Academic Freedom at Stake #IstandwithCEU

[EL] «Ελεύθερη χώρα, ελεύθερο πανεπιστήμιο» ήταν το σύνθημα που φώναζαν περίπου 80,000 διαδηλωτές την προηγούμενη Κυριακή στη Βουδαπέστη. Σε μια μεγαλειώδη πορεία που κατέληξε στο Ουγγρικό Κοινοβούλιο, χιλιάδες άνθρωποι ανεξαρτήτου ηλικίας διαδήλωσαν ειρηνικά ενάντια σε μια πρόσφατη νομοθεσία που έμμεσα στοχοποιεί ένα απο τα πιο διεθνή και αναγνωρισμένα πανεπιστήμια της χώρας, το Κεντρικό Ευρωπαϊκό Πανεπιστήμιο (CEU). Με μια ανευ προηγουμένου διαδικασία, η δεξιά Ουγγρική κυβέρνηση που βρίσκεται στην εξουσία απο το 2010, σε μια ετήσια προσπάθεια να δημιουργήσει εχθρούς, ξεκίνησε φέτος να επιτίθεται σε οργανώσεις της κοινωνίας πολιτών, πολλές από τις οποίες χρηματοδοτούνται από τον δισεκατομμυριούχο Σόρος, Ουγγρικής καταγωγής και ιδρυτή του CEU. Θύμα αυτής της διαμάχης φαίνεται να πέφτει ένα πανεπιστήμιο, ενώ η ωμότητα με την οποία λήφθηκε αυτή η απόφαση απαξιώνει πλήρως την ακαδημαϊκή ελευθερία εν γένει. Σε μια δημοκρατική Ευρωπαϊκή κοινωνία, τέτοιου είδους αποφάσεις που στρέφονται ενάντια στους ίδιους τους πολίτες της χώρας και καταπατούν τα δικαιώματα τους, ξεκινώντας ένα κυνήγι μαγισσών, δεν πρέπει να μένουν χωρίς αντίσταση. Ως ερευνητές/τριες στο Ευρωπαϊκό Διδακτορικό για την Εκπαίδευση των Εκπαιδευτικών (EDiTE) εκφράζουμε την αλληλεγγύη μας στο CEU.

Free country, free university – Szabad ország, szabad egyetem – was the moto of approximately 80,000 people who marched on Sunday 9th of April in Budapest, demonstrating against legislation restricting academic freedom. In one of the biggest anti-government protests since prime minister Viktor Orbán and his party Fidesz came to power in 2010, tens of thousands of people including families, students, middle-aged and elderly, marched across the historic Chain Bridge and towards the Parliament asking President János Áder to veto the bill and send it for constitutional review. After the official demonstration was over, many people stayed for an announced march towards the Ministry of Human Resources, which houses the Education Secretariat, and then to Fidesz headquarters yelling ‘Viktator’ and ‘It’s the End, Viktor!’. The crowd remained peaceful throughout the protest, despite several lines of police along the way, some in riot gear.

On Tuesday 4th of April 2017, the Hungarian Parliament voted for a passage of amendments to the national law on higher education, which puts at risk the academic freedom of Hungarian research and academic institutions, targeting specifically one of the most prestigious and internationally recognised universities of the country, the Central European University (CEU). After only one week of public debate and without consultation with relevant stakeholders, the legislation has been rushed through the parliament through an extraordinary procedure that can only happen four times per year in urgent situations. The bill has been strongly criticised from hundreds of leading scholars, including Nobel Laureates, academics (e.g. Noam Chomsky), as well as most Hungarian universities and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The bill obliges foreign universities to have a campus in both countries of accreditation, while it bans universities outside the EU from awarding Hungarian diplomas without an agreement between national governments. Among all universities in Hungary, the only one that has no campus back in the country of origin is CEU, which has prime real estate in the centre of Budapest, but no campus in the jurisdiction of New York State. The bill further demands the US federal government to act as a negotiator with the Hungarian government, although US constitution clearly gives authority for higher education to the states and the US government has no jurisdiction.

Such an unprecedented attack of a national government against a higher education institution within the European Union can be interpreted as yet another political act of the Hungarian government against the European Union and civil society organisations, as the founder and still one of the main funders of CEU is financier George Soros, a billionaire who spends a lot of money through his Open Society Foundations to promote a liberal political agenda worldwide. In an almost yearly effort of the Hungarian government to find new enemies and distract public attention, the new enemy this year appears to be civil society organisations and CEU – before the main enemy was Brussels or refugees. The government campaigns actively against Soros and NGOs funded by his Open Society Foundations, with the aim to silence criticism and undermine pro-democracy groups that hold governments accountable. Well, fun fact is that Orbán received a Soros scholarship to study at Oxford University. However, Orbán proclaims that those organisations want to bring thousands of immigrants into Europe, while they push forward global business interests that overrule national governments. And so the argument appears to go like that: civil society is a threat, a billionaire is funding this threat, let’s close a university supported by the billionaire because it might also become a threat.

But what is at stake here? Is it only CEU or academic freedom at large? How is it possible for a national government to turn against its own people by continuously diminishing their civil rights? Because what happens to CEU today may very easily happen to any other free and critical thinking Hungarian university in the near future. No matter who is hypothetically the target behind this attack, academic freedom is not and should not be considered negotiable in the 21st century. Freedom of inquiry and democracy are conditions which overcome political interests and cannot be compromised in the name of false prophecies. Hungarian citizens who marched by thousands with their children last Sunday and will continue to do so are aware of that. Living in the era of global interconnections and immense knowledge possibilities, citizens of a democratic European country cannot tolerate the ‘without asking anyone’ authoritative and provocative extinction of a knowledge cell within their society. And as for Europe in general, the EU should eventually realise that to avoid disintegration, it needs to take an active stance against this unprecedented and undemocratic assault targeting higher education and academic freedom, defending the unions’ core values which are constantly violated by political strongmen of one Member State.

We, a group of emerging researchers working within the framework of the European Doctorate in Teacher Education (EDiTE), want to express our support and solidarity to CEU, an academic institution under threat of political abuse, and with that to proclaim that academic freedom is a right to be respected and treasured.

 

One thought on “Academic Freedom at Stake #IstandwithCEU

  1. Very very sad to learn about this. Indeed very disappointing. We as ESR’s must stand with CEU. Academic freedom is our right and it should be respected. Such autocratic and authoritative stance from a government cannot and should not be tolerated. Keep fighting.

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