A shoe has dropped in Europe. A small shoe, but one with a loud bang on a marble floor. The government of pro-Russian populist Viktor Orban in Hungary has introduced legislation that threatens to end the academic freedom of Central European University in Budapest, a private American-Hungarian graduate institution founded in 1991 by the Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros. The University’s president, Michael Ignatieff, and his network of allies at Oxford and elsewhere in the liberal humanist elite world, will present this potentially tragic affair as a threat to the Western ideal itself. And they are not exaggerating. I would go further, though. Orban’s attempt to place his neo-authoritarian paws on the school is, in a larger sense, a geopolitical event.
Yes, Orban has been expanding government control for years already in many directions: in the media, in the courts, and so forth. But there is a new geopolitical context afoot. The United States has elected a President, Donald Trump, with an avowed transactional approach to Russian relations, shorn of the historical and moral obligations that America has traditionally felt towards Europe since World War II. Trump’s right-hand man in the White House, Steve Bannon, has even championed the cause of anti-European populists in Western Europe of the Orban-Putin mold. Elements of the new Administration are assumed to have had untoward and perhaps compromising ties with the Kremlin. Moreover, Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has no experience in public policy whatsoever and his only moral obligations in the past have been to shareholders at Exxon. Orban knows all this. He knows, too, that Soros, a philanthropist to Democratic Party causes with few equals, is no friend of Trump, to put it mildly. In sum, this is a power grab that Orban must think he can easily get away with.
Read the full article at The American Interest.