Will Hungary get away with attack on academic freedom?


Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban has pushed a law through the Hungarian parliament which could shut down the Central European University, a graduate college founded more than a quarter-century ago by a group of anti-communist intellectuals, notes Anne Applebaum.

Originally funded by Hungarian American philanthropist George Soros, the CEU stands out in the region both for its unusually multinational student body — particularly its students from the former Soviet bloc — and the high quality of its faculty. Its mission is to promote “the values of open society and self-reflective critical thinking”; Nobel Prize laureates and distinguished academics are sending letters and petitions in its support from all around the world, she writes for the Washington Post:

But in Orban’s nationalist and increasingly illiberal Hungary, “open society” is an insult, “critical thinking” is a suspicious activity, and support from Nobel laureates will be cited as unacceptable foreign interference. His government’s crusade against critical Hungarian academics, all falsely accused of embezzlement, followed a similar pattern. The philosopher Agnes Heller, one of the targets of that hate campaign, described the tactic in 2013: “They make these kinds of accusations, spread them all over their loyal media outlets and thus blacken the names of their opponents.”

The Hungarian government’s attack on academic freedom prompted this statement from concerned Europeans on the Central European University.

“To students of history, this is all eerily familiar,” adds Applebaum, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. “These are exactly the kinds of campaigns that the Hungarian communist party once ran against its ideological enemies (Heller, ironically, among them) and that autocratic states such as Russia and Iran run against their ideological enemies, or perceived enemies, even today.”


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