At the Airport: On CEU's Forced Move to Vienna

Central European University’s main campus forced to move from Budapest to Vienna
Photo of the CEU interim campus in Vienna
Central European University's interim campus on Quellenstrasse in Favoriten, Vienna.

Andrea Pető is Professor in the Department of Gender Studies at Central European University (CEU), Budapest, Hungary and a Doctor of Science of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Author of five monographs and editor of thirty-one volumes, she was awarded the All European Academies Madame de Staël Prize for Cultural Values in 2018. Below Professor Pető offers her views on the recent developments in CEU’s situation in Hungary under President Viktor Orbán. This article was published in the Austrian Studies Newsmagazine (ASN) in spring 2019, following another article on the same topic written by Professor Pető for the ASN in fall 2017.

As I tried to pick my way through the crowd at Istanbul’s tumultuous Atatürk airport, I noticed a young woman sitting on a plastic chair by the wall obviously immersed in work. The #ILoveCEU sticker on her laptop cover made me stop for a second and smile. Then, since I did not want to disturb her, I walked on.

This Istanbul encounter precisely depicts my current situation as a CEU professor. Over the past two years the Hungarian government has launched an attack on the university, making it impossible to enroll new students in Hungary. As a result, beginning in the 2019/2020 academic year, CEU’s new cohorts will start their classes in Vienna, while senior students will complete their studies in Budapest. Furthermore, a year ago my department also came under attack: the Hungarian government withdrew the accreditation of all gender studies MA programs. Lately the same government announced its plans to put under direct state control the research network of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, where I received the rank of Doctor of Science. The question is, how can one possibly work and live under these circumstances?

The young woman who worked with such focus at the Istanbul airport could be a good example of what we do, because, contrary to expectations, my colleagues and I were perhaps never this fruitful. Since work and success are forms of resistance, we have published plenty of books, articles, and papers during the past period. In times when the government’s policy makers systematically undermine the possibility of scientific work by placing political cadres (whose main merit is their trustworthiness) into important scientific positions, it is loyalty to principles and standards that helps to maintain integrity and common sense. Cyberattacks against the university as well as death threats against its professors have become common phenomena that the Hungarian police as well as the Prosecutor’s Office do not wish to examine. It is not without a measure of anxiety that I turn on my computer each morning, as I can never know which Hungarian taxpayers’ money-backed media outlet will come up with another list of so-called Soros agents, or put on the cover page a story about me in which I am a communist who urges Hungarian women to remain childless.

But when the going gets tough, one can also discover who’s a true friend - because they keep the tough going. The institutional support and determination that backs the CEU, which stayed loyal to its principles and decided to move to Vienna, means the world to us. My Hungarian colleagues shake their heads in disbelief over the current situation in Hungarian academic life. Though their own existence is at stake, they still continue organizing and thinking critically, which is another source of hope.

At international conferences and gatherings everyone seems to be up to date on the attacks against the CEU and gender studies, and inquire about the latest happenings and whether they could be of help in any way. Colleagues I met years ago spare the time to write and ask me how I am doing and if they can help. All of these inspiring experiences propel me forward and give me necessary strength, particularly when I find out about yet another relative or past schoolmate who has fully endorsed the government’s program. More and more people regurgitate the ready-made concepts and mock arguments that the government provides, sowing rage and spilling hatred with their words and actions. Still, all that rage and hatred disappeared for a sweet second when I saw that young woman, probably a former student of ours, working with such focus on her #ILoveCEU stickered laptop at the Istanbul airport. Because against hatred we can still - and only! - protect ourselves with knowledge, devoted work, and love.

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