Uni­ver­sity trans­fer shows chill winds grip Hun­gary

The New European - - Agenda -

BU­DAPEST: Un­der ever-greater pres­sure from the far-right gov­ern­ment of Vic­tor Or­bán, the Cen­tral Eu­ro­pean Uni­ver­sity (CEU) has sig­nalled its in­ten­tion to leave Bu­dapest for Vi­enna.

Or­bán, Hun­gary’s hard­line prime min­is­ter, has waged a long cam­paign against the uni­ver­sity, which is fi­nan­cially sup­ported by phi­lan­thropist and fi­nancier Ge­orge Soros, the gov­ern­ment’s en­emy num­ber one.

In an ar­ti­cle for the pro­gres­sive blog Mérce, Zsolt Kapel­ner paid trib­ute to his uni­ver­sity and warned that the move is a sign of Hun­gary’s slide to­wards au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism.

“The de­par­ture of the CEU is painful for many,” he said. “It is painful be­cause it shows again what we al­ready knew: tyranny is com­plete.”

The uni­ver­sity was a “spir­i­tual oa­sis” of free think­ing in an in­creas­ingly op­pres­sive po­lit­i­cal land­scape, Kapel­ner wrote.

“The de­par­ture of the CEU is painful be­cause it is one of the last places in the coun­try that is still con­sid­ered ‘ad­vanced’, ‘high qual­ity’ or ‘west­ern’. Where you could al­most con­sider your­self to be some­where else.”

He added: “The CEU is go­ing. We lost. “That loss is painful. But this pain is worth some­thing only if it helps to make it clearer where we are, what we are be­com­ing, what has be­come of our prom­ises, our free­dom and our fu­ture; how vul­ner­a­ble, help­less, hope­less we now are; if it makes us re­alise that… we must fi­nally de­mand con­trol of our aca­demic life, our uni­ver­si­ties, our coun­try, our own lives and our own des­tiny.”

Mutti Merkel’s man­aged de­cline

BER­LIN: Po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors have spent much time pick­ing over the news that chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel will step down as head of her party, the Chris­tian Democrats.

While she has pledged to stay on as chan­cel­lor un­til the end of her term in 2021, her an­nounce­ment was nev­er­the­less greeted as the end of an era.

Die Tageszeitung’s par­lia­men­tary ed­i­tor Anja Maier painted a be­hind-the-scenes por­trait of Merkel in a long es­say that ex­am­ined her po­lit­i­cal le­gacy. The chan­cel­lor “be­longs to this coun­try like a func­tional sofa with a time­less de­sign,” she said. “A piece of fur­ni­ture that’s get­ting old but that you don’t have to check ev­ery week to see if the up­hol­stery is still firm – and that you don’t have ask your­self whether you still like it. It’s there and it does its job.”

De­spite so many years at the top of Ger­man pol­i­tics, Merkel con­tin­ues to work hard, travel a lot and act prag­mat­i­cally to solve prob­lems, Maier ob­served. “But so prag­mat­i­cally, that re­spect for An­gela Merkel at some point be­gan slip­ping into a lack of ap­pre­ci­a­tion.”

Nev­er­the­less, be­hind Merkel’s prag­matic pub­lic per­sona is a much warmer fig­ure, she sug­gested. “Jour­nal­ists and close col­leagues speak about an­other An­gela Merkel. One who can be funny, self-dep­re­cat­ing. At nighttime fly­ing back to Ber­lin from far-flung coun­tries, when ev­ery­thing’s been set­tled, af­ter an­other suc­cess­ful state visit… She laughs, with her cardi­gan over her shoul­ders, a glass of red wine placed on her knees,” Maier wrote. “She never makes cruel jokes at some­one else’s ex­pense.”

But now Merkel has de­cided to end her ca­reer on her own terms, Maier said. “And she’s to­tally un­both­ered by whether she is driv­ing peo­ple crazy with her prag­ma­tism.”

Czechia’s fight for equal­ity

PRAGUE: Change is in the air in the Czechia. The gov­ern­ment, led by bil­lion­aire prime min­is­ter An­drej Babiš, has an­nounced it will sup­port a bill that would grant gay peo­ple the right to get mar­ried.

But its suc­cess is far from cer­tain, noted Petr Honzejk in Hospodárské noviny, a busi­ness daily. “Par­lia­men­tary par­ties will have a free vote,” he ex­plained, “and in all par­ties but the Pi­rate Party we find law­mak­ers who are fun­da­men­tally op­posed” to the bill.

Yet there is no real rea­son why gay mar­riage shouldn’t be al­lowed, Honzejk added. “The clas­sic ar­gu­ment that in­tro­duc­ing mar­riage for gays and les­bians ‘threat­ens a tra­di­tional fam­ily’ is to­tally hol­low.” In­stead, the true threats to fam­ily life come from “do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, al­co­holism, poverty… the state’s in­abil­ity to rec­on­cile work and fam­ily life, the cult of in­di­vid­u­al­ism, and so on.”

Honzejk said the true rea­son for MPS to op­pose gay mar­riage boils down to straight­for­ward ho­mo­pho­bia: “A deep­rooted prej­u­dice that gay peo­ple are some­how in­fe­rior and that they should not have the same rights as oth­ers.” He added: “It would be good to over­come this hid­den pho­bia, as has al­ready been done in the 26 coun­tries that al­low gay and les­bian mar­riages. It will not hurt any­one, and will help many. There’s no bet­ter rea­son for ap­prov­ing a law, is there?”

New Cale­do­nia’s new start?

PARIS: The French press last week turned its gaze to­wards New Cale­do­nia, a col­lec­tion of is­lands in the South Pa­cific gov­erned by France that the UN com­mit­tee on de­coloni­sa­tion has clas­si­fied as one of the last non-self gov­ern­ing ter­ri­to­ries. Over the week­end, the ter­ri­tory held a vote on whether to be­come in­de­pen­dent.

While the ma­jor­ity opted to stay un­der French rule, a high turnout helped bol­ster the pro-in­de­pen­dence cam­paign more than most polls had pre­dicted. And af­ter decades of ten­sions and eco­nomic in­equal­ity be­tween the Cal­doches, who are mostly French set­tlers, and the Kanaks, the is­lands’ indige­nous mi­nor­ity, jour­nal­ists saw the vote as a po­ten­tial turn­ing point in the ter­ri­tory’s his­tory.

“While the vote marks a vic­tory for demo­cratic mo­bil­i­sa­tion and gives France a le­git­i­mate claim on New Cale­do­nia, it also opens a new phase in a dia­logue to re­spond to the as­pi­ra­tions strongly ex­pressed in favour of Kanak iden­tity,” ob­served Pa­trick Roger in Le Monde.

Nev­er­the­less, it also shows the stark di­vi­sion be­tween the ter­ri­tory’s two ma­jor eth­nic groups. The rich­est – and whitest – ar­eas voted over­whelm­ing to stay un­der French rule, Roger noted. And while the vote helped young Kanaks to ex­press their strong sense of cul­tural iden­tity, a surge in sup­port for in­de­pen­dence doesn’t in­di­cate that they won over many eth­ni­cally Eu­ro­pean Cal­doches, he said.

Ukraine told: It could be worse

MOSCOW: On­go­ing ten­sions be­tween Moscow and Kiev re­cently came to a head af­ter Rus­sian prime min­is­ter Dmitry Medvedev ap­proved spe­cial eco­nomic sanc­tions against prom­i­nent Ukrainian cit­i­zens and com­pa­nies.

In­di­vid­u­als tar­geted on the black­list in­clude politi­cians, judges, busi­ness peo­ple, and in some cases, their fam­ily mem­bers. Parts of these re­stric­tive mea­sures will block non-cash funds and ban the with­drawal of cap­i­tal from Rus­sia to Ukraine.

In Izves­tia, Rus­sia’s most fa­mous pro-krem­lin broad­sheet news­pa­per, Vladimir Evseev sup­ported the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment in its “ad­e­quate re­sponse” to Ukraine. “Af­ter the il­le­git­i­mate change of power in 2014, Ukraine has in­tro­duced all kinds of sanc­tions against Rus­sia in or­der to please the West.” He added: “Kiev has con­tin­ued this sort of provoca­tive be­hav­iour well into 2018.”

Nonethe­less, for Evseev, these new eco­nomic sanc­tions against Ukraine’s elite didn’t stretch far enough. “Rus­sian lead­er­ship didn’t even con­sider the in­tro­duc­tion of visa re­stric­tions for Ukrainian cit­i­zens,” he re­marked.

De­spite his sup­port of such sanc­tions, Evseev iron­i­cally com­mented that in to­day’s com­mer­cial cli­mate no one ben­e­fits from these sorts of eco­nomic bat­tles. He cited the cur­rent Us-china trade war as a per­ti­nent ex­am­ple that fi­nan­cial sanc­tions bring losses to both par­ties.

While Evseev ex­plic­itly re­minded read­ers that Ukraine’s bi­lat­eral trade with Rus­sia grew faster than it did with the EU from Jan­uary to May 2018, he ac­cused Ukrainian pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko of “de­lib­er­ately ag­gra­vat­ing re­la­tions with Rus­sia” so that he can rally sup­port ahead of the up­com­ing 2019 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and there­fore “re­tain his po­si­tion”.

Com­piled by Si­mon Pick­stone, English ed­i­tor, Voxeu­rop, a web­site cov­er­ing Eu­ro­pean news and com­ment which pub­lishes in 10 dif­fer­ent lan­guages. Find out more at www.voxeu­rop. eu/en

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