Last month, Hungary’s Parliament took steps to effectively shutter Budapest’s Central European University. The move, though cloaked in bureaucratic language, is widely seen as an attack by Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, against George Soros, the founder and primary funder of the school and a critic of the current Hungarian government. Orbán’s move has prompted large-scale protests by Hungarian intellectuals, including prominent novelist and essayist George Konrád who published the following open letter in the Hungarian daily Népszava on April 6.
Mr. Prime Minister,
In the last third of the past century, Central Europe’s widening diversity and startling breakthroughs afforded us a new sense of purpose and of self. We realized that we had to learn from each other; students from all over Europe, indeed the world, perked up and felt like studying in this corner of our planet.
George Soros deserves our respect and gratitude. He devoted a considerable part of his fortune to young students’ needs, allowing the state to direct its resources elsewhere. He established a number of outstanding institutions in Hungary, even though in 1944 this land dealt with him so callously that it nearly cost him his life. But when Soros, like myself, survived the ensuing ordeal, he decided not to live in a place where such a thing could happen, where he was at a country’s mercy and could not be freely on his own.
Around 1948, after a brief respite in Hungary, national-socialist young men in leather coats gave way to communist-socialist young men in similar leather coats. At this point, Soros, after receiving ten dollars from his father, set out into the wider world.
Your propaganda machine, Mr. Prime Minister, which is trying with Goebbels-like vigor to demonstrate that Soros the Jew is responsible for all the world’s ills, is mournfully reminiscent of that loathsome 1933 Nazi slogan: “The Jews are our Misfortune.”
Perhaps if you’d been able to speak of Soros in measured tones every so often, your comments may have had some merit. Instead, you ended up besmirching the name of the man who gave much more to eager young Hungarian and foreign students than you and your circle of friends ever did, but the real turning point for me was that in the interest of the arbitrary extension of your power, you dipped into the hypocritical repository of political anti-Semitism and pulled out its shrill slogans with both hands.
Those who do not need the Central European University are not really interested in a many-sided Central Europe. And neither are they curious about Europe in general.
It seems to bother you that what we call the Közép-Európai Egyetem is also called Central European University. But what’s wrong with that? And what is bothersome about the fact that in the English-speaking world Magyarország is known as Hungary?
The word “Brussels” also seems to have a peculiar power over you. What is it? The capital of Belgium? The headquarters of the EU and NATO? Or is it the capital of an occupying power?
Don’t you, as Prime Minister, represent Hungary in the resident European Commission?
“Foreign funds subsidize our system?” (That’s how you recently put it in a letter to my fellow citizens.)
What sort of cash was it that quickly turned the mayor of your native village and other cronies into wealthy men? Or did the money end up in just the mayor’s pocket? Was it because he is such a quick and clever businessman? Did his success have nothing to do with the fact that his erstwhile playmate happened to be the Prime Minister?
Is transparency close to your heart in this case, too? Why is Hungary’s Prime Minister angry at the European Union?
Because it’s where the money comes from? Because you’d have to say a thank-you or settle the accounts?
How much did we get from wicked Brussels? And how much from kind Russia?
And from diabolical Soros? And angelic Orbán?
Foreign money stinks if it goes to ordinary “civilians” and is sweet-smelling if delivered to the premier’s family.
The former are like kept women; for the latter, the money is well deserved.
Our national independence and security really was endangered by Brussels—and not by you, Prime Minister—when it succeeded in downgrading our country to the lowest rank of the “new democracies.”
You became a Premier twenty years ago, and spent 11 years in, or near, power. Hasn’t that been enough?
I am convinced that ever since the fall of Communism you have become the most destructive Hungarian politician.
No one else has succeeded in propagating as many groundless assertions and false slanders. You are the champion.
The most decent and patriotic move would be, Sir, if you were to give up your position.
In your retirement years you could amuse yourself with the vintage train line and the soccer stadium you had built in your village. You could kick the ball into your own empty goal.
Translated by Ivan Sanders