Following a successful second program last fall—and with various summer seminars hosted online during the lockdown—CEU’s Bibo Istvan Szabadegyetem (Istvan Bibo Open University) will launch five modules in 2020: About Solidarity, From “the Gypsy Problem” to Roma Emancipation; The Shadow of 75 Years; World War, Consequences, Memory; ‘Ria, Ria, Memoria’ – Remembering History Through Documentaries; and The Politics of Happiness 2.
Bibo Szabadegyetem was founded by CEU professors Andrea Peto, Laszlo Bruszt, Marcell Sebok, Balazs Trencsenyi, Andras Bozoki and PhD student Laszlo Bence Bari, with the project first offering courses in the spring of 2019. The program in the fall of 2019 was held in November and December and featured three courses: The Politics of Happiness—with themes for each session including LOVE, BODY, COMMUNITY, MOURNING, FAMILY and HATE; One Hundred Years After Trianon; and Perspectives on Press Openness in East Central Europe. The aim of the Open University is to help individuals and groups, ordinary citizens and political activists from different political persuasions initiate a dialogue concerning the most pressing issues in Hungary. The objective is to help raise the standard of political and social discourse in the country. The program is named after Istvan Bibo, one of the most influential Hungarian political theorists of the 20th century. During the socialist era, Bibo’s memory provided various oppositional groups with a locus around which to coalesce. Duly, the organizers of CEU’s Bibo program plan to analyze economic and political issues in Hungary and the European Union by incorporating relevant historical and comparative perspectives.
Conversations that Bring us Together
As Europe went into lockdown earlier this year, Bibo Szabadegyetem moved online with events held via Zoom meetings. On May 27, the first online meeting, The Politics of Happiness: HOME, focused on the concept of the home in society. The aim was to open up honest conversations across a broad spectrum of topics to improve both individual lives and societies. Organizers, CEU Professor Andrea Peto, the writer and theater critic Andrea Tompa and CEU PhD candidate Petra Bakos engaged with two invited guests, the writer Zsuzsa Selyem and Lajos Gyori-Dani, vice president of the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta. The conversation continued on June 15 with The Politics of Happiness: FEAR, with new guests actor Laszlo Galffi and writer Edina Szvoren, who reflected on fear through the lens of art. The seminars and associated coursework looked for creative solutions to help participants re-imagine the past, present and future in a positive and affirmative way.
The June 3 session— The Past Ten Years: The Policies and Achievements of the Orban Government— was dedicated to the Hungarian political situation. Andras Bozoki, professor in CEU’s Department of Political Science, Anna Unger, lecturer at the Department of Political Science at Eotvos Lorand University and Andrea Szabo, senior research fellow at the Institute for Political Science at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Centre of Excellence offered an analysis of actions taken by the ruling Fidesz government along with their consequences. The background to this discussion was the publication of a survey by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and Policy Solutions Hungary, which assessed viewpoints within the Hungarian populations.
Making the Most out of Being Online
The need to conduct the courses online fundamentally altered the learning environment. “Our presenters could not fully experience the audience, as comments arriving via Chat cannot replace real interaction, Andrea Peto observed. “However, streaming online had the advantage of making the course more widely accessible.” One of the participants for The Politics of Happiness: HOME switched off her camera as she was baking while listening to the talks. Afterwards, she posted a picture of the pastries on Facebook, illustrating how pertinent the discussion about the meaning of ‘home’ actually was! Overall, as Peto noted, participants were happy with the Zoom approach, but – as one of them later wrote, the personal interaction and “mythical atmosphere” of the CEU building was sorely missed.
Rudolf Paksa, one of the organizers of An Introduction to this Fall’s World War II Course agreed with the benefit of face-to-face interaction. “The course originally planned for April-May was postponed to the fall, but on June 10 we organized an online rehearsal,” he said. “The technology worked fine, but our series of discussions – which rely heavily on active participation by the audience – are not really suited to an online format.” Participants felt that recreating the informal atmosphere needed for good conversations online, transmitting metacommunicative gestures and dealing with audience questions was challenging. “We really hope we will have the opportunity to continue our now-postponed conversation series according to the course schedule that we originally planned”, Paksa added. The seminars commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II are organized jointly with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ subcommittee on the History of World War II.
An online conversation was held on June 24 as a forerunner to ‘Ria, Ria, Memoria’ – Remembering History Through Documentaries. The course is a collaborative project with the Fekete Doboz and Vizuális Világ foundations and aims to analyze the events of 1989/1990 and the transition between the socialist and democratic systems in Hungary. The focus of the discussion was on people who had been “left behind”, finding themselves living on the peripheries of society in the aftermath of the system change. Participants discussed ways to help these still-disadvantaged families and shared possible solutions. Part of “Nincstelenek” was also screened. The documentary shows two young women struggling to raise their children, each living in horrendous conditions. “After watching clips, participants were asked to use Zoom’s ‘breakout’ function to reflect on the movie and discuss how we could help communities in need,” Istvan Javor, the founder of the Fekete Doboz Foundation and the leader of the course shared. “The best responses were then pulled together so that they could be shared with a wider audience. One of the greatest outcomes of this discussion is the fact that most of the participants are still in touch.”
This fall, each seminar will focus on documentaries from the Vizualis Vilag foundation’s collection, with two experts providing a rich platform for debate, understanding and discussion. Topics will include the 1956 Revolution; Radio Free Europe; and the Opposition Roundtable.
Fall Seminars with Diverse Perspectives
In addition to the courses mentioned above, two more will be made available to students in the fall semester. The first, About Solidarity, is aimed at scholars, professors and political activists dealing with solidarity-based community activities. Reading materials and talks will connect scholarly, expert, public, political and civic discourses and shed light on the tensions and conflicts between these views.
The second, From the “Gypsy Problem” to Roma Emancipation, will critically engage with contemporary narratives around Roma. The aim is to provide a forum for a discussion of progressive alternative visions and practices. The course will consist of interactive seminars and the various topics will be introduced by guest lecturers including journalists, politicians, activists and writers.
More information on the courses along with regularly updated information can be found on Bibo Szabadegyetem’s website and Facebook page. Each course will consist of 5-7 seminars, and instruction will be in Hungarian. A list of basic and recommended readings will be provided to help with group work and personal study.