There was a press conference at my Central Europen University (CEU) today and the occasion was not a happy one.
“CEU has been forced out”, said our president Michael Ignatieff. “This is unprecedented. A U.S. institution has been driven out of a country that is a NATO ally. A European institution has been ousted from a member state of the EU.” (More info and timeline of events.)
Wat this means: Hungarian’s dictator Orbán can, it turns out, get away with this.
I didn’t attend, but had lunch with my supervisor, who did, after. We ran into each other by chance at the cafeteria.
“Let’s chat”, he announced.
We sat down.
“I’ve been spending too much time on Twitter lately”, he said, turning off Twitter, depositing his phone in his bag.
“About that”, I jumped in, “I saw something about a Tweet of yours being blocked?”
“I’ve been in the Hungarian news actually”, he laughed bitterly.
“Oh wow, what did you do?”
He leaned forward: “Terrible picture.”
“The news. They used a terrible picture of me.”
“Oh”, I stumbled, disappointed.
“A tweet of mine was blocked by the European People’s Party (EPP)”, he finally explained with a changing tone of voice. “Earlier, they claimed that
‘We will not accept that any basic freedoms are restricted or rule of law is disregarded. This includes academic freedom and the autonomy of universities. The EPP wants the CEU to remain open.’
He spoke more firmly now. “The forced closure of CEU was a “red line” for the EPP. In words, that is. In deeds, not so much.”
Orbán’s Fidesz-party is a member of the EPP and the EPP committed itself to sanctions, were CEU to be forced out of Hungary. Orban, however, called their bluff and the EPP remains painfully muted.
I got angry. “Apparently, corrupt dictators are not the only politicians who pretend to have principles but actually don’t”.
He: “So I tweeted:
“You’d better get more paint for your red lines @EPP because your little dictator Orbán has been walking all over them. This week he’s expelling a university and accepting major media orgs as ‘donations’ to a propaganda foundation. Is this what you stand #StrongerTogether for?””
The EPP reacted by blocking the tweet.
When I put the pieces together, I almost fell off my chair.
Some politicians, like Orban, have already outed themselves as “illiberal”. It was shocking to me that mainstream politicians like those of the European People’s Party are similarly undermining democracy.
I had thought they were the good guys.
This felt like a betrayal.
Back at the press conference, our Provost concluded that the floodgates have now been opened: “A line has been crossed. People are being forced out of the country. In Hungary, the reign of repression has been started.”
As I always do when I feel bad, I tried to joke it away.
“At least your tweet went viral”, I commented on the topic of floodgates being opened.
“I didn’t really go viral”, he modestly dismissed the suggestion.
“Okay, maybe a little viral
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