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Case CEU – how important is it?

December 10th, 2018

Left wing commentators consider the departure of the US-accredited degree modules of the Central European University a major defeat for democracy. A conservative analyst remarks that the West does not seem too concerned.

In its regular weekly editorial, Magyar Narancs paints a desolate picture of public life in Hungary after what it calls the expulsion of the Central European University. The editors complain that young people who a few years ago managed to prevent the planned Internet tax from being enacted with a large-scale demonstration, could not stop the CEU from being ‘chased’ out of Hungary. Only two dozen people showed up at a solidarity rally on Monday. Magyar Narancs believes that the majority of the Hungarian population is not represented in politics. The opposition parties are little better than tools of the regime, the authors write, simply ‘useful idiots’ of those in power. There are extra-Parliamentary parties and movements, however, as well as media outlets which do reflect reality. ‘The CEU is gone, but not entirely’, they write (the Hungarian degree courses remain in Budapest and as Népszava reported, if the US-accredited CEU programmes are ‘naturalised’ in Austria, then, under EU single market rules, they can be offered in Budapest as well.) In any case, Magyar Narancs concludes, ‘what the CEU teaches is a living science in many Hungarian minds’, thus ‘it is not the end of the world’.

On 444, alt-left columnist András Jámbor blames the CEU for seeking a negotiated settlement over the past year instead of waging a political struggle to prevent its ‘expulsion’. Before the first large-scale pro CEU demonstration, he recalls, CEU officials warned that taking part could be dangerous and afterwards discouraged public demonstrations. Instead, he believes, it should have led the struggle, organising and financing demonstrations itself. The old methods of academic and intellectual influence do not work anymore in politics, he argues – ‘what counts is sheer force’. He draws the lesson from the CEU affair that ‘negotiations are just a means, not the solution in political struggles’.

On Azonnali, Balázs Böcskei criticises the melancholy style of opposition reactions to the fate of the CEU. He finds a new song by liberal songwriter and performer János Bródy a typical expression of that mood. It is about ‘someone who loved his country but was not loved by it’. In fact, the left-wing political scientists writes, opposition commentators tend to believe that it is the population’s fault if the incumbent government does not encounter significant opposition. He defines that attitude as unjust and self-defeating. What is acceptable in a song by an intellectual songwriter, he argues, will certainly not work in politics. In opposition to Jámbor’s opinion, he believes that the CEU’s struggle over the past months is worth much more than the struggle waged by the opposition so far. In order to make the opposition more effective politically, he suggests, it should first understand why street protests have not been attended by more people. Left-wing analysts have a lot to do in the coming months, he concludes.

On Mandiner, Kristóf Trombitás thinks CEU rector Michael Ignatieff mistakenly hoped that the United States, the European Union or the European People’s Party could change the course of events around his university. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán probably correctly assessed that apart from a certain amount of verbal criticism, nothing would happen to force the government to change its mind. As long as the United States tables two issues, arms sales and the CEU in bilateral negotiations, there is no doubt which is more important for Washington, Trombitás suggests. Similarly, a few months before the European Parliamentary elections, the European People’s Party would find it ill-advised to disassociate itself from Fidesz. All in all, Trombitás opines, international decision-makers don’t seriously care about the fate of the CEU.

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