George Soros bought my lunch.

More than once.

In fact, I figured out the other day, I probably have a more direct connection to George Soros — through those lunches — than anyone else in Jay County.

Who is George Soros? And why does any of this matter?

Soros is many things. 

He’s a Jew who survived the Holocaust, and like other survivors he may have compromised his principles along the way, passing himself off as a Christian in order to save his life. He’s a billionaire many times over, having made much of his money speculating on the rise and fall of different currencies.

He played a pivotal role in the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, providing grants that gave non-governmental organizations copying machines that could be put to use against authoritarian regimes and funding travel and education for young leaders who had the potential to transform their countries.

He’s also a big donor to progressive/liberal causes here and in Europe.

And because of that last one, he’s also a bogeyman for America’s political right.

Lately, he’s been the fall-back guy for conspiracy theories that have him paying folks to demonstrate against the Trump administration and its policies. 

Given the sincere opposition to the administration and its policies, it’s difficult to understand why demonstrators would have to be paid. There are plenty of volunteers. But that’s the conspiracy theory.

He was also in the news a few weeks back when some knucklehead thought it would be a good idea to send him a pipe bomb.

So why did he buy me lunch?

It goes back to 1998 when I was in the former Soviet republic of Moldova, teaching journalism as a Fulbright scholar at the country’s capital, Chisinau.

Early on that dreary winter, I met up with a young Peace Corps volunteer by the name of Mark Chernoff. Mark, also a Jew, not only was a lawyer, he also had a master’s degree in business administration.

But his Peace Corps sojourn was not going well. He was frustrated and thought I could help.

His work had put him in contact with some of the regional publishers of newspapers around the country that were trying to figure out independence.

Training had been provided by western governments, but it wasn’t making much of a dent.

What if, Mark wondered, the two of us could partner for a series of road trips, taking the independent press message out to the various regional cities, working with not only the publishers but also the staff?

I thought it was a great idea and sold the U.S. Embassy on providing transportation — a Chevy Blazer driven by Vitalie — and translation — embassy staffer Carolina Istrati.

But there was a problem. Moldovans pride themselves on their hospitality. If an American newspaperman was visiting Cimislia or Orhei or Rezina or Criuleni or wherever, the Moldovans would insist on providing a meal and picking up the tab.

And they were broke. Stone cold broke. The last thing they needed to do was pay for lunch for Mark, Carolina, Vitalie and me.

That’s where George Soros came in.

His premiere initiative is the Open Society Institute, based upon a belief that open discourse is the best way to prevent authoritarian governments from taking root.

Mark asked the folks at Open Society. They said yes. And George Soros picked up the tab for lunch after lunch.

Does that sound like a bad guy to you?

It doesn’t to me.