University under threat

(Non-native English version of Yliopisto uhattuna)

I had just finished my previous posting on the threats to the freedom of science and research, when these news from Hungary came thundering. The Central European University, operating in Budapest since more than 25 years ago, by various criteria and rankings the highest-quality university in Hungary, might be destroyed by the holders of highest political power. To put it very bluntly: we don’t need even the best university of the country, if that implies supporting anti-corruption activities, NGOs and other libtard BS.

As a private university funded by the “Soros foundation”, the CEU has long been the bête noire of the present Hungarian government. Not just the international CEU (its programmes also have a US accreditation) but all activities supporting an “open society” and funded by George Soros, the activist billionaire of Hungarian extraction. The Soros foundation in its time granted a scholarship to young Viktor Orbán by which he could study at Oxford, and in fact, many colleagues and like-minded friends of Orbán’s, at those times Western-oriented liberal young intellectuals, were supported by the same foundation. Now the Orbán régime has already for some time been labouring to show Soros as a kind of a mega-bogeyman, the central figure and power centre of an “Anti-Hungarian” conspiracy. Soros is claimed to be behind almost any action which opposes or criticizes the government, from opposition politicians to NGOs. In this propaganda war, reading between the lines one can also recognize the deeply-rooted tradition of Anti-Semitism: Jews, who operate both left-wing liberalism and international Big Business, are the root of all evil. Of course, Orbán and the Fidesz party will not say this out loud, on the contrary, as there are Jews among Fidesz activists and decision-makers. Yet, Anti-Semitism is such a powerful force in Hungarian society and among Fidesz supporters that it is worth while to try to harness it to the service of these campaigns.

In February, the CEU had to deny the allegations of  Magyar Idők, a government mouthpiece, according to which Hungarian personnel at the university had been subject to discrimination. Already earlier, there were  rumours about Orbán and Soros personally negotiating about the CEU’s chances to remain in Hungary, and even in the first days of February this year, Michael Ignatieff, the Rector of CEU, personally contested the claims by which the government would be planning to banish the CEU. Ignatieff assured that the CEU is not a political organization nor taking orders from Soros – it is an independent university whose research and teaching is in no way dictated by the Soros foundation. Now, however, it seems that even this is not enough.

The law amendment proposal  submitted on Tuesday would make the operation of the CEU in Hungary impossible. The legalese is  interpreted into plain Hungarian on the 24.hu news site as follows:

  • The operations of the university would be tied to bilateral agreements: Hungary would have to make such an agreement either with the USA or with the state of New York.
  • The university would be obliged to maintain a campus in New York as well, which would be very expensive.
  • Scholars from abroad would no more be allowed to teach at the CEU without applying for a work and residence permit in Hungary.

Even if the government media are trying to embed the fate of the CEU into a larger framework – according to an article of the Origo.hu news site, 28 foreign universities operating in Hungary are “in breach of regulations” – it is clearly the CEU that is being targeted. In fact, even the Origo article was entitled “Serious breaches of regulations by the Soros university in Hungary” (and the article is only tagged with “Soros” – clicking on the tag one will find links to various other “news” about the dirty operations of Soros all over Hungarian society).

So far, the US embassy has already reacted and expressed its deep concern, the secretary of state in charge of educational affairs László Palkovics in turn has claimed that the new amendment proposal is not specifically targeting the CEU (although it is only the CEU to which the requirement of a campus in the “mother country” applies). Hungarian opposition media of course continue aggressively covering the case.

One of the most impressive comments was published by HVG. Zoltán Balázs, now affiliated to the Corvinus University, reminds that the CEU is not necessarily loved by everybody. It is an elite university which only offers advanced education and thus attracts alumni from other universities without always showing due gratitude towards those institutions which made the preparatory work, it is envied due to its better resources, and of course the CEU, even if it is not a political institution, does in a certain sense have its own political world view and character which is not to everyone’s liking. Nevertheless, Balázs, himself a former employee of the CEU, states:

Despite all frustration, be it justified or not, the CEU means inspiration, a model, a standard of quality for the best part of Hungarian higher education. The university is one of Hungary’s doors to the world – please excuse my simple metaphor. And the above-mentioned character of the university, whether you find it attractive or not, nevertheless exists, and as everywhere in the civilized world, it is worth while to go into dialogue with it, to debate, if needed, to pursue a tough polemic. This is not for the government to do, not even to its media. It is the task of others, mine as well. The Hungarian conservative right-wing intellectuals – myself included – do not need the banishment of the CEU by administrative and legal means: that’s morally degrading.

The CEU has just organized a press conference. Rector Ignatieff told he was going to meet Minister Balog (with whom he has been trying to get an appointment for weeks already, in vain) and try to avoid shifting to “Plan B”.

On the corridors, of course, people are already speculating about the CEU’s chances to leave Hungary for some more friendly Central European environment. It is also unclear whether wider solidarity campaigns will be initiated.

We will continue observing the situation.

UPDATE. CEU and its friends are initiating a solidarity campaign. More information: https://www.ceu.edu/category/istandwithceu .

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