Soros: That would be asking too much. I have no reason to change my critical views on her leadership in the euro crisis. Europe could have used the kind of leadership she is showing now much earlier. It is unfortunate that when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in 2008, she was not willing to allow the rescue of the European banking system to be guaranteed on a Europe-wide basis because she felt that the prevailing German public opinion would be opposed to it. If she had tried to change public opinion instead of following it, the tragedy of the European Union could have been avoided.
Schmitz: But she wouldn’t have remained chancellor of Germany for ten years.
Soros: You are right. She was very good at satisfying the requirements and aspirations of a broad range of the German public. She had the support of both those who wanted to be good Europeans and those who wanted her to protect German national interest. That was no mean feat. She was reelected with an increased majority. But in the case of the migration issue, she did act on principle, and she was willing to risk her leadership position. She deserves the support of those who share her principles.
I take this very personally. I am a strong supporter of the values and principles of an open society because of my personal history, surviving the Holocaust as a Jew under the Nazi occupation of Hungary. And I believe that she shares those values because of her personal history, growing up under Communist rule in East Germany under the influence of her father, who was a pastor. That makes me her supporter although we disagree on a number of important issues.
Schmitz: You have retired from running your hedge fund and devote all your energies to your foundation. What are your major projects?
Soros: There are too many to enumerate. We seem to be involved in most of the burning political and social issues of the world. But I would single out the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) and the Central European University (CEU) because there is a revolution going on in the social sciences and I am deeply involved both personally and through my foundations. With the help of the natural sciences, mankind has gained control over the forces of nature but our ability to govern ourselves has not kept pace with the achievements of natural science. We have the capacity to destroy our civilization and we are well on the way to doing so.
Schmitz: You paint a bleak picture of our future.
Soros: But it is a biased view and deliberately so. Recognizing a problem is an invitation to do something about it. That is the main lesson I learned from the formative experience of my life, in 1944, when the Nazis occupied Hungary. I might not have survived if my father hadn’t secured false identification papers for his family (and many others). He taught me that it’s much better to face harsh reality than to close your eyes to it. Once you are aware of the dangers, your chances of survival are much better if you take some risks than if you meekly follow the crowd. That is why I trained myself to look at the dark side. It has served me well in the financial markets and it is guiding me now in my political philanthropy. As long as I can find a winning strategy, however tenuous, I don’t give up. In danger lies opportunity. It’s always darkest before dawn.
Schmitz: How concerned are you that in the middle of all these crises an important EU member state such as the UK is considering leaving the European Union?