Tag Archives: Open Society Foundation

Open Society Foundation moved to the “provinces”

Let’s step outside of Budapest for at least a day to take a look at local politics as it has been playing out in the “provinces.” In Hungary everything outside of Budapest is in the realm of the “provinces” (vidék), including fair-sized cities like Debrecen, Szeged, and Pécs. In these cities we can see first-hand how “national politics” is being translated into action on the local level. What we witness in these places is a raw, unedited version of political reality in all its brutishness.

The Open Society Foundation’s decision “to get closer” to trouble spots triggered vigorous government counter-propaganda. There are two especially poverty-stricken regions in Hungary: the southernmost areas of Transdanubia and the northeastern region of the Great Plains. Thus, OSF, after looking for civic groups with a lengthy, solid track record, picked two, one in Pécs and the other in Debrecen, to be in charge of allocating money from the block grant they receive to smaller local groups. All grants will be handled locally and independently from OSF. Each of these two centers will receive $130,000, which will be used for projects dealing with poverty, education, and public health. In Pécs, the NGO that will be responsible for the allocation is the Emberség Erejével Alapítvány/EEA (With Force of Humanity Foundation) while in Debrecen the Alternatív Közösségek Egyesülete (Association of Alternative Communities) was chosen for the job.

The local reaction in both places was immediate, with one big difference. Debrecen is a Fidesz city through and through, and therefore the opposition to having a “pseudo-civic” group in town was actually a grass roots movement, or at least it seems to be. Somebody began a Facebook page called “We don’t want a Soros office in Debrecen,” which since December 7 has gained 2,867 followers. Pécs is a different cup of tea. There the local Fidesz leadership has been totally discredited in the last few years, and there is growing opposition to Zsolt Páva, the mayor since 2009, whose leadership practically bankrupted the city. Although Fidesz won the two parliamentary seats from Pécs in 2014, it was only with a slim majority. In fact, if LMP hadn’t entered its own candidate, both seats might have been gone to the joint opposition. As far as I know, there was no enthusiastic popular opposition to the grant given to the Pécs NGO, which has been in existence since 2006 and is well known in town. Fidesz city leaders had to do the dirty work alone.

I’m in luck in my quest for information about local Pécs politics because recently a news site critical of the government was created by two journalists who had lost their jobs after Lőrinc Mészáros took over the local paper. These two inform the world what’s going on in the city. They have paid special attention to the uproar that Fidesz propaganda created around the grant to EEA.

As soon as OSF announced its plans for the two regional centers, Fidesz countered that George Soros’s latest charitable gift is simply money provided to organizations that will be taking an active part in the election campaign against the governing party. The two Fidesz MPs from Pécs instructed Mayor Zsolt Páva to do his best to thwart the Foundation’s plans to hand out money to the poverty-stricken regions around Pécs. Páva gave interviews to local papers and the radio station in which he accused Soros and the “pseudo civilians” of supporting the opposition in the coming election campaign.

I should note in passing that Péter Hoppál, one of the two Fidesz MPs from Pécs who delivered the word from Budapest, has made a fabulous career in national politics since 2010. Prior to that time he was active in local politics. He was trained as a musician, with a concentration in sacred music and conducting, and his field of study is the Hungarian Reformed musical tradition. He was employed as a chorister and teacher at the Hungarian Reformed Gymnasium in Pécs. Eventually, he became the principal of the institution. His choir, by the way, became quite well known, performing in 16 different countries. He could also boast of 14 recordings. Currently, he serves as undersecretary in charge of culture in the ministry of human resources.

On December 7 Hoppál gave a press conference in Pécs in which he announced that the city’s Fidesz organization is planning to submit a draft resolution on December 14 to the city council that will reject in the name of the city’s inhabitants the establishment of a “Soros campaign center” in Pécs. But Hoppál, the good Christian, didn’t stop here; he added that, “if possible, the people of Pécs shouldn’t even rent space” to this charitable organization.

Just as promised, the Pécs city council dutifully voted in favor of the resolution. The council has 27 members, 19 of whom are Fidesz affiliates. The rest is a varied lot: two represent MSZP-Együtt-PM; one, Demokratikus Koalíció; two, Jobbik; one, LMP; and two, a local civic group called “Cooperation for Pécs.” I would have thought that these eight would all have voted against the resolution. But no, they decided not to vote at all. Only the two Jobbik members demanded the removal of the item from the agenda. The LMP city father even suggested modifications to the resolution.

On the very same day, the owners of Nappali Bár on Pécs’s Váci utca, who had verbally agreed with the Emberség Erejével Alapítvány to rent them a gallery above their bar, announced their reluctant decision to rescind the offer at the insistence of the owner of the property, who was afraid of the possible consequences of having EEA’s office in his building. Soon thereafter, OSF published a statement regarding the developments in Pécs, in which they contended that the resolution the Pécs city council passed was an open violation of the constitution’s guarantee of freedom of expression and assembly. “These intimidating tactics evoke the darkest period of Hungarian history,” the statement concluded. EEA people are convinced that eventually they will have a roof over their heads because they have received offers of office space from several people.

With Force of Humanity Foundation is looking for a roof / Source: szabadpecs.hu

The story didn’t end here. On Saturday there was, by Pécs standards, a fairly large demonstration, a small part of which can be seen on video. In addition, at least two open letters were addressed to the two Fidesz MPs from Pécs and Zsolt Páva. One of the authors was Zoltán Bretter, a political science professor at the University of Pécs, who knows Páva well from his earlier life in politics. Bretter (SZDSZ) was a member of parliament between 1990 and 1998. From Bretter’s letter one gets the impression that Páva was at one point a decent man, who by now has sunk to “cheap Soros-bashing” and who “became one of the glorifiers of Orbán under Conductor Hoppál.” Yes, he wrote, there are people who are toxic, and Viktor Orbán is one of them. Another open letter was signed by 13 well-known public figures who used to or still live in the city. It was addressed to MPs Péter Hoppál and Péter Csizi, whom they call “inglorious executors of the government party’s most disgusting campaign.”

Fidesz’s merciless attack on civil society here and there still finds brave souls who oppose it, but, unfortunately, fear is spreading everywhere. In the “provinces” civic life seems even more threatened than in the nation’s capital.

December 17, 2017

On George Soros and from George Soros

George Soros took up the gauntlet on November 20 when he published a rebuttal to the national consultation on the so-called Soros Plan, an act which, I believe, was long overdue. Soros’s character assassination in Hungary shouldn’t have remained unanswered for that long. Yet some talking heads questioned the wisdom of getting engaged in any kind of debate with Viktor Orbán’s propaganda machine. They argued that Soros’s rebuttal and his video appearances only extend the government’s campaign against him. I think they are profoundly wrong. Knowing the Orbán regime’s modus operandi, the Soros-bashing will go on as long as the powers-that-be find it useful. And since the whole election campaign has been built on the migrant danger brought about practically single-handedly by George Soros, the anti-Soros campaign will last at least until the election. Perhaps even longer, because migration into Europe will not stop any time soon.

In any case, I’m no fan of cowardly behavior, and I must say that practically all of the opposition parties fall into the cowardly category when it comes to defending George Soros. True, they criticize the government’s policies, but I haven’t yet seen a really brave defense of the man. There is always a qualifying phrase about Soros’s business activities. I assume that in the back of their minds is the notion that one can become rich only by dishonest means.

Instead of a joint condemnation by all Hungarian opposition parties distributed to all major newspapers of the world, only four brave lecturers at a small Methodist college, training future ministers, stepped forward. In fact, they recommended that George Soros receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Here is their letter.

To the Nobel Peace Prize Committee
Oslo, Parliament

 Dear Mr. President,

We propose George Soros as the next Nobel Peace Prize winner. It is well-known that by his relentless and systematic support offered to the Hungarian, Czech and Polish opposition in the 1980’s, Soros had had a major contribution to the creation of democracy and to the break-up of the Warsaw Pact. Founded and chaired by him the Open Society Institute supports the cause of democratic transition everywhere in the world. Founded and supported by Soros, the Central European University has trained at high international standards thousands of students committed to democracy. By their openly anti-Soros propaganda campaigns governments in Belorussia, Hungary after 2014 etc., infamous for their anti-democratic activities, also reinforce the conviction of such forces about the symbolic significance of his person. In the issue of Foreign Policy published on July 19, 2016 he elaborated his position regarding the European migration crisis, which has been the most complex conception of the topic to date.

Iványi Gábor, priest
Lukács Péter, researcher of education
Majsai Tamás, theologian
Nagy Péter Tibor, sociologist
Szilágyi Gál Mihály, philosopher

That Soros would actually receive the Peace Prize is a very long shot, but the letter is an important gesture and a brave move. Admittedly, Gábor Iványi and his church have nothing left to lose thanks to Viktor Orbán who, according to Iványi, is destined for eternal damnation.

In addition to the rebuttal, the Open Society Foundation (OSF) just announced the expansion of its activities in Hungary. OSF will spend large sums of money in two of the poorest regions in Hungary: Southern Transdanubia and the northern regions of the Great Plains, with headquarters in Pécs and Debrecen. The plan is to distribute grants to civic groups that will work on community building and helping the downtrodden. The idea is to bring the foundation “closer to the people.” In plain language, they are planning to counteract the antagonistic propaganda campaign against George Soros and the foundation.

The first government reaction to these plans came from Péter Hoppál, one of the two Fidesz members of parliament from Pécs. He reported that the local Fidesz organization is working on a statement in which it will reject “in the name of the inhabitants of the city” the establishment of a “Soros campaign center” in Pécs. The local Fidesz leaders asked the inhabitants not to rent space for the foundation’s headquarters. I have the feeling that the local Fidesz bigwigs are barking up the wrong tree because Fidesz has already lost all its appeal in the city, which the Fidesz leadership managed to bankrupt over the last eight years. Moreover, the Fidesz majority in these districts was very small in the first place. They were two of the twelve districts that would have gone to the opposition if LMP had joined forces with the other opposition parties.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee is one of those partially Soros-funded organizations that have guts. Statement #5 of the national consultation of the Soros Plan reads that “another goal of George Soros is to make sure that migrants receive milder sentences for crimes they commit,” and in the Infobox the government claimed that the Helsinki Committee was one of those organizations that argued that “the use of serious sanctions in the case of illegal border crossing is troubling.” The Helsinki Committee sued, accusing the government of libel by claiming that they defend people who commit illegal acts. The appellate court of Budapest ruled in the Helsinki Committee’s favor. The government can no longer distribute any material that contains this statement.

As for the anti-Soros campaign, here is a good example of Fidesz’s lost moral compass. One of the Fidesz MPs republished on Facebook a photo he received from Transylvania. The good Szeklers were having great fun at a pig killing festivity with a dead pig lying on the ground. The message on its back reads “Ő VOLT A SOROS!!!” The sentence could be translated either as “It was his turn” or as “This was Soros.” The great Fidesz mind added: “One fewer pig over there. Bon appetit!” He was, however, greatly offended when a journalist from 444.hu confronted him with this tasteless photo. It had nothing to do with George Soros, he claimed. The Open Society Foundation said that the post was a “shocking attack” and that the photo fits into “a long and dark tradition of anti-Semitic imagery dating back to the Middle Ages.” No comment is necessary. Only total disgust.

Finally, let me reprint here George Soros’s latest article, which appeared today in Project Syndicate under the title: “The Hungarian Government’s Failed Campaign of Lies.”

♦ ♦ ♦

The Hungarian government has released the results of its “national consultation” on what it calls the “Soros Plan” to flood the country with Muslim migrants and refugees. But no such plan exists, only a taxpayer-funded propaganda campaign to help a corrupt administration deflect attention from its failure to fulfill Hungarians’ aspirations.

In October, Hungary’s government mailed questionnaires to all four million of the country’s households asking for peoples’ views on seven statements describing my alleged plan to flood Europe, and Hungary in particular, with Muslim migrants and refugees. The government made seven assertions about what it calls the “Soros Plan.” I rebutted each and every one based on my published statements or the lack of any published statements that could substantiate them.

Now, the government has released the supposed results of its “national consultation” on my phantom plan, claiming that the exercise was an unprecedented success. I leave it to the Hungarian public to decide whether and to what extent the figure of 2,301,463 participants (out of a population of 9.8 million) was inflated. It should be possible to inspect the list of those who took part and check if they did indeed participate. Instead, I want to focus on the campaign’s substance.

The national consultation and the release of the results are the latest elements of a massive ongoing propaganda campaign funded by Hungarian taxpayers to benefit a deeply corrupt government seeking to deflect attention from its failure to fulfill Hungarians’ legitimate aspirations, particularly in education and health care. The campaign started in the summer by flooding public spaces with posters featuring a close-up of my grinning visage with the words “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh.”

Other posters portrayed me as the puppet-master of opposition politicians. As many have pointed out, the entire campaign carries the unmistakable odor of anti-Semitism.

The government would have you believe that I am an enemy of the Hungarian people. Nothing could be further from the truth. I first opened my philanthropic foundation in Hungary in 1984, when the country was still under the domination of the Soviet Union. Since then, it has provided more than $400 million to strengthen and support the country of my birth.

In the 1990s, as ordinary Hungarians struggled with the transition from communism to a market economy, the foundation funded free milk for elementary school children in Budapest and supplied the first sonogram machines for Hungarian hospitals. More than 3,200 Hungarians have received academic scholarships from the foundation. Many of them have completed their graduate studies at the Central European University (CEU), which I established in Budapest in the early 1990s. CEU now ranks among the top 100 universities in the world in the social sciences – a remarkable achievement for an academic newcomer.

Another element of the propaganda campaign has been to twist the meaning of “open society.” So allow me to clarify what I mean when I use the term. I do not mean open borders and mass migration aimed at destroying the supposedly Christian identity of Hungary, as the government contends.

The open society is based on the idea that nobody is in possession of the ultimate truth, and that to live together in peace we must respect minorities and minority opinions. Above all, it is a society based on critical thinking and vigorous public debate about public policies. That is why today my foundation – among many others including the European Union – supports groups such as the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, which protect and promote the values and principles on which the EU was founded.

The government also claims that I control the European institutions in Brussels, and that I am using that control to impose the nefarious “Soros Plan” on EU member states. This is nonsense. Decisions about how to address the migration crisis are made by the EU’s member states, including the Hungarian government. It insults the intelligence of the Hungarian people to suggest otherwise.

I do have deeply held beliefs about how Europe and the rest of the developed world should respond to the refugee crisis, and I have been a vocal advocate of those views. My beliefs are born out of personal experience. I arrived in Britain from Hungary in 1947 as a refugee. I have never encouraged others to become refugees. My parents, together with 200,000 Hungarians, left the country after the defeat of the 1956 revolution, and they received asylum in the United States.

I first published my ideas on the refugee crisis in September 2015, and I have revised them over time, as the facts on the ground have changed. In 2015, I asserted that the developed world should be able to accept at least a million refugees annually; later I reduced that global figure to 500,000, of which I suggested Europe could take 300,000.

My guiding principle is that the allocation of refugees within the EU should be entirely voluntary. Member states should not be forced to accept refugees whom they don’t want, and refugees should not be forced to settle in countries where they are not wanted.

Member states that refuse to accept refugees can make an appropriate contribution in many other ways, but the refugee crisis is a European problem, so it needs a European solution, not 28 separate solutions. It is this set of policy recommendations that the Hungarian government has deliberately distorted and labeled the “Soros Plan.”

Unfortunately, the EU has not adopted my ideas, and the toxic political atmosphere created by Hungary (and Poland) has reduced Europe’s capacity to receive and integrate refugees. I do not blame the Hungarian and Polish governments for refusing to accept refugees they do not want; but I do hold them largely responsible for impeding a European solution.

I remember what happened during World War II, when another group was scapegoated for Europe’s problems. The wounds of the past have left deep scars that have not yet healed, and which today are being reopened. The true purpose of the government’s propaganda campaign is to stoke fear and hatred in the Hungarian people and render them indifferent to the suffering of others.

I am pleased to report that the government’s propaganda campaign has been a dismal failure. Despite the Hungarian government’s concerted efforts, the public was not taken in. My short speech on Hungarian television attracted more than a million viewers, and social media platforms were flooded with outpourings of sympathy and support.

I am greatly heartened by this response. I pledge to devote the remaining years of my life to supporting free thought and expression, academic freedom, and the protection of minorities and minority opinions – not only in my native Hungary, but all over the world.

December 8, 2017

The next victims of Orbán’s hate campaign will be the journalists

Hungarian commentators know from past experience that one ought to pay close attention to every word Viktor Orbán utters because his future plans are normally embedded in his speeches way ahead of time. Sometimes these references are too subtle to notice easily; more often, they are dropped in a phrase or two which those who listen to his speeches, especially the soporific ones, are likely to miss.

With the exception of the hired hands of the government media, all other commentators at home and abroad found that Viktor Orbán’s speech in Tusnádfürdő-Băile Tușnad was on the dull side, containing practically nothing new. He refrained from announcing any controversial idea that would be greeted with consternation in political circles in the European Union. There was, however, something in that speech that upset Hungarian journalists to no end. Amidst the seemingly endless braggadocio there was one sentence that strongly indicated that, after the attacks on the NGOs and George Soros, the next victims will be journalists critical of the Orbán government, especially investigative journalists who have been unearthing the corruption endemic in Fidesz and government circles.

Orbán made no secret of the fact that, between now and the election sometime in April 2018, Fidesz’s “adversaries will not be the opposition parties at home.” In the forthcoming election campaign “first and foremost [they] will have to hold their own against external forces; against the bureaucrats of Brussels; the Soros mafia network and its media.” That last sentence sent chills down the spines of journalists working for media outlets considered to be unfriendly to the Orbán government.

Magyar Nemzet actually received information from Fidesz circles that this is not the first time that Viktor Orbán has expressed his strong disapproval of the activities of some journalists. Insiders reported that he often talked about the “liberal media” and its unwarranted bias and enmity toward the government, resulting in unfair reporting. The paper learned from several sources that this year’s speech in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad was the beginning of a new anti-media campaign. Thus far Fidesz’s targets have been media outlets owned by Lajos Simicska, but now they are apparently planning to go against individual journalists. The informants intimated that investigative journalists concentrating on economic matters will be in his cross hairs. A new enemy is needed after Brussels and George Soros, and the media is an obvious next choice. Especially since Donald Trump’s anti-media campaign has had its influence in Hungary, where the expression “fake news” is spreading in the English original.

Orbán has a point. The opposition in its current state is no threat to him whatsoever. If the chaos that exists on the political left isn’t resolved over the next nine months, Fidesz, especially with the assistance of Romanian-Hungarian voters, will be able to win the election easily and most likely will have the coveted two-thirds majority of parliamentary seats. By now the only threat comes from high-profile NGOs, who insist on legality and diligently pursue government wrongdoings. They keep going to the European Court of Justice or to the European Court of Human Rights, and more often than not they win against the Orbán government. It’s no wonder that Orbán wants to get rid of them. Investigative journalists are also “enemies” as far as Fidesz is concerned. They have been working hard to discover the sources of the newly acquired riches of the Orbán family and to unearth the criminal activities of the oligarchs who are actively supported by the prime minister. If these NGOs and journalists would just disappear, life would be a great deal easier for Orbán and friends.

But Hungary is still not like Russia or Turkey where journalists are killed or jailed. Orbán most likely will choose a different tack. The suspicion in Hungarian journalistic circles is that the plan is to undermine the reputation of the most active investigative journalists. The government will try to find some dirt and, if there is nothing juicy enough, they will create stories from half-truths. As for character assassination, we know that Orbán is a master of the craft. It is enough to think of how effectively he managed to create a monster out of Ferenc Gyurcsány simply because he believed him to be his only effective political foe in the country. In comparison to that, the task of finishing off some journalists’ careers will be child’s play.

The journalists who either work for the handful of media outlets owned by non-Fidesz businessmen or those who have been supported by George Soros’s Open Society Foundation are worried. They wanted to know more about the targets of the new campaign from Szilárd Németh, deputy to Chairman Viktor Orbán, who gave a press conference on the subject. Németh immediately got into an argument with the journalists who were present. He accused Gergely Nyilas of Index of not being a journalist but an emissary of Lajos Simicska, the owner of the internet site. According to Németh, Nyilas is simply performing the task assigned to him, which is attacking Simicska’s enemy Viktor Orbán. Another journalist representing the Simicska-owned HírTV didn’t fare better. He was accused of reciting his questions, which were actually written for him by someone else. Németh most likely again had Lajos Simicska in mind.

The journalists naturally wanted to know which media outlets are the latest targets of the government, but Németh refused to name them, claiming that both he and the journalists know full well which ones the government has in mind. However, in the course of the conversation he talked about “criminal organizations” that will have to be dealt with by the prosecutor’s office.

In addition to Szilárd Németh, the almost forgotten Rózsa Hoffmann, former undersecretary of education, also spoke about the ill-willed, irresponsible journalists. While claiming that Hungary’s reputation in Brussels is improving, “certain journalistic organizations falsely accuse Hungary on many accounts.” She also seems certain that these journalists are following a prescribed script.

We can expect a heightened assault on journalists as well as NGOs. In fact, Orbán promised that much when answering a man in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad who demanded harsher treatment of NGOs. It sounds ominous.

July 26, 2017

George Soros in his own words

A few days ago I discovered a documentary about George Soros from 1994, with Pál Bodor (1930-2017), the Transylvanian Hungarian poet and writer, as narrator. I was impressed with the George Soros who emerges from these interviews, and I asked Richard Field of The Budapest Beacon whether he would be willing to subtitle the video in English.  He kindly agreed, and here is the first half of the documentary. Thank you, Richard, I really appreciate it.

I will be interested in your reactions.

 

Daniel Penev, What Central European University stands for: An insider’s perspective

Daniel Penev, 23, is a Bulgarian journalist and a member of the Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria (AEJ-Bulgaria). He has a double-major B.A. degree in journalism and political science and international relations from the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG). Since September 2016, Daniel has been pursuing an M.A. degree in international relations at Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, Hungary.

♦ ♦ ♦

On the evening of 28 March, Michael Ignatieff, President and Rector of the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, Hungary, sent an email to students, faculty, and staff, informing them about proposed amendments to Act CCIV of 2011 on National Higher Education, tabled in the Hungarian parliament earlier that day. If adopted, the amendments would prevent CEU from operating as a higher education institution in Hungary.

This email kicked off one of the most turbulent weeks in the history of CEU, which celebrated its 25th anniversary only last year. The controversial draft bill, seen by many as a direct attack on CEU, has made the headlines across Europe and North America, with stories published by Reuters, the BBC, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Bloomberg, Foreign Policy, Deutsche Welle, Politico.eu, and EurActiv.com, among others. Ambassadors of various countries and other politicians have rallied behind the university, calling on the Hungarian government to withdraw the proposed amendments. The thousands of statements, letters, emails, and social media posts in support of CEU came from university presidents, rectors, professors, and researchers.

One open letter, in which over 150 prominent scholars, including 14 Nobel Prize laureates, urge the Hungarian government to withdraw the tabled legislation, merits a special note because it highlights CEU’s contribution to education and research.

“We would like to express our admiration for Central European University, which is a leading university in the region, and is well integrated in the broader system of Hungarian and European higher education,” the scholars wrote. “We have learned a tremendous amount from, and cooperated productively with, researchers from CEU. We have been fortunate to meet many students who received postgraduate degrees at CEU, after obtaining a world-class basic education in Hungary – and other Central and Eastern European – public universities. CEU’s integration in and cooperation with other academic institutions in the region is fundamental to the success of Hungary.”

As a CEU student pursuing an M.A. degree in international relations, I see the support and the praise CEU has received as a confirmation of the rightness of my decision to continue my education in this institution. Since I arrived in Budapest in September last year, I have had the privilege and the pleasure to acquire new knowledge, work with peers and faculty with diverse cultural and academic backgrounds, and listen to guest lectures by prominent speakers just a few hundred meters away from the Danube – all of this thanks to CEU. The past seven months have allowed me to learn what CEU is, what it does, what it stands for, and what it should continue to be, do, and stand for. In Budapest.

There is no doubt that the government’s actions constitute a ruthless attack not just on one particular institution but on academic freedom and integrity more generally. At the same time, this awkward and frustrating situation presents us with a wonderful opportunity to remind ourselves what CEU represents and why and how it matters.

At a time when education features among the most important, yet most financially formidable, investments in one’s life, CEU allows thousands of students like me to complete high-quality graduate and postgraduate degrees for little or no money – something they would never be able to do if they could not rely on the generous scholarships that CEU offers. As a Bulgarian, I know the vital role education plays in shaping the political, economic, social, and cultural development of a country, especially one in transition from one-party rule and a planned economy to democratic governance and a free-market economy.

According to the 2017 QS World University Rankings, many of the degree programs offered at CEU rank in the world’s top 50 (politics and international relations), top 100 (social policy and administration, sociology, philosophy), top 150 (history) and top 200 (economics, law). The presence of such an educational center in Central and Eastern Europe gives aspiring academics, researchers, analysts, politicians, diplomats, lawyers, historians, economists, and businessmen the chance to receive the kind of education they have long dreamt about regardless of their families’ financial situation. This matters particularly to people from Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, as they can study closer to home and in a city with a fantastic location, a rich history, and an intellectually stimulating environment where living costs are much lower compared to cities like London, Paris, New York, Washington, or Toronto. Add the state-of-the-art classrooms, the fairytale-like library, and the enormous amount of diverse research resources and facilities, and CEU becomes a utopia-turned-reality for anyone seeking to expand his/her intellectual horizons.

CEU’s significance is not limited to the degree programs and services it offers. What makes this institution special is the approximately 2,000 people who study, teach, do research, and keep the administration running, along with some 14,000 alumni across the globe. A cliché or not, it is these people of different ages, nationalities, religions, milieus, and academic backgrounds who have helped make CEU the institution it is today. CEU is the place where students can express their opinions freely and count on the assistance of faculty and staff at any time. CEU is the place where professors enthusiastically share their expertise and experience with students but also have the courage to acknowledge the gaps in their own knowledge. CEU is the place where the president and rector says that he wants “to hear the sound of laughter in the corridors [on campus]” and that if “that happens, I’ll know we’re learning together.” CEU is the place where any staff member, from the guards at the entrance of the various buildings to the ladies at the restaurant to the librarians, greet you with a smile that helps even the most timid person feel at home. CEU is the place where people exchange information quickly and transparently via multiple channels and look for solutions to problems together. The CEU community’s response to the proposed legislative amendments perfectly illustrates the human element behind the three-letter abbreviation.

In line with the values and principles of open society, CEU has since its establishment brought to Budapest prominent thinkers and scholars to discuss the most pertinent topics of the day and further inspire students and faculty. Whether it is a guest lecture, a discussion panel, a conference, or a workshop, it doesn’t matter much. What matters, instead, is the fact that CEU hosts multiple and diverse events virtually every day throughout the entire academic year. If I confine myself to the guest lectures of interest to me only during the winter semester (9 January – 31 March), I can, with great delight, say that I had the chance to listen to internationally renowned speakers, politicians, and diplomats like Timothy Garton Ash (professor of European studies at Oxford University), Mark Lilla (professor of humanities at Columbia University), Jan-Werner Müller (professor of politics at Princeton University and a visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna), Ivan Krastev (chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna), Jacques Rupnik (professor at Sciences Po), Morgan Johansson (Minister for Justice and Migration of Sweden), and Liubov Nepop (Ambassador of Ukraine to Hungary). Events of this kind not only benefit CEU students and faculty but contribute to the academic vibe of Budapest and Hungary as a whole.

Budapest has been CEU’s home for more than two decades. In return, CEU has made Budapest a more visible and attractive spot on the academic and cultural map of Europe. CEU and Budapest need each other.

In case you still wonder how CEU matters to Hungary and why it should remain in Budapest, you’d better turn to Zoltan Kovacs for more information. Among other academic achievements, Kovacs has an M.A. in History (1993) and a Ph.D. in History (2002) from CEU. Kovacs, as you might know, is the spokesperson of Viktor Orban’s government – the very same government that aspires to make CEU’s operation in Hungary impossible or, in the very least, impracticable.

April 1, 2017

 

Karl Pfeifer: The Orbán regime takes Horthy’s Hungary as an example

I have known the dark ages of Hungary. As a child, during World War Two, I experienced first-hand Hungarian ultra-nationalism and anti-Semitism. I managed to avoid deportation and murder in Auschwitz by fleeing to Palestine in 1943, along with 49 other Jewish children.

Decades later, I returned to Hungary during the years of Communism. As a journalist writing for major Austrian newspapers, my reporting included interviewing dissidents. As a result, the Kadar regime expelled me four times from the country, the last time in 1987.

This personal history makes me extremely sensitive to current developments in Hungary and the shadows that are once again rising there.

Consider, for example, the current government campaign against the work of the Hungarian-born American billionaire George Soros. Mr. Soros’s Open Society Foundations has given more than $200 million to Hungarian groups since the fall of Communism, supporting a host of humanitarian issues—including independent groups that support human rights and are often critical of the government.

As a result, George Soros is demonized and presented as the source of all evil by the government. The rhetoric used reminds me of the anti-Semitic propaganda from my childhood, according to which the Jews were responsible for all of Hungary’s problems, like poverty, ignorance, and landless peasants.

Moreover, the government media portrays Mr. Soros as an agent of “international finance.” We know that this is a code for “Jews.” You don’t have to be explicitly anti-Semitic, you can be implicitly anti-Semitic – the message is quite clear for mainstream Hungarian society, which has never come to terms with its own prejudices against Jews.

Finally, Soros is presented by the government as responsible for mass migration to Europe. Did the 86-year-old investor really go to Syria and Iraq to politely ask people to come to Europe? This is a worldview deeply rooted in conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism.

This goes beyond the attacks on Soros. When Orbán refers to “ethnic homogeneity” as a factor of prosperity for the country, I am worried. This reminds me of a 1941 law that banned all forms of sexual intercourse between Jews and Gentiles, in the name of ethnic purity. This was done under the rule of the ultra-nationalist and Nazi collaborator Miklos Horthy. In Horthy times, anti-Semitism was a national policy. It is not the case today, but hatred against Jews has free flow and conspiracy theories are clearly targeted at the Jewish community, the largest one in Central Europe.

This poisonous rhetoric is the product of a political system that has grown increasingly authoritarian under Mr. Orbán’s Fidesz government, and it is being used by that government to strengthen its control. The Fidesz government and its allies own the majority of media outlets, including all of the TV and radio stations which have large audiences in rural Hungary, where the vast majority of the party electorate resides. Media outlets presenting views in opposition to the government are not accessible to the average Hungarian, therefore most people believe what the government propaganda tells them. And that message is straightforward: if you criticize the government, you are an enemy of the nation.

The government is now seeking to extend its power with a new law tightening controls on the funding of groups such as the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee—rights groups which receive some of their funding from…yes, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. Thus the rhetoric of anti-Semitism is being deployed to serve the government’s ultimate political aim of consolidating its control – while supposedly remaining a democratic member of the European Union.

It’s worth remembering that under the Horthy regime too there was a parliament, and it was possible to express critical views in a handful of opposition papers. Yet that did not make the regime a democratic one.

Fidesz is a member of the European People’s Party, the club of conservative parties in the European Union. But Fidesz is not a conservative party. Conservative parties do not mobilize mass rallies to defend the “sovereignty of the Hungarian nation,” unlike in 2012 when 400,000 people took to the streets of Budapest at the urging of the government media – with the infamous anti-Semitic journalist Zsolt Bayer marching in the front rank. Conservative parties do not touch private property, unlike Fidesz, which nationalized pension funds in 2010 to finance the state’s expenditures. Conservative parties do not falsify history, unlike in Hungary where the state established the national think tank “Veritas,” downplaying the participation of Hungarians in the murder of 500,000 Hungarian Jews during the Second World War.

The upcoming law on NGOs will further silence the last opposition voices in a member state of the European Union. The government propaganda plays with the fear of “the other”: the migrants, the Jews, foreign capital. But who pays attention to Hungarians? Who is concerned about the disastrous state of healthcare and education in the country? By annihilating critical voices, the anti-NGO law will spring the trap on the real victims of the government: ordinary Hungarians.


Karl Pfeifer is an Austrian-born journalist of Hungarian Jewish origin and a member of the board of the Archives of the Austrian Resistance.
He is author of several books. A movie about his life can be seen at https://vimeo.com/124834106

March 26, 2017

What’s next? Expulsion of George Soros’s Open Society Foundation from Hungary?

A vicious media attack is underway in Hungary in the wake of the release of about 2,500 documents by hackers calling themselves DC Leaks. All of the documents are related to George Soros’s Open Society Foundation. The hackers describe Soros as “an architect and sponsor of almost every revolution and coup around the world for the last 25 years.” And, they continue, “the USA is thought to be a vampire due to him and his puppets…. His minions spill blood of millions and millions of people just to make him even more rich.” We may know nothing about the identity of the hackers, but we can say with confidence that whoever wrote this is not a native speaker of English.

The Hungarian right-wing media were ecstatic about this introduction to the leaked documents. And what a happy coincidence! George Soros has been a thorn in the side of the Hungarian government for some time over the refugee issue. Moreover, in the last few weeks the pro-government media has been having a heyday with stories about George Soros’s financial support of Hillary Clinton, whom the Orbán government does not want to see elected.

Journalists discovered a right-wing site called The Free Thought Project, which described “globalist Soros as Hillary Clinton’s Puppet Master.” The proof for this assertion is an e-mail from George Soros to Hillary Clinton dated January 23, 2011 in which Soros calls attention to political unrest in Albania that has produced fatalities. Soros thinks that the U.S. administration should convince Prime Minister Sali Berisha to appoint “a senior European official as mediator” and suggests three names, one of whom was actually chosen. Hence, claims the author of the article, Clinton is Soros’s puppet. Indirectly, U.S. foreign policy is being shaped by the billionaire financier.

puppet

Source: The Free Thought Project

In addition to this one letter discovered by DC Leaks, the Hungarian sleuths found a list of the grant recipients under Open Society’s “European Elections 2014 Project.” 444.hu received a grant of $49,500 to monitor possible election fraud at the 106 precincts in the 2014 national election. After this revelation, the attacks from the pro-government right-wing media came fast and furious. Pesti Srácok, which a few months ago was discovered to have received 1.5 million forints from the ministry of agriculture for a series of articles informing the public about the government’s land auctions and writing anti-Simicska articles, had the gall to attack 444.hu. Magyar Idők’s editorial on the subject can only be described as savage. The journalists of 444.hu are accused of “professionally executed treason.” They are described as being “kept” by foreign powers, antagonistic to the government of their homeland. “They have been bought by the kilo.” A right-wing blog claimed that “Gyurka Soros bought half the [Hungarian] left for the price of half a dinner.”

Although the juiciest item on the list was 444.hu, Index.hu also received 7.7 million forints for its regular column EUrológus Online, which informs the public on the politics of the European Union. The pro-government, anti-EU media might find such information unnecessary, but actually EUrológus is a very informative site.

Also on the list are important civic organizations like the Hungarian Helsinki Commission, Transparency International, the Eötvös Károly Institute, TASZ (Társaság a Szabadságjogokért), Political Capital Intézet, Media Diversity Institute, and Prospekt Műhely Alapítvány. The list of recipients and the size of the grants can be found in 888.hu.

All in all, “Uncle Gyuri,” as Jobbik’s internet news site calls Soros, spent $8 million to keep a few civic organizations alive, without whom government corruption cases and human rights abuses wouldn’t have been uncovered. Without them the Orbán government could have pursued its illegal activities without the public being any the wiser. Even if Péter Polt, the chief prosecutor, makes sure that nothing happens to corrupt government officials, at least, thanks to these hard-working and upright individuals in the service of democracy, Hungarians can learn about these cases.

Source: 888.hu

Source: 888.hu

Most Hungarian businessmen are dependent on the benevolence of the Orbán government. They dare not support any of these organizations for fear of being dropped from the list of companies that receive government orders. As for the media, the government generously supports right-wing newspapers and internet sites via advertising and government subscriptions. It can easily happen that a municipality orders 20 copies of Magyar Idők and Magyar Hírlap and none of the opposition papers, which also receive no ad revenue from state companies. Thus, opposition media outlets are bled to death while pro-government rags like Pesti Srácok and 888.hu thrive. The English-language Hungary Today is, through a phony foundation, financed by the government. Most likely the same is true of CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fórum), which organized countless pro-government demonstrations that allegedly saved Viktor Orbán his job. Otherwise, “hidden forces” would have removed him from power. I assume, especially after all the Hillary Clinton bashing, that he suspects that one of those working toward his removal was Clinton herself, who was then U.S. Secretary of State.

I was taken aback when I read this afternoon that Béla Galló, a political scientist whom I always associated with the left wing of the Hungarian Socialist Party, agreed to a conversation about the newly released Soros documents on the state TV’s program “Ma Reggel.” In the course of the conversation Galló explained that Soros often gets involved in politics without paying attention to the possible consequences. He described Soros’s “politicking” as someone creating “theories that are arrived at a desk” but don’t work in the real world. Galló would have been wise to stop there. But Hiradó, the official government news, said that, according to Galló, “Soros’s political activities determine the future of the world; his money market speculations can shake the economic foundations of countries and thus [he] contributes to the destabilization of the world.” That’s exactly what the employers of the state television station wanted to hear. I will never understand why these people accept invitations to Magyar Televízió when it is obvious that whatever they say will be used for government propaganda.

After reading the articles about Soros’s grants to Hungarian newspapers and organizations, I became afraid that this is just the beginning of a process that might end with the expulsion of Soros’s Open Society Foundation from Hungary, taking a cue from Putin’s Russia. It is especially worrisome that 888.hu brought up the Central European University which, according to them, is financed by Soros for the sole purpose of pro-migration propaganda.

August 17, 2016