VPRO Backlight

Hungary and the open society

No immigrants, restricting the media and declaring that a university is an enemy of the state: this is the Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. In Budapest there is a university, founded and financed by billionaire George Soros, to propagate the values of an ‘open society’. But it is precisely those propagated West-European values such as separation of power, free media and the freedom of education which are under pressure.

Billionaire, speculator and philanthropist George Soros devised a plan at the time to financially support and give form to the transition from the Soviet dictatorship to an open, democratic society. He envisioned an important role for a proposed university: the Central European University in Budapest.

Now, a quarter of a century after the launch, the Central European University and George Soros in particular have been declared as being enemies of the state by the nationalist government of Orbán. Recently 70,000 Hungarians took to the streets to protest against this, but Orbán has not yet been rebuked by Europe. The fight of the nationalist government against an institution which stands for the promotion of an ‘open society’ is typical for the broader developments in Central and Eastern-Europe. Because in Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria the nationalistic parties are also winning the elections. It raises the question of what has gone wrong. Has the West underestimated the desire for an own identity and the populism in Central-Europe?