The EU and defending academic freedom


Sir, – Patrick Smyth (“Commission lacks teeth in its promotion of rule of law”, Opinion & Analysis, October 10th) reports the rector of the Central European University (CEU), Michael Ignatieff, as asserting that his institution is the only university since the 1930s to have been expelled from one country (Hungary) to another (Austria). This is not the case.

The European Humanities University, with which I was associated in the years 1997–2001, several of whose scholars came to Ireland on an exchange programme during that period, had its licence withdrawn in 2004 and has subsequently functioned, under its founding rector Anatolii Mikhailov (now president) in Vilnius, Lithuania.

In its early years, the EHU was well respected inside Belarus and in the wider world.

However, its liberal ethos was a challenge that President Aleksandr Lukashenka could not tolerate. The university was refused permission to use the buildings in which it had been teaching, on the spurious grounds that they were not safe for students.

Mr Lukashenka also declared that there were too many foreign or visiting professors – I doubt whether he specifically had me in mind – and that the university was imbued with the wrong kind of “Russian-ness”.

While the judgment that Hungary’s law preventing the proper functioning of the CEU in Budapest contradicts EU law is welcome, the EHU also deserves recognition as a university that has been placed in a very difficult position by a political leader over whom the EU struggles to exert influence. – Yours, etc,


Fellow Emeritus,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.