10 Facts about the Renaissance Foundation: Sushko about Organization’s 30 Years in Business

Director of the Renaissance Foundation spoke about ‘Soros’s agents’, financing book publishing in Ukrainain, ensuring equal access to healthcare for all, as well as the evacuation of Donetsk University.

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the International Renaissance Foundation, its head Oleksandr Sushko told in the interview for the 5th channel how to ‘join the club’ of ‘Soros’s agents’, how often secret summits are held behind the scenes and why George Soros has to pay for the ideas of Ukrainians.

– Lately, in the political discussions you might often hear the term ‘Soros’s offsprings’. What do you think about it?

– This expression is unpleasant, but we detach ourselves from it. At the end of the day, our opponents label all pro-Western and pro-democratic Ukrainians ‘Soros’s offspings’, not only those associated with the Foundation.

Here a little explanation is required.

Ukrainian political technologists borrowed the term from Russia, where it first came into use in the early 1990s. Then for a long time it was not often used. It was not until the mid-2000s when this expression was brought into use again by Putin’s people. In Russia, the term ‘Soros’s agents’ was used to describe activists standing for liberal values and potentially receiving grant funding from Western donors. However, as the Putin regime made it impossible for the Foundation and many other independent donors to operate in Russia, the labeling message of ‘Soros’s offsprings’ soon became irrelevant. Instead, a hybrid swear word of ‘liberast’ was brought into use to denote all Russian people of ‘pro-Western’ orientation. Instead, the expression ‘Soros’s agents’ was picked up in Ukraine, first by openly pro-Russian political scientists and politicians, and later by anti-Western pro-oligarchic groups.

At the beginning, like in Russia, the term ‘Soros’s offsprings’ was equivalent to ‘grant-eaters’ used to describe activists and experts that received grants from the Renaissance Foundation and other Western donors for activities in the field of human rights, journalism, and fostering positive changes and reforms in general. For the most part, those are very good people we’ve known for a long time.

However, as ‘Ukraine is not Russia’ and Ukrainians traditionally welcome activists, volunteers and NGOs, this message did not get accross. Domestic political technologists decided to raise the degree of conspiracy and madness by attributing the mythical connection with Soros to everyone who had any career, business, educational or family ties with Western countries, and later, starting from 2019, to anyone who has clearly demonstrated pro-Western values.

Now, for people like Dubinsky to call you a ‘Soros’s agent’, you don’t have to have even imagined connection with Soros. You don’t need to have even fake connection with our Foundation or civic activism at all. All you need to do is to stand for democracy, reforms, European integration, against Kremlin, against ‘collective Medvedchuk-Kolomoisky’ and that’s all, you will be sure to be labeled a ‘Soros’s agent’.

As regards those people who are now called ‘Soros’s offsprings’ by Portnov or Rabinovych, I saw some of them only in the video, however, as far as most of them are concerned, I have never heard of them. Many of the so-called ‘Soros’s offsprings’ are great respectable people. I deeply respect them and I would appreciate an opportunity to cooperate with them. It has just happened that we haven’t crossed paths with them yet.

Therefore, the expression ‘Soros’s offsprings’ has finally separated from its original meaning and is no longer related to George Soros or to our Foundation.

For our opponents today, ‘Soros’ is the embodiment of the West and pro-European Ukraine, whereas ‘Soros’s offsprings’ personify values that threaten their way of life.

So, if all educated and active pro-European and pro-democratic people are called ‘Soros’s agents’ today, so be it. I see more and more posts of well-known activists and volunteers who are proud to be called ‘Soros’s offsprings’. Our T-shirt ‘I’m from Soros’ is now in high demand, as it has been increasingly demonstrated by people who have never been involved with the Foundation’s grants. Ultimately, it means that today they clearly take a pro-Ukrainian and pro-Western stand, a stand against ‘sovereign democracy’ in the style of Surkov-Putin. They are clearly on the side of Gondor vs Mordor.

– How often do you and your colleagues communicate with George Soros in person?

– We meet in person twice or three times a year. The last time we met during the Economic Forum in Davos in January this year. That meeing was held jointly with other Board members of the Foundation. Most often we meet as part of my business trips to New York. We also communicate via messengers and e-mail, but this does not happen very often.

– Were you present at closed meetings of influential international leaders to strategize global changes?

– Unfortunately, it has not been possible yet. Moreover, I will uncover the secret ‘from Soros’: there have been no such meetings for a long time. However, of course, I am open to invitations.

Honestly, today it is almost impossible to hide any gathering of truly influential international leaders, especially leaders of democracies, due to the way the information flows are organized. Everything would become known very quickly in the press and through social media exposure.

– Did you manage to receive expected interim results of the Foundation’s activity over 30 years?

– The goals we have set for ourselves were always far-reaching: to help build an open society in Ukraine, in which everyone shall feel worthy, in which citizens are involved in the creation of the state, and the government is transparent and responsible. Can we consider those goals achieved? Unfortunately, not yet. Can we consider that we have made significant progress towards attaining those goals? Definitely yes.

Thirty years ago, when the Foundation emerged in Ukraine, very few people understood the concepts of democracy and an open society, and how they should work. By implementing local projects, we worked to move Ukraine forward as much as possible. We supported thousands of initiatives, small and large, which helped build an open society in Ukraine from different angles. In some cases, those projects might have turned out better, and in some cases worse, but all of them were part of one big puzzle, or stages of one big process.

If we look at the trajectory of our country’s development in comparison with that of the neighboring post-Soviet countries, it becomes clear that we have made the most tangible progress on our way to building an open society. We believe that this is also our merit.

– What of the projects funded by the Foundation during 30 years were the most meaningful and exciting?

– You cannot ask parents which child they love more. Over 30 years we had supported almost 10 thousand projects. And most of them were both meaningful and exciting.

We were the first to publish classical philisophical works translated into Ukrainian. We financed the first independent media, the first televised debates in the election, and the first exit poll. We have helped dozens of thousands of researchers to stay in Ukraine. We financed book forums, film festivals. We even financed the first expedition to Antarctica, which made it possible to transfer the current Academician Vernadsky Research Base to Ukraine.

We see this through the metaphor of a carpet. Each individual thread is thin, weak and monotonous. It’s just a thread. However, weaving them together in sometimes unexpected variations, we get a colorful, large and durable carpet. Yet, the pattern on this carpet can be seen only from a distance, if you step back.

The same thing can be said about our projects. Today, it is easy to say that the External Independent Testing, which we launched 15 years ago, changed the education in Ukraine and made the university admission process much more transparent. Projects, which we are implementing now, are more difficult to assess. Ultimately, you will be able to evaluate the projects only looking from a distance. We hope that will be the time when Ukraine will become an open society in which everyone will feel worthy.

– What differences do you notice in the activity of Alex Soros, the deputy chairman of the Open Society Foundation, compared to the principles of his father’s activity?

– I don’t think it would be ethical on my side to go into personal details. George Soros is the founder and ideologue of the Foundation, he laid the basis of the strategy we follow.

The Open Society Foundation Network is guided by the strategy formed by the Management Board. George Soros remains the Chairman of this Board, whereas Alex Soros and 11 other respected figures and scholars from around the world are its members. George Soros remains active in the strategic management of the Network and his position remains important to all members of the Management Board.

– What is the main condition for Ukrainians to receive support from the Foundation?

– There is no single condition to guarantee our support, there must be a number of factors. First, you have to understand that we usually finance only civic associations such as charities and civic organizations, associations, trade unions and the like. One man in the field is not a warrior and we support organized civil society.

Second, the idea of ​​your project must coincide with our strategic priorities, which can be accessed on the Foundation’s website. Third, your goals and objectives shall be quite important and realistic at the same time. And so on. There are many such criteria. We produced special videos about it, which can be found following the link: https://www.irf.ua/granteram/ . And, of course, you need to be prepared for full financial transparency, and in some cases, even the audit by international auditors.

If you meet our criteria and are ready, you can submit a project in a competition or send it as a non-competition and it will be considered by our expert councils or by the Board, in the case of a large scale project.

– What paradoxes have you discovered in your field over the years?

The more ‘idealistic’ your approach to the problem is, the more pragmatic the result often becomes. Therefore, ‘abstract values’ may have an invisible but very precise impact on the achievement of the result. Paradox?

– What is the largest amount of grant allocated by the Renaissance Foundation over 30 years and for what project?

– I can say with confidence for the last decade: the most expensive project we supported was the forced relocation of Donetsk National University to Vinnytsia in 2014-2015 as a result of the Russian aggression and the takeover of part of Donbass. The university was in a critical situation and urgently needed support.

If we highlight the areas in which the Foundation has provided the most funding of all time, it is the publication of books in Ukrainian, free legal aid, inclusive education, equal access to healthcare services, and support for think tanks.

– The ideal Ukraine that has changed and evolved: what is it in your dreams?

The country where every citizen believes himself or herself to be a co-owner of their state, enjoying effective tools to access state institutions, to develop policies in the fields he or she considers important. The country, which has overcome the alienation of citizens from their own state, consumer paternalism, vain hopes for a ‘miracle’ that someone else must create: this is the key to social harmony and evolution, which I want to help our society find.


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