In 1989, a group of visionary intellectuals—most of them prominent members of the anti-totalitarian democratic opposition—conceptualized an international university that would help facilitate the transition from dictatorship to democracy in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Among them was George Soros, the Hungarian-American financier and philanthropist, who founded Central European University two years later.
Soros championed the project because he understood that open societies can flourish only with people in positions of responsibility who are educated to promote them. His vision was to recruit professors and students from around the world to build a unique institution, one that would train future generations of scholars, professionals, politicians, and civil society leaders to contribute to building open and democratic societies that respect human rights and adhere to the rule of law.
Beginning with 100-plus students in 1991, CEU held its first classes in Prague with students from 20 countries, primarily within the region. The University moved to Budapest in 1993.