Can you see any opportunity that the Central European University could work on in accordance with the recently approved law?
The law will take effect in September, and from January 2018 we cannot receive students. The CEU has always followed the Hungarian laws, and we will continue to do so, also with this law. We do not agree with it, but we follow the laws.
However, it should be clear that we want to stay in Budapest. This is our home. This is also an emotional issue. My wife is Hungarian, hundreds of our colleagues are Hungarian, a lot of Hungarian professors returned from overseas due to CEU. We have hundreds of Hungarian students. We are an American university, but we are equally Hungarians as well.
It is important to emphasize that this is not an education issue here: we are targets of prepared political attacks. And it not only affects us, but also the freedom of Hungarian education.
The solution would be a bilateral international agreement between New York State and the Government of Hungary, which guarantees the freedom of our scientific work, and that we may freely teach and enroll students. It is important that these are not our privileges. These rights apply equally to every Hungarian institution.
There is a contradiction between being respectful of the law, even the Lex-CEU, and, in the meantime, being committed to work on in Budapest. How do you imagine your future?
It does not depend on us, but the Hungarian party. I hope that the Hungarian government begins negotiations with us.
We said that we want to stay, and that a bilateral agreement between New York State and Hungary would be the solution. I was in New York last week, and there are no obstacles on their part of the agreement. The next steps depend only on the Hungarian Government.
However, according to the recently adopted law the Central American government should enter into an agreement, while Washington has just no authority in something like that.
I do not want to speak on behalf of the US government, I can only say what I’ve been informed of. They do not have the authority, neither do they have any affinity to deal with this issue. This is a matter for New York State and Hungary. But it also should be emphasized:
We will not back down.
What kind of action do you count on by the government of the United States after your visit there?
I have talked with the Deputy Secretary in charge of Political Affairs of the US Department of State, Thomas Shannon, and Fiona Hill from the National Security council. With the latter institution, we are in contact ever since.
All our governmental relationships made it clear that the provision of educational freedom is essential for the United States and an attack against any US educational institution is a concern in the United States.
There are thirty American institutions in the world similar to CEU. If the Hungarian government chases away one of these universities from here, what will be the assurance that it does not come to the mind to a similar someone, in another country? In the view of the United States this is a very important matter, and I can only hope that the Hungarian government recognizes this.
Closing the University in Budapest would be a bad message to the entire world. That is why the Central European University means such a critical issue for the United States.
How does the US administration accept at all that a small Central European country gives an ultimatum?
This is not just about the size of the country. Because Hungary is a respected country in America. But I can tell you:
It is a big mistake to give the United States an ultimatum.
How did the turbulent events of recent times apply to those students and teachers who are preparing themselves to come to the CEU?
Currently we advertise positions in the sociology department, and ensured the candidates that they can feel free to take the job. Look, this situation does not threaten our existence, we’ll continue to operate. In addition, we would stay in Budapest at any price, I must stress this, too.
Are you in contact with the Hungarian government?
No. We have many friends in politics, even near the government. Many people ask how they could help, and they are asked to take up contact with the government. But there are no formal negotiations.
What is your opinion about the CEU supporting demonstrations? Is there something you would say to the protesters, just as the next movement will be on Wednesday?
We are very grateful for the demonstration, although, it should be clear that we neither support nor organize them. But why would I deny it, it is very touching. Which university in the world can say that thousands march under their windows as a sign of their support? It’s very touching.
I do not want to get into an argument with the Hungarian government, but one of their responses yet enraged me. A government spokesman said that these marchers were just congregating because of the call of some foreign power. Which is insulting for these people.
translated by Álmos Tarnóczy