By Georgette Veerhuis A few weeks ago I was writing a blog about the Women’s Strike demonstration I attended on the evening of Wednesday, March 8, in Budapest, organised both in honour of and critical of International Women’s Day, but I wasn’t able to finish it. There was no clear message, just speculations and a mere description of the event. In light of new events, however, it seems I can now more clearly reflect on the peculiar situation in which I find myself – how a changing attitude of the Hungarian government can shift my (academic) position and possibilities. And surely I won’t be the worst off. I have other privileges to fall back on…
The new events pertain to a direct attack by the radicalising right-wing Hungarian government against the Central European University (CEU), where I’ve been doing my master’s in Gender Studies since September. This U.S.-linked university was founded and is funded by liberal billionaire and multi-investor George Soros, which clearly does not sit well with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Without much warning, the government has proposed amendments to educational legislation that would specifically affect CEU. By means of an emergency procedure that was requested yesterday, today the bill will be presented to the parliament and the fear is that the voting process will be swift since most of the Senate supposedly supports Orbán. At stake in these amendments is educational freedom. It is clear: Orbán wants CEU out.
It is the strangest sensation to do the exact same things but have political circumstances change their significance. For you, nothing has changed. You embody the same values but suddenly you’re put in a position in which you have to fight for them. Earlier this year I felt like I wasn’t impacting the fast changing world outside my intellectual-cosmopolitan CEU bubble. The next moment I heard how the Gender Studies department was perceived by the Orbán-government as radicalising. All of a sudden I seemed not so useless then. Merely my presence and the department I represented became a political statement. Am I an unknowing revolutionary?
Not only Hungary but other western, politically radicalising countries as well regard with contempt the apparently threatening character of feminism today, and they condescendingly refer to it as ‘the gender ideology’ (one of my professors wrote about this). I feel honoured and dismayed. I didn’t expect my choice of study to be so political in and of itself. In another time, in another context it might not have been so. But since it is, it in fact invigorates me to pursue it further, to resist larger forces for the sake of it.
Nevertheless, during the demonstration I participated in on the 8th of March I wondered how safe it was for me to be doing so. If something were to happen, I am here as an international student. Although a EU-citizen, I don’t know what my rights and privileges are exactly. In the end, considering Hungary’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, I am an immigrant.
Times ask for bravery when first something was self-evident. It is this change that feels so strange. But it is also strong and full of potential. An amazing protest was organised on Sunday the 2nd of April in support of CEU and academic freedom in general. It was reported that around 10,000 people attended. Power really seems to be in numbers, although I hold my breath for the decision today.
Express your support:
- Write a letter in solidarity with CEU
- Contact your MP, MEP, Senator/Representative, Ambassador, Hungarian Congressional Caucus
- Sign this Change.org petition
- Share your solidarity on social media using #istandwithCEU
- Use the #istandwithCEU profile picture found on CEU’s Facebook page
- Send suggestions or notifications of support to: Support_for_CEU@ceu.edu
Leiden University has already given an official statement of support, VU should be next!
For further reading:
Georgette Veerhuis has completed her bachelor’s degree in Cultural Anthropology at the VU and is now a first-year student in the two-year Erasmus Mundus Master in Women’s and Gender Studies (GEMMA).