only the mayor’s resignation but that of Prime Minister Victor Ponta and his entire cabinet for what they saw as the country’s entrenched kickback culture.
Many waved the national flag with a hole in the center, reminiscent of the 1989 revolution when demonstrators cut out the communist emblem.
“Corruption kills” became their battle cry, as demonstrators in multiple cities blamed politicians for the tragic deaths.
On November 4, the mayor and Ponta gave in to their demands, along with the entire cabinet.
“I hope my resignation … will satisfy those who protested,” Ponta said, noting that it is impossible to positively govern in a climate of political instability.
“I’m not referring to anyone in particular,” he added. “But from my experience, those who bet politically on people’s suffering, sooner or later, will pay a heavy price.”
The country’s president Klaus Iohannis — who defeated Ponta in the 2014 election — meanwhile, took a victory lap.
“My election was the first great step towards this kind of new, clean, and transparent politics [that you wanted],” he told viewers during a press conference. “People had to die for this resignation to happen.”
But two days later, the first poll after the tragedy showed a sharp disconnect between the Romanian population and those who protested in the streets.
Only seven percent of respondents said that they held the government responsible for the tragedy — the same percent that blamed the deceased band members. Furthermore, just 12 percent blamed “the political class” in general. Sixty-nine percent even rated the government’s response to the tragedy favorably.
A month later, a different polling firm found a similar result, with only 14.8 percent blaming the central government. This poll included the option of blaming the fireworks company, but that inclusion appeared to shift more blame away from the mayor’s office.
Somehow, in a country of 20 million people, less than 60,000 protesters, with the sympathy of less than 15 percent of the population, forced the government to surrender.
A Billionaire with His Own Foreign Policy
Most people know about billionaire investor George Soros’s massive investments in left-wing politics in the United States. But in 2017, the U.S. only received 15 percent of his Open Society Foundations’ (OSF) dedicated funding — the rest going to foreign countries and global projects.
Soros has always had a soft spot in his bank account for his native Hungary and the surrounding region. In fewer than 25 years, OSF poured $1.6 billion into Eastern Europe for “democratic development.”
But why would the organization spend such a sum on countries that are already democratic?
Soros’s anti-nationalist ideology of the open society, along with his motto, “If I spend enough, I will make it right,” provide an answer into his philanthropic activity, almost all of which entails political — not humanitarian — ends.
During the 2016 American presidential election, he spent at least $25 million supporting Hilary Clinton and other Democratic candidates. But when all that spending didn’t “make [the election] right,” Soros declared that “democracy is now in crisis.”
Soros’s definition of democracy apparently means electing only candidates of whom he approves, or democracy becomes imperiled.
He lamented that the U.S. under President Donald Trump will become so embroiled in internal fighting and trying to protect its minorities from violent attacks that “it will be unable to… promote democracy in the rest of the world.”
But should the U.S. be in the business of promoting democracy in the rest of the world? And does it have the moral authority to do so?
Uncle Sam joins Team Soros
Since the fall of Eastern Bloc communism, the U.S. State Department has often teamed up with Soros and his OSF to “promote democracy” in Eastern European countries. This consisted of targeting nationalist governments by infusing socially liberal propaganda through NGOs and Western-sponsored media — often going so far as to influence those countries’ elections.
One example is the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s reported meddling in Macedonia’s elections in 2016. According to USAID’s website, between February 27, 2012, and August 31, 2016, the agency gave $4,819,125 to OSF — Macedonia.
In April 2017, the government watchdog group Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit against the State Department and USAID, for failing to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records and communications dealing with the funding and political activities of OSF’s Macedonian arm. Judicial Watch reported that with the help of then-President Barack Obama’s U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia, Jess L. Baily, the U.S. government spent “millions of taxpayer dollars to destabilize the democratically elected, center-right government in Macedonia by colluding” with Soros.
One NGO funded by the USAID-Soros alliance paid for the translation into Macedonian of far-left activist Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. A Macedonian government official even referred to the American-funded activists as the “Soros infantry.”
Funding Future Leaders
Mirel Palada, one of the thousands of young Eastern Europeans to receive a scholarship from George Soros’s OSF, said the only scholarship requirement was that recipients return home after their study abroad. When Palada finished his year (1997–98) at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, he went back to his home in Romania, obtained a Ph.D. in sociology, and — among other occupations — served as press secretary for then-Prime Minister Ponta.
Today, however, Palada holds mixed feelings about the opportunity that Soros provided him.
At the time, Soros did me a favor. [He hoped] to see the favor returned — that I would feel indebted, and become one of his minions.
In an interview with DC News, he credited Soros’s “praiseworthy scrupulousness” in building an influential Eastern European network but argued that it works against Romania’s national interests.
[Soros] took novice, naïve, young folks, showed them America, paid for their studies, patiently building a network of people that would be grateful — that he could use when their time comes, and they become influential.
“Thank God, I’m not part of Soros’s network,” he concluded. “I’m part of those who love their country.
Many Romanians feel the same about Soros.
In November 2017, Romania’s Social Democrat (PSD)-controlled Senate passed a law, joining a number of Eastern European governments seeking to curb Soros’s influence in their internal affairs. The law required NGOs to report in detail their revenue sources biannually and striped their eligibility for taxpayer funding as “public utilities” if they engage in political advocacy in the past two years.
Romanian opposition parties and NGOs accuse the PSD of using anti-Soros rhetoric as “cheap propaganda” from which to benefit politically. Although this represented valid criticism, did the accusations hold merit? Did Soros establish a Romanian network of NGOs so they could someday remake their country in his image?
The Soros Footprint in Romania
Romania’s communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena died by firing squad on Christmas Day, 1989. The day they were buried, on December 30, Romania’s first NGO, the Group for Social Dialogue (GDS) formed on the steps of the Bucharest Intercontinental Hotel.
GDS’s founders included leading professors, philosophers, journalists, activists, and most notably, former editor of the Communist Party’s official newspaper Scînteia (The Spark) Silviu Brucan. Historian Alex Mihai Stoenescu refers to Brucan — a confidant of Soviet premier Mihail Gorbachov — as “the brains” behind both the revolution and the National Salvation Fronts (FSN)’s rise to power after Ceausescu’s downfall.
Less than a week later, Soros paid the group a visit.
“I think I was the first civilian plane that landed in Bucharest,” Soros told Robert Turcescu on a Romanian television show in 2005.
Soros had a connection among the founding members of GDS, Hungarian-Romanian Levante Salat. Shortly after landing, Soros made his way to the GDS headquarters — the former Romanian Communist Youth building that the new FSN regime lent to the group — where he met with Brucan and other charter members.
Soros offered the group $1 million with which to start a network of NGOs in the country.
But “not realizing the importance of resources for the success of ideas,” wrote one GDS founder, the group turned down the offer to maintain an aura of independence.
One of the group’s ranking members, Alin Teodorescu, remained in contact with Soros and helped him set up his Soros Foundation later that year. Teodorescu served as the Foundation’s first president.
Despite its title, however, the GDS intellectuals had little chance of sparking social dialogue among the blue-collar, rank-and-file Romanian citizens. The organization’s would-be elite ruling class watched in dismay, in May 1990, as Romanian voters voted for the FSN ex-communists by more than 80 percent in the country’s first post-Ceausescu election.
The following month, however, Soros launched his foundation, with an initial budget of nearly $1.5 million. Until at least the late 90s, it remained the country’s only grantmaking NGO. Its mission became to develop programs that would provide for the country’s lack of civic initiatives and educational alternatives.
Over the next four years, the Foundation worked with the Romanian Ministry of Education to introduce textbooks authored by its members into Romanian schools.
By the mid-1990s, its annual budget had grown to $10 million, and the group had expanded its mission to include communication, culture, and health initiatives.
In 1997, it changed its name to Foundation for an Open Society — Fundația pentru o Societate Deschisă(FSD) — mirroring the name of Soros’s new U.S.-based Open Society Institute (OSI).
Although FSD’s Romanian staffers gained a reputation for arrogance, it arguably accomplished more with an average annual budget of $10-$12 million than USAID did with $30 to $40 million. USAID sought to rapidly democratize and liberalize the post-communist country; Soros, meanwhile, understood that before a young, white-collar, liberal elite can guide a country toward the kind of open society he prefers, that young, white-collar, liberal elite must first exist.
In addition to sponsoring Romanian students to study in Western Europe and the U.S., Soros founded Central European University (CEU) in his native city of Budapest, which attracted students from across Eastern Europe — including Romania. FSD also sponsored hundreds of Romanians to attend conferences on non-profit formation and administration, both at home and abroad.
By the turn of the century, FSD’s budget had peaked at almost $16 million. The Foundation then transitioned its programs into 12 splinter NGOs that found additional sources of Western funding to supplement their Soros dollars — Soros’s goal’s being to eventually make them self-sustaining. Their missions and methods, however, remained the same, and a new umbrella organization, Soros Open Network — Romania (SON), formed in 2000.
From Civic Education to Issue Advocacy
As Romania moved closer to European Union membership — or democratic maturity in the eyes of Soros’s NGOs — the Soros network began engaging in more overt political advocacy.
Rosia Montana marked the highest-profile case of direct political activism that Soros joined in the country.
The Canadian gold mining company Gabriel Resources struck a deal with the Romanian government, in 2000, to mine near the village of Rosia Montana in the Transylvanian Apuseni Mountains. However, as word spread in the West, leftist NGOs and journalists swarmed the area to rally opposition, despite most locals’ supporting it.
European activist journalist Stephanie Roth likened the project to imperialist exploitation, and called Gabriel and another company “modern-day vampires.” For her attempts to slay her “vampires,” Roth received the $125,000 Goldman Environmental Prize from the San Francisco-based Richard & Rhoda Goldman Fund. Meanwhile, the village miners whom the project would have helped, lived on around $300 a month.
The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation of Flint, Michigan, poured millions into the NGOs’ crusade, including $426,800 for the Environmental Partnership of Romania through the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Much of this funding went toward anti-mining propaganda aimed at Romanians, who lived nowhere near Rosia Montana, who after spending four decades under communism already viewed private ownership of large industries skeptically.
But did the NGOs offer any environmentally-friendlier alternatives to Gabriel’s mining to help the villagers? As one foreign activist said:
Why should any NGO come forward with alternative projects? That is not the job of civil society. We are not a humanitarian organization, but a militant environmental NGO. If the whole community is in favor of the project, we simply put it on the list of our enemies.
In June 2006, Soros vowed that OSF would use “all legal and civic means to stop” the mine, and proceeded to back the anti-mining NGOs with his fortune.
This won Soros some sympathy from many in both the Romanian pro-nationalization Right and the environmentalist Left because the media widely reported that the selfless, environmentally-conscious Soros owned stock in Gabriel — Soros’s partially-owned Newmont Mining held about a fifth of the company. Although any gains that Soros would have received would likely have been insignificant for him, the impoverished Romanians had few points of comparison from which to draw. Furthermore, for Soros money has always been a mere means to political ends.
In addition to direct funding from OSF, Soros also gave millions to Romanian NGOs indirectly through the Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE Trust).
In 2001, his OSI, along with five other leftist philanthropies, namely: the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Atlantic Philanthropies, the Ford Foundation, and the previously-mentioned Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and German Marshall Fund of the United States created CEE Trust to channel funds to Central and Eastern European NGOs.
In addition to the 12 NGOs that originally formed SON, dozens of Romanian NGOs have sprung from them, seeking to transform Romania’s conservative, Orthodox Christian culture, by promoting socially liberal values.
By the second decade of the 21st century, Soros could reduce his direct involvement in Romania because he left in his wake a loyal army of grateful, civil society soldiers.
From Issue Advocacy to Politics
Many of Soros’s Romanian colleagues and allies gained prominent influence within the Romanian government — particularly following the 2004 elections.
Sandra Pralong left her position as communications director at Newsweek, in 1990, to organize and lead the Romanian Soros Foundation, becoming its first executive director. In 1999, while working as an advisor to Romanian president Emil Constantinescu, she published her first book — a homage to Soros’s mentor — aptly entitled: Popper’s Open Society After Fifty Years: The Continuing Relevance of Karl Popper.
GDS’s first president, the previously-mentioned Teodorescu, also served as president of the Soros Foundation Romania Council from 1990–1996. He later became Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase’s (2000–2004) Chief of Staff and won a seat in the Romanian Parliament in 2004.
Renate Weber led the Council in two stints between 1998 and 2007 and took an especially active role in the Rosia Montana activism. When NGO-friendly President Traian Basescu won in 2004, Weber served as his constitutional and legislative adviser. In November 2007, with the country’s entry into the EU, she won a seat in the European Parliament.
Soros’s Attacks on Eastern European Democracy
It makes sense that foreign nationals might resent their fellow citizens who received American opportunities that they missed — or even resent a foreign billionaire’s meddling in their politics and attacking their traditional values. But why would the PSD — like many other Eastern European political parties — feel the need to castigate Soros, his NGOs, and their allies as pure evil?
One likely explanation is that the ruling party sees more at stake than simply bad publicity through Soros-friendly media outlets like Vice News Romania.
In the U.S. — as with most seasoned democracies — popular protests serve a purpose only if the protesters remember their cause next election cycle, or at least convince elected officials that they will. If the public is genuinely angry at its government, a peaceful change of power will follow through the ballot box (See the Tea Party movement in 2010).
The events of 1989, however, seared into Romania’s national mythology the concept of popular street protests as a means to overthrow a corrupt government.
“We have this tradition in Romania of mass movements,” political scientist and commentator Cristian Pirvulescu told the New York Times during anti-corruption demonstrations, in 2017. “This was not just a movement against corruption. It’s a fight in defense of democracy.”
Such a culture provides fertile ground for a billionaire philanthropist’s world view.
Soros’s Track Record in Eastern Europe
“My foundations,” brags Soros in his book The Bubble of American Supremacy(2004), “contributed to democratic regime change in Slovakia in 1998, Croatia in 1999, and Yugoslavia in 2000.”
Throughout the 1990s, the Clinton administration worked hand-in-glove with Soros to mold Eastern European policy. “I would say that [Soros’s policy] is not identical to the foreign policy of the U.S. government — but it’s compatible with it,” Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott told the New Yorker in 1995.
Talbott served as President Bill Clinton’s Ambassador-at-Large to Russia and the New Independent States, causing Business Week to dub him the “Russian Policy Czar.” According to Talbot:
It’s like working with a friendly, independent entity, if not a government. We try to synchronize our approach to the former Communist countries with Germany, France, Great Britain — and with George Soros.
In countries with little accumulated capital, deep-state corruption, and a shaky rule of law, it became cliché among many of the politically aware in Eastern Europe that closer ties with the U.S. and EU would solve their economic problems. Many believed that acquiescing to the desires of NATO would lead to a mutual back-scratching.
Thus, this author has personally heard common Romanians’ expressing genuine disappointment that the U.S. did not pave their roads after Romania contributed manpower to the American-led invasion of Iraq. This lack of national responsibility also gave many left-wing idealists like Soros a window to lend their weight to favorable EU candidates, political parties, and movements.
For instance, Soros bragged to the New Yorker’s Connie Bruck in 1995 that because of his amazing wealth and influence, even Romania’s corrupt President Ion Iliescu “suddenly became very interested in seeing [him].”
But Soros was only warming up with Serbia in 2000. The first decade of the 21st century would witness three more non-violent revolutions in the former Eastern bloc — revolutions the West would come to know as the Color Revolutions because of the color of the flowers that the revolutionaries used as symbols.
In 2003, large-scale protests in Georgia, which came to be known as the Rose Revolution, led to the resignation of democratically-elected President Eduard Shevardnadze. Mikheil Saakashvili, who took over after Shevardnadze’s resignation, received coaching from U.S. Ambassador Richard Miles, who was also ambassador to Serbia in 2000.
Soros’s OSI also openly supported Saakashvili and even paid for Georgian student activists to travel to Serbia to learn from veterans the art of non-violently overthrowing a democratically-elected government — a pilgrimage that Saakashvili himself made a year before his succession to power. The Guardian’s Ian Traynor noted:
In the centre of Belgrade, there is a dingy office staffed by computer-literate youngsters who call themselves the Centre for Non-violent Resistance. If you want to know how to beat a regime that controls the mass media, the judges, the courts, the security apparatus and the voting stations, the young Belgrade activists are for hire.
After gaining power, Saakashvili awarded Soros’s former Open Society Georgia Foundation executive director, Alexander Lomaia, a seat in his Cabinet.
The following year, history repeated itself — this time in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. Foreign Affairs reported:
Ukraine had benefited from more than a decade of civil society development, a good deal of it nurtured by donor support from the United States, European governments, the National Endowment for Democracy, and private philanthropists such as George Soros.
Soros’s Ukrainian wing, the International Renaissance Foundation (IRF), reported in October 2004 that it had given $1.2 million to Ukrainian NGOs for “election-related projects.”
Those projects paid dividends during Ukraine’s 2004 presidential run-off election, which pitted incumbent Russophile Viktor Yanukovich against the Western-oriented Victor Yushchenko. When the results showed a slight lead for Yanukovich — contrary to exit polls funded largely by Soros and his Western allies — hundreds of thousands of young adults staged protests, sit-ins, and strikes with the Yushchenko campaign’s blessing. Ukraine’s Supreme Court ordered a re-vote, which Yushchenko then won.
Writing in the Washington Post, Stanford political science professor Michael McFaul — whom President Obama later appointed as ambassador to Russia — defended American governmental and non-governmental interference in Ukraine’s election.
Did Americans meddle in the internal affairs of Ukraine? Yes. The American agents of influence would prefer different language to describe their activities — democratic assistance, democracy promotion, civil society support, etc. — but their work, however labeled, seeks to influence political change in Ukraine.
. . .
In the run-up to Ukraine’s presidential vote this fall, these … organizations concentrated their resources on creating conditions for free and fair elections. … Yet most of these groups believed that a free and fair election would mean victory for Viktor Yushchenko. And they were right.
Less than three months later, the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society (CDCS), an NDI-funded NGO in Kyrgyzstan, helped launch that country’s Tulip Revolution, which — like the Rose and Orange Revolutions — overthrew a democratically-elected president by paralyzing society through mass demonstrations. The head of CDCS, Edil Baisalov, called his stint as an election observer the previous fall in Ukraine “a very formidable experience.
Soros’s OSI provided funding to the leading Kyrgyz opposition newspaper “MSN,” led by American Freedom House project director Mike Stone.
London School of Economics and Political Science graduate Phaik Thien Poh identifies four criteria for Color Revolutions:
- The incumbent leader must be very unpopular and face ‘lame-duck syndrome.’
- The anti-regime forces must be enforced by mass-media and foreign influences.
- The revolution must non-ideological, and champion platitudinal causes like freedom, democracy, and economic development.
- The corrupted government must be perceived as supported by a foreign state, which the people do not want, thereby bolstering the anti-regime forces.
In Romania’s case, Poh’s first criterion rests on shaky ground. Since the previously-mentioned Iliescu, Romania’s presidents have enjoyed Western support. However, NGOs have increasingly attacked the PSD-led Parliament with the same tactics that Soros-supported allies in Georgia and Ukraine attacked their heads of state before overthrowing them. With Soros’s extensive network and his Western-educated, well-funded Romanian repatriates in the country’s media and politics, Poh’s second and third criteria fully apply. On the fourth criterion, the Soros-backed Romanian Left has increasingly tried to tie the PSD to Russia, grasping at — among other straws — the PSD’s support for traditional marriage, a position held by the majority of Romanians.
Poh noted that Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan all avoided Color Revolutions by barring foreign funding for media and politics — Uzbekistan going so far as to outright ban all foreign NGOs like Freedom House.
With the recent history of mass demonstrations overriding democracy, it is little wonder that Romania’s PSD might look at harsh-but-necessary means to avoid becoming the next notch in Soros’s belt.
But despite Soros’s attempts to bring greater transparency, democracy, and left-wing politics to Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, more corruption, poverty, heightened ethnic conflict, and civil war followed their Color Revolutions.
Georgian voters in 2012 decimated Saakashvili’s party after tapes surfaced of prison guards sodomizing prisoners with broom handles, allegedly with his ruling party’s knowledge. Saakashvili left Georgia for Ukraine in 2015 and gave up his citizenship to become governor of Odesa. By 2017, he faced criminal charges in both countries.
In Ukraine, Yanukovych became prime minister in 2006, and won the presidency again in 2010, completely undoing the results of the Orange Revolution. Yushchenko won just five percent of the vote. Ukrainians celebrated the Tenth Anniversary of the Orange Revolution with a reenactment — this time a violent one. The Ukrainian Parliament eventually forced the corrupt Yanukovych out, and a Ukrainian-Russian race war ensued, along with Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Meanwhile, in Kyrgyzstan, corruption, cronyism, and economic stagnation accompanied Tulip Revolution benefactor Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s rule. Bakiyev had to flee to Belarus when his people staged another revolt — here too a violent one.
“It’s always easier to mobilize the public against something than for something,” Soros has said — clearly from experience. But with revolution, the goal, mobilizing the public against the government is all one needs.
Soros’s Romanian Disciples Gain Political Power
“The president of the country calls, and you don’t even answer?” an acquaintance asked Monica Macovei over the phone, on Christmas Day 2004.
An unknown number had obnoxiously harassed her cell while she was trying to spend quality time with her parents and son. But she had no idea it could be the president-elect of Romania, Traian Băsescu — or why he would be calling her. She knew the acquaintance from legal advocacy that she had done in Parliament. The newly-elected president must have got her number from him.
When Băsescu called her again, he asked if she would be his Minister of Justice. Stunned, she needed time to think about it and asked if she could call him back at any time.
“The Minister of Justice can call the President at any time,” he assured her.
Macovei’s mother urged her to politely decline the offer. She spent a lot of time away from her family already. In fact, at that moment, most of her things were in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, where she was working on justice reform with the Council of Europe. Macovei also served as president of a nonprofit in Romania — something else that she would have to give up if she entered government. She needed to discuss it with someone else before deciding.
Macovei graduated fourth in the country, in 1982, from the University of Bucharest Law School. She then worked as a prosecutor both during and after the fall of Romania’s communist regime. After the Iron Curtain fell, she became one of many young Eastern European professionals who benefited from American philanthropy.
In Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism, political scientist Joan Roelofs identifies “leadership training” as one of the main ways in which Western NGOs provided “technical assistance” to post-communist Eastern Europe. She lists the National Forum Foundation, the Pew Economic Freedom Fellows Program, and the Eisenhower Exchange Fellowships as three examples of institutions that educated “future elites” in the 1990s and brought them into international networks.
In 1992, Macovei received a full scholarship to CEU. She graduated two years later, with a Master of Law, and she later joined CEU’s Board of Trustees.
After graduating from CEU, Macovei consulted for several NGOs, including OSI, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Soros-funded defense of Human Rights in Romania — The Helsinki Committee (APADOR-CH), and the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC).
ERRC blogger Adam Weiss sums up Soros’ connection to that organization in his retelling of a time when the philanthropist paid the organization a visit:
Impressing Mr Soros is important; his Open Society Foundations helped set us up and continue to support us. I imagine everyone was told months in advance he was coming. My messiest colleagues probably cleaned their desks. Some people surely spent a few extra minutes picking out their clothes that morning.
In a 1995 interview, Soros gave two simple reasons for his massive funding of foundations in Eastern Europe: “I care about the principles of open society, and I can afford it.”
“I recognize that I am not an organization man,” he said. “But I retain the right to formulate a strategy.”
Soros’ strategy has remained the same since 1984 when he established the first Eastern European foundation in Hungary: locate people who share his vision of an “open society,” and provide them with the means to spread it. Asked what exactly his foundations do, he responded, “It’s impossible to say.”
In each country, I identified a group of people — some leading personalities, others less well known — who shared my belief in an open society and I entrusted them with the task of establishing the priorities.
Macovei’s NGO involvement and reform-minded work attracted attention in the West, which led to speaking opportunities on the Romanian legal system.
In 1996, she criticized her country’s laws to the Brussels Subcommittee on Human Rights for providing broad immunity to officeholders and government officials. She argued that “the lack of criminal investigation of Members of Government and Parliament leads to the population’s mistrust in the political and judicial system.”
In 1997, she received an Eisenhower Exchange Fellowship, meant for mid-career “men and women of outstanding achievement who are expected to assume positions of national influence” after Eisenhower Fellow Manuela Ştefănescu, who worked for APADOR-CH, nominated her.
After completing the Fellowship, Macovei resigned from her position as a prosecutor. In her resignation letter, she cited differences in understanding of the role of the Prosecutor’s Office in a democratic society, a belief that would throw Romania’s politics and social fabric into disarray for more than a decade after she gained power.
She soon went to work full-time for APADOR-CH, then co-directed by OSI president Renate Weber. Weber would later become the longest-serving president of the Romania Soros Council. Macovei, meanwhile, took over APADOR-CH as president in 2001.
Now, faced with her greatest career challenge — yet also her greatest opportunity — she decided to call Ştefănescu for advice.
“Don’t go!” her friend urged. The job of civil society was to hold the government accountable, not to join it. Crossing over would be akin to treason.
Unconvinced, Macovei called another Soros-funded NGO president and close friend, Alina Mungiu-Pippidi.
Mungiu-Pippidi, who sits on the OSF’s European Advisory Board would make a solid candidate for Ideologue-in-Chief of Romania’s Soros society. A political scientist, she has been widely published in English, French, and Romanian, and has lectured frequently at Ivy League universities on Eastern Europe’s transition to a market economy. She contributed early on to the magazine 22, the GDS publication. In 1996, she founded Romania’s premier think tank, the Romanian Academic Society (Societatea Academica din Romania (SAR)), which has received hundreds of thousands in grant dollars in the past decade alone from the Soros-founded and funded CEE Trust.
Mungiu-Pippidi also tried her hand at playwriting. Her greatest hit, “The Evangelists,” presented a pornographic, balkanized retelling of the story of Jesus. In “The Evangelists,” a highly-misogynist Apostle Paul dictates the Gospels to a philosopher and his students, four of whom are named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. At the Last Supper, Paul poisons the students, and when Jesus objects, Paul kills him too. After rising from the dead, Jesus then looks at one of his girlfriends and says, “today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
After most of Romanian society and press criticized the play strongly, but civilly, Mungiu-Pippidi revealed her real intentions behind it. She told the French newspaper Le Monde,
I was expecting a violent reaction, but I would have preferred that my play not reveal the primitivism of our society. We live in a hypocritical society just like in the days of dictator Ceaușescu. At that time, we were all communists, today we are all Orthodox. Our showboat Christianity hides an incredible backwardness.
When Macovei asked Mungiu-Pippidi for her advice on the Ministry of Justice position, unlike Ştefănescu, Mungiu-Pippidi cut her off mid-sentence, and flatly told her to accept the offer. If she didn’t accept, it would make the civil society network look cowardly.
Băsescu’s Truth and Justice coalition reminded many of the Ukrainian Orange Revolution happening at the time. Most Western observers and NGOs viewed his victory as the triumph of Western reform over post-communist corruption.
In National Review, former Romanian defector to the U.S. Ion Mihai Pacepa praised Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and claimed that because of it, Ukrainians were finally free. With Băsescu’s election, Pacepa argued that Romania “for the first time in 60 years–has a government without any Communists in it.”
No one can blame the elation over Băsescu’s election both in Romania and internationally. He had run on a populist, anti-corruption, pro-NATO, pro-U.S. platform. His opposition, the Social Democrats, had helped usher Romania into NATO, but they still had the stench of Iliescu’s ex-communist National Salvation Front on them.
Băsescu was an outsider, and he was looking for outsiders with whom to surround himself. The NGO network that Soros and other American philanthropists had funded provided a great pool from which to choose candidates. Most were Western-trained, Western-connected, and best of all, hadn’t been corrupted by politics — yet.
Empowering Big Brother to Fight Corruption
Although Soros lost around $27 million in his attempt to unseat then-President George W. Bush, he found greater success in the former Eastern bloc: Soros-favored candidates won elections, and where they lost, his well-oiled NGOs overthrew them in the streets.
Meanwhile, his NGOs and trained activists stood ready to fill these vacancies in Eastern European governments.
Macovei provides one of the more prominent examples of how these Soros-aligned activists took power in Eastern Europe, Romania in particular.
In addition to Macovei as Minister of Justice, Băsescu also picked Weber to serve as his constitutional and legislative adviser. Macovei and Weber even rode together to their first day of work in the Romanian capital.
For the new Romanian government, preparing to enter the European Union proved to be the most pressing challenge.
The OSF delegated itself the task of helping candidate countries and the EU assess accession readiness by publishing reports in areas within governments and cultures that they found problematic.
In July 2002, the Romanian magazine Dilema named one of its weekly editions “Trust in Justice.” It published polls by the Soros Foundation — among others — claiming that 90 percent of Romanians believed corruption had either increased or remained the same since the previous election. This helped spur the governing PSD to create the independent National Anti-Corruption Office (PNA).
Dilema‘s founder, Andrei Pleșu, was a Soros-connected philosopher, and later an adviser to Băsescu. Pleșu was also one of the founders of GDS. He also later joined Weber and Levente on the Soros Foundation’s governing council.
The EU Commission’s 2002 Report — which came out four months after the Dilema issue — identified corruption as the primary problem preventing the organization from admitting Romania to the EU. The report noted that “independent observers” concluded, “there had been no noticeable reduction of corruption during the reporting period.” It pointed to just 343 persons convicted of corruption in 2001 — fewer than in 1999.
These supposedly “independent” observers did not seem to consider that there may have been less corruption in 2001 than in 1999.
In 2004, to show that it was making progress, the Romanian government lowered the financial threshold for graft investigation. The EU Commission’s report that year praised the effort but argued that it would likely lead the PNA to focus on petty crime, noting that it had so far only led to 86 prison convictions — most of them minor.
“The PNA should ensure that it remains focused on its core mandate of investigating high-level corruption,” scolded the report. It needed to fry some big fish.
Macovei, meanwhile, stood more than ready to oblige, but early in her mandate, she hit a roadblock. The Romanian Constitutional Court ruled that, because the PNA fell under the Ministry of Justice, it could not investigate members of the Romanian Parliament because of their legislative immunity.
Romania’s pre-Soviet, 19th-century constitution was modeled on the Belgian constitution and provided Western-style limited legal protections for Members of Parliament. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Romania’s new constitution extended complete immunity to members of parliament — even from criminal investigation. The country eventually amended this clause, in 2003, allowing Members of Parliament to be investigated or sued for non-speech-related issues through the General Prosecutor’s Office, attached to its Supreme Court.
To solve the immunity problem and move forward with his corruption investigation Băsescu placed the PNA under the control of the General Prosecutor’s Office, but without giving the General Prosecutor complete control. Macovei, who had continually criticized the PNA, then awarded Freedom House — another Soros-funded NGO — roughly 40,000 Euros to conduct an audit of the agency.
Unsurprisingly, her Freedom House friends found the PNA to be underperforming. The administration then turned the PNA into the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), and Macovei’s Ministry of Justice — rather than Romania’s Superior Council of Magistracy (CSM) — assumed responsibility for both the General Prosecutor and the DNA’s Chief Prosecutor.
As a result, the media and NGOs in Romania managed to successfully smear legislators who objected to the new anti-corruption agency on civil liberty grounds as defending corruption. Macovei removed the unfriendly PNA director and prosecutors and replaced them with those loyal to her and the new administration.
Having gained free rein, Macovei went to work, and high profile indictments quickly rolled in.
The accused included nine judges and prosecutors, eight members of Parliament, and two cabinet ministers. She even indicted President Basescu’s deputy prime minister. The outgoing prime minister, Adrian Năstase, went to prison for misuse of public funds in 2012. That investigation also began under Macovei.
But presenting high-profile scalps to the European Union Commission carried potentially greater rewards than merely helping Romania enter the EU.
In an interview with the website EUPolitixm in May 2006, Macovei hinted at her interest in becoming the first EU commissioner from Romania. Echoing the German press, the Bucharest Daily News reported on September 21, 2006, that, with Romania and Bulgaria’s entry into the EU in 2007, “the college of commissioners will have to be expanded to include two more members.” The reports presented Macovei as a strong candidate for the justice position because of her pursuance of powerful politicians.
To widen the corruption ring, Macovei vastly expanded the concept of “abuse of office.” Rather than relying on voters to hold poor-performing or negligent government officials accountable at the polls, Romania’s new prosecutorial class — handpicked, of course, by Romania’s NGO class and funded by Soros and company — could now send them straight to prison. Although it went into effect after Macovei left office, Romania’s new penal code more than doubled the sentencing for abuse of office to 2 to 7 years, and it even omitted the word “knowingly” where it referred to officials’ committing harmful acts, or neglecting to perform their duties.
The consequences could be grim. Health Minister Eugen Nicolăescu found out on television that the DNA had opened an investigation into him for alleged abuse of office. The investigation cited a renegotiation that had occurred eight years earlier, wherein Romania Lottery had renegotiated a contract with a Greek company for additional slot machines. Investigators argued that the deal ultimately cost the Romanian company — and thus the state — money, and blamed the losses on Nicolăescu and the other two shareholders who approved the renegotiation.
The National Integrity Agency (ANI) was another Macovei special.
This new agency essentially treated all civil servants and their family members as corruption suspects. The ANI required them to declare all their assets and anything that they had sold within the previous year. No such law existed anywhere in the EU — which, ironically, Macovei treated as the gold standard of law and justice. She even bragged that the ANI ended up affecting “about 500,000 people in total.”
“This sounds strange in Germany or France, where such declarations are confidential and just filed with the respective institution,” Macovei acknowledged. “In Romania, this doesn’t work. If in Romania we file it confidentially in an institution, it’s like it does not exist.”
Many of these institutions, however, like banks and car companies, are multinationals based in Western Europe. If local branches regularly destroyed records as she suggests, one must wonder why she didn’t take issue with those companies.
According to published minutes made during public debate on the law obtained by the Society for Justice, Macovei only invited members of NGOs to discuss creating the ANI — excluding the judges and prosecutors who would enforce it and whom the policy would most immediately affect.
She also pushed various “progressive” changes to the penal code through Parliament, such as restricting access to lawyers during hearings and allowing prosecutors to wiretap and surveil without warrants. When Parliament’s committee on justice wanted to discuss her “reforms,” she became so irritated at them for supposedly stalling “progress” that she stormed out of the meeting and slammed the door.
Macovei’s methods angered every sector of government except the friendly executive branch. The conservative newspaper Ziua argued that she was “probably the most spoiled minister Romania has ever had.”
The Hungarian leader in Băsescu’s governing coalition referred to her tactics as “unconstitutional” and “Stalinist.” Even the Soros Foundation expressed concern that some of her proposals could lead to a police state.
Mircea Ciopraga, in the lower house of Parliament, argued that the new measures and proposals harked dangerously back to the days of communism:
People have more pressing concerns regarding the secret services; specifically, greater control over their activities and disclosure of the crimes of the former communist Securitate, whose heirs are, in part, the current secret services.
Romania did not go through a September 11 — nor are there objective chances of that happening. There is no need for a Patriot Act.
But Macovei managed to bypass Parliament through the brand-new Directorate for the Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT). Through an emergency ordinance, the administration authorized the agency to intercept phone conversations, surveil individuals, and access bank accounts without warrants. The measure did not trigger widespread public revolt because of the agency’s limited mandate to handle only national security threats and organized crime.
But in its first meeting after Băsescu’s election, the country’s Supreme Council of National Defense (CSAT) had already declared corruption a matter of national security — something only Parliament had the constitutional authority to do, per Romanian law. This gave both DIICOT and Romania’s domestic intelligence service authorization to place graft suspects in the same category as domestic terror suspects.
This also paved the way for undercover SRI-DNA cooperation — another illegality under Romania’s Law 303/2004, Article 7, which prohibits prosecutors from collaborating in any way with secret service agents. Furthermore, the public knew nothing about CSAT’s decision. It remained secret until January 2017, when the newspaper Evenimentul Zilei obtained a copy of the order.
Macovei often stressed to Western observers that although Romania had good laws, it needed good people in positions to carry out those laws. But even if she had never abused her position, the measures she pushed through — often through emergency executive order without Parliament’s input — set up a system that future Ministers of Justice and prosecutors could easily abuse in the name of fighting corruption.
When the Senate passed a non-binding resolution calling for her resignation for the corruption of justice and interfering with Parliament, NGOs affiliated with the Soros Open Network rallied to her defense. They knew they could rely on the EU to side with them in any domestic, political dispute because they controlled nearly exclusive access to the EU’s ear. Although the EU Commission ultimately decided not to intervene, the Deputy Speaker of the German Bundestag warned that Macovei’s removal could trigger EU punitive safeguards toward Romania for abandoning reform efforts.
The Western European press, meanwhile, lavished Macovei with endless praise for her gallant effort to bring Romania out of the Dark Ages.
According to the German Sonntagszeitung, she represented “the other, decent Romania.” Her numerous awards included 2008 European Woman of the Year from the International Association for the Promotion of Women of Europe.
The Senate eventually impeached Băsescu in 2007, and Macovei was soon replaced along with other Băsescu loyalists. Her political career, however, did not end. She won a seat in the European Parliament in 2009.
When confronted in a 2011 interview on Romanian public television about the DNA prosecutors’ abysmal non-conviction rates, Macovei blamed it on corrupt judges’ failing to do their jobs.
“There are some judges that issue arrest warrants,” she said. “Good for them! We see there are some judges that convict. Good for them!” But delaying convictions remained a serious criticism of the biannual European Commission Evaluation Reports. “That’s why we entered the European Union, to play by rules — by their rules!”
“Not by our rules?” asked the interviewer.
Inspiring Dependency through Democracy Development
In June 2017, President Donald Trump committed to upholding Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), during a Rose Garden press conference with President Johannis. Trump had declined to commit a month earlier at the NATO Summit. His straightforward answer in response to a question by reporter Ramona Avramescu reassured Europeans who depend on the American taxpayer for their defense.
“In under a minute,” led Buzzfeed, “a modest reporter from Romania managed to do what the leaders of 27 countries and President Donald Trump’s own staff couldn’t.”
But mutual defense in NATO was not the only commitment that the Romanian reporters sought to secure from Trump that day.
Johannis called next on reporter Cristian Pantazi. Pantazi reminded Trump of his earlier mention of the anti-corruption fight in Romania — which Trump must have made in private. “Is your administration going to support the anti-corruption fight in Romania, and how can you do it?”
But what elected official would not wish well to an ally’s fighting corruption — or improving its infrastructure — or building better schools?
“We support very strongly Romania,” Trump answered. “And therefore, obviously, we do support that fight.”
But that wasn’t quite strong enough. Another reporter quickly took the microphone and asked Trump if he felt corruption was a problem for the American investor. “We still have corruption despite this anti-corruption fight.”
Their implication rang all too obvious. Trump should help Johannis get rid of all the corrupt Romanian politicians if he cares about American investors — that’s just common-sense imperialism.
Writing for a news source from Johannis’s hometown, Pantazi later declared victory.
Johannis obtained from Trump and the American administration total support for the anticorruption fight … The blow to the antireform party in Romania is terrible. Trump destroyed their lie.
While this may seem like odd behavior for journalists, Pantazi and his colleagues were simply asking Trump to continue the policy of his presidential predecessors.
For over a decade in Romania, the U.S. State Department coordinated with NGOs funded by Soros in a pseudo-anticorruption fight that propped up a media, academic, and law enforcement elite, which often ignored niceties like democracy, constitutionalism, and human rights.
As previously mentioned, Clinton’s State Department admittedly treated Soros’s OSF like an allied government in Eastern European affairs.
During the Bush administration, Băsescu sought to emulate and curry favor with the American administration; meanwhile, his Soros-protégé Minister of Justice Macovei sought to do the same with the European Union.
Although Soros opposed Bush, in a National Public Radio interview in 2005 he said he was “thrilled to see the president embrace the spreading of democracy.” He differed with the president in strategy, not goals.
I’m worried about it because I think he’s going about it the wrong way. It has to be the citizens who are standing up for certain principles, and then I feel good about helping them. That’s a somewhat different approach than … imposing democracy by military means.
When asked about the millions of dollars his societies receive from the State Department, he replied, “Yes… the Open Society Foundation has the same objectives as the State Department.”
But who would oppose promoting democracy? That would be as reactionary and backward-thinking as opposing an anti-corruption fight.
Democracy promotion, like colonialism, can provide great benefits — but usually, only to the privileged intelligentsia.
The problem lies in that for Soros promoting his vision of an open society transcends democracy. Once his organizations established themselves they actively opposed the right of people to democratically elect leaders if those leaders did not share their — and by extension — his vision.
For Soros, communism failed because it attempted to create a “universal closed society,” and its downfall created the opportunity to create a “universal open society.” Democracy too becomes problematic if most voters choose a closed, non-pluralistic society.
For instance, Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus opposed Soros’s creation of a university in Prague, because he understood the inevitable, universalist propaganda that would flow out of such an institution.
“He believes in the pursuit of self-interest,” Soros said of Klaus. “Accordingly, he finds my concept of an open society — which requires people to make sacrifices for the common good — objectionable.”
In my view, Klaus embodies the worst of the Western democracies, just as the pre-revolutionary Czech regime represented the worst of communism. I am opposed to both extremes.
Striking that fine balance, former communist prosecutor Macovei’s controversial crusade against high-level corruption in Romania showed little regard to constitutional limits and no regard for checks and balances.
After the Senate impeached Băsescu in 2007, Macovei left behind newly-created, independent law enforcement agencies — most notably, the DNA, and a new class of magistrates that soon behaved as if they answered directly to Brussels and the American embassy.
When parliament attempted to check powers that Băsescu’s Cabinet had given law enforcement agencies through emergency ordinances, the U.S. embassy joined NGOs in lobbying Parliament to back down. After Ambassador Nicholas Taubman, a Bush political appointee, harshly criticized a law enforcement bill being debated in the Romanian Parliament, one legislator accused Taubman of nepotism. He noted that Romania’s strict anti-corruption laws treat political appointments in themselves as acts of corruption.
It soon became common practice for Romanian magistrates, and even politicians, to tattle on their political opponents to American diplomats. The embassy would carefully stress America’s policy of strict neutrality before releasing veiled statements, affirming support toward its favored policies, and by extension, its pet politicians. Most voters cared little about the opinions of foreign diplomats or foreign-funded non-profits. The statements alerted the EU, however, which held the purse strings.
For example, during Romania’s interim presidency, DNA Chief Prosecutor Daniel Morar paid Ambassador Taubman a visit. The DNA was having difficulty finding evidence against Members of Parliament for corruption.
“Now that they know they can be heard, they’re not talking anymore,” Morar complained. Worse, parliament wanted to place parameters around the agency’s interception operations.
Morar made sure to thank the ambassador for the $90,000 in non-wiretapping recording devices that the U.S. Embassy had provided the DNA and explained why he and Prosecutor General Laura Codruta Kovesi refused to appear before a parliamentary commission on wiretapping.
“We are a separate power — the judiciary cannot be questioned by parliament.” He also complained to Taubman that the new Minister of Justice planned to remove a DNA deputy prosecutor for perceived poor performance, ignoring that Macovei had replaced prosecutors as if initiating regime change.
He even asked the embassy “to tell politicians openly to follow and respect commitments, and to stress to them that if they establish an agency to fight corruption, let it do its job.”
Taubman offered to help “without interfering in the laws of Romania.” He then released a press statement, emphasizing the embassy’s support for the DNA, which he felt “helped focus the attention of other embassies, as well as the media,” to the issue.
The statement prompted a host of diplomats, reporters, and even an EU Commission delegation to attend the Superior Council of Magistracy’s (CSM) hearing on the deputy prosecutor’s potential removal. When the new Minister of Justice expressed lawmakers’ objections to Taubman, including that the U.S. was treating Romania like Kosovo, the Embassy claimed that it “was fulfilling its legitimate diplomatic role.”
In another meeting with Taubman, Kovesi expressed concern about Parliamentary amendments to the country’s Criminal Code, which the interpreter labeled “criminal amendments.” The Embassy later bragged in a wire that with the help of the British Embassy, it managed to pressure parliament to bend to its will on this particular criminal code issue.
In 2010, when the Romanian Constitutional Court struck down certain provisions of Macovei’s law that forced all government employees and elected officials to publicly list their assets, the Romanian Senate debated new legislation to remedy it. American Ambassador Mark Gitenstein — nominated by then-President Barack Obama — publicly pressured the Senate to accept President Băsescu’s position on the bill.
In a similar vein, in 2011, both Gitenstein and Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice Lanny Breuer criticized an investigation into Morar. The investigation stemmed from Morar’s overstepping his position by harshly criticizing the Romanian Supreme Court’s decisions on live television. Gitenstein and Breuer’s public defense of Morar stemmed from little more than that they knew him as a nice guy, they thought he had done a great job, and he shared their values.
Ambassador Gitenstein also urged Băsescu to extend the terms of both Morar and Kovesi. Gitenstein claimed he didn’t know the rules too well but urged that the two be reappointed, even if Romania needed to change its laws to do so. Băsescu had already extended their terms once, and Romanian law limited both to two terms.
The Romanian president did the best he could. He moved Kovesi over to Morar’s position.
During an interview, Gitenstein expressed plans to urge the Minister of Justice to propose moving Morar, or someone like him, into Kovesi’s position.
After more criticism of the American ambassador’s involvement in Romania’s internal affairs, Macovei, now an EU MP, strongly defended Gitenstein’s involvement.
The American ambassador, or other ambassadors, have every right to make these kind of comments, because the USA — the State Department — has financed DIICOT, as well as the DNA, in other words the specialized agencies on organized crime and corruption. Of course, they’re interested in what happens to their investment, as far as efficiency.
Gitenstein, for his part, said that he spoke “sporadically” with Macovei, and consulted with her on the Romanian justice system: “I respect her opinions a lot, and so does the U.S. government. She visited the United States, both during her term as Minister of Justice, and afterward, and she’s very respected in the U.S.”
Meddling in Foreign Elections? Isn’t That What Russia Allegedly Does?
Wikileaks revealed that another individual with whom Ambassador Gitenstein spoke sporadically was John Podesta, the founder of the left-wing think tank Center for American Progress (CAP).
At one point, Gitenstein forwarded Podesta information about a venture capitalist who was “very interested in building a nonpartisan [Center for American Progress] kind of org” in Romania, “built around reform of the state.”
On July 25, 2012, a few days before Romanians went to the polls to vote for Băsescu’s impeachment (Round Two), an Embassy official alerted Gitenstein to an article that Podesta and Matt Browne had written for CAP, entitled, “Protecting Romanian Democracy: The Current Political Crisis is not about a Return to Tyranny.”
The Washington Post and other international commentators, among them The Economist, have been quick to blame Romania’s new Prime Minister Victor Ponta for the country’s current political crisis, which led to the impeachment of Romanian President Traian Băsescu. Yet claims that Prime Minister Ponta has undermined democracy and threatened the nation’s economic stability are not simply mistaken, they are also willfully misleading.
Podesta and Browne claimed a closer examination of Băsescu’s record suggesting that Ponta was “defending democracy, not subverting it.” They praised Ponta for his “social and economic reforms,” which would attract investment and spur growth while raising public sector salaries and pensions.
Public opinion polls show that 80 percent of the people oppose President Băsescu. Yet in its opinion on the impeachment, the Court threw him a lifeline. Parliament had hoped to revise one of President Băsescu’s laws, which mandated that in popular referendums an absolute majority of eligible voters must support the impeachment for it to be valid. Instead, parliament argued, a simple majority of those voting should suffice. Here, the Court ruled against the parliament. President Băsescu’s future will now be determined by the size of voter turnout.
We hope and suspect that the will and interests of the Romanian people will triumph.
Gitenstein was not impressed.
“John: this is very unhelpful,” he wrote, noting that it ran “directly contrary” to the U.S. Government’s position, approved by the State Department (S), Office of the Vice President (OVP), and the National Security Council (NSC).
“Why wouldn’t u talk w/ me before doing this!!??” Gitenstein demanded.
Gitenstein’s email indicates that the Obama-era U.S. government, all the way up to Vice President Joe Biden, had staked a pro-Băsescu policy toward Romania.
Eastern European history professor Oliver Schmitt confirms as much. In the leftist German newspaper Die Zeit, Schmitt lamented the “devastating” reaction of leading, European social democrats who backed their fellow social democrat Ponta:
Had the U.S. not supported the [Romanian anti-corruption organization] — the authorities, and the civil society forces supporting them would have been inferior to the oligarchs. And so, the Romanian fight for the rule of law would have nearly failed due to ignorance and party thinking of European elites.
Whether the 2012 Romanian impeachment referendum presented Romanian voters with a choice between bureaucratic elites and corrupt, domestic oligarchs is debatable. That the Obama administration’s State Department undiplomatically — and arguably illegally — took sides in a foreign country’s internal vote on presidential impeachment is not.
Băsescu initially told his supporters to vote against what he called the “coup d’état” against him. With polls showing an inevitable thrashing, though, he changed his tune right before the referendum, citing concerns of possible voter fraud. Even if those who voted against him did not reach the 50 percent threshold, an electoral rejection would almost certainly damage his international credibility. In the end, 87.5 percent voted to impeach him, but the 46.2 percent voter turnout allowed him to remain in office.
Romania’s 2014 Elections
A key tenet of George Soros’s “open society” ideology involves subordinating the nation-state to international institutions. He holds a deep appreciation for how the European Union successfully limited its member states’ sovereignty at a pace with which states felt comfortable. Most of Eastern Europe’s joining the EU, which Soros helped facilitate with his $1.6 billion to the region, marked a major step toward eliminating national sovereignty on the entire continent.
On face value, the term open society sounds quite benign. Openness has long been a hallmark of the Western, liberal tradition. But as Princeton University professor Anna Stilz shows in Liberal Loyalty: Freedom, Obligation, and the State, the Western, liberal tradition also includes a basic loyalty to one’s nation-state. It must be “a democratic state that guarantees certain basic rights [emphasis in the original],” but without such loyalty, the maintenance of law and order becomes futile.
Soros’s ideal society, however, as he described it in his 1997 essay “The Capitalist Threat,” is markedly anti-liberal in that it demands loyalty to the “abstract” concept of the open society itself.
People must be free to think and act, subject only to limits imposed by the common interests. Where the limits are must also be determined by trial and error.
One must wonder how many innocent people would need their freedom to think and act revoked before society determines those limits. For over a decade, in the common interest of vanquishing corruption, Romania tried and erred, and, arguably, has yet to find those limits.
During the 2014 European Parliamentary (EP) elections, Soros’s Open Society Initiative for Europe (OSIFE) gave roughly $5.7 million to organizations to oppose candidates that favored nation-state sovereignty over a more centralized European Union. But, of course, OSIFE couched it in terms of opposing “hate speech” and amplifying the demands of the marginalized.
The following include some of the projects, which included Romania.
OSIFE gave $91,500 to FSD for an anti-hate speech campaign for both the EP elections and Romania’s presidential election that November. FSD was to use the money to apply “a combination of naming and shaming and satire” to counter public discourse that it believed harmed minorities and women. It gave FSD another $41,250 to mobilize Romanians migrants living abroad to dilute the nativist vote in those countries.
OSIFE also gave $17,057 to APADOR-CH, which EU MP Macovei formerly led, “to develop sanctioning mechanisms of extremist political messages and debates.”
To boost youth turnout throughout the EU, OSIFE gave $32,000 to the European Students’ Forum (AEGEE) and $237,000 to the European Youth Forum to fund the League of Young Voters (LYV)’s get-out-the-vote projects.
Buying media represented another method that OSIFE used in the 2014 elections. It gave $130,992 to the online news publication EUobserver for January through May 2014, to point out “how open society values are under stress in the run-up to the EP elections.”
Some of the articles that Soros got for his money on Romania included: “EP Candidate Runs on Anti-Gay Ticket,” “Anti-Roma Views Rampant across all Romanian Political Parties,” “EU Candidates Exploit EU Election for Presidential Race,” and “Romanian Elite’s Relatives and Friends Run as MEP’s.”
Each article carried the same message. A class of un-hip, corrupt, homosexual-hating, xenophobic, misogynistic elites ran the country. No political party cared for true, European integration; it remained stuck in the era of nation-states, and politicians only used the EP elections as a stomping ground for the next local election. Like clockwork, each article gave statements from the heads of NGOs funded by OSF directly, or indirectly, through CEE Trust.
“Apathy is set to be the biggest winner,” predicted one EUobserver article shortly before the EP election, “…as no more than 30 percent of Romanians intend to vote next Sunday.”
Romanians voted at 32.4 percent — awful — if the entire EU had not averaged only ten points better. Soros might consider firing LYV and AEGEE, as it appears apathy won everywhere in Europe, in 2014.
EUobserver appeared to do such a good job, however, that OISFE gave it a $29,000 bonus for June to write 32 more articles to analyze the EP election results, and whether populist “anti-immigrant parties manage to form a coherent political group in the European Parliament.”
Always the adept investor, Soros even kept a naughty and nice list of his EP politicians entitled “Reliable allies in the European Parliament (2014–2019).”
Among the Romanian Members, he described Renate Weber, who also served as one of the three members of Soros’s Foundation for an Open Society (FSD) council, as a “resolute Open Society promoter.” Soros described Cristian Dan Preda as “timidly progressive” and Macovei as “resolutely progressive.” Macovei qualified as an “unquestionable ally of Open Society values,” who “does not hesitate to go against her group’s instructions,” but “can sometimes be described as a loose cannon with her own, uncompromising set of priorities.”
In Soros on Soros, the billionaire explained that his foundations often end up partisan to whichever party’s ideology more closely aligns with the “open society.” Asked about accusations that he meddles in countries’ internal affairs, he replied: “Of course, what I do could be called meddling, because I want to promote an open society. An open society transcends national sovereignty.”
Romania’s 2014 presidential election, however, presented quite the bleak outlook for Romanian “Sorosists,” as the billionaire’s Romanian detractors call them.
As Băsescu’s second term drew to a close, NGOs simply treated the DNA as its political party because they lacked a clear, pro-open society faction to support.
Under Chief Prosecutor Kovesi, the agency intensified the purge that Macovei began in 2005. Kovesi opened three times the cases within 17 months of taking over than in the previous three years. The Economist reported that “in 2014 the DNA secured convictions of 1,138 people, including 24 mayors, five members of parliament, two ex-ministers and a former prime minister.”
The DNA’s effect on corruption in Romania resembled unleashing a firehose in a five-year-old’s face whose sleeve had caught fire. The blast put out most of the flame, but permanently blinded the child in the process.
A report by the London-based Henry Jackson Society entitled “Fighting Corruption with Con Tricks” found that the DNA had systematically abused its power and largely reverted to tactics used by communist-era secret services, including Romania’s feared Securitate.
Much of the DNA’s failure to justly tackle corruption comes from poor accountability, stemming from perverse incentives.
When the agency was founded in 2002, few independent anti-corruption agencies in the world enjoyed both investigative and prosecutorial power. The DNA also lacks Parliamentary oversight, unlike Australia’s New South Wales anti-corruption agency. Such an accountability mechanism, however, would not have passed EU scrutiny because, thanks to the FSD and other Soros-funded NGOs, the EU considered the Romanian Parliament Members most in need of investigating for corruption.
When then-FBI Director Robert Mueller visited Romania, he commented that “to the extent Romania was seen by the U.S. and its other allies as tackling corruption, putting corrupt officials behind bars, its image would improve.”
The European Commission likewise places enormous emphasis on the number of high-level indictments rather than the quality and pleasing the Commission holds the promise of the country’s future accession to the border-free Schengen area.
Kovesi, meanwhile, in brilliant, Machiavellian fashion, learned to treat the EU and U.S. Embassy as her boss’s supervisors. This, in turn, rendered her untouchable and internationally rewarded.
From France, she received the National Order of Merit and the National Order of the Legion of Honor. Sweden decorated her with the Royal Order of the Polar Star, and in 2014, she was among the first Romanian recipients of the U.S. State Department’s International Women of Courage Award.
In August 2014, a delegation from the U.S. Embassy, led by Charge d’Affaires Dean Thompson paid a “courtesy visit” to the head of the CSM, which oversees prosecutors and judges in Romania. The topic of discussion, according to CSM officials, included the effects that the results of the upcoming election could have on the Romanian justice system.
Vice President Joe Biden visited Romania shortly before campaign season began; and in a speech to NGOs, he profusely praised the DNA and warned that “corruption can represent a clear and present danger, not only to a nation’s economy but to its very national security.”
The Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs observed that he mentioned NATO’s Article 5 “almost as an afterthought.” Biden stressed, “the conditionality of NATO’s security umbrella as based on members’ shared values and equated the country’s anti-corruption efforts with the defense of national sovereignty.” The implied subtilty was unmistakable. The U.S.’s commitment to NATO is “ironclad,” but if the Romanian Parliament weakened its independent anticorruption agency, the U.S. could justifiably leave the country to the Russians’ mercy — a constant Romanian fear since the fall of communism.
The American Embassy’s unusual relationship with the Romanian justice system surfaced again after the 2014 election. When Romania’s Constitutional Court ruled articles in the new penal code unconstitutional because they did not place time limits on probation and bail, Thompson met with Minister of Justice Robert Cazanciuc to discuss the issue.
Cazanciuc had on his person as they spoke an emergency ordinance drawn up to preempt the ruling. A few days earlier, Kovesi had rushed Cazanciuc a letter, asking him to submit such an ordinance before the ruling took effect. The day after Thompson’s visit, the government passed it with the modifications that Kovesi had requested.
The Three Senators
A month after Biden’s visit, Senators John McCain (R-Arizona), Chris Murphey (D-Connecticut), and Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) also visited the country where they promptly met with three individuals: the president, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Kovesi.
The three gave an interview to the newspaper Gândul.
Murphy noted that “the idea that parliaments could protect any one of its [sic] members from prosecution is completely foreign to us in the United States.”
But this owes simply to the difference between English Common Law and Revolutionary French law, on which most European countries based their constitutions.
“This discussion about continuing to allow the parliament to protect itself by voting on its own immunity is just a debate that would frankly be laughable in the United States,” Murphey continued.
Although this is true, a permanent, independent Special Counsel, more powerful than the Attorney General, and beholden to foreign powers would be even more laughable in the U.S.
McCain took his praise of Kovesi even further.
The person who is in charge of anticorruption — I believe that she is a genuine hero. And obviously, if the parliament acted in a way that would restrict her activities — and take steps backwards — that has to affect our relations.
But what does Romania’s internal policing of issues that do not affect American citizens have to do with American-Romanian relations?
A speech that McCain gave on the Senate floor suggests that he does not realize the U.S. is a foreign power to Eastern Europe.
He opposed President Obama’s political appointee Colleen Bell to Hungary because she was unqualified to deal with “neo-fascist” Prime Minister Viktor Orban. He noted that Orban considered civil society organizations’ receiving funding from abroad as agents of foreign powers in need of monitoring.
We’re talking about the National Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House and others. [Orban] calls them [sic]: “we’re not dealing with civil society members, but paid political activists, who are trying to help foreign interests here.” Amazing!
Senator Johnson observed how Putin’s “oil and gas reserves and Europe’s dependence on them” are “what really give Vladimir Putin power.”
We’ve been very pleased here in Romania. Your special prosecutor for anticorruption — we met her last night — very impressed — we want to do everything we can to support her efforts here because that is really what’s necessary. We’ve got to stamp out corruption throughout European countries — so that you can attract the kind of investment — so that you can become more independent of Russia’s oil and gas reserves.
Kovesi had certainly done her part in that good fight.
In 2006, then-FBI Director Mueller visited Romania, where he praised then-Minister of Justice Macovei for her anti-corruption efforts. His comments marked a major public relations victory for her because her tactics had recently fallen under intense parliamentary scrutiny.
Mueller also advised then-33-year-old Kovesi — recently appointed at Macovei’s behest — that “the capability to intercept phone calls and the legal ability to use them in court” represented “an essential tool” in fighting corruption.
Like the senators suggested in their interview, the financial support that the U.S. State Department accords to anti-corruption efforts in Romania and other Eastern European countries does not stem from philanthropic generosity. When the Christian Science Monitor dug under the surface, it found that the policy fits tightly into the broader ongoing power struggle in the region between the U.S. and Russia. U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Andrew Schapiro emphasized the geopolitical aspect of the aid:
There is a greater recognition that these issues of good governance, transparency, and rule of law are not just issues about fairness. They are not just issues of economics. They are also issues of security.
In Romania, American direct aid wound down when the country entered the EU. Concerned though that Russia would use Romanian oligarchs to gain a foothold in the economy and turn back the country’s anti-corruption fight, then-Ambassador Taubman stressed the need for the U.S. government to continue to support anti-corruption efforts. He suggested it do so by placing “small grants with USG cost-sharing into the hands of grassroots civil society builders,” or NGOs.
But any hope that Macovei’s crackdown on corruption, meant to placate the EU, might curb Russian oligarchs’ forays into the country failed spectacularly.
Romania’s intelligence service, the SRI, found that Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska planned to monopolize the country’s aluminum industry when three government-owned aluminum producers were set to privatize. Deripaska failed, but the suspicion led the SRI to wiretap Russian billionaire Vitaly Maschitskiy and his associate, Valery Krasner.
Krasner previously worked as a senior executive with Marc Rich Investment. In 1983, the U.S. sentenced Rich on 65 criminal counts, which included buying oil from Iran while it held U.S. hostages. President Clinton controversially pardoned Rich on his last day in office, sparing the billionaire a lifetime prison sentence.
Krasner’s scruples, however, surpassed what even Rich’s outfit would tolerate. After only working for the firm for two years, the Marc Rich Group sued him for millions of dollars in damages for fraud.
Maschitskiy had made his fortune largely in oil, gas, and timber, benefitting immensely from Russia’s post-communist privatization. Shortly after he and Krasner met, they set their sights on the Romanian aluminum industry. The Romanian government, anxious to qualify for World Bank funding under its Private Sector Adjustment Loan Agreement, was highly susceptible to underselling its company, ALRO, the largest producer of aluminum primary products in Eastern Europe.
A London court case revealed that, to hide their Russian roots, the Russian businessmen allowed the U.S.-based Marco International Corp (MIC) — which Rich co-founded — to negotiate the deal with the Romanian government. They called it “Project Vostok,” or the “Eastern Project.” Through their network of consultants, they lobbied Romanian government officials, investment banks advising the Romanian government, and the World Bank to both sweeten and speed up the deal. Their strategy paid handsome dividends.
MIC created a British shadow company, Marco Acquisitions, and acquired control of the energy supplier Conef, which already held part ownership of ALRO and Alprom SA, a producer of finished aluminum products. A short while later, Maschitskiy’s company acquired the majority of shares in both. ALRO then bought a majority stake in Alum Tulcea, Romania’s only aluminum refinery.
“So, I started investing there and gradually acquired control over Romania’s whole aluminum industry,” bragged Maschitskiy to Interfax in 2014.
Maschitskiy’s 99.97 percent ownership of Conef also provided the state-owned Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom prime access to Romania’s energy market.
The SRI suspected Maschitskiy of using ALRO as leverage to obtain long-term contracts at below-market energy prices to then sell the excess electricity on the open market, so it placed him and his associate under surveillance.
Maschitskiy, Krasner, and Marian Năstase, president of Marco Group’s Romanian subsidiary, used code names to discuss their plans. The SRI deciphered that “the Captain” referred to Băsescu, “Trump” referred to millionaire businessman Dorin Cocoş, “Little Trump” referred to Cocoş’s wife and Băsescu’s Chief of Staff Elena Udrea, and “the Pilot” referred to Minister of Economy and Commerce Codruţ Şereş.
Maschitskiy and Krasner’s phone conversations suggested that they funneled a “bribe through “Trump” to convince “the Captain” to approve a cheap energy deal. Băsescu then sent an urgent message to “the Pilot,” or Şereş, to solve the problem, “not just in the interest of the Government, but in the interest of the people.”
The deal allowed ALRO to purchase energy directly from Romania’s hydroelectric plant at half the normal price, providing it a major advantage over competitors.
In an interview in February 2007, Şereş wondered if anyone had informed the president of the €4 million ($5 million in 2005 dollars) given to one of the president’s advisers to secure the deal.
Băsescu, for his part, had no love for Gazprom. He once accused the Russian giant of “being more efficient than the Red Army in making Europe dependent on Russian resources.” But he defended his decision to instruct Şereş to approve ALRO’s request because ALRO officials told him that they only received around 75 percent of the energy needed for the year and had to pay bribes to get the rest. By approving the request, he was simply acting in the nation’s interest — helping a large employer get its product to market.
Based on the previous incriminating phone conversations, prosecutor Ciprian Nastasiu opened a new case specific to ALRO. He received a one-month warrant, on June 2, 2007, from Romania’s Supreme Court to intercept the Russians’ conversations and those of multiple actors close to Băsescu. When he notified the SRI, the agency refused to carry out the order. When he informed the Supreme Court of the situation, on July 2, the Justices promptly issued a warrant extension. The following day, however, Nastasiu was informed that he had been taken off the case and demoted to a post on the other side of the country.
Angela Ciurea, the next prosecutor to take the case, also probed too close to the palace. After she placed top government officials under surveillance, Kovesi called her into her office. Livid, Kovesi demanded to know why Ciurea hadn’t informed her before obtaining a warrant for those individuals, one of whom was a close friend of Kovesi’s.
Ciurea too soon found herself demoted and bullied into resigning shortly thereafter. Three years later, the Supreme Court granted her appeal and deemed her demotion without cause. She had already vowed, however, never again to work for the Romanian government
The DIICOT deputy director who took the case after Ciurea found the government slightly more cooperative. A few months later, however, he went into early retirement at age 56 — an act that required the president’s signature.
Kovesi finally moved her assistant over to DIICOT to handle the matter. He closed the case, in January 2010, less than two months after Băsescu narrowly won reelection.
In April 2007, Gazprom secured long-term access to Romanian gas shipping facilities by signing supply contracts with companies Romgaz, Transgaz, and Conef. The Conef contract alone provided for selling the country up to 42 billion cubic meters of gas through 2030 at a price classified as a “commercial secret.”
In 2011, the newspaper Cotidianul reported that ALRO had enjoyed a 230 percent profit increase over the previous year. It also paid a third what the average citizen paid per megawatt-hour for electricity.
In 2014, after safely retiring, DIICOT prosecutor Eugen Iacobescu claimed the ALRO case contained a mistake. Ten million Euros had been paid in bribes, not €4 million.
A True, Pro-Open Society Alternative
As the 2014 presidential election drew near, the NGO-backed, anticorruption faction in Romania still had no preferred candidate. When Macovei’s party merged with the National Liberals (PNL) to present a united front against Social Democrat (PSD) Prime Minister Ponta, Macovei had had enough.
The previous year, she had noted the anti-Băsescu alliance (which included the PNL) held 70 percent of Parliament. If it won the presidency, she claimed, “Romania will not look like a European democracy, but an Asian dictatorship.” Romanians needed a candidate who stood for true reform. They needed her.
Accusing all the parties of refusing to tackle corruption, she ran for president as an independent.
Because Soros’s FSD could not legally endorse a candidate for president, it put the billionaire’s donation to good use by attacking candidates who preyed on “the direct fears and prejudices in the subconscious of a silent majority.”
After a surrogate for Ponta criticized Klaus Johannis’s (PNL) not having children — an attack that Ponta disavowed — FSD accused him of displaying an “obvious” element of discrimination toward Johannis and inciting hatred for frequently posing with his family and insisting on the importance of his children in his life.
FSD attacked another campaign for describing its candidate Elena Udrea as “good” for Romania, under the slogan “beautiful Romania.” FSD interpreted “good” as a sexual reference and claimed the “sexist” slogans nearly canceled the “joyous novelty” of having two women presidential candidates.
Maybe Mrs. Udrea really is beautiful. But her Romania, in which she wishes to become president as a self-defined sexual object isn’t at all beautiful. It’s actually ugly because it’s uncouth, it’s aggressive, it’s uneducated, it’s mean, it’s masculinized in a bad sense, in which women are allowed to be good or stay in their place [emphasis in original].
Macovei easily gathered 332.241 signatures to make the ballot but failed to even double that in votes. She finished fifth in the first round behind Udrea, with 4.5 percent. She begrudgingly threw her support to Johannis, who faced Ponta in the run-off.
Taking advantage of a crisis
Romania did not yet allow absentee voting; which forced hundreds of thousands living abroad to drive long distances to the nearest polling place and wait in line for hours. A lack of booths and ballots aggravated the situation, causing tens of thousands to be turned away when polls closed. At the Paris Embassy, officials had to call in the French police to throw out their own people.
In Romania, protesters demanded easier ballot access for the diaspora and called on the Minister of Foreign Affairs to step down — which he promptly did.
That did not satisfy the revolutionary element though. The weekend before the election, tens of thousands demanded the Ponta government resign, claiming it sought to suppress the votes of students and the diaspora. Chants of “DNA” rang out, as thousands expressed their hope that the DNA would round up all the Social Democrats, put them in jail, and shut down media outlets favorable to them. This radical element drove even some of the original organizers away. Protesters compared Ponta to Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, castigated the PSD as “the Red Plague,” and pretentiously compared themselves to the freedom fighters of ‘89.
Writing for Open Democracy though, Claudia Ciobanu correctly observed that the two candidates “may not be as different as many Romanians imagine today.”
Not long ago Ponta and Iohannis were political allies sharing the common purpose of getting rid of Traian Basescu. Their two parties, the Social-Democrats and the Liberals, formed an alliance in 2011, which had as a goal to bring to power Ponta as president and Iohannis as prime minister.
Many of the protesters were veterans of anti-Rosia Montana and anti-fracking environmentalist protests that largely defined Romania internationally from 2006 to 2013. Their groups had received generous funding from Soros and other deep-pocketed environmentalists in the U.S. and Western Europe.
One of the radical groups was Uniți Salvăm (United We Save), whose leader Claudiu Crăciun, a political science professor, compared the movement to Occupy Wall Street in the U.S. He told the European Parliament that he was in contact with groups in Hungary and other countries who wanted to bring a “democratic spring” to Eastern Europe, similar to the deadly Arab Spring that rocked the Middle East.
These seasoned activists considered Ponta a traitor. Many had helped his leftist government gain power because he had opposed the mining and fracking operations. After educating himself on the issues though, Ponta reversed his position on both.
After Johannis won the run-off, Macovei expressed cautious optimism.
I have some worries deep inside, but I don’t want to discourage him or anyone else. I just wish him to be strong and not to listen to those in the parties.
Columnist Dan Tapalaga, a former Freedom House scholar, who served as an advisor and spokesman to Macovei when she was Minister of Justice, praised the outpouring of support for “key institutions” like the DNA and the Orwellian National Integrity Agency (ANI) that Macovei pushed through in the mid-2000s. “No politician will ever have the courage to touch them after the wave of protests in the country where the defense of justice was shouted loud and clear.”
After the election, Ponta, who still held political aspirations, pushed back against the notion that he regarded the DNA unfavorably. He reminded the Economist that he had proposed Kovesi to lead it in the first place.
Ponta’s base may have despised the DNA, but his party did not have enough moguls that the agency had not yet locked up to face down the U.S. State Department, the European Commission, and Soros-funded NGOs and their media allies.
The End Game: Striking a Blow against Democracy
After the Colectiv tragedy and Ponta’s resignation as prime minister, Romanian businessman and former tennis champion, Ion Ţiriac, mentioned that many abroad wondered how 30,000 protesters could take down his country’s government.
Look, we’re not doing that bad. In the last three years, in all of Europe, no one’s had our economic growth. … People are asking me, “Ţiriac, what’s going on in your country?”
Ponta and his administration resigned at the expressed demand of less than half a percent of Romania’s population on November 4, 2015, five days after the nightclub fire. The spontaneity of the massive demonstrations by tens of thousands of mostly young adults pleased many Western observers — impressed that a typically apolitical demographic cared so intensely about ridding its country of corruption.
The morning after the resignations, Johannis announced that he would invite a group of representatives from the street protests to the president’s Cotroceni Palace the following day.
His administration chose 20 individuals out of 5,520, who requested via email to meet. Johannis showed the same, if not greater, deference to these representatives’ requests that he did to Parliament’s. He invited them to form new political parties and even promised to meet the protesters in the streets.
Although some in parliament supported snap parliamentary elections to decide the new prime minister, most in the ruling party wanted one of their own to replace Ponta. But the resignation had not appeased most of the demonstrators, who railed against the entire “political class.” To show solidarity with them, Johannis and some MPs favored a “technocratic” option — a government-run by professional, non-politicians, such as career bureaucrats, or activists — which would guide the country until the 2016 elections.
Despite the objections of parliamentary leaders to the undemocratic nature of such a government, Johannis named former European Union Agricultural Commissioner Dacian Cioloș as prime minister. Cioloș had never been part of any political party and had never held elected office.
Romanian political scientist Cristian Pîrvulescu compared technocracy to Plato’s belief that only philosophers should rule. He described it as “an ideology of those who hold that political party ideologies are outdated and that there’s one truth that can be imposed.” He rightly noted that “all technocratic governments either lasted very briefly or prepared for dictatorships.”
Unlike a democracy, the masses hold little power over who governs them because technocrats are appointed and hold office based on their expertise. Unlike most democratic officials, they usually hold degrees in the hard sciences like engineering or math, rather than the humanities.
The concept gained prominence briefly in the United States during the Great Depression at a time when many modern countries fell prey to fascist regimes. Today, China presents the best example of a technocratic government. Technocracies are not immune to vigorous, economic growth but, like monarchies, they depend heavily on the wisdom and ideologies of their unelected rulers. This method inherently lacks faith in free people and free markets and usually stunts liberty and productivity through social and economic engineering.
How did less than 40,000 protesters force the Romanian government to resign?
A second generation had benefited from the Soros and other wealthy Western leftists through Romania’s nascent, environmentalist movement. Most had been too young to remember communism.
They began their activist careers over Gabriel Resources’ mining and Chevron’s drilling operations near the villages of Rosia Montana and Pungești. These young, foreign-funded idealists helped prevent both operations from providing thousands of poor villagers with better livelihoods than subsistence farming and sheep herding.
“My generation grew up with our parents’ stories about the Revolution and Revolutionary Square,” wrote Luiza Vasiliu. “It was expected that sooner or later, we’d demonstrate together for a cause that we believed in.”
Although their parents demonstrated against communism, these hipsters found their cause, demonstrating against capitalism.
Many channeled their economic frustrations by seeking to imitate the global wave of protests sparked by Occupy Wall Street (OWS) — also funded by Soros. Their demonstrations often copied the vulgar, unlawful tactics of OWS; with the same lack of an end game. Many cared only marginally for the ecological issues, supposedly at the center of their movement, and saw any grievance against the government as a reason to overthrow it.
Capital Research Center’s David Hogberg has observed how similar youth unrest often accompanies underemployment.
[A] reason to be concerned is that here in the U.S. and in other nations, a particular demographic is ripe for exploitation … a class of young people who are well-educated but either unemployed or underemployed. Seduced by the false promises of a college education, they often major in soft subjects like sociology or ethnic and gender studies. After they graduate, they find such degrees have little value in the job market, and if they find employment, it’s often in jobs that do not require a college degree. Worse, they’ve often piled up thousands of dollars in student loans that will take decades to pay off. This is borne out by surveys of protesters. A poll of Occupy Wall Street found that 49 percent of the participants were under age 30, and 33 percent were either unemployed or underemployed. A recent study of a left-wing protest in Berlin found 72 percent of the participants under age 30, 92 percent still living with their parents, and a third unemployed.
In 2008, Romania had 232,880 college graduates, 42,300 of whom were unemployed. Two years later, after the Great Recession had taken its toll, those numbers stood at 110,000 and 53,000 respectively.
In 2014, many of these disaffected young adults campaigned for Macovei for president.
After the Colectiv tragedy, they argued that if “the political class” did not try to hinder the anti-corruption fight that Macovei had started a decade earlier, inspectors would not have ignored safety violations for bribes, and such tragedies would not occur.
But the anti-corruption fight served as a double-edged sword. A year and a half before the tragedy, several doctors had used state hospital facilities to perform plastic surgery — a benefit not covered by the country’s socialist healthcare system. Asked after the tragedy how they were holding up treating the burn victims, one doctor replied:
I can’t tell you how much we could use a few extra colleagues, especially in intensive care where I’ve got three colleagues suspended. They offered their help. They wanted to come, but they’ve got a restraining order from working in a state hospital.
On October 31, the day after the fire, tens of thousands paid their respects at the incinerated club. Calls to temporarily boycott nightclubs represented the only activism. Former Soros-beneficiaries, meanwhile, wasted no time in taking advantage of the crisis.
On Facebook, activist Florin Bădiță invited more than 8,600 to a march the following evening. The post began with #curuptiaucide (#corruptionkills), which within 48 hours went viral in Romanian social media circles. It would not do to chant slogans and call for the overthrow of the government only two days after the tragedy, so Bădiță urged attendees to bring candles to lay at Colectiv where the march would end, and let their “silence and banners speak for themselves.”
Although the sign-wielding activists constituted a minority of marchers, their written messages stole the media attention, which gave them a publicity boon going forward. Two nights later, on November 3, nearly 30,000 demonstrators filled Bucharest’s University Square. With chants of “the final solution, another revolution,” they demanded the government’s resignation and parliament’s dissolution. Many of the protesters openly attacked democracy itself. Some called for a monarchy; others for a technocracy.
Claudiu Crăciun joined the November 3 protests with his favorite toy: a megaphone.
Crăciun had himself received an International Policy Fellowship from Open Society Institute Budapest (OSIB) in 2005. His foray into street protests began in 2012 when he discovered his ability to command crowds.
After the first evening, I went back with a megaphone… I realized that nothing was uniting those people other than the instinct to get out in the street. … From the first second, I felt that there was a great potential to develop the movement then, into a movement like Occupy / Indignados (Spain), directed against the political class.
During the environmental protests, he once led 5,000 people to sit in the street for a minute at midnight in memory of the victims of the ’89 Revolution. This he repeated during the post-Colectiv protest, on November 3, when he led the crowd in a minute-long moment of silence before leading them on a rowdy, late-night march through the city.
Another “informal leader” of the crowd, a political science student, told the news outlet HotNews.ro that he wanted “to take down the system.” He predicted that the demonstrators would go to the Minister of Internal Affairs and then the Mayor’s Office that night. Crăciun soon led the protesters along that very trajectory, adding an anti-ecclesiastical detour — the Romanian Orthodox Church being part of “the system” that needed taking down. They told police guarding the Orthodox Patriarchate that they only stopped by to confess their sins and sing carols.
The leadership that Crăciun and his veteran activists assumed did not go over well with all the marchers. Many simply wanted to express outrage toward a negligent government without calling for revolution. This caused several groups to split from the Crăciun parade, but their pressure paid off, as Ponta and the Bucharest mayor resigned the following morning.
Crăciun and his comrades had created a weird blend of neo-Marxist principles with political, rather than economic power at the forefront. They essentially attacked the idea of representative democracy in favor of a redistribution of power through a form of consultative factionalism.
One group with which Crăciun worked closely in his 2012–13 crusade to turn environmental protests into a democratic spring was the group Spiritual Militia. Mihail Bumbeş, who described himself as an “anarcho-socialist” founded Spiritual Militia as a student in 2002.
The Indignados protests in Spain — which led to the leftist party Podemos — inspired Bumbeş to use his group to imitate the movement in Romania. But like others’ attempts to create an “Occupy Romania,” he largely failed.
His efforts, however, did not go unrewarded. Soros-founded CEE Trust issued Bumbeş a $30,000 grant for the project “Geography of Youth Activism.” With it, he conducted a sociological study into what it would take to get youth “to take a stand.” He found that a lack of youth socialization — the basis of street protests — led to youth apathy. CEE Trust then issued Spiritual Militia another grant of $75,000 for June through September 2013 to target “3,000 students and non-students” to get them socializing. Before CEE Trust’s new influx of funding took effect, Bumbeş made a pilgrimage to Turkey during the protests in Taksim Square in Istanbul, to gain a little insight and experience.
Many Western analysts and journalists criticize Romania for “instability” because it has gone through a dozen prime ministers since communism. But international philanthropists like Soros, whom many of these left-of-center analysts and journalists respect, contributed to that instability. Crăciun triumphantly, but correctly, observed:
The fall of the Boc  and Ungureanu  governments and the failure of Victor Ponta’s presidential campaign  are tied directly to the protests. Possibly the most important gain of this period is the fact that no major political change can be planned any longer without taking into consideration the “street” factor.
Crăciun sees Soros’s open society evangelization in Eastern Europe as a positive development. “I worked with the Open Society Foundation, as did thousands of others, and I don’t see any guilt attached — on the contrary actually.” Like many Romanian Soros benefactors, both Crăciun and Bumbeş accuse protest critics, who point to Soros’s financial involvement, of peddling conspiracy theories.
Bădiță was at least honest — if sarcastically so. He preemptively defended his involvement with the Soros Foundation.
I was a volunteer in Monica Macovei’s campaign in the 2014 presidential elections. … I organized the early part of the protests in January 2012, and I’ve had an awesome relationship with the Soros Foundation. I participated in a hackathon with PSD (Social Democrats) together with the Soros Foundation in 2014.
I was also at the Soros Foundation at a workshop in 2013 where Soros manipulated me and taught me how to question the state, to find out if a mayor’s office is stealing money or not.
Damn Soros for what he did to me! He turned me into an involved citizen.
Johannis kept his promise and visited the demonstrators who remained in the streets several days after Ponta’s resignation.
He did not exactly receive a warm welcome.
The first to speak with him explained that the only way to fix the country would be to overturn all the laws passed since communism, starting with the constitution.
The Old Soros guard also played its part in aiding the young protesters, many of whom had benefitted from the plethora of NGOs formed in Romania thanks to Soros’s political philanthropy.
The government watchdog program Alliance for a Clean Romania, which Mungiu-Pippidi’s think tank launched in 2010, actively promoted the post-Colectiv protests. In the eight years that CEE Trust issued grants to Romanian NGOs, it had given SAR $360,000 — $120,000 of which were earmarked for Alliance for a Clean Romania.
Many believe Ponta gave in so easily for political reasons. Refusing to resign could send a message of insensitivity toward voters in 2016. However, Ponta later claimed that he received information from the Interior Minister and “other sources” of planned attacks on political parties’ headquarters, as well as attempts to spark a revolution like Ukraine’s 2014 EuroMaidan. He argued that resigning trumped having to order security forces to violently suppress a revolt.
Who were the 20 “civil society” representatives invited to the palace?
Drawing from CEE Trust’s grant database, the newspaper Evenimentul Zilei found that more than half of Johannis’s guests at Cotroceni had connections to NGOs or projects that benefitted from Soros.
- Andrei Cornea, Group for Social Dialogue (GSD)
- Cristina Guseth, Freedom House
- Mihai Dragoş, National Romanian Youth Counsel (CTR)
- Horia Oniţă, National High School Students Counsel (CNE)
- Sorin Ioniţă, Expert Forum
- Edmond Niculuşcă, Association for Culture, Education, and Normality (ACEN)
- Ionuţ Sibian, Civil Society Development Foundation (FDSC)
- Nicuşor Dan, the Save Bucharest Association (ASB)
- Liviu Mihaiu, Save the Danube and Delta
- Octavian Berceanu, Together We Save
- Tudor Benga, entrepreneur
- Elena Calistru, Funky Citizens
- Ema Stoica, a journalism student
- Adrian Despot, a singer who was at Colectiv during the fire
- Alexandru Bindar, Romania Student Union
- Cătălin Drulă, Pro Infrastructure Association
- Claudia Postelnicescu, Romania Initiative (Iniţiativa România)
- Ştefan Dărăbuş Hope and Homes for Children (HHC)
- Clara Matei, Association of Resident Doctors in Romania
- Dragoş Slavescu, doctor
We have already covered GDS’s connections.
Guseth worked for the Soros Foundation in the early ’90s and served on its executive board. She also served as the Freedom House director when the organization conducted its audit of the PNA for Macovei.
CTR’s Dragoș worked as a coordinator for Alliance for a Clean Romania.
Oniţă wrote in his application for High School Student Council president that he wanted to build a better relationship between CNE and “certain national structures such as Alliance for a Clean Romania.”
Ioniţă’s Expert Forum received a grant of $68,000 from CEE Trust in 2012.
Niculuşcă and his organization collaborated with Spiritual Militia.
Sibian’s FDSC served as “an organization for organizations,” which since 1994, funneled money to Romanian NGOs. It had received over a million dollars from CEE Trust between 2006 and 2012.
Dan’s organization received funding from FDSC and Mihaiu had represented FDSC as an attorney.
United We Save, formerly United We Save Roșia Montană, like Spiritual Militia, had demonstrated against mining and fracking and used Colectiv to return to the streets. Its representative Berceanu likely replaced Crăciun, who turned down the president’s invitation. Crăciun called the meeting “a combination between a PR gala and a political casting.” He was probably not far off, as Benga emerged from the consultation, declaring Johannis the only legitimate politician left in the country.
Calistru’s Funky Citizens is a left-wing advocacy NGO that broke ground with the help of American taxpayers through the program Restart Romania. The American Embassy continued to provide it grants in 2012–13 even while the “funky citizens” joined the anti-Chevron protests. The organization also received grants from CEE Trust, funneled through FDSC.
Funky Citizens spokesman Codru Vrabie — who received from the Soros Foundation an activism training scholarship and a full-ride, academic scholarship in the ’90s — recently advocated for Romania’s taking in 350,000 migrants. He argued that they could then replace the Romanian workforce that left for Spain and Italy, and the Romanian government could host them in the houses those Romanians’ homes that they left behind.
In attempting to debunk the “myth” that Soros plays a significant role in Eastern European NGOs’ affairs, Foreign Policy magazine interviewed Funky Citizens’ communications director Cosmin Pojoranu.
“Soros, I mean, he’s so old,” said Pojonaru, annoyed at accusations that Soros still influences NGOs. “If you don’t have solid proof, then just fuck off.”
Despite the pretense of meeting with representatives from “the street,” most of Johannis’s invitees came from well-established NGOs that had little, if anything, to do with the protests. Postelnicescu’s Initiative Romania was the only organization that formed after the fire. But a closer look into its founders revealed that it was little more than a reunion of Macovei’s 2014 presidential campaign.
Many activists, including Postelnicescu, wanted Johannis to continue regular consultations with NGO leaders as if they formed part of the government. Johannis soon created the Ministry for Public Consultation and Social Dialogue. The NGO class now had its own governmental department. Violeta Alexandru, whom Cioloș chose to lead it, was the director of the Institute for Public Politics (IPP), which had received $360,000 from CEE Trust.
But why, out of 5,520 candidates who applied, did so many of the chosen 20 have such strong connections to Soros? Pîrvulescu said that he believed that Johannis advisor Sandra Pralong likely recommended members of Cioloș’s administration. If so, she doubtless also recommended many NGO representatives to meet with the president.
Pralong mentioned earlier had laid the ground-work for the Soros Foundation in Romania and then led the organization in its early years. Johannis brought her into his administration two months before the tragedy.
Although many in the new, technocratic government were intelligent, capable professionals, they represented a genuine NGO coup. Cioloș, in fact, explicitly sought individuals from NGOs to make his administration appear as non-partisan as possible. Multiple members of his administration had worked with Soros-funded NGOs.
For example, Cioloș proposed Guseth for Minister of Justice, a position that had gained importance since Băsescu appointed Macovei to it in 2004. Unlike Macovei, however, who had worked as a prosecutor, Guseth had no experience with the justice system outside of activism. When Parliament refused to confirm her, Cioloș replaced her with Raluca Prună. Prună had attended Soros’s CEU and worked as a parliamentary assistant to Macovei. She also co-founded Transparency International’s Romanian chapter — an organization that OSF heavily funds, and whose objectivity in national corruption rankings has been seriously questioned.
Moving up to Parliament
Despite the temporary, technocratic government, democracy was going nowhere any time soon. If NGO activists wanted permanent power, they could not indefinitely rely on crisis-hopping and a foreign-backed, anticorruption Special Counsel.
In 2016, NGO activists took Johannis’s advice and formed their own party, the Save Romania Union (USR). Nicușor Dan had turned his original Save Bucharest Association (ASB) into the political party Save Bucharest Union (USB), under which ran for mayor in 2015. USR absorbed it and other small, anti-establishment parties, and became the third-largest party in the country after the 2016 parliamentary elections.
USR’s militant, social liberalism, however — like that of Soros-sponsored NGOs — remains out of sync with most Romanians. This alienated even Dan, who resigned as USR’s president in 2017.
Soros ceased making direct grants to his Romanian foundation in 2014, considering Romania’s democracy sufficiently developed and the organization capable of self-sufficiency.
In April 2017, the Foundation for an Open Society officially closed its doors. The Serrendino Foundation — formerly the Foundation for Social Inclusion and Cohesion, and an FSD partner — absorbed it and much of its staff.
Between 1990 and 2014, Soros had poured over $160 million into the country, not counting the several million he gave indirectly to Romanian organizations through CEE Trust. Compared to Romania’s GDP in 1992, Soros’s total funding in Romania would equal nearly $130 billion in the U.S. in 2017. Measured against Romania’s GDP in 2017, it would equal around $3.6 billion in the U.S. — still more than Soros has yet spent on philanthropy and politics in the U.S.
Soros’s philosopher-hero Karl Popper championed the open society as a place in which individuals thrive absent government coercion. Soros, however, elevates the concept above the individual. Noting how Popper showed that both fascism and communism relied on state power “to repress the freedom of the individual,” Soros extended the argument to contend “that an open society may also be threatened from the opposite direction — from excessive individualism.”
Soros does not seem to care that the open society may itself threaten the individual. His involvement in Romania shows how his concept of an open society threatens the individual, national sovereignty, and democracy.