老側譯者序:以下翻譯文章英文原文見於《紐約書評》(Nybooks.com)。老側得悉此文章,乃因早前看了香港報章《信報》 1 月 27 日「林行止專欄」上題為「壓樓價不易提升更難 傳媒不獨立貪官難除」的文章。文章中提及「外匯大鱷」索羅斯在一次傳媒訪問中談到中國經濟前景,引起老側細讀原文的興趣,因而上網找到《紐約書評》有關文章,看後又覺得索羅斯談話中不乏真知灼見,不如就把它翻成中文,放在老側部落中,讓粉絲們也看看。自問英文能力不錯又恐怕老側的翻譯有失信雅達的粉絲,可直接看附上之英文原文。此訪問紀錄篇幅頗長,沒空或沒耐性把整篇翻譯看完的粉絲,可只看老側把字體染了的部分。

本部落粉絲大多才高八斗學問豐富之人,索羅斯何許人也,無須老側在此囉嗦介紹。訪問索羅斯的記者格雷戈爾彼得·施米茨(Gregor Peter Schmitz)乃哈佛、劍橋畢業生,目前是德文雜誌 WirtschaftsWoche 的柏林辦公室主管(Bureau Chief Berlin),此前曾任總部設於布魯塞爾的德文新聞雜誌 DER SPIEGEL 的歐洲通訊員(correspondent),也曾於 2007 年至 2013 年任華盛頓郵報的通訊員,負責報導白宮及兩次總統競選事宜。此君訪問過不少美國高官,曾因其於 2009 年的導獲頒授 Arthur F. Burns Prize 獎。此外,與索羅斯合作寫了一本名為 Wetten auf Europa – Warum Deutschland den Euro retten muss, um sich selbst zu retten 的書,與 2014 年出版,可見他與索羅斯認識匪淺。除了寫作外,他還經常在電台上做評論員。

譯文:

訪問:‘歐盟正面臨崩潰’

以下文字乃一次索羅斯與德文雜誌 WirtschaftsWoche 的格雷戈爾彼得·施米茨之間對談的修訂紀錄。

A Syrian refugee holding a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as he and hundreds of other migrants and refugees arrived in Munich from Hungary, September 2015

敘利亞難民在從匈牙利抵達慕尼克後舉起德國總理安格拉·默克爾的肖像。2015 年 9 月 

施米茨:時代週刊將安格拉·默克爾作為封面人物,並稱她為「自由世界的首相」。你認為這做法有理據嗎?

索羅斯:是有的。過去我一直對默克爾很多批評,這一點你是知道的。現在我對她的緊縮政策還是有很不以為然。可是,自從俄國總統普京襲擊烏克蘭後,她成為了歐洲聯盟的領袖,因而也間接成為了自由世界的領袖。在此之前,她是個有天份的政客,能解讀並迎合公眾的情緒。但是,在抵禦俄國的侵略中,她成了一位能夠擇善固執、對抗主流意見的領袖。

當她理解到移民危機有可能因爲首先導致邊界開放的申根系統瓦解並最終破壞共同市場而摧毀歐盟時,她也許甚至是更具遠見的。她主動採取了大膽的一步,以改變公眾的態度。不幸地,其計劃沒有充分的準備。 這危機遠未解決,而她在歐洲、在德國,甚至在自己黨內的領袖地位都受到攻擊。

施米茨:過往默克爾是非常小心謹慎、可以信賴的。可是在移民危機問題上,她的行動既衝動又非常冒險。她的領導風格改變了,這一點令人忐忑不安。

索羅斯:沒錯,可是我覺得這變化挺好的。令人忐忑不安的事情多著呢。正如她正確地預測的,歐盟已經面臨崩潰。希臘危機教懂了歐洲各國政府在面對一浪接一浪的危機時蒙混過關的藝術,其做法普遍被稱為「把汽水罐往下坡路踢」。 其實更準確的說法該是「把汽水罐往上坡路踢」,因為那汽水罐會不斷地滾回頭。當前,歐盟面對的,不是一個危機,而是同時間五、六個危機

施米茨:確切些說,你指的是希臘、俄國、烏克蘭、快要到來到英國公投,以及移民危機吧?

索羅斯:對。而你甚至沒有提及移民危機的根本原因:敘利亞境內的衝突。你也沒有提及巴黎和其他地方恐襲對歐洲輿論所帶來的不幸後果。 

默克爾正確地預見了移民危機摧毀歐盟的潛力。本來只是一個預測,現在變成了現實。歐盟是亟需整頓的。這是個事實,但並非無可挽回,而能夠制止默克爾的可怕預言成真的,其實是德國人民。我認為,德國人在默克爾領導下,已經實現了霸權的地位。可是,他們並沒有付出過什麼代價去實現這地位。一般來說,當霸主的不單要照顧自己的利益,也要照顧身處自己保護傘下的人的利益。現在是時候德國人民要決定:要不要擔起作為歐洲霸主所要負的責任和義務呢?

施米茨:你認為默克爾在領導處理難民危機上,與她在領導處理歐羅危機上不一樣嗎?你是否覺得她現在更願意做個仁慈的霸主?

索羅斯:那是要求太多了。我沒有理由去改變對她領導處理歐羅危機上的批評。她現在顯現的領導方式,歐洲本早很多去運用。不行的是,2008 年雷曼兄弟破產時,她不願意允許在解救歐洲銀行系統中以整體歐洲作為擔保。那是因為當時她覺得德國的主流輿論會反對這個做法。要是她有嘗試去改變公眾的看法而不是追隨之,那歐盟的悲劇應該可以避免。  

施米茨:可是,這樣的話她當德國總理可能當不上十年。

索羅斯:你說得對。她很擅長於滿足德國公眾廣泛階層的要求和渴求。有些德國人想當好的歐洲人,有些德國人希望她能保護德國的國家利益,這兩種人的支持她都得到。那可是很大的得著呐。她再次當選總理時,支持她的大多數比之前一次增加了。可是,在移民問題上,她是按原則辦事的,而且願意冒失去領導地位的險。那些和她信奉相同原則的人應該給予她支持

我這樣說跟我自己的情況很有關係。我是個納粹佔領匈牙利時經歷納粹大屠殺而大難不死的猶太人,基於這點個人歷史,我是個堅決支持開放社會所奉行的價值和原則的。而我相信,默克爾在共產黨統治下的東德長大、受到她身為牧師的父親影響,也是因為這樣的個人歷史而同樣信奉那些價值的。這一點使我成為她的支持者,儘管我們在一系列重要議題上意見不同。

施米茨:一直以來你都很積極提倡開放社會的原則並支持東歐的民主變化。那裡為什麼對難民有那麼強大的反對和不滿?

索羅斯:因為開放社會的原則在世界那個部分並沒有深厚的根基。 匈牙利總理維克托·歐爾班(Viktor Orbán)正在提倡匈牙利和基督教身份認同的原則。將國家身分認同與宗教結合起來,是強有力的混合,而這樣做的人並非只歐爾班一個。新當選波蘭執政黨的領袖雅羅斯瓦夫·卡欽斯基(Jarosław Kaczyński)也在採取相似的策略。他沒有歐爾班那麼聰明,但他是個謹慎的政客,選了移民問題作為競選運動的中心議題。波蘭是歐洲在民族上和宗教上最同一的國家之一。在天主教波蘭境內,一個回教徒移民屬於非我族類。卡欽斯基成功把他妖魔化了。

施米茨:從更廣闊的層面來說,你是怎樣看波蘭和匈牙利的政治狀況的?

索羅斯:卡欽斯基歐爾班雖然是不同的人,但是他們意圖建立的政權是非常相似的。正如我提出過,他們企圖利用種族和宗教民族主義,藉以令自己長久掌權。從某個意義來說,他們正在嘗試重新建立兩次世界大戰之間匈牙利的霍爾蒂海軍上將和波蘭的畢蘇斯基元帥治下的那種假民主。一朝掌權,他們會把民主機關或者應該是民主的機關例如中央銀行或憲法法庭抓在手上。 這事情歐爾班已經做了,而卡欽斯基則剛剛開始。他們將會很難被推翻。 

除了它自己的一切問題以外,德國還有一個波蘭的問題。跟匈牙利相反,波蘭在經濟上和政治上都是歐洲最成功的國家之一。德國需要波蘭的保護,以抵禦來自俄國的危險。普京治下的俄國與卡欽斯基治下的波蘭是互相敵視的,但它們更敵視歐盟賴於建立的那些原則。 

施米茨:是哪些原則呢?

索羅斯:一直以來,我都視為歐盟為開放社會原則的體現者。25 年前我開始跟這個地區扯上關係時,這裏有的是一個行將入木的蘇聯和一個還是冒頭的歐洲聯盟。有趣的是,兩者都是國際管治的大膽嘗試。蘇聯嘗試團結世界上的無產者,而歐盟則嘗試開拓出一個以開放社會原則為基礎的地區整合模式。 

施米茨:跟今天的情況比較怎樣?

索羅斯:蘇聯已經被復興中的俄國取代,而歐盟則為民族主義力量所支配。默克爾和我基於各自的個人歷史而信奉的、新烏克蘭的改革者基於他們的個人歷史而想加入的開放社會,並不真的存在。 本來,歐盟的原意,本來是個平等國家自願參加的聯盟。可是,歐羅危機把它變成了一個債權人與欠債人之間的關係,其中欠債人難以履行其責任,而債權人則設定條件要欠債人去滿足。該種關係既非自願的亦非平等的。而移民危機又帶來其他裂縫。因此,歐盟的存活正受到威脅。

施米茨:這話很有意思,因為我記得兩年前你對默克爾有很多批評,說她過於關注選民的利益,又說她想不費成本建立德國霸權。如今,她真的在移民事件上改變了路向,並向敘利亞難民大開中門。那做法又成了推動歐洲各國政府制定慷慨的庇護政策的因素,這政策以每年接受一百萬難民、並持續數年為目標。符合被接納的難民將得以留在身處之地,直至輪到他們移民目標國家。

索羅斯:問題是我們並沒有一個歐洲庇護政策。這一點歐洲各國政府要負上責任。過去一年難民湧入日益增加,情況已經從一個可以處理的問題衍化成一個急性的政治危機。歐盟每個成員國都自私地只關注自己國家的利益,行動上往往有損其他成員國的利益。這情況在尋求庇護的人、在歐洲公眾,以至執法和治安機構方面的恐慌。尋求庇護的人是主要受害者。可是,你說得對,莫凱爾在導致歐洲有望制定庇護政策上,值得稱讚

歐盟需要一個回應這危機的全面計劃。這計劃要能對尋求庇護者的流動施以有效的管治,以便這些流動能夠以安全的、有序的,並反映歐歐洲吸納他們的能力的方式進行。這計劃如要全面,就需要涵蓋至歐洲疆界之外。要是尋求庇護者得以留在他們目前身處的地方或附近地區,事情的破壞性就會較小,也會大大減低成本。

我的基金會制訂了一個以此為基礎的六點計劃,其公布時間恰恰也是歐爾班提出其六點計劃之時。可是,這兩個計劃可說是南轅北轍、針鋒相對。歐爾班的計劃,目的在於保護匈牙利的疆界,針對著尋求庇護的人。我們的計劃目的在保護這些人。自那時起,我們兩人就一直不和。歐爾班指責我意圖藉湧入匈牙利的穆斯林教徒去摧毀匈牙利的民族文化。弔詭的是,我們的計劃,將令合資格的尋求庇護者留在當前身處的地方,並向這些地方提供設施,而正是他的計劃,才導致他們執意在歐洲大門仍然開啓時湧向歐洲。

Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán at a press conference in Budapest, February 2015

2015 年 2 月,普京和歐爾班·維克托在布達佩斯一個記者會上

施米茨:能不能把你的弔詭說清楚一點兒?你的計劃為什麼能防止難民湧入歐洲?

索羅斯:我們提倡一個共同的歐洲庇護政策,這政策能重新夠控制歐洲的邊界而不是個別國家的邊界,並允許庇護尋求者安全、有序地、以反映歐盟吸納他們的能力的速度到達歐洲。歐爾班則提倡利用國家邊界將移民拒之門外。

施米茨:誰在這場衝突中佔上風?

索羅斯:在匈牙利,歐爾班已經輕易獲勝。更令人不安的是,他正在歐洲贏得勝利。他在向默克爾挑戰爭奪歐洲的領導地位。他在 2015 年 9 月的默克爾的基督教盟主聯盟的姐妹黨,拜仁基督教社會聯盟(Christian Social Union of Bavaria)的黨大會上,發起了運動,而他的行動,是與前者的黨主席霍斯特·澤霍費爾(Horst Seehofer)一道的。這是個非常真實的挑戰,攻擊著歐盟建基的價值觀和原則。歐爾班從內部攻擊這些價值觀和原則,而普京則從外邊攻擊它們。兩人都在努力開倒車,改變國家主權臣服於超國家的歐洲秩序這狀況

普京則更進一步。他意圖將武力統治代替法治。他們重提一個已成過去的時代。可幸的是,默克爾嚴肅地接受了這挑戰,並正在反擊。我不但言論上支持她,行動上也給予她支持。我的基金會不單只作倡導的工作,還尋求作出實實在在的正面貢獻。2013 年我們在希臘成立了一個基金會,叫 Solidarity Now。那時我們已清楚預見,以其所處的貧困狀況,希臘將無法照顧大量滯留境內的難民。

施米茨:實現你的計劃的經費從何而來?

索羅斯:以歐盟目前的預算來說,要它為這計劃提供經費是不可能的,但它可以透過以其不曾使用過的AAA 龐大借貸能力發行長期債卷去籌措這些經費。為這些債卷支付利息的負擔,可由接收難民的、不接收難民的,以及施行特殊限制的成員國平等地承擔。不用說,這正是我跟默克爾總理不咬弦之處。

施米茨:你己經從你的對沖基金退了下來,將所有精力投放在基金會上。當前有什麼主要的項目?

索羅斯:十隻手指也數不完。我們的項目似乎都跟世界上大多數迫切的政治和社會議題有關,但我想特別談一談「新經濟思維研究院」(Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET))和「中歐大學」and the (Central European University (CEU) )因為社會科學方面正發生著一場革命,而我自己以至透過我的基金會正積極投身這方面。藉著自然科學的幫助,人類已經贏得對自然力量的控制,可是,我們管治自己的能力,並沒有跟上在自然科學方面的成就。我們有能力摧毀自己的文明,而且正在走上這樣的一條路。

施米茨:你為未來描畫了一幅黯淡的圖畫。

索羅斯:可是這一種偏見,而是刻意的。察覺問題,是處理問題的前提。這是 1944 年納粹佔領匈牙利時,我從自己人生的成長經歷中學得的主要教訓。要是我父親沒有為他一家(以及很多其他家庭)弄來假的身份證明文件,我也就可能沒能存活下來。他教我在面對艱難的現實時,與其閉起雙眼不去理會,正視面對它是好很多的做法。任何時候你察覺到危險,如果冒些危險去面對,你存活的機會要遠多於溫順地追隨大夥。這就是為什麼我訓練自己要看事情黑暗的一面。它在金融市場上對我幫忙很大,如今在我的政治慈善事業中作我的指引。只要我能找到取勝的策略,不管它怎麼纖細,我都不放棄。危中有機嘛。黎明到來前,總是最黑暗的。

施米茨:你給希臘的戰勝策略是什麽?

索羅斯:這個嘛,我可沒有。對希臘的處理從一開始就錯了。2009 底快到時,當希臘危機開始浮現時,歐盟在德國的領導下對希臘伸出援手。但是,歐盟為其貸出的款項收取懲罰性的利息,導致希臘的國債水平無法持續下去。在最近的幾次談判中,歐盟又犯了同樣的錯誤。歐盟想懲罰亞歷克西斯·齊普拉斯( Alexis Tsipras)總理和特別是他的前財相雅尼斯·瓦魯法克斯(Yanis Varoufakis),而同時間又不得不防止希臘陷入債務違約。結果是,歐盟施加了會把希臘推向更嚴重衰退的條件

施米茨:對私人投資者來說,希臘是個會引起興趣的國家嗎?

索羅斯:只要它留在歐元區裡,就不會是。歐元的兌換率太高了,使得它缺乏競爭力,因此,它繼續使用歐元的話,就很難繁榮起來。

施米茨:在這些危機當兒,某個重要的歐盟成員國例如英國可能考慮退出歐洲聯盟,你對這前景又多憂慮?

索羅斯:非常憂慮。我深信英國應該留在歐盟,不僅為了經濟理由,還為了政治理由。沒有英國的歐盟將會是個弱很多的歐盟

施米茨:可調查顯示大多數英國人傾向「脫歐」,既英國脫離歐盟。

索羅斯:「英國脫歐」運動在刻意誤導公眾。英國目前與歐洲的合約是好得不能再好的。差不多英國出口商品的一半得以輸往共同市場,而同時間又不用受到加入歐元區所拖累。 

施米茨:英國商界為什麼不就脫歐的壞處多些發聲呢?

索羅斯:在英國建立了其生產能力並以之作為進入共同市場跳板的跨國企業管理層不願意公開表示反對英國脫離歐盟,因為他們的顧客有不同的看法,所以他們不想捲入政治辯論中。然而,私下問他們時,正如我做過的,他們會爽快地確認這一點。

英國脫歐運動嘗試令英國公眾相信,退出共同市場比留在那裡更安全。這運動沒有對手,因為政府想製造這麼一個印象,就是它在爭取最有利的交易。

施米茨:在一段長時間中,歐洲乃至全世界得以依賴中國作為增長和信貸火車頭。

索羅斯:中國仍然是歷史上最重要的國家。它積累了一個極其龐大的外匯儲備

施米茨:而這儲備將保護中國?

索羅斯:中國正在急速地把這些儲備消耗掉中國也在中國老百姓中擁有難以置信的廣泛的信任:很多人並不明白中國政府實際上是怎樣運作的,但他們相信這麼一個克服了那麼多問題的政權是知道自己在做什麼的。可是,這種信任也正在顯著快速地失去了,因為中國的領導層犯了很多的錯誤。習近平主席還有三數年可以繼續推行他目前的政策,但在這段時間內,中國將因為強化其已經明顯存在的通縮趨勢而對世界其他地方造成負面的影響。中國在世界經濟上所佔的比重,從來沒有像今天那樣的大,而它面對的問題,也從來沒有像今天那樣的棘手

施米茨:習近平主席能夠克服有關挑戰嗎?

索羅斯:習近平的處理手法存在著根本的紕漏。他掌握了對經濟和安全的直接控制。要是他成功找到一個市場主導的解決方法的話,對世界和對中國都是很好的事。問題是,不作某些政治改變,是無法實現市場主導的解決方法的。沒有獨立的媒體,是無法打擊腐敗的。而這是習近平所不願意允許的。就這一點來說,他接近普京的俄國更甚於接近我們的開放社會的理念。

施米茨:你對烏克蘭局勢有什麼評價?

索羅斯:兩年來,在面對那麼多的敵人下,烏克蘭做了難以置信的事而得以存活下來。可是,它需要更多更多外來的支持,因為它已經筋疲力盡了。 歐洲給烏克蘭套上短小的財政鏈索,那是在重犯它在希臘所犯過的錯誤。以前的烏克蘭跟以前的希臘很相似,由一些寡頭支配著,而公務員系統為一些以權謀私而非服務民眾的人所利用。可是,現在的烏克蘭是渴望撥亂反正的新烏克蘭。它的國會新近通過的 2016 年的財政預算,是符合國際貨幣基金組織(IMF)所施加的要求的。現在,是時候著手向新烏克蘭為推行激進改革所需的額外財政援助了。這樣做不僅有助它存活,還能令它繁榮起來,成為具吸引力的投資目的地。要是將新烏克蘭變回舊烏克蘭,那將是一個致命性的錯誤,因為在抵抗俄國侵略和重拾歐盟早年的團結精神上,新烏克蘭是歐洲最寶貴的資產

施米茨:很多人批評美國總統奧巴馬,說他對俄國過於軟弱。

索羅斯:這說法是對的。普京是個頂級權術家。他介入敘利亞衝突是因為他看到改善俄國在世界上的地位的機會。在遇上嚴肅的抵抗前,他會不斷進逼。奧巴馬總統應該在更早的時候挑戰他的所為。當俄國開始大規模向敘利亞提供軍事物資時,奧巴馬就應該宣布實施敘利亞領空為禁飛區,那時候俄國該不得不尊重這措施。可是,奧巴馬太熱衷於避免任何與俄國直接軍事對抗的機會。於是,俄國就裝置了防空導彈而沒有就只好和俄國分享敘利亞領空。土耳其擊落俄國戰鬥機一事,幾乎可以說是奧巴馬欠了土耳其總統雷傑普·塔伊普·埃爾多安(Recep Tayyip Erdoğan)一個人情。普京不得不承認他的軍事冒險遇上了嚴肅的反對,而現在他似乎願意尋找政治方面的解決方法。這方面的前景是挺樂觀的。

足以危害我們的文明的價值觀和原則的,還有伊斯蘭國(ISIS)和恐怖襲擊。恐怖份子想令穆斯林教青年們相信除了恐怖主義外別無出路,而要是我們聽了唐納德·特朗普(Donald Trump)之類的人的話,那恐怖份子就會成功。

施米茨:我不能不問一下,你認識川普嗎?

索羅斯:很多年以前,唐納德·川普想我做他早期擁有的物業其中一棟的主要租客。他說:「我想你入住這房子,租金由你定。」我回答說:「我怕負擔不來。」拒絕了他。

附:

一、“歐盟正面臨崩潰”-訪問索羅斯(‘The EU Is on the Verge of Collapse’—An Interview between George Soros and Gregor Peter Schmitz)原文網上連結:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/02/11/europe-verge-collapse-interview/

二、“歐盟正面臨崩潰”-訪問索羅斯(‘The EU Is on the Verge of Collapse’—An Interview between George Soros and Gregor Peter Schmitz)原文:

‘The EU Is on the Verge of Collapse’—An Interview

The following is a revised version of an interview between George Soros and Gregor Peter Schmitz of the German magazine WirtschaftsWoche.

A Syrian refugee holding a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as he and hundreds of other migrants and refugees arrived in Munich from Hungary, September 2015
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

A Syrian refugee holding a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as he and hundreds of other migrants and refugees arrived in Munich from Hungary, September 2015

Gregor Peter Schmitz: When Time put German Chancellor Angela Merkel on its cover, it called her the “Chancellor of the Free World.” Do you think that is justified?

George Soros: Yes. As you know, I have been critical of the chancellor in the past and I remain very critical of her austerity policy. But after Russian President Vladimir Putin attacked Ukraine, she became the leader of the European Union and therefore, indirectly, of the Free World. Until then, she was a gifted politician who could read the mood of the public and cater to it. But in resisting Russian aggression, she became a leader who stuck her neck out in opposition to prevailing opinion.

She was perhaps even more farsighted when she recognized that the migration crisis had the potential to destroy the European Union, first by causing a breakdown of the Schengen system of open borders and, eventually, by undermining the common market. She took a bold initiative to change the attitude of the public. Unfortunately, the plan was not properly prepared. The crisis is far from resolved and her leadership position—not only in Europe but also in Germany and even in her own party—is under attack.

Schmitz: Merkel used to be very cautious and deliberate. People could trust her. But in the migration crisis, she acted impulsively and took a big risk. Her leadership style has changed and that makes people nervous.

Soros: That’s true, but I welcome the change. There is plenty to be nervous about. As she correctly predicted, the EU is on the verge of collapse. The Greek crisis taught the European authorities the art of muddling through one crisis after another. This practice is popularly known as kicking the can down the road, although it would be more accurate to describe it as kicking a ball uphill so that it keeps rolling back down. The EU now is confronted with not one but five or six crises at the same time.

Schmitz: To be specific, are you referring to Greece, Russia, Ukraine, the coming British referendum, and the migration crisis?

Soros: Yes. And you haven’t even mentioned the root cause of the migration crisis: the conflict in Syria. Nor have you mentioned the unfortunate effect that the terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere have had on European public opinion.

Merkel correctly foresaw the potential of the migration crisis to destroy the European Union. What was a prediction has become the reality. The European Union badly needs fixing. This is a fact but it is not irreversible. And the people who can stop Merkel’s dire prediction from coming true are actually the German people. I think the Germans, under the leadership of Merkel, have achieved a position of hegemony. But they achieved it very cheaply. Normally hegemons have to look out not only for their own interests, but also for the interests of those who are under their protection. Now it’s time for Germans to decide: Do they want to accept the responsibilities and the liabilities involved in being the dominant power in Europe?

Schmitz: Would you say that Merkel’s leadership in the refugee crisis is different from her leadership in the euro crisis? Do you think she’s more willing to become a benevolent hegemon?

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 been so involved in promoting the principles of open society and supporting democratic change in Eastern Europe. Why is there so much opposition and resentment toward refugees there?

Soros: Because the principles of an open society don’t have strong roots in that part of the world. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is promoting the principles of Hungarian and Christian identity. Combining national identity with religion is a powerful mix. And Orbán is not alone. The leader of the newly elected ruling party in Poland, Jarosław Kaczyński, is taking a similar approach. He is not as intelligent as Orbán, but he is a canny politician and he chose migration as the central issue of his campaign. Poland is one of the most ethnically and religiously homogeneous countries in Europe. A Muslim immigrant in Catholic Poland is the embodiment of the Other. Kaczyński was successful in painting him as the devil.

Schmitz: More broadly, how do you view the political situation in Poland and Hungary?

Soros: Although Kaczyński and Orbán are very different people, the regimes they intend to establish are very similar. As I have suggested, they seek to exploit a mix of ethnic and religious nationalism in order to perpetuate themselves in power. In a sense they are trying to reestablish the kind of sham democracy that prevailed in the period between the First and Second World Wars in Admiral Horthy’s Hungary and Marshal Piłsudski’s Poland. Once in power, they are liable to capture some of the institutions of democracy that are and should be autonomous, whether the central bank or the constitutional court. Orbán has already done it; Kaczyński is only starting now. They will be difficult to remove.

In addition to all its other problems, Germany is going to have a Polish problem. In contrast to Hungary, Poland has been one of the most successful countries in Europe, both economically and politically. Germany needs Poland to protect it from Russia. Putin’s Russia and Kaczyński’s Poland are hostile to each other but they are even more hostile to the principles on which the European Union was founded.

Schmitz: What are those principles?

Soros: I have always looked at the EU as the embodiment of the principles of the open society. A quarter of a century ago, when I first became involved in the region, you had a moribund Soviet Union and an emerging European Union. And interestingly, both were adventures in international governance. The Soviet Union tried to unite proletarians of the world, and the EU tried to develop a model of regional integration based on the principles of an open society.

Schmitz: How does that compare with today?

Soros: The Soviet Union has been replaced by a resurgent Russia and the European Union has come to be dominated by the forces of nationalism. The open society that both Merkel and I believe in because of our personal histories, and that the reformers of the new Ukraine want to join because of their personal histories, does not really exist. The European Union was meant to be a voluntary association of equals but the euro crisis turned it into a relationship between debtors and creditors where the debtors have difficulties in meeting their obligations and the creditors set the conditions that the debtors have to meet. That relationship is neither voluntary nor equal. The migration crisis introduced other fissures. Therefore, the very survival of the EU is at risk.

Schmitz: That’s an interesting point, because I remember that you used to be very critical of Merkel two years ago for being too concerned with the interests of her voters and establishing a German hegemony on the cheap. Now, she has really changed course on the migration issue, and opened the door wide to Syrian refugees. That created a pull factor that in turn allowed the European authorities to develop an asylum policy with a generous target, up to a million refugees a year with the target open for several years. Refugees who are qualified to be admitted could be expected to stay where they are until their turn comes.

Soros: But we don’t have a European asylum policy. The European authorities need to accept responsibility for this. It has transformed this past year’s growing influx of refugees from a manageable problem into an acute political crisis. Each member state has selfishly focused on its own interests, often acting against the interests of others. This has precipitated panic among asylum seekers, the general public, and the authorities responsible for law and order. Asylum seekers have been the main victims. But you are right. Merkel deserves credit for making a European asylum policy possible.

The EU needs a comprehensive plan to respond to the crisis, one that reasserts effective governance over the flows of asylum seekers so that they take place in a safe, orderly way, and at a pace that reflects Europe’s capacity to absorb them. To be comprehensive, the plan has to extend beyond the borders of Europe. It is less disruptive and much less expensive for potential asylum seekers to stay in or close to their present location.

My foundation developed a six-point plan on this basis and announced it at exactly the same time as Orbán introduced his six-point plan, but the two plans were diametrically opposed to each other. Orbán’s plan was designed to protect the national borders against the asylum seekers; ours sought to protect the asylum seekers. We have been at odds ever since. Orbán accuses me of trying to destroy Hungary’s national culture by flooding the country with Muslim refugees. Paradoxically, our plan would keep qualified asylum seekers where they are currently located and provide facilities in those places; it is his policies that induce them to rush to Europe while the doors are still open.

Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán at a press conference in Budapest, February 2015
Dmitri Azarov/Kommersant Photo/Getty Images

Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán at a press conference in Budapest, February 2015

Schmitz: Could you make your paradox a little clearer? Why would your plan prevent refugees from flooding Europe?

Soros: We advocate a common European asylum policy that would reassert control over the European rather than national borders and allow asylum seekers to reach Europe in a safe, orderly way, and at a pace that reflects the EU’s capacity to absorb them. Orbán advocates using the national borders to keep out migrants.

Schmitz: And who is winning the conflict?

Soros: In Hungary, he has won hands down. More disturbingly, he is also winning in Europe. He is challenging Merkel for the leadership of Europe. He launched his campaign at the party conference in September 2015 of the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (the sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union) and he did so in cahoots with Horst Seehofer, the German party chairman. And it is a very real challenge. It attacks the values and principles on which the European Union was founded. Orbán attacks them from the inside; Putin from the outside. Both of them are trying to reverse the subordination of national sovereignty to a supranational, European order.

Putin goes even further: he wants to replace the rule of law with the rule of force. They are harking back to a bygone age. Fortunately, Merkel has taken the challenge seriously. She is fighting back and I support her not only with words but also with deeds. My foundations do not engage only in advocacy; they seek to make a positive contribution on the ground. We established a foundation in Greece, Solidarity Now, in 2013. We could clearly foresee that Greece in its impoverished state would have difficulty taking care of the large number of refugees that are stuck there.

Schmitz: Where would the money for your plan come from?

Soros: It would be impossible for the EU to finance this expenditure out of its current budget. It could, however, raise these funds by issuing long-term bonds using its largely untapped AAA borrowing capacity. The burden of servicing the bonds could be equitably distributed between member states that accept refugees and those that refuse to do so or impose special restrictions. Needless to say, that is where I remain at odds with Chancellor Merkel.

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: What’s your winning strategy for Greece?

Soros: Well, I don’t have one. Greece was mishandled from the beginning. When the Greek crisis originally surfaced toward the end of 2009, the EU, led by Germany, came to the rescue, but it charged punitive interest rates for the loans it offered. That is what made the Greek national debt unsustainable. And it repeated the same mistake in the recent negotiations. The EU wanted to punish Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and especially his former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis at the same time as it had no choice but to avoid a Greek default. Consequently, the EU imposed conditions that will push Greece into deeper depression.

Schmitz: Is Greece an interesting country for private investors?

Soros: Not as long as it is part of the eurozone. With the euro, the country is unlikely ever to flourish because the exchange rate is too high for it to be competitive.

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?

Soros: Very. I am convinced that Britain should stay in Europe not only for economic but even more for political reasons. An EU without the UK would be a much weaker union.

Schmitz: But surveys show a British majority for a Brexit, or British exit from the EU.

Soros: The campaign for the Brexit has deliberately misled the public. Currently, Britain has the best of all possible deals with Europe. It has access to the common market where nearly half of UK exports go while it is not weighed down by the burden of having joined the eurozone.

Schmitz: Why is the British business community not more vocal about the disadvantages of a Brexit?

Soros: The managements of the multinational corporations that have built up their manufacturing capacity in Britain as a springboard into the common market are reluctant to say that they oppose a Brexit publicly because they don’t want to get embroiled in a political debate where their customers have divergent views. But ask them privately, as I did, and they will readily confirm it.

The Brexit campaign has tried to convince the British public that it is safer to stay out of the common market than to be part of it. The campaign had the field to itself because the government wanted to give the impression that it is holding out for the best deal.

Schmitz: For a long time, Europe—and the world—could count on China as a growth and credit engine.

Soros: China is still historically the most important country. It still has very large accumulated foreign currency reserves.

Schmitz: And that will shelter the country?

Soros: China is exhausting these reserves very rapidly. It also has an incredibly large reservoir of trust from the Chinese population: many people may not understand how the Chinese regime actually works, but they believe that a regime that has managed to overcome so many problems knows what it is doing. But the reservoir of trust is also being exhausted at a remarkably fast rate because the leadership has made many mistakes. President Xi Jinping can carry on with his current policies for another three years or so, but during that time, China will exert a negative influence on the rest of the world by reinforcing the deflationary tendencies that are already prevalent. China is responsible for a larger share of the world economy than ever before and the problems it faces have never been more intractable.

Schmitz: Can President Xi rise to the challenge?

Soros: There is a fundamental flaw in Xi’s approach. He has taken direct control of the economy and of security. If he were to succeed in a market-oriented solution it would be much better for the world and for China. But you cannot have a market solution without some political changes. You cannot fight corruption without independent media. And that’s one thing that Xi is not willing to allow. On that point he is closer to Putin’s Russia than to our ideal of an open society.

Schmitz: What is your assessment of the situation in Ukraine?

Soros: Ukraine has done something almost unbelievable in surviving for two years while facing so many enemies. But it needs a lot more support from outside because it’s exhausted. By putting Ukraine on a short financial leash, Europe is repeating the mistake it has made in Greece. The old Ukraine had much in common with the old Greece—it was dominated by oligarchs and the civil service was used by people who were exploiting their position rather than serving the people. But there’s a new Ukraine that wants to be the opposite of the old Ukraine. The Rada has recently passed a budget for 2016 that meets the conditions imposed by the IMF. Now is the time to hold out the prospect of the additional financial assistance that the new Ukraine needs to carry out radical reforms. That would enable the country not only to survive but to flourish and become an attractive investment destination. Turning the new Ukraine back into the old Ukraine would be a fatal mistake because the new Ukraine is one of the most valuable assets that Europe has, both for resisting Russian aggression and for recapturing the spirit of solidarity that characterized the European Union in its early days.

Schmitz: Many criticize US President Barack Obama for being too weak toward Russia.

Soros: Rightly so. Putin is a supreme tactician who entered the Syrian conflict because he saw an opportunity to improve Russia’s standing in the world. He was ready to keep pushing until he encountered serious resistance. President Obama should have challenged him earlier. If Obama had declared a no-fly zone over Syria when Russia started to supply military equipment on a large scale, Russia would have been obliged to respect it. But Obama was eager to avoid any chance of a direct military confrontation with Russia. So Russia installed antiaircraft missiles and the US had to share control of the skies over Syria with Russia. You could almost say that by shooting down a Russian fighter jet, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did Obama a favor. Putin had to recognize that his military adventure had run into serious opposition and he now seems ready for a political solution. That is promising.

There is also ISIS and the terrorist attacks that threaten to undermine the values and principles of our civilization. The terrorists want to convince Muslim youth that there is no alternative to terrorism, and if we listen to the likes of Donald Trump they will succeed.

Schmitz: I can’t help but ask. Do you know Trump?

Soros: Going back many years Donald Trump wanted me to be the lead tenant in one of his early buildings. He said: “I want you to come into the building. You name your price.” My answer was, “I’m afraid I can’t afford it.” And I turned him down.