Tens of thousands rallied in Budapest to protest a law that could force the US-accredited Central European University (CEU), founded by George Soros, a Hungarian-born billionaire, to move out of the country. The attack on academic freedom has attracted worldwide criticism, including from North America where hundreds of academics, including dozens of Nobel prize-winners, signed letters and demanded the law to be withdrawn.
You would think that Hungarian professors are fully behind this protest. Think twice.
In Hungary many professors and academics are quietly supporting Mr. Orbán’s law. They sit on the sidelines, waiting how this will play out. I have a feeling that many of them hate the success of the American “Soros University” and felt schadenfreude when Hungary’s President Áder signed the bill.
80-year-old E. Szilveszter Vizi, a neuroscientist and former President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences who is currently also the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Friends of Hungary Foundation, released a statement “in connection with the controversial situation of the Central European University (CEU).”
“We do not possess all the information that would be necessary to obtain a complete assessment of the situation. However, I have expressed my concerns personally in an informal way. I can claim surely that the government wants to resolve the issue in form of negotiations and also that nor the activity of the Central European University, neither the freedom of science and research are in danger. In my opinion, the freedom of science and research is fundamental. I am convinced that the Hungarian government continues to guarantee the freedom of science and research.”
Mr. Vizi has ample experience with statements like the above, in the 1970s he was the darling of the Communist Kádár-regime; later he switched colors and became an anti-Communist. Now he supports the Orbán regime.
In North America a large group of Hungarian-American professors are also quietly supporting Mr. Orbán’s attack against the CEU. On April 7 while a handful of Hungarian Americans demonstrated in front of the Hungarian Consulate General in New York, behind closed doors they hosted the 2nd Conference of the Association of Hungarian-American Academicians. The star guest was Tamás Freund, vice president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, one of Mr. Orbán’s favorite professors. (Read here the program and participants of the event.)
A scientific conference at the Consulate? Well, many of us think that this was a carefully choreographed event to prove that there are American professors who willingly support (or at least do not oppose) the closure of an American university in Budapest.
Young protesters lined up in front of the Consulate building and Colleen Bell, ex-US Ambassador to Budapest who had attended the event, joined the protesters after leaving the building. She was the only one! Not one of the attending Hungarian-American professors has expressed support for the demonstrators.
The event was sponsored by the New York Hungarian Scientific Society (NYHSS), an organization which was initiated and financially supported by the Consulate General of Hungary in New York. The president of NYHSS is 72-year-old Laszlo Zaborszky, a Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University and the vice president is Imre Bartos, a researcher at Columbia University.
I’m sure that many of our readers would love to know their thoughts about the new Hungarian law targeting the Budapest based Central European University. (Read more about NYHSS here.)
We’ll ask them!