After a protracted stand-off with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Central European University has announced it will be closing its offices in Hungary and moving to Vienna, Austria. The move is symptomatic of the rise of nationalist populism in Eastern Europe. Central European University was founded in 1991 with funding from Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros as a graduate program designed to strengthen ties between post-communist Eastern European and the West. Part of its mission was to educate Hungarians in democratic values.
The university fell into Orban’s crosshairs because Soros has become a major scapegoat in populist mythology. Like many other right-wing nationalists, Orban has concocted lurid anti-Semitic fantasies featuring Soros as the head of the globalist conspiracy bent on promoting mass migration as a way of undermining the sovereignty of traditional nations. As The Washington Post notes, “Orban has been particularly ruthless in attacking anything associated with Soros, whose open and liberal philosophy is the antithesis of the illiberal, nationalist and nativist view celebrated by Orban.”
Orban has also attacked the academic discipline of “gender studies” which he sees as subverting traditional family values. The teaching of gender studies is banned in Hungarian colleges.
While Central European University enjoys bipartisan support in Congress, the Trump administration has recently been reluctant to defend it. In a recent interview with The Washington Post, America’s ambassador to Hungary David B. Cornstein, a friend of President Donald Trump, seemed to put the onus on Central European University to make peace with Orban.
“I was a guest in another guy’s store,” Cornstein said, drawing on his experiences as a businessman. “The university is in another country. It would pay to work with the government.” Cornstein added, “It doesn’t have anything to do with academic freedom.”