Remko Tanis • 04 December 2018

Hungary, a member state of the European Union, has forced a university to shut down almost entirely because the views of the university’s founder don’t align with those of the country’s prime minister.

Winter in Brussels. Photo: (C) Remko Tanis

Yesterday, the Central European University announced it would move its U.S. degree programs to Vienna as of the next academic year.

CEU was founded by American billionaire George Soros after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its mission is to promote the principles of democracy and free societies. The Hungarian government, again: leading a member state of the European Union, has now made clear it’s not keen on having that done within its borders.

The European Union states as two of its core values ‘Democracy’ and ‘Freedom’. According to the EU:

these values ‘are common to the EU countries in a society in which inclusion, tolerance, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination prevail.

I’ve spend close to ten years living and working in countries where such values might be stated just as matter of factly, but aren’t really guaranteed by the government. Didn’t expect things to get this far, this quickly in the European Union.

The joint pavilion of Belgium and the European Union at the 2010 Expo in Shanghai, China. Photo: (C) Remko Tanis

The joint pavilion of Belgium and the European Union at the 2010 Expo in Shanghai, China. Photo: (C) Remko Tanis

Here are some examples of recent restrictions on universities from the Far East, and Turkey:

  • Cornell drops exchanges with Chinese school over academic freedom issues

    • Reuters, 30 October 2018: Cornell University has cut two exchange programs with a top Chinese school over academic freedom concerns, the Ivy League school said, after Chinese students were punished for supporting labor rights in China.

  • The two biggest threats to academic freedom have come together in China

    • Quartz, 15 September 2018: Pringle said that one of the biggest threats to academic freedom, which among other things should encompass the freedom to choose what to study and how to share those findings, is authoritarianism. [Tim Pringle is the editor of China Quarterly, a journal published by Cambridge University Press.]

  • Thailand: Academics Face Discipline for Criticizing Junta

    • Human Rights Watch, 27 February 2017: Thailand’s state Mahidol University should drop a disciplinary investigation against academics who criticized the Thai military junta, Human Rights Watch said today. The action is being carried out against staff members of the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP), Southeast Asia’s longest-running graduate degree program in human rights studies.

  • 170 academics sign open letter expressing concern about academic freedom in Singapore

    • Straits Times, 13 April 2018: At least 170 academics have voiced concern about academic freedom in Singapore, with several saying that diverse views should be encouraged and not quashed.

  • Academic freedom needs active support

    • The Lancet, 18 August 2018: [In Turkey,] since July, 2016, 6081 academics have been dismissed from their positions and from civic duty with statutory decrees, with an accompanying cancellation of their passports.2 Of the 15 universities that were shut down with statutory decree in July, 2016, some remain entirely shut down, with foreign students and employees deported or awaiting deportation under custody; others are being re-opened as state universities with new names, administration, academic staff, and student bodies.

  • Freedom in the World: Vietnam

    • Freedom House, 2016: Academic freedom is limited. University professors must refrain from criticizing government policies and adhere to party views when teaching or writing on political topics.

The exact reasons and motivations the Hungarian government under Viktor Orbán has for going after the Central European University have been covered extensively. Rather than getting lost in all the arguments in that debate, today it’s fitting to focus on the sole, sobering outcome:

  • George Soros-Founded University Is Forced Out of Hungary

    • The New York Times, 04 December 2018: The closing of the university, founded by the American billionaire George Soros, came after a nearly two-year struggle with the Orban government, which has quashed dissent and consolidated control over all aspects of Hungarian life.

If this sticks, not only Hungary but the entire European Union has taken a turn for the worse.