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Further comments on the departure of the Central European University

October 29th, 2018

Left-wing commentators see a litmus test in the government’s handing of the CEU affair; one explains why the Prime Minister feels he cannot compromise on that matter, while pro-government outlets ridicule the protests over the planned transfer of most CEU courses to Vienna.

In Népszava, Judit N. Kósa wonders what future CEU graduates will write in their theses about what is happening to their university these days. She believes they will describe today’s government as guilty of recklessness by clinging to power. They may also describe it as an unfortunate coincidence that the American ambassador who tried to negotiate with the government was an inexperienced businessman. What she finds difficult to imagine is how future authors will explain the origin of the idea to chase the CEU away. Did the decision-makers consider that Hungarians tolerated the expulsion of CEU, because they had been sufficiently indoctrinated by the government to hate knowledge, liberty and autonomous thinking, she asks. Her bitter answer is that the person who had the idea has been proven right by the events.

In a highly emotional column on Mérce, Zsolt Kapelner sees the practically certain departure of CEU from Budapest as proof that ‘the rule of tyranny is complete’ and writes that with CEU Hungary is losing ‘one of its last remaining advanced, high level and Western-like institutions’. ‘The wings of the soul burning in the wind are being slowly pulverised’, he writes, ‘and human thought and mind lie buried in the depths of a marsh of servility and intellectual emptiness’. Kapelner welcomes the demonstration held by Momentum in front of the CEU building on Friday under the slogan ‘we will not let our future go’, but thinks that their battle is already lost. ‘The CEU is leaving. We have lost’, he concludes.

Gondola reproduces excerpts from Kapelner’s article in its ‘absurdity of the day’ column, under the title ‘the brain of a young CEU man’. In its subtitle the pro-government site quotes as obvious nonsense the description of the current Hungarian political system by Kapelner as ‘a semi-peripheral one turning into post-fascist terror’.

On Pesti Srácok, Balázs Dezse thinks that the protesters have no real reason to complain, because their Hungarian degree courses may continue in Hungary even if those offering US degrees will be transferred to Vienna. Those who intend to get Hungarian Masters degrees at CEU will therefore not lose anything, he argues, while for the American students, it is much the same whether they study in future in Budapest or in Vienna. On this basis, Dezse finds that it was completely baseless for the speakers at Friday’s demonstration to accuse the government of intending to chase young generations away from Hungary.

On the site of the opposition TV channel ATV, former Népszabadság journalist Ildikó Csuhaj explains that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán would confuse his own supporters if he made a concession in favour of the Soros-founded Budapest Central European University. The anti-Soros campaigns conducted by the government over the past year would make it difficult for the Prime Minister to yield to international pressure, including sustained efforts by the new American ambassador. Instead, the government suggests that the CEU should issue joint degrees with a U.S. based University and thus the law that prescribes the existence of a mother University for foreign institutions to issue degrees in Hungary could be circumvented. Summarising the latest developments, an unnamed government source told Csuhaj that ‘Michael Ignatieff, the president of the CEU has pointed a gun at the head of the Prime Minister – but that gun has no bullets’.


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