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The story of Soros; An interview of George Soros by Kerry O'Brien

July 21, 2006

George Soros is one of America's more remarkable and controversial success stories - a Jewish refugee from communist Hungary. After surviving German occupation in World War II, he built a personal fortune of many billions, using his hedge fund to make huge plays on the world's financial markets. Many myths have developed around the man, who once gambled $US10 billion in a single play when he took on the Bank of England and who was accused of triggering the Asian economic crisis, which he denies. But there's another fascinating side to George Soros too.

Under the influence of Austrian philosopher Karl Popper, he has given away billions of dollars to foundations in many countries, promoting what he calls an "open society". For instance, he helped fund the solidarity movement in Poland that in turn helped pave the way for the collapse of communism. And in the 2004 US Presidential election, he declared a much publicised war on George W Bush and lost. His book The Age Of Fallibility, which outlines what you might call the Soros doctrine, is about to be published in Australia, and I spoke overnight with George Soros from his Manhattan office high above Central Park. George Soros, when you reflect on your 75 years, as you have done in The Age Of Fallibility, what are the key ingredients that have shaped the driving principles of your life?

GEORGE SOROS, BILLIONAIRE PHILANTHROPIST: Well, on a personal level, of course, it really was the war time experience of 1944 that shaped my view of the world. I was born in Hungary, a Jew. I would have been killed if my father hadn't taken measures, and that year was a formative year when I learnt how important it is, what kind of political system prevails. Then I had the experience of communism and that led me to Karl Popper and that shaped me and led me to the idea of an open society. And that's really what I stand for.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You were 14 when Germany occupied Hungary. What are the strongest impressions you took away from that time?

GEORGE SOROS: Well, you know, it was very strange, but 1944 when we were in hiding was actually a very positive experience for me because my father was on top of the situation and we could help a lot of other people as well as surviving. So it gave me a sense that you can actually prevail against adversity. It made me a risk taker and a, let's say, somebody who insists on speaking the truth even if it's painful.

KERRY O'BRIEN: When you talk about an open society, do you have an ideal of an open society?

Read the complete interview

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