Ignatieff’s last stand in Budapest

Former Liberal Party of Canada leader Michael Ignatieff was not alive on April 4, 1945, when the Russian Red Army liberated Hungary from the remaining elements of a dogged, pro-Nazi resistance. That liberation was the start of a 45 year long period of Russian led, anti-liberal rule in Hungary, which only ended in 1990.

On April 4, 2017, as Rector of Hungary’s highest ranked University – the Central European University (CEU) – Ignatieff was personal witness to the second liberation of Hungary. He watched helplessly, as the Hungarian Parliament passed a law that will shut down his university, in an effort to save Hungary from liberalism.

Michael Ignatieff, Rector of CEU

Hungary’s second „liberation” didn’t require Red Army troops. While it was undertaken at the request of Vladimir Putin, it was executed by a sovereign Hungarian Parliament, in which Putin’s best Hungarian disciple, Viktor Orbán, enjoys overwhelming support. Ignatieff’s Liberal Arts University, founded by Holocaust survivor George Soros, was sent packing from Budapest, without any consultation or debate. CEU is seen as a menace to Hungary’s Christian values. Its founder is portrayed by Hungary’s Prime Minister, as a man, who wants to destroy European civilization.

Three years ago, and in a public speech, Viktor Orbán swore to reshape his country’s political system according to an „illiberal” blueprint from the Kremlin. By now, Hungary is a pale shadow of its former democratic self. According to a press release, on March 21 of this year, Hungary’s Civil Liberties Union, and more than one hundred of the country’s top non-government organizations notified the world, that the Orbán regime has declared war on Hungary’s civil society. The rule of law has been savaged, the freedom of the press is virtually gone. Two years ago, Republican Senator John McCain, referred to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as a “neo-Fascist dictator”. Things have become even more desperate since then. By now, many agree, that Orbán is Putin’s Trojan horse within the Western alliance.

The sustainability of the regime that sent Ignatieff packing faces much better prospects than the one installed by the Kremlin 70 years ago. Hungarians, for generations, have been told that liberalism is a Jewish, anti-Christian conspiracy. Antisemitism in Hungary is at its highest level since World War II. This time around, even the President of the United States is a Soros opponent. But what’s best of all is, that Donald Trump is enthralled by the aroma floating westward from the Kremlin’s kitchen.

It is sad, but true, that the former Liberal Party of Canada leader, and the former Liberal Foreign Minister, M. Stéphane Dion, didn’t say a word from their positions of authority against Putin’s Trojan horse within the trans-Atlantic alliance. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has still not spoken out in defense of his Party’s former leader or in defense of those people in Hungary whose civil liberties are being abused, even as I write these lines. The Liberal Party of Canada, as its conservative predecessor, has chosen to keep its lips tightly sealed, and if anything, has praised the champion of „illiberalism” in Central Europe, albeit in a more understated way, than J.D. Gordon, the National Security Advisor to the Trump campaign who said: “The team of President-elect Donald Trump deeply admires the Hungarian leader. With Trump in the White House, a new chapter will be opened in American-Hungarian relations. Mr. Trump and Mr. Orbán will become good friends.”

With Trump in the White House, the road to lasting power for many illiberal wannabees around the world has been cleared of any American obstructions. Egypt’s Sisi has come and gone. France’s populist Marine Le Pen has been given a pat on her bum by the man who is famous for his roamin’ hands, rushin’ fingers. Erdogan has been embraced with open arms. Orbán has been told to wait his turn, until public attention fades from The Budapest Bridge, and Mr. Gorka comes out to play. Now it’s finally up to the local populations to show what they are made of. Their road will not be an easy one. They have stood up to the bullies in Austria, and Holland. We’re holding our breath for France. But as Syria’s Assad, or Hungary’s Orbán have shown, the anti-liberal forces, emboldened by Trump, will be throwing more than the kitchen sink at their democratic opponents.

Mr. Ignatieff and the current leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada should do more than exercise understated language in opposition to the forces that seek to undermine democratic principles the world over. They must demonstrate with bold actions and words that they learned something from the great Karl Polányi who wrote 70 years ago the following scathing condemnation: “Nowhere has liberal philosophy failed so conspicuously as in its understanding of the problems of change.”

András Göllner


  1. Avatar Tamás Fenyvesi M.D. says:

    Dear András,
    At variance with Mr. Ignatieff I was alive in 1945 , incidentally in the Budapest Ghetto . I was liberated on the 18th January 1945 by the Red Army. I totally agree with your remarks, unfortunately I wonder if any liberal opinion has the force to result in a new liberation of Hungary.

  2. Avatar Don Hermiston says:

    If Orban sent Soros packing, he can’t be all bad.

  3. Yes, Orban is nasty, but there is no chance of Canada’s Liberals getting between Soros and his legion of enemies. For one thing, there is little for them to gain from taking on East Europe’s reconstituting dictatorships. If I wanted to be cynical, there is no prospect for panda selfies, or grandstanding about women’s or minority rights in standing up to Putin. Soros has made a series of bets against Putin, and because he didn’t win them, everything he created and promoted in Europe will vanish. Given how he has stood up for liberal values, even his life might be in some jeopardy.

  4. CEU did not make the top 43 universities, check the list. Hungarian Free Press is either inept or publishes false news. Just think, one of the doctoral thesis was the effect of menstruation during protests. I do not think that student gained anything from education at CEU.

  5. As a Canadian and as a progressive, I am ashamed that my government has nothing to say when it comes to the Tyrant of Hungary, Viktor Orban. But I am not surprised. This is the party after all that promised electoral reform as the major plank in its electoral platform in 2015 and then dropped it like a hot potato, and did so in the most disingenuous way possible.

    You need principles to stand up to a bully and a dictator like Orban. Does anyone believe that the Liberal Party has any?

  6. @ Marta Burka

    Please reheat the hurka.

  7. I stated before on the KMH, CEU is nothing else than what were the very political goals of the so called Frankfurt School of Social Studies back after WWI. Established by few political extremists, some even members of the former Kun Bela government.

    Beside, CEU offers no classes in any field that could help the nation to recover, or move ahead economically. These would be the fields of science and technology.

    Mr. Soros of course have every right to do so, since he has done it with his own money. Why the present government attempt to close it down, instead of attempting to have CEU change its curriculum is beyond me and any reader.

    Most outside recommendations were that Mr. Soros and Orban need to sit down and work it out like adults. Now what’s wrong with that ?

    • I doubt it is the curriculum that bothers the government, and telling Soros to change his university makes no sense. Besides, CEU’s mission is not to train employees for Hungary. It is an establishment for international students and faculty. Kicking out CEU will harm Hungary’s economy, prestige and academic standards, but the government doesn’t want a university it cannot fully control.

  8. Andras Gollner;
    “Burka” and “Hurka” may rhyme, but not very gentlemanly, especially toward a lady.

  9. @ Bendeguz79

    “not very gentlemanly, especially toward a lady”

    Trolls are sexless.

  10. It seems the people who support the Orban Government have their own long list of grievances against CEU and Soros. The university has become a lightning rod for nationalists, xenophobes, and conspiracy theorists. And yes, anti-Semites too. There is no sense in arguing with the Government when there is such a groundswell of ill-will toward CEU and its mission.

  11. martaburka, what list are you quoting from?

  12. András covers a little bit too much in too little space here, with what I hope is a touch of exaggeration about the Trump administration’s keenness for the Orbán régime (Orbán wasn’t invited to the Trump inauguration and has been slighted more than celebrated; meanwhile the American side has been strong in its condemnation of the lex CEU). But, to respond to martaburka’s odd accusation of ‘false’ news (it’s called fake news, for one thing) or ineptitude, the CEU is the internationally highest-ranked of Hungarian universities, but this doesn’t mean it is very highly ranked. It’s just that the other Hungarian universities are, alas, ranked even lower by international standards. I am not sure these rankings mean that much. But one thing that isn’t talked about enough is how the Orbán régime has been interfering in the operation of ‘ordinary’ Hungarian universities. CEU didn’t stick its neck out much about this before – but you can tell which other rectors are more puppets of the régime by how restrained they are in defending CEU now.

  13. Avatar Miklos Banfi says:

    Nice piece again András! Can you shed some light, what is holding back Trudeau an Co. from backing Ignatieff and their views against this insidious issue?
    In my view, this CEU question is very serious, but only a diversion from something even more gruesome issue. It might have ignited a bigger storm that they planned, but the dictatorship can live with it as a sacrifice for something much bigger. No doubt that it is an other big nail in their coffin, though.
    Am I good for a double left over for the májas hurka? Just to keep her preoccupied?
    Bendegúz, it seems to me, that you are pedalling in a very different boat here. You really think, that Mr. Soros is in charge of the curriculum?
    Would Orbán sit down with Soros? Hm… Try to look at the bigger picture if you can.

  14. @ David Robert Evans

    Alas, my brevity is a condition of limited time and space – you must have heard of Mick Jagger singing – you can’t always get what you waaaaant. 🙂
    I try not to exaggerate David, so I’m not sure what you are basing your slight of hand on. Pray tell if I mistranslated J.D. Gordon’s gushing endorsement of the Hungarian autocrat. (Gordon served as the Trump campaign’s National Security Advisor, played a significant role in watering down the Republican platform’s stand on Russia, and visited Orbán’s Hungary 6 times, to cheer on Mr. Orbán’s effort to reshape Hungary along Putin’s and Erdogan’s design.) Yes, I have been accused of exaggerating the frequency of Gordon’s visits to Orbánia. I happen to have taken this number from the horse’s mouth. Mr. Gordon in an unguarded moment, which he no doubt would love to retreat from, admitted his 6 visits in a Hungarian language interview on December 1, 2016.

    I have been taught as a social scientist, and a follower of Leontieff, never to extrapolate a ripple into a long wave. I have dealt with the causes of Mr. Trump’s short term icing of Mr. Orbán, in an earlier article here (The Budapest Bridge). I have no desire to give long term durability to this blip, or to give a false sense of comfort to gays, feminists, environmentalists, animal lovers, and those who would love to pursue life, liberty and justice in Hungary, but are being blocked in their endeavor by a regime which, until a month or so ago was looked upon by the Trump team as a model for America.

  15. Miklos Banfi.
    Do I really “think that Mr.Soros is in charge of the curriculum?”

    Well Miklos, let me turn your question around.

    Do you really think that when Mr. Soros put up $ 880 million of his own money for whatever his goal might have been, although I say he had some very definite political aims, but that he just wanted to forget all about the outcome? If that would be the case, he would sure deserve to lose control of it.

    As of just who would sit down with whom is not relevant, but how else can they resolve the issue? A political tug of war, that will cost millions, OR riots on the streets? ( Both will cost millions for the Hungarian taxpayers.) Is that the liberal solution ? Are you not concerned of the interest of the people? Only of one man’s political goal?

    Come on Miklos, practice what you preach !

  16. @ David et al

    Here is a hypothesis – reacting to comments prior to eating breakfast can lead to one to see a particle as a wave. (Apologies for being a Bohr…) I had Kondratiev on my mind, but on an empty stomach, he came out as a Leontief. I beg forgiveness.

  17. Avatar Miklos Banfi says:

    I think it has to be quite simple: There are enough liberal democrats around, of which Soros could appoint any number of leaders for CEU or any of his political, civil or economic endevours, he can trust. His priorities are quite straight, and thank God, he has many followers.

    Orban and the other illiberate hatemongers turned against him.
    Who wants bloodshed? Think and say whatever you want, but so far I have never heard any true democrate or liberal to talk about itching palm and “We will show the cheeky demonstrators what is being threatened feels like”. Yes, I and I think many of us wish that our autocrats would disappear without bloodshed, inspite of the nature of the status.

  18. Miklos Banfi
    When I said “he”, that means whomsoever he wants to appoint on his behalf giving such authority.
    I am sure he has an army of lawyers to do just that.

    The second part of you comment seems strictly a personal wish of yours. I do not debate that.

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