University transfer shows chill winds grip Hungary
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