[Marxism] University Backed by George Soros Prepares to Leave Budapest Under Duress

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Oct 26 08:02:54 MDT 2018

NY Times, Oct. 26, 2018
University Backed by George Soros Prepares to Leave Budapest Under Duress
By Benjamin Novak and Marc Santora

BUDAPEST — In 1989, as the Soviet Union crumbled and countries across 
Eastern and Central Europe emerged from decades of political oppression, 
a group of intellectuals led by the Hungarian-born philanthropist George 
Soros proposed a university that would help in the transition to 
democracy from dictatorship.

Two years later, Central European University was founded in Prague, 
dedicated to educating a new generation on the foundations of a free 
society, including a respect for the rule of law and universal human 
rights. In 1993, it moved to Budapest.

Now, as Hungary drifts toward authoritarian rule under Prime Minister 
Viktor Orban, the university says it is being forced to close its 
Budapest campus, portraying itself as a victim of Mr. Orban’s efforts to 
vilify Mr. Soros and to stifle dissent and academic freedom.

On Thursday, university officials said they would stop admitting new 
students in Budapest after failing to resolve a dispute with the 
government over a new law that appeared to require it to open a branch 
in the United States. Central European University is accredited in 
Hungary and the United States.

“For 18 months, we have defended our right to remain as a U.S. 
degree-granting institution in Budapest, but we are unable to secure the 
guarantees we need from the Hungarian government to preserve our 
academic freedom,” the university’s president, Michael Ignatieff, said 
at a news conference in the Hungarian capital. Mr. Ignatieff said that 
the university’s central operations would be moved to Vienna.

“This is our home,” Mr. Ignatieff said, adding that the university hoped 
to reach a last-minute deal that would allow it to stay in Budapest. “If 
the government thinks they can get rid of C.E.U., they’ve got another 
thing coming.”

Mr. Orban has long used Mr. Soros as a foil, rife with anti-Semitic 
tropes, casting him as the leader of a nefarious global cabal, 
determined to undermine Hungary’s Christian values and allow Muslim 
immigrants to overrun the country.

Mr. Orban has been the chief architect behind a campaign of 
misrepresentations and falsehoods aimed at Mr. Soros, even photoshopping 
him into campaign posters with opposition candidates during the 
country’s elections this past spring.

The attacks on Mr. Soros took a more dangerous turn this week in the 
United States, when someone sent an explosive device to his home in New 
York, one of at least eight such bombs sent to people frequently 
denounced by President Trump.

Mr. Soros, a Jew who survived the Nazi occupation of Budapest during 
World War II, has dedicated a large part of the fortune he made in the 
financial markets to promoting democracies around the world, much of it 
through the work of his Open Society Foundations.

At the same time, however, the country of his birth has been moving away 
from the values he spent a lifetime championing.

In May, the Hungarian branch of his foundation was forced to shutter its 
doors, citing the “increasingly repressive political and legal environment.”

Still, university officials pressed on, hopeful that they could come to 
a solution that would allow the school to stay open.

The university established educational programs with Bard College in New 
York in an attempt to comply with the new law requiring a presence in 
the United States.

“Hungarian authorities inspected these programs and the New York State 
Board of Education confirmed to the Hungarian authorities that C.E.U. 
was in compliance with the agreement by offering educational activity in 
the State of New York,” the university said in a statement.

“Nevertheless, the Hungarian authorities have indicated that they would 
not sign the New York State agreement,” the statement added. “All 
attempts to find a solution that would enable C.E.U. to remain as a U.S. 
degree-granting institution in Budapest have failed.”

The United States’ ambassador to Hungary, David B. Cornstein, issued a 
statement saying that the university “remains a priority for the U.S. 
Government” and that he would continue to work to try and find a solution.

Central European University is considered one of the leading 
institutions in the region, with a faculty made up of top scholars from 
around the world and some of Europe’s leading politicians.

Mr. Orban himself received a grant in the late 1980s from the Soros 
Foundations to study grass-roots democracy and the importance of a 
vibrant civil society in a free society.

He has moved a long way from the positions he held decades ago, when he 
positioned himself as a champion of Western values.

Mr. Orban says he wants to make Hungary a bulwark of Christianity and is 
creating an “illiberal democracy” to achieve that goal. Critics see a 
leader bent on amassing ever greater power over the state by whatever 
means necessary. Attacks on academic freedom, they contend, are just the 
latest in a series of assaults on democratic institutions.

University officials, already facing punitive tax increases and forced 
to suspend studies related to migration, found themselves on the front 
lines of another of Mr. Orban’s culture wars when the government banned 
the teaching of gender studies.

European Union leaders have watched Mr. Orban’s moves in Hungary with 
increasing alarm. In September, they moved to invoke Article 7 of the 
bloc’s founding treaty against Hungary for undermining the union’s core 
values, which could see the country lose its voting rights.

As European lawmakers debated initiating the measure last month, Mr. 
Ignatieff warned them that the fate of the university was about far more 
than the school itself.

“This is not an abstract issue,” he said to the European Parliament. “A 
lot of the future of Europe hangs in the balance.”

Poland, which became the first member nation to face sanctions under 
Article 7 last year, has formed an alliance with Hungary to block the 
application of the measure. Since action requires unanimity among member 
states, it is unlikely either country will lose their voting rights.

Students at the sprawling campus, which is spread across several 
historic buildings in central Budapest, lamented the situation.

“Of course I am angry with Orban, because C.E.U. is a great thing in 
Hungary,” said Reka Blazsek, a 24-year-old Hungarian studying for a 
master’s in economics. “I don’t know of anything C.E.U. did or caused 
harm to Hungary.”

Tatiana Shaw, 32, a Russian citizen who is studying public policy, said 
she was mystified why the university had become such a target, 
especially since Mr. Soros was not really a part of the school’s daily life.

“This is a shame,” Ms. Shaw said, noting that the university had done 
all it could without crossing over into dangerous territory. “If the 
university found a way to be more radical then maybe it wouldn’t be a 
good thing, that might not have been good because we are not politicians.”

She recalled how the American ambassador recently told a group of 
students that he did not associate the university with Mr. Soros. But 
she noted that Mr. Trump had attacked Mr. Soros on Twitter only days 
before the ambassador spoke to them.

“I feel maybe it is somehow related to Trump, that Trump hates Soros,” 
she said.

“It’s a shame for Hungary,” Ms. Shaw said. “It reminds me of Russia very 

Benjamin Novak reported from Budapest, and Marc Santora from Warsaw.

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