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Third, don’t make yourself the exceptional case. When other similar institutions are in the same position as you yourself, but are ready to conform to the requirements of the location state, don’t demand exceptional status; doing so, not only isolates you, but puts you in the position of relying on privilege. There were 28 such foreign-founded institutions in Hungary and agreement was reached with 27 of them. Why should the CEU be the exception?

It follows, or should, that even if the government in power is deeply distasteful to you, you still can’t afford to treat it as a hostile entity. And, there were many in the CEU who saw their relationship to the government as a war and dismissed alternative views as those of “useful idiots”. (A disclosure here: this includes me, I was the recipient of an open letter along these lines and it was also insinuated that my neutral attitude to the CEU was because decades ago the CEU was one of several institutions that had turned me down for a  job. I’d got over it, long ago.)

Fourth, closely related, don’t allow yourself to be isolated from your host country. The CEU exists as an island in Budapest, there isn’t much of an interface with Hungarian intellectual life and, equally important, not much contact with the centre-Right.

Nor did the CEU ever seriously try to build itself a constituency in Hungarian opinion; minimally it did with the centre-Left in Budapest, but this was never sufficient. This meant that it was always possible to mobilise street demonstrations of some thousands, but these were largely confined to the capital. For most of Hungarian opinion, the question of what the CEU does for the country, the answer is a blank stare.

Fifth, another tactical misjudgment by the CEU was to assume that making a noise, getting the international media and your alumni to amplify the CEU’s case, would help. The CEU’s problem in this area is that Fidesz no longer cares much about reputational damage. The negative image is deeply entrenched in the media — the language of “democratic backsliding”, “illiberalism”, “autocracy”, “authoritarianism”, “populism”, “nativism” are widely propagated and evidence to the contrary is routinely ignored. So one more complaint, the CEU’s, is just shrugged off. The international media and the CEU don’t vote in Hungary and voters choose Fidesz.

Finally, if you find yourself in a difficult situation, stop digging. If you start raising the prospect of moving abroad, you thereby give the location state an added incentive to adopt a hardline position against you; the blackmail of “make concessions or we move” is easily called — “OK, move then, you’ve more to lose than we’ve to gain. You are not an asset, but a nuisance” or something along these lines.

And that may well be the factor that the CEU, insulated in its own institutional world as it is — and using the language of war — failed to take into consideration. Is its presence in Hungary important for the government and Hungarian opinion? Is there any added value? Increasingly, the answer is no.  

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