Sándor Kerekes: My friend and my neighbor, CEU

I have always been familiar with this downtown area, this prestigious, formerly tony district, called Lipótváros (Leopold Stadt), first built and populated by the aristocracy and the elegant set, and when they faded out of money, up and coming Jews made it their own. Here, a mere two blocks away from the classicist Basilica, is located CEU, Central European University, its headquarters ensconced in the classicist palace of the Count Festetich family. There are another five-six buildings spread around, former banks, corporate buildings, all housing different departments of the University, populating the place, already quite populous with endless streams of tourists, with students, teachers and hangers on, such as myself, for a good many years. Kitty-corner from CEU’s main building is the former historic Lipótvárosi Kaszinó, the once august social club of the richest Jews of Pest, which was the target of a time bomb attack by Jew-haters sometime in 1923, causing several deaths.

Photos by the author

Opposite, on the other side of Nádor Street, stands a yellow three-story classicist-style building. Lajos Kossuth once lived in it. And just a couple doors to the north, number 11 Nádor Street, is the art deco building that housed in the 1950s the National Planning Office, the economic heart of the murderous communist dictatorship of Mátyás Rákosi. This Planning Office was the employer of my mother, whom we regularly visited, my brother and I, because of the building’s loop-style elevator that swished up and down without an operator and which we rode going up on the one side and, after seeing the mechanism in the attic space, proceeded down on the other side countless times. They called this elevator type ”pater noster” because it kept going without ever stopping. This number 11 is also part of CEU now (the pater noster of course long gone), as is the building next door that was just completed last fall in the super modern, that is to say, super post-modern style, and it is wonderful.

All these buildings and a few more in the adjacent streets are open at most times to anybody interested in walking in, and there are plenty of people interested because there is a steady stream of programs, conferences, lectures, workshops going on almost all day long into the night on the most varied subjects. At the counters of the door keepers in every building a screen shows the programs, be they today, or next month, or several months ahead.

In 2001 when I started to visit Budapest with some regularity, I met a young man from New York who was teaching English writing skills to the students of the then minuscule CEU. We are still friends, and he is a tenured professor now. Over the years since, as we discovered the fantastically varied and excellent programs available to the interested public, we also met the most amazing people in the course of attending those conferences and lectures. And thanks to the opportunities there, we found out about facts and events that otherwise would never have come to our attention, nor would we have had any other way to find out about them. A close friend of ours is teaching and practicing psychology at CEU, another teaching Turkology, a third one is doing “only” plain history, uncovering the heretofore unknown events leading up to the Holocaust in Hungary, and another one is the researcher and translator of the Russian-Jewish literature that has never been heard of before in Hungary.

At a very interesting conference a few years ago I heard and met Deborah Lipstadt, the formidable historian, who put a dent into Holocaust denial for good. At the same conference I also met György Lázár from California, whom I have long admired for his excellent writing, and we became friends right then and there.

The CEU system of beaming intelligence and knowledge is somewhat obscure to me. I never needed to find out how it worked because it worked very well, and that was more than enough for me. But it is obvious that there is practically no scientist, professor, researcher, or lecturer who would not be glad to accept an invitation to present his thoughts or research results at CEU. I was at a lecture a few months ago where the presenter simply reported on what he was currently reading and what he was finding out from it, without really suggesting where this was taking him. That was a truly fascinating lecture.

Just as the “House of Fates” museum controversy was at its height, CEU hosted first the American historian who participated in the establishment and eventually the opening and operating of the Philadelphia Jewish Museum and then, a few months later, the Canadian historian who did more or less the same in Warsaw at the stupendous Jewish museum there. In fact, I found both lectures so engrossing and illuminating that I was compelled to write an open letter to Maria Schmidt, the Hungarian historian, who had the opportunity to do the same here, in Budapest, but was so inept and so biased that she probably lost that opportunity forever. She was not at these lectures but would have benefitted from them immensely.

It is also true that apart from the student community, the leaders and faculty of other universities were somewhat sluggish in expressing their views in favor of liberal and free education. Particularly distasteful was the response of Rector András Lánczi of Corvinus University, who claimed the exclusive right to voice the position of the University. This was, alas, too late because many members of the faculty had already spoken out strongly in defense of CEU. This, however, brought to the surface an element of sour grapes as it turned out from some complaints that the salaries of professors at CEU are five times those at Corvinus.

The sinister attack of the government against CEU, the unsuspecting sitting duck in the middle of town, was of course a shock and a scandal for almost everybody, except the close coterie of the Fidesz government. But to my wife and to me it was like a personal attack against the lifestyle we moved to Budapest to enjoy: the free and copious flow of ideas and information. This was to us, and I am sure to many other people I came to meet at CEU, an ignoble, sinister attempt to take away from us an important part of our lives, the intangible treasure we considered our own and are not prepared to give up. We are not giving it up because the excuses offered for taking it away are hollow lies that under no circumstances would justify robbing us, never mind robbing the students and faculty of the university. We are not letting go because it would be taken from us without compensation: the government doesn’t offer anything in return but empty bluster and conflicting lies that wouldn’t fool even an elementary student. And finally we refuse to let it go because this institution is an organic part of the city and of the country, producing something that could not be, and is not, produced anywhere else in Hungary, something so precious, so valuable, that it is one of the best things this country has ever produced and is a sampler of what this country, even in the midst of its sorry decline, is capable of producing.

There is, however, a silver lining, increasingly so. The wheel of fortune is slowly but quite perceptibly turning. The government of Viktor Orbán mindlessly plunged into this hate fest, in a few days completing the process from suggestion to legislation of putting this magnificent institution out of business. But what a sorry testimony it was to the ineptitude and shortsightedness of this government! What kind of people do they think these are? Will the CEU community buckle under helplessly? Yes, that is what they expected. But the resolve of the faculty, the students, the solidarity of the entire student community, not to mention of the worldwide movement on behalf of CEU, has strengthened the hand of Michael Ignatieff, the president of the University. And as the “match” presently stands, the advantage is slowly moving in Mr. Ignatieff’s favor. The government has so far refused to negotiate with him, hoping that the U.S. government will be their partners. But what a miscalculation! The American government wouldn’t even want to hear about this matter, and they wouldn‘t talk to any official from Hungary either. The hapless government is slowly running out of options. Soon they will have only two choices: withdrawing the new, inhuman law, thus giving up on killing the university, or sitting down to talk to Mr. Ignatieff. And the fewer options they have left, the stronger his position will be. In this case, I expect that Mr. Ignatieff will not settle for anything less than an internationally guaranteed, ironclad warrant from the government assuring that no more interference will ever befall this long-suffering university.

As for me and my friends in the CEU community, we are confident and hopeful because thought and ideas are more potent than a petty tin pot dictator’s personal caprice and his thirst for vendetta.

April 22, 2017
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Guest

Wonderful article!
Hats off to Sándor Kerekes!

Old-1956
Guest

Soros is wonderful and terrible at the same time.

The Easter European Freedom Fighters are worthy receipients of his generosity.

In North America, it is a different case.

His staff is not shielding him from the Active Measures plots.

Most of his money is reaching the wrong people.

petofi
Guest

@ Old-1956

I’m afraid, dear sir, that what we’ve found out just lately is that the run-of-the-mill human character just has no adequate defence against bribery on a massive scale.

ambator
Member

I am not quite sure what Mr. petofi refers to speaking of ”bribery on a massive scale,” but I am definitely aware of the massive irony in the accusations levelled against Georgye Soros. Yes, he is spending and trying to influence politics, but that is his right as a citizen and his duty as a committed patriot and philantrop. As far as the Hungarian government’s cheep slanders are concerned, I can safely say that Mr. Soros personally is not involved in his largess in Hungary and only his arms-length foundation is handling all financial dealings, supporting just social causes, with a relatively very modest yearly sum.
Concurrently, and here is the real irony, the government spends millions in the USA on paid lobbyists, trying to influence political decisions and politicians’ behaviour, while accusing Mr. Soros of political meddling. And the chief irony is that the people levelling the accusations and doing the mud slinging, once were the beneficiaries of Soros’s generousity.

Observer
Guest

The double standards, the flood of lies and venom, the total lack of morals in the orban coterie shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone – it’s a textbook case of a budding dictatorship.
As such it attracts unsavory, unbalanced and greedy characters of all stripes striving to jump the next/any gravy train. This is why there were/are more former Communist party members and functionaries in the orban administration than in the previous Socialist/SZDSZ one, e.g. the twat Imre Kerényi has been member of MSZMP, MDF, Fidesz and close to Jobbik too.

Member

Are you sure about that? The Orban administration has more Commies than the previous government? I know that Orban has more besugos than the MSZP-SZDSZ did, but ex-party members? Are you counting cabinet members, or state secretaries/commissioners as well?

petofi
Guest

@ ambator

By the term, “bribery on a massive scale”, I am referring to the sums being doled out by Putin or his surrogates (ie. to Paul Manafort, for instance).

Oddly enough, it has just occured to me that Hungarian sums paid to lobbyists may, in fact, be under the direction of mother Russia, too.

Guest

That the likes of Rector András Lánczi of Corvinus University are jealous that “the salaries of professors at CEU are five times those at Corvinus “, is pretty ironic.

The low salaries of academics in Hungary is an indictment of Orbán and his government, and not the Fault of Soros, and if the Fidesz supporting academics don’t realise that, then they have no business being in the educaition business at all.

Alex
Guest

Yes, so true. Hungarian academics make so little they can barely get by. It’s a travesty. CEU salaries are not exorbitant, they are in line with international norms. Pension benefits are significantly less.

Pál Prónay
Guest

How convenient that all the Jews are gathering outside in our capital. Now we don’t have to hunt you down one by one.

Guest

@Pál:
Good of you to show “wes Geistes Kind you are”:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P%C3%A1l_Pr%C3%B3nay
A bit OT:
I just reread an article in my local German newspaper about Max Wundt, a guy who was called to the German army in WW1 and was a big proponent of class society, also was a fan of war, an antisemite and xenophobe – of course Germans were the best in his mind …
He later became a philosopy prof and a fan of Hitler.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that many/most (?) Hungarians are not 50 but 100 years behind in time …

PS:
Eva, you should delete that post by the latest troll imho!

Guest

“Now we don’t have to hunt you down one by one.”

Who are “we”? Chechen marauders? Skin heads? Fidesz militias? Magyar garda (p.t. mothballed)?

Observer
Guest

Guys,

Here we have a freebee – good circumstantial evidence that the orban gang/supporters are in fact fascists.

Reality Check
Guest

Are you one of these gyáva marha who threatens, but hides their face?

https://www.facebook.com/pronaycsoport

Reality Check
Guest

You guys are so tuff that only about 60 of you showed up to yesterday’s anti-CEU protest.

Member

“Outside in our capital” is an incorrect statement.
It seem that your wit and senses are OUTSIDE (left your head) and only your prejudice and anti-semitism is IN your head!

ambator
Member

Does the multiple murderer Pál Pronay’s anti-Semitic rant fit in here, at the scene of intelligent conversation?

aida
Guest

The anti Semitic gangster and mess killer was also called Pronay Pal, but he died in a gulag around 1945/46. His fare was richly deserved.
The blogger is just that, with a sense of history, judging by his choice of name, and repulsive views.

Hardy
Guest

Beautiful description of what a University should be. Off course the narrow minded peasants including the great leader wouldn’t understand

Guest

You’re right – the funny side of this:

The Fidesz lunatics are talking about democracy (whatever it is supposed to mean in their crazy minds) at the same time admiring their “great leader”!

Is this a kind of schizophrenia?

Observer
Guest

wolfi7777

It is not schizophrenia, but an equally amazing, incredible flipping by the Fid faithful from decades of irrational and hysterical Russofobia to friendship and accommodation, and for no apparent reason/benefit at that.

How can seemingly civilized people turn around and vehemently uphold exactly the opposite in the nick of time is surprising even to me, although I am familiar with this “tradition” (e.g. the 1848 demands for freedom vs the Hungarian treatment of the Czech/Slovak nations after 1867). I can’t recollect many such cases worse than the Hungarian one.

Observer
Guest

assault by the orban regime

wrfree
Guest

Makes sense now in high relief why CEU has to go from the illiberalists. It is right in the heart of Europe continually establishing, arguing and sifting through the courses of historical memory throughout Europe and the world. And it is that memory which appears to have been slowly dissipating away in the collective concsiousness. And this is urged on through purposeful academic attacks from the far right. The illiberalists: propagating historical amnesia through biased objectivity, innuendo and performing equivocation in the writing of history.

petofi
Guest

For Hungarians, HATE is an addiction. He who allows the Hungarian to quaff his unquenchable thirst for jew blood, is revered…whether Russian or Hungarian.

Observer
Guest

Great article.

Thank you Mr. Kerekes,

Thank you
Mr. Ignatief/CEU staff & students,
Hungarian and foreign university students,
the US State Dept, and
all democrats and humanists and Hungary and around the world who protest/act against this barbaric assault of the orban regime.

wrfree
Guest

Second that. Mr. Kerekes refuses to pull the wool over his eyes as to what is happening in the country. His vision is 20/20 as others certainly need their eyes checked. If they won’t they can expect to have normal life upended due to the bumps to come upon them especially by those who believe everything in life is ‘serious’ and who simply ignore boundaries.

And to boot maybe a trip to the ear doctor as well. Seems brains cannot control sewer mouths. The effluvia being ejected is sad and startling. HS also is experiencing the degradation of communication as well. Where it goes we don’t know but its kind and type has much import nevertheless for society. Perhaps no one then will need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows.

Guest

Not too much OT:

Some Fideszniks claim that the “CEU-law” is based on similar rules in the USA called ARFA.
So I looked them up:
Areas of Activity for NGOs in the United States

Approximately 1.5 million NGOs operate in the United States. These NGOs undertake a wide array of activities, including political advocacy on issues such as foreign policy, elections, the environment, healthcare, women’s rights, economic development, and many other issues.
They often develop and address new approaches to social and economic problems that governments cannot address alone. Many NGOs in the United States operate in fields that are not related to politics. These include volunteer organizations rooted in shared religious faith, labor unions, groups that help vulnerable people, such as the poor or disabled, and groups that seek to empower youth or marginalized populations. Indeed, NGOs exist to represent virtually every cause imaginable. Their sources
of finance include donations from private individuals (American or foreign), private sector for-profit companies, philanthropic foundations, or grants from federal, state, or local government. Sources of finance may also include foreign governments. There is no prohibition in U.S. law on foreign funding of NGOs; whether that foreign funding comes from governments or non-government sources.

https://www.state.gov/j/drl

Guest

Sorry, the name of the act is FARA:
https://www.fara.gov/

pappp
Guest

Wolfi, you’re making a huge mistake if you want to debate Orban on the merits, on a rational basis.

Such a debate very quickly becomes a ‘he says, she says’ from which many people will conclude that Orban may be right, we don’t know, but perhaps he’s really doing only what others are doing, not a big deal, it’s to messy for us to understand.

But we actually know it for a fact that Orban’s doing it now not because of any professional, rational considerations (at least twice governmental people stated that they want to close down CEU because it’s ‘liberal’) — if this was so Orban would be concentrating on elementary and secondary education both of which are in a free fall. Instead Orban’s obsessed with one single university (Hungary’s best) with 2,000 students at most.

Orban just wants to cut every tie Hungarians may have to “the West”. He also enjoy this. Steering Hungary out of the EU and driving Hungary into Russia’s sphere of influence is now his goal in life.

Debating Orban’s or Fideszniks pseudo-arguments (implying that Orban may have real, acceptable reasons beyond the insidious ones) is futile. You’re only spreading his disinformation.

Guest

Pappp, I know that “foreign influence” on CEU is just a pretence – but some Fiddiks use the FARA in their reasoning, that’s why I mentioned it.

I totally agree with you that there must be something in O and his people that forces them away from the (Liberal) West and its ideas of democracy into Russia’s (or rather Putin’s …) camp. Whether it’s ideology of some kind or just power and money doesn’t really matter – personally I believe it’s power and as we say:
Absolute power corrupts absolutely …
That’s the best description imho.

Ferenc
Guest

OT – “index bought by Simicska” (continuing news)
After the Apr.20 23hr M1 news item (1:30min), the next day (Friday Apr.21 23hr) M1 even made an 4min (!of the total 15min news!) follow-up item about this, as expected negative about all things Simicska, and they used all not positive words they could gather from all sources (from 888 till index itself).
Another very curious item (0:50min, just before the above one) was about an article from “pesti sracok”, in which they claimed that the biggest group in the EU parliament is not the EPP (incl.Fidesz), but the “Soros group”! They claimed ties of 226 MEPs to Soros Gyorgy, therewith making that the biggest “group”.

Oh man, oh man, how is it possible that this bullshit producing news organization is claiming to serve the public media.

Member

T/10139:
Vote for the recognition of CEU as a private Hungarian university (headquartered in New York and teaching in English).

Vote for urgency May 10, 2004.

Against: 8 (MDF: 7, Fidesz: 1)
For: 285 (including Ader and all other Fidesz MPs present)

Final vote. June 21, 2004
(so urgent did not mean a 3 hour debate only in 2004)

For: 189 (MSzP, SzDSz)
Against: 151 (Fidesz, MDF)

http://www.parlament.hu/szavazasok-elozo-ciklusbeli-adatai?p_auth=g6ddRwyb&p_p_id=pairproxy_WAR_pairproxyportlet_INSTANCE_9xd2Wc9jP4z8&p_p_lifecycle=1&p_p_state=normal&p_p_mode=view&p_p_col_id=column-1&p_p_col_count=1&_pairproxy_WAR_pairproxyportlet_INSTANCE_9xd2Wc9jP4z8_pairAction=%2Finternet%2Fcplsql%2Fogy_szav.szav_lap_egy%3Fp_szavdatum%3D2004.05.10.17%3A03%3A31%26p_szavkepvszav%3DI%26p_ckl%3D37%26p_osszefuz%3D

Member

Orban was absent at both votes.

Member

Thank you for the article, brought back memories. I spent a good amount of time in Lipótváros and especially in a Nádor utca apartment, my best friend lived there and we used to go to Kossuth tér, to the Ministry basement on to play ping-pong, three or four times a week. My friend’s father worked in the Ministry, that is how we were able to use the facility.
I AGREE WITH YOU 100% !!!!
“As for me and my friends in the CEU community, we are confident and hopeful because thought and ideas are more potent than a petty tin pot dictator’s personal caprice and his thirst for vendetta.”

Member

Very well expressed. Also nice to see a shout-out to the writing skills teacher from NY who is now a tenured professor – he is indeed a nice guy and a talented instructor.

But I have to take issue with the characterization that CEU was “minuscule” in 2001. I graduated from CEU in that year, and I can attest that the student body was not small. If I had to guess I’d say there were around 700-800 of us then, maybe more, but at the very least more than 500.

More importantly, there was also a feeling that the university was already well-established by this point and had begun developing an international reputation. In fact, when the Dalai Lama visited Budapest around that time he chose CEU as the place to give a speech even though their auditorium was far too small for such an occasion, which generated huge interest from the media and the public.

Member

From CEU’s Admissions Bulletin for the 2002/2003 Academic year, “During the 2001/2002 academic year, CEU enrollment is expected to stand at 849 regular full-time students.” So I was pretty close!

web.ceu.hu/downloads/AdmBulletin.doc

ambator
Member

I take your correction in stride. In fact, my acquaintance of CEU was minuscule. Nevertheless, the importance of the Institution then and now would bear such comparison.

wpDiscuz