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UCL SSEES: Director’s Position on EU Referendum

By Blog Admin, on 12 April 2016

UCL SSEES: Director’s Position on EU Referendum

Prof Jan Kubik, Director of UCL SSEES offers his personal opinion on Brexit

Personal opinion on Brexit

The debate about whether Britain should leave or remain in the European Union is heating up. When June comes, it will be up to individuals to cast their votes according to their own conscience. Nevertheless, in the meantime, it makes sense to assess the balance of advantages and disadvantages that any eventual outcome would bring and to take a position accordingly. I believe that it is better for Britain to remain and I am committed to making the case for Britain’s continued membership of the EU.

It is hard for me to see a net advantage of Brexit for an institution like SSEES. As has been made clear by several studies, summarized by Universities for Europe, Brexit would deal a tremendous blow to the British university sector and its remarkable intellectual prowess, its institutional dominance, and its strong financial performance. The first two of these would diminish as a result of disruption to deep and extensive networks of academic cooperation; the last would suffer from the resultant reduction of student mobility in Europe. SSEES would be hit particularly hard here: our School is proud to attract many students from Europe (around 37% of our current undergraduates come from other EU countries) and to have a strong network of European partners and collaborators. Such networks of cooperation, built up over the years, are costly to repair, once disrupted. Some partnerships may simply collapse. For these institutional reasons alone, I am compelled to take an anti-Brexit position.

But the most important arguments against Brexit are not financial or institutional, but historical and philosophical. The EU is key among those institutions that restored peace and prosperity to Western Europe after the Second World War and, in the decades since, it has provided an effective counter-balance to the ‘darker’ forces that have torn the continent apart so many times in the past. More recently, the EU played an important part in the political and social unification of Europe through the accession of the former communist states of Central and Eastern Europe. These states and societies have become beneficiaries of the common Europe, while also contributing increasingly to the EU’s success as a whole. Central and East Europeans have experienced only too well the damage wrought by European divisions in the past; as an expert on Central and Eastern Europe, I cannot be in favour of a reversal in the process of integration. Furthermore, I note and condemn the xenophobic rhetoric, directed largely against Central and East Europeans, that plays a part in much Brexit campaigning.

The European project, always evolving and never perfect, has recently come under tremendous strain. Europe faces many tests, among them the rise of right-wing populism that openly challenges the liberal-democratic culture that has been its hallmark. Brexit would signal the fact that that a key European power believes that the project is no longer viable and Eurosceptic and populist parties would be emboldened. As Director of an educational and research institution of humanities scholars and social scientists, I wish to warn against a political act whose economic outcomes would be uncertain, and whose longer and broader implications would certainly damage the delicate tissue of a hard-won European culture of coexistence.

I express here my personal opinion, developed as result of many days of thinking and discussions about our institution, UCL SSEES, about which I care deeply. I invite all colleagues to share their views on our blog and – even more importantly – to encourage our students to vote!

 

Note: This article gives the views of the author(s), and not the position of the SSEES Research blog, nor of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, nor of UCL.

 

SSEES RB logo

Roundtable Discussion on Jobbik and the Hungarian Far Right

By Blog Admin, on 18 March 2016

 

Logo for Jobbik. Source: Wikimedia commons

As a result of the electoral successes of Viktor Orban’s governing FIDESZ-KDNP coalition in 2010 and 2014, Hungarian politics has experienced a dramatic shift to the Right.  One beneficiary of this rightward shift is Jobbik, the Movement for a Better Hungary, which is now the leading opposition party with the support (according to opinion polls) of about one-fifth of the probable Hungarian electorate.

Formed in 2003 by university students in Budapest, Jobbik can be placed in a long tradition of right radical parties in Hungary that stretches back to the Hungary Justice and Life Party (MIÉP) that obtained parliamentary representation in the 1990s, to the interwar Party of Hungarian Life (Magyar Élet Pártja) and to the pre-First World War Catholic and Nationalist Parties such as the Catholic People’s Party, The Slovak People’s Party, as well as Europe’s first antisemitic party, the Országos Antiszemita Párt, founded in the 1880s. Jobbik has also been compared to Ferenc Szálasi’s ‘Arrow Cross Movement’, which briefly seized power in October 1944, even though the ideological differences between these two parties are substantial. Certainly, all of these parties, including Jobbik, can be seen as recurring examples of the enduring clash between populist/rural/antisemitic nationalists and an allegedly cosmopolitan/urban/liberal elite sometimes referred to as the népi-urbánus debate. This debate has been an important fault line in Hungarian politics since at least the middle of the nineteenth century.

On Wednesday, 24 February, five young academics from Britain, Hungary and Romania presented short papers at a well-attended roundtable organized by SSEES’s Centre for the Study of Central Europe, held at SSEES and chaired by myself (Thomas Lorman), which shed some light on the ideological roots and future prospects of Hungarian right radicalism in general and Jobbik in particular.

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