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.
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.