The Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives at Central European University

A few months ago I wrote a review of Anna Porter’s biography of George Soros titled Buying a Better World: George Soros and Billionaire Philanthropy, in which I concentrated on Soros’s philanthropic activities in Hungary. Nowadays Soros’s name is frequently bandied about in Hungary, often as a result of Viktor Orbán’s sudden “discovery” that Soros is responsible for the refugee crisis. He is one of those internationalists, along with Jürgen Habermas, the renowned philosopher, who wants to destroy European culture as it exists today. Of course, every time the names of Orbán and Soros are mentioned in the same breath someone will recall that Orbán’s student association benefited from precious copy machines and individual scholarships to study abroad funded by a generous George Soros.

Soros spent both time and money trying to lead Hungary toward his ideal of an “open society,” which is described by the Open Society Foundations as “a vibrant and tolerant society whose government is accountable and open to the participation of all people.” The Foundation seeks “to strengthen the rule of law; respect for human rights, minorities, and a diversity of opinions; democratically elected governments; and a civil society that helps keep government power in check.” As things stand now in Hungary, George Soros’s efforts haven’t borne fruit, but there is one institution he funded and still funds, Central European University, that might be Soros’s most significant Hungarian achievement as István Teplán, one of the co-founders of the university, told Anna Porter.

Originally, George Soros established three campuses of Central European University (CEU): in Prague, Warsaw, and Budapest. Shortly after Václav Klaus became president of the Czech Republic in 2003, Soros decided to close the Prague campus due to Klaus’s antagonistic attitude toward both Soros and his idea of an open society. The Warsaw campus didn’t thrive. On the other hand, the Budapest campus has become an important university in the region since its opening.

CEU is accredited in both the United States and in Hungary and offers English-language master’s and doctoral programs in the social sciences, humanities, law, management and public policy. It has approximately 1,400 students and 370 faculty members coming from more than 130 countries. The student: faculty ratio is 7:1. (By way of comparison, the Yale ratio is similar at 6:1.) Forty percent of the students are on a full CEU fellowship and 21% are on partial scholarship. Only 5% of the students pay full tuition. The drop-out rate is low: 2.5% of those who spend one year at CEU and 4% of those who are enrolled in the two-year program. The situation is different in the doctoral program where the drop-out rate for the graduating class of 2014-2015 was 27%.

The crown jewel of CEU is its archives, which as of November 3 is called the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives. Regular readers of Hungarian Spectrum will recall that I wrote a brief review of Vera and Donald Blinken’s book Vera and the Ambassador: Escape and Return. Donald Blinken was U.S. Ambassador to Hungary between 1994 and 1998, and his Hungarian-born wife Vera did an enormous amount of good work in Hungary in those days. In one short post I could cover only a fragment of the Blinkens’ work in Hungary in promoting closer U.S.-Hungarian relations, but their contribution was noteworthy. Donald Blinken is considered by many to have been the best U.S. ambassador to Hungary in the last 25 years.

Vera and Donald Blinken at the dedication ceremony on Nocember 3, 2015

Vera and Donald Blinken at the dedication ceremony on November 3, 2015

What is the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives (OSA)? It is “one of the world’s most valuable archival collections related to the Cold War, human rights movements and grave international human rights violations.” It holds more than 9.5 linear kilometers of paper records and 12 terabytes of digital records related to communist-era political, social, economic, and cultural life. It also includes the extensive collection of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Institute, personal papers of a number of political, cultural, and counter-culture figures from the Cold War, and samizdat literature from the Soviet Union, Poland, and Hungary. The Archives is also the depository of documents related to human rights, such as the investigative material on war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, papers of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights as well as the Index on Censorship. It is also the official archives of the Open Society Foundations established by George Soros.

The Blinkens, with their generous bequest, have now made the Archives’ future secure. This, by the way, is not the Blinkens’ first gift to the Archives. Back in 2006 they made a contribution to establish the Donald and Vera Blinken Collection of interviews with Hungarian refugees from 1957-1958, which was digitized on the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. You may want to take a look at these interviews, which are available on the Archives website.

We all ought to be grateful for this gift that will further research on the communist period in Hungary.

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November 26, 2015 5:21 pm
I must testify as to the greatness and immense gifts of the CEU. Anyone can check online the constantly ongoing daily programs of lectures, occasional concerts and presentations the CEU provides for the interested public. Anyone can attend, without any permission, any payment, or any qualification. I frequently attend these lectures, many of which are presented by invited foreign scholars, or the best of the Hungarian intellectuals, all i English. The presentations are encompassing the most disparate list of subjects in the field of humanities, politics, environmental science, etc, there are usually tree-four different ones of them daily. Of course, attending these lectures is made especially easy and pleasant that they are always held in one of the lovely old palaces of down town Budapest, and they are always followed by a sip of wine, some lovely fresh biscuits of local fame, called “pogacsa,” and a welcome opportunity to have a chat on the subject of the lecture just heard, or any other subject that may be of interest. This lovely CEU contribution to the intellectual and cultural life of Budapest is as close to the ancient idea “symposion” as can be and I am personally grateful to George Soros… Read more »
November 26, 2015 5:38 pm
I don’t think it was Eva’s intention but this comment : “As things stand now in Hungary, George Soros’s efforts haven’t borne fruit, but there is one institution he funded and still funds, Central European University. . .” Makes it unfortunately sound as though Mr. Soros has abandoned or at least dramatically reduced his commitment to the promotion of a more democratic Hungary. I don’t think that was the intention of Eva by any means. The Open Society Institute–Budapest acts as the administrative and operational headquarters for a number of Open Society initiatives. One that I am actively involved with is the development of community organizing groups for disabled children and their families in Hungary. Chicago has a long history of community organizing stemming from the work of an activist named Saul Alinsky ( and we here in Chicago have been working with young Hungarians and some younger Roma people too. Many of these programs are supported by Mr. Soros and do positive good for Hungary. The intent of these community organizing projects are not to change the political situation in Hungary relative to the advancement of Fidesz’s illiberal democracy, but to provide the skills for many people to oppose… Read more »
November 26, 2015 9:33 pm

Re: ‘the CEU contribution’

Real good to see the CEU being a much needed and viable institution in the dissemination of knowledge and development of opinion especially now where democracy is arguably right now looked upon as a modern day ‘peculiar’ institution in some political circles. Who knows? Perhaps it can help in the intellectual gestation of future Hungarian leaders and the great work which lies ahead. I wish it great success in the accomplishment of its goals. If it is a ‘baby’ it needs to be nurtured.

Alex Kuli
Alex Kuli
November 27, 2015 1:57 am

If I may offer a small correction – Central European University left Prague in stages starting in 1994, not 2003. Vaclav Klaus was prime minister at the time.

November 27, 2015 6:09 am

London Calling!

“It holds more than 9.5 linear kilometers of paper records and 12 terabytes of digital records….”

I hope these records are adequately fire protected. That amount of paper would fuel an awful conflagration if someone decided to act on Soros’ persona non grata status among the political elite.

Especially if some of its contents reflect negatively on the ‘communist elite’ of the present regime.

‘Regime’ as in a ‘Commocracy’.

The CEU is such an atypical ‘Hungarian’ laissez-faire education institute that I can’t see it lasting too long – or being tolerated – in Orban’s Commocracy.

Its double digit place in the world ranking of universities – 29th for politics and international studies – is way above Hungary’s established universities, for example, ELTE which lanquish in the lower 400s.

Clearly an embarrassing exemplar in a country that comes nowhere close to being a democracy.

Oh! The irony!



November 27, 2015 8:18 am

Re: ‘The CEU is such an atypical ‘Hungarian’ laissez-faire education institute that I can’t see it lasting too long – or being tolerated – in Orban’s Commocracy’

Perhaps then it could be ‘moved’ here somewhat akin to Hemingway’s ‘moveable feast’ where in that instance it is not the atmosphere and an experience of a Paris and France but of a Budapest and Hungary that can be taken somewhere and everywhere in the imagination today. At least then the ‘feast’ can celebrate the free flow of ideas unharried by attempts in the society to snuff them out. Good food should not be thrown out.

November 27, 2015 8:23 am

There’s more than one alarm bells!
Not only in Orbán’s head started ringing, or it was way too loud the noise to be ignored:

November 27, 2015 9:21 am

Ok, the TEK “terrorism” case is now officially an inside job.

We are now supposed to believe that during interrogation – perhaps just to make the life of police easier and convenient – the suspects allegedly told the police things like “we will pick up weapons and kill all of the filthy genetic trash together with the currently reigning government”.

The whole thing is a theatre performed by third rate police informants, Fidesz has a great experience in using these stories.

November 27, 2015 2:11 pm

If this isn’t an idiotic sting operation then I don’t know what is.

I’m certain that this pseudo organization was set up by domestic intel people in order to attract extremists.

Now these people (ie its leaders who are secret police) confess to trying to “kill Orban” just when it’s convenient to Orban. Luckily the media disseminates the “new” without any checking as usual.

The whole thing is a joke.