Central European University Supposedly Imposing “Self-Censorship” on its Instructors, as Conservative Christian Democrat Party Criticizes ELTE University
Tom Szigeti 2017.02.20.
Following the ruling Fidesz party’s increasingly strident criticism of NGOs and Civil Society Organizations, as well as of the university itself, Central European University (CEU) President and Rector Michael Ignatieff has begun emphasizing the importance of “disciplined conduct” on the part of the university, a move that many have understood to mean a form of self-censorship.
CEU has received criticism as part of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s wider criticism of the university’s founder, Hungarian-American billionaire businessman George Soros. As Mr. Soros and the NGOs connected to him increasingly become the target of Mr. Orbán’s attacks, for supposedly “trying to influence Hungarian domestic politics,” CEU, which was founded by Mr. Soros, has not remained unscathed. In fact, pro-government historian and main owner of the Hungarian weekly Figyelő, Mária Schmidt, began speculating that the Orbán government should try to force CEU out of Hungary.
Perhaps partially in response to this criticism, CEU’s President Ignatieff spent much of his talk focusing on “discipline,” and emphasized that only the President may speak in the university’s name.
This new policy may have already borne fruit as two events were canceled in recent days. The first, a talk by a CEU professor about Fidesz’s recent attacks on NGOs, was cancelled by the professor himself, while the second, a forum with anti-Olympic activist group Momentum, was cancelled by the president’s office. Supposedly, this latter event was cancelled due to the fact that the Momentum Movement recently announced its formation of a political party.
Michael Ignatieff, President and Rector of Central European University (Photo: CEU).
While CEU seems to be engaging in a form of ‘self-censorship’ at an institutional level, then, by no means have individual members of the CEU community kept silent. In a since widely-shared Facebook post, Ukrainian PhD student Margaryta Rymarenko wrote “a letter in support of CEU,” which she wrote, in her own words “responding to the attacks expressed in the Hungarian media but directed by Viktor Orbán’s government.” In the post, Rymarenko emphasized the wonderful experience she has had at CEU, and the community that has come together there. She wrote that, in her time at CEU,
I saw how open society really works. I observed friendships and relationships being formed across oceans and continents, minorities becoming majorities and vice versa, conflicts turning into debates or even to peace talks. I saw Georgians and Abkhazians making selfies together, Armenians and Azeris shaking hands. I cannot even count how many times my own stereotypes got broken. Being at CEU I learnt a great deal about Hungary too. And I learnt to love it as my second homeland…. I don’t know what image CEU has earned with Hungarian authorities but it is also through CEU that the image of Hungary is projected into the world. I can reassure you that this image is a magnificent one and I hope you do not wish to undermine it by forcing CEU to leave!
And in another instance of Hungarian politicians entering into the realm of academics, governing coalition partner KDNP (The Christian Democratic Peoples’ Party) has attacked the Hungarian National University ELTE (Eötvös Loránd University) for its plans to launch a Gender Studies master’s program. In an open letter to the university, the Christian Democrats called Gender Studies “crazy nonsense,” a “luxury” that Hungary couldn’t afford. They criticized ELTE’s leadership for launching a program “that provides no benefits to Hungary society” and asked the university’s rector to set up a demographics institute instead.