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Photo: “Évértékelő 2020 (5)“, by Elekes Andor licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. Hue modified from the original

Pető, Andrea. “Feminist stories from an illiberal state: revoking the license to teach gender studies in Hungary at a university in exile (CEU).” In Gender and Power in Eastern Europe, pp. 35-44. Springer, Cham, 2020.


When I received the invitation to contribute to this important volume, there were two major interconnected events related to gender studies research happening in Hungary. The first was the Hungarian government’s decision to revoke the license of a 2-year gender studies master’s program without consulting any professional or scientific institution. The other was that after 2 years of uncertainty, Central European University (CEU) became the first university in the European Union forced to move to another country due to media harassment and legal uncertainty—thus becoming a university in exile. CEU was among those universities that offered a master’s degree in gender studies. Sherry Ortner succinctly asks: “What is the point of opposing neoliberalism if we cannot imagine better ways of living and better futures? How can we be both realistic about the ugly realities of the world today and hopeful about the possibilities of changing them” (2016, p. 60)? In this paper, I attempt both: to oppose neoliberalism and imagine better ways of pursuing research. I will do so by telling two stories: one about the gender studies ban and the other about the attack on academic freedom in Hungary, both of which urge us to think about the personal and theoretical consequences of recent attacks on freedom of science and higher education. I will conclude by proposing a new theoretical framework in order to better understand these recent developments.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.