The art of the open society, or Soros' realism

The "Influencing Machine" exhibition. Photo Daniel Czarnocki/CSW

In 1989, the Stefan Batory Foundation was established in Poland. This institution is well known in Poland, which is not the case with the Centre for Contemporary Art - Warsaw. It was founded in 1992 and operated for only a few years. Anda Rottenberg was its director for some time. It was intended to provide institutional support for local artists.

George Soros causes great excitement in the world. Although he wants to pose as a philanthropic entrepreneur, in many countries he is sometimes seen as a multi-billionaire manipulating big politics.

Meanwhile, little is still known in Poland about his activities in the field of patronage of the arts. And the matter is not new. It concerns initiatives from the 1990s. The exhibition 'Influence Machine' at Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw (CSW) is devoted to them.

The nearly 92-year-old American financier of Jewish origin emigrated from Hungary to the West after the Second World War. He studied at the London School of Economics, where he attended seminars conducted by Karl Popper, the Austrian philosopher who formulated the concept of the 'open society'. And it was this concept that became the leitmotif of Soros' political activism.

Popper considered what he called a 'closed society' to be the affliction of humanity. This refers to a collectivity in which the group holding power has a monopoly on the only correct interpretation of reality and imposes its views on the general public. It also torpedoes any change because its position could be undermined. This is what happens in authoritarian and totalitarian states. They are based, Popper argued, on the ideas of Plato, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx.

The alternative to such badness is an 'open society'. And in an excerpt from his autobiography "Soros himself about himself. On a Corner' in 1995, a disciple of Popper explains why it should be the desired direction for humanity: "No one possesses ultimate truth. For this reason, our thinking should be critical; we need institutions and rules of conduct that allow people with different views and interests to live in peace; we need a democratic form of government that guarantees that the transfer of power takes place in order and harmony; we need a market economy that works on the principle of feedback and allows mistakes to be corrected; we need to protect minority interests and respect their opinions. The thing we need most is the rule of law. Ideologies such as fascism or communism lead to a closed society in which the individual is subordinated to the collective'.

When real socialism went bankrupt and the Soviet Union failed in the Cold War, Soros' prescriptions became almost an oracle in the former Eastern Bloc and former Yugoslavia for liberal circles aspiring to become major political trendsetters. The American businessman poured money into NGOs that would pave the way for the 'open society' model wherever a new political reality was being forged - from Almaty to Ljubljana, from St Petersburg to Skopje.

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By Filip Memches

Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski