The Senate of Debrecen University has decided to award honorary citizenship (Civis Honoris Causa) to President Putin. In its open letter addressed to the Senate of Debrecen University, EKINT draws attention to the fact that this decision is without precedent in the history of Hungarian higher education since the political transition in 1989. No Hungarian university has honoured the representative of an oppressive regime. Beyond the moral indignation that has been expressed by many others, EKINT wishes to point out that the decision of the Senate is also unlawful.
According to the statutes of the university, the title can be awarded to someone who on the one hand has outstanding public or artistic achievements and on the other hand has supported the university professionally, morally or financially. That is, by its very nature, the awarding of the title is a moral acknowledgement and goes with some entitlements in the academic life and management of the university, e.g. the owner of the award can take part in the sessions of the Senate in consultative capacity or can offer lectures at the university.
This all means that by awarding President Putin this title, the university not only thanks him for the prominent role it gets in the expansion of the Paks nuclear energy facility as the university argues, but it also recognizes Putin’s activities in public life in a broader sense. What follows is that the Senate of the Debrecen University does not take objection to any of the human rights and other rule of law violations that Putin has committed either in Russia or in its neighbourhood.
EKINT reminds the Debrecen University of the fact that it is a public institute that should respect constitutional values and cannot support the violation of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in any way.
Furthermore, though the Hungarian government has taken considerable steps to cut back on university autonomy (see the introduction of consistories or the case of CEU), the protection of autonomy would be a primary task of university management itself. It means that the management cannot take decisions that jeopardize the independence of academic life or decisions that serve the political interests of the government.
The full open letter dated 30 August 2017 is available in Hungarian at the following link: