CEU – Academic freedom discussion at UC Berkeley

The University of California at Berkeley held a panel discussion this week about the situation at the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest. The panel guests were István Rév, the Director the Open Society Archive at CEU, who is currently a visiting professor of History at UC Berkeley, and Gábor Klaniczay, a Professor of Medieval History at CEU.

The moderator was John Connelly, professor of history, and the event was sponsored by the Department of History; the Townsend Center for the Humanities; the Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies; and the Institute of European Studies at UC Berkeley.

Gábor Klaniczay, Professor of Medieval History at CEU.

Hungarian President János Áder has already signed the amended law (Lex CEU) which governs the operations of foreign universities in Hungary. The bill is seen as a maneuver to expel CEU from Budapest. CEU was founded by 86-year-old Hungarian-born George Soros who currently has no influence to the University’s operation or day-to-day business.

The Orbán government’s attack on CEU has generated worldwide interest and Americans are trying to understand what is happening in Hungary. Several US universities have issued statements in support of CEU and are genuinely surprised that the government of an EU-member country would attack a university. Last time European universities were closed was when the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia.

UC Berkeley’s new Chancellor elect, Carol T. Christ serves on the board of CEU, and is one of its trustees. She is fully behind CEU.

Mr. Rév and Mr. Klaniczay provided details about Orbán’s actions that are shocking. The CEU had little or no warning that Lex CEU would happen. The academic programs for current students are now uncertain and the operation of the University is in limbo. The Orbán government officials haven’t even tried to contact CEU leaders.

CEU is a relatively small private university; they are well-funded and want to stay in Budapest.
The CEU professors were surprised that 80,000 people poured out into the streets of Budapest protesting the government action, and they have also been pleasantly surprised by the international support they are receiving.

Mr. Rév made an interesting observation. The 1848 anti-Habsburg revolution in Pest was started by students, as was the 1956 revolution. Now in 2017 students are again marching for academic freedom in Budapest. It seems that Lex CEU was the last straw and now the society’s dissatisfaction with Orbán has boiled over into protest.

István Rév, Director the Open Society Archive at CEU

Panel discussions like this are useful. It is important to hear “unfiltered” information from those who have first-hand experience. Listening to these professors I had the uncomfortable feeling that Mr. Orbán and his circle are losing touch of reality. Lex CEU got even my pro-Orbán Hungarian-American friends wondering. Many describe this latest action as “bizarre” or “irrational” and it seems that there is an agreement in the American political establishment, Republicans and Democrats alike, that Mr. Orbán’s time is up.

György Lázár

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