In 2012 when former New York Governor George Pataki became a member of the Central European University (CEU) Board of Trustees, university founder and Honorary Chairman George Soros held a reception at his Southampton, New York home. Pataki was grateful for the appointment. As a trustee, Pataki was instrumental in selecting Michael Ignatieff, the Canadian professor and liberal politician as President and Rector of the University.
Yesterday Gov. Pataki issued the following statement:
“As a former Governor of New York, where CEU is incorporated, and as an American with deep roots in Hungary, I am writing to raise my voice in defense of a world-class university. In 2004, I was honored to sign an agreement with the prime minister of Hungary, which enabled the recognition of CEU as a Hungarian university. Over the past 25 years, CEU has made substantial contributions to Hungarian-US relations, to the education of several generations of outstanding scholars and professionals in Central Europe and beyond, and to the production of advanced knowledge in the social sciences and humanities. CEU is an asset for Hungary and any attack against its institutional autonomy and academic freedom would be a serious setback for Hungarian higher education and impact future of relations between our two countries.”
In an interview last March with the Hungarian weekly, Figyelő, Pataki praised Mr. Orbán’s “strong” government, and described Hungary as a free market economy with a solid democratic system (!) and a great chance to become one of the most competitive countries of the world. Pataki urged Hungarians to adopt a more optimistic attitude and praised the country for its “fantastic” ability to attract foreign capital.
Pataki blamed US criticism of the Orbán government and allegations of corruption and an over-centralized political system on the Obama administration’s “hypocritical, almost hysteric” political correctness. Although Pataki admitted that he had read “one or two things” in US media that gave him concern, he voiced strong optimism concerning the future of Hungary and praised the country for its constant development.
George Pataki is 71 years old and a moderate Republican. Some consider him the doyen of the Hungarian American community and a group recently started to lobby to name him President Trump’s Ambassador to Budapest.
Now it seems that things have changed. Gov. Pataki strongly denounces the Orbán government’s attack on academic freedom and warns that this behavior could seriously impact future relations between Hungary and the United States. It seems that Orbán has lost one of his most loyal supporters.
I wonder how Pataki’s Hungarian American friends will react to his break with the Orbán regime.