Mark Collins – Michael Ignatieff on Liberal (small “l”) Dreams and Central European Realities

Some honest realism from a failed Canadian politician still hard at trying to make a positive difference:

Michael Ignatieff’s journey from politician to academic freedom fighter

Michael Ignatieff [his website is here] the academic is in the middle of unwinding a thought about why the refugee crisis looks different in Central Europe than it does in Canada…

…The new post he begins this fall as president and rector of the famed Central European University in the Hungarian capital of Budapest [website here] is about as politically charged a job there is right now in the world of academia…

The CEU is renowned as one of the most important centres of liberal thought east of the former Iron Curtain. The university was launched in 1991, two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a time when most believed Europe’s fate had been decided, and that liberal democracy had definitively won the argument against more authoritarian forms of government.

Founded and funded by George Soros, the Hungarian-born billionaire philanthropist, the CEU was envisioned as a breeding ground for future generations of leaders, all theoretically sharing Mr. Soros’s vision of an “open society” of free speech and free markets…

Mr. Ignatieff was also drawn to Budapest and the CEU by the fact his wife, Zsuzsanna Zsohar, is Hungarian-born. While Mr. Ignatieff says Ms. Zsohar was initially reticent to return to a country she left in 1970, her background and family connections give him a useful window into the culture.

He believes those ties have helped him understand why democracy in Hungary and other parts of Central Europe will necessarily look different than in North America.

Hungary and its neighbours are not the multicultural societies that Canada and the United States are. Mr. Ignatieff is a huge fan of Syrian refugee resettlement program launched by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his successor as Liberal leader. But, Mr. Ignatieff says, such an effort would be ill-suited for the more ethnically homogenous countries of Central Europe, which were founded as national homelands following the collapse of the multiethnic empires of the 19th Century [yikes! those empires existed before the 19th century and actually collapsed after World War I and 1918–see the end of this post: “Wilson, World War I and Counter-Factuals: No Third Reich, No Soviet Union but…“].

“The starting point for political reflection in this part of the world is, you know, Hungary for Hungarians, Poland for Poles, the Czech Republic for Czechs. These are parts of the world where democracy means national self-determination by big, preponderant majorities.”

“Liberals inside [Central European] societies are increasingly going to be marginalized politically unless they have an answer… [in a] language that says ‘we have a national identity, we are proud of it, you come into this country you have to integrate, you have to learn our language, there is one law for everybody, right, and we will decide how many people come in.’ It’s a tough liberal language,” he said. “It’s a language that liberals have had trouble using [it all depends on what the meaning of “liberal” is, eh?].”..

Gosharootie, not exactly sunny ways, what? Rather relevant:

No “End of History”, “Collapse of the Liberal World Order” Section

Earlier posts here related to Mr Ignatieff. He tweets @M_Ignatieff.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


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