U.S. billionaire and liberal activist George Soros has pledged $1 billion to help create a new university network to aid civil society in a world increasingly ruled by what he says are “would-be and actual dictators,” aiming blistering criticism at the U.S., Russian, and Chinese leaders, reported RFE/RL.
The 89-year-old philanthropist said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 23 that the effort will be the “most important and most enduring project of my life.”
Soros said humanity was at a turning point and that the next few years would determine the fate of rulers like President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping, as well as of the world itself.
“We live at a transformational moment in history. The survival of open societies is endangered and we face an even greater crisis: climate change,” the Hungarian-born billionaire said.
Soros expressed sadness that the world’s biggest powers — the United States, China, and Russia under President Vladimir Putin — were “in the hands of would-be or actual dictators, and the ranks of authoritarian rulers continued to grow.”
Soros has been a vocal critic of Trump, telling reporters at the end of a speech that the U.S. president was a “con man,” the “ultimate narcissist,” and a “climate denier.”
Soros also assailed Trump’s economic policies, saying he “has managed to overheat an already buoyant economy. An overheated economy can’t be kept at the boiling point for too long.”
“If all this happened close to the election, it would have assured his election. His problem is that the election is still 10 months away and, in a revolutionary situation, that’s a lifetime.”
Soros said his new project, called the Open Society University Network, would be an international platform for teaching and research that existing universities throughout the world would be able to join.
He said it would aim to reach out to “places in need of high-quality education and in serving neglected populations,” such as refugees, prisoners, the Roma, and other displaced peoples like the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma.
Many right-wing populist leaders of Central and Eastern Europe have attacked Soros for promoting liberal causes in their countries.
Soros’s Central European University was forced to leave Hungary after pressure from the government of far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has angrily denounced Soros on many occasions.
Soros said the “biggest and most frightening setback” to civil society globally was in India, where he said Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “creating a Hindu nationalist state.”
Soros expressed alarm over China’s Xi, who he said had concentrated power around himself, attempting to create “a new type of authoritarian system and a new type of human being, who is willing to surrender his personal autonomy in order to stay out of trouble.”