Hungary ‘copying Russia’ by targeting university?


Credit: BBC

As an American scholar of Soviet history, Charles D. Shaw thought he understood authoritarianism before he moved to Hungary in 2015 to teach at Central European University, the New York Times reports:

“Coming from Moscow to Budapest, it certainly felt like I was finally coming to Europe — to the European Union,” Mr. Shaw said. Now he feels as if repression has followed him.

The right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban recently passed legislation that could shut down the university, which was created after the fall of Communism and which promotes the ideal of an open society. Next month, Parliament will vote on a bill to impose greater scrutiny on nonprofit organizations that receive foreign financing.


Mr. Orban, prime minister since 2010, supports the idea of “illiberal democracy,” which puts rule-by-majority nationalism ahead of minority rights, political pluralism and international cooperation. For Mr. Shaw, the parallels with contemporary Russia are unnerving. “The political and cultural boundaries of Europe are potentially shifting,” he said. “And that’s what’s so scary to people.”

The Hungarian move follows Russia’s closure of another Soros-backed institution, European University at St Petersburg, which had its licence revoked in March, the BBC adds.

“There’s a certain style of politics in Europe that believes: If you’re not with us, you’re against us,” said Michael Ignatieff, the university’s president and rector, who is also a human rights scholar and a former leader of the Liberal Party in Canada.

“The C.E.U. issue came to symbolize the amount of harm that some of the government’s actions are having right across the spectrum,” he added. “All we’re trying to do is get them to back off and leave us alone — and give us a guarantee that we can stay here.”

Conservative scholars are among those who have spoken out, the Times adds.

“The entire academic sector of this nation, in essence, feels imperiled, following the passing of this law,” Miklos Kiraly, a law professor at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, wrote in an open letter after Mr. Orban asked why Hungarian scholars had been standing up for Central European University. “The general opinion is that there are no more boundaries, no more limits, no checks and sound professional considerations, consultations, traditions or acquired rights.”

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