The Central European University (CEU) is now a university in exile. The move comes as the Hungarian government launches a wide-scale crackdown on liberal elements within society. The CEU was established when George Soros piled $880 million into the university’s endowment, making it one of the richest university’s in Europe. Now, it’s a university without a home.
The Central European University was founded after the fall of the Iron Curtain to help Eastern Europe deal with the transition to the free world. George Soros was born in Budapest, Hungary, where the university was also based, up until now.
Soros has emerged as one of the more controversial public figures, a boogieman of the right who often supports left-wing causes even as the left establishment remains wary of him. Hailing from a moderately wealthy but unreligious Jewish family, the Soros family had been forced to purchase counterfeit documents stating they were Christian during World War II. After the war, George Soros moved to the United Kingdom to attend college, thus allowing him to escape the iron curtain that was falling over Europe.
Eventually, he made his way to the United States, where he became a highly successful investor. Soros was once towards the top of the short list of the world’s wealthiest individuals but has since donated at least $18 billion to various charitable causes. Soros still has about $8 billion in personal wealth. Soros is known for supporting various left-wing groups and policies.
The Central European University is among the most prominent of those efforts. Founded in 1991, the university supports democratization and efforts to forge open societies. By and large, the university’s faculty and students are known for supporting and pursuing left-wing politics.
While Soros stepped down as the chairman of the CEU Board in 2007, he remains among the university’s most prominent figures. Some argue that the University has become a vehicle for Soros to push a left-wing agenda throughout Europe, and within Hungary in particular.
Hard-right Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has turned Soros into a boogieman, blaming him for many of Hungary’s problems. And now, Orban has managed to successfully evict the Central European University, sending shock waves through the European Union.
All things considered, the European Union has supported freedom of speech and has tolerated counter-politics, including the alt-right movement. The eviction of an entire University, however, suggests that some leaders are more than willing to buck that trend and to take extreme measures against dissenters.
Orban has become one of the most prominent critics of Western liberalism. Many argue that he is seeking to set up an authoritarian regime akin to those found in China and Russia. Such a government would almost certainly not be tolerated within the European Union.
United States and European Union leaders had expressed support for the Central European University. Even if the University’s political bent went against many of said leaders’ views, supporting freedom of academics generally takes precedent. U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, David B. Corstein arrived this past June and made it a top priority to protect the CEU.
Leaders like Orban, however, have proven all but immune to outside pressure. Indeed, such pressure is often a tool that can be used to rally supporters at home. Hungary has already been “slapped” but the European Union, with the European Parliament having triggered a disciplinary procedure against the nation. Hungary shrugged it off and now seems content to up the ante.
Right now, European Union officials are deciding whether and how to punish Hungary. Most likely, the expulsion of the CEU will encourage EU officials to come down harder. And yet, that might just be what Orban wants. He may be able to use a heavy-handed European Union to convince Hungarians that they’d have a better future outside of the EU.