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Protesters line up on the streets of Budapest to protest Orban’s bill. (Credit: BBC)

A few weeks ago, news that the Central European University located in Budapest, Hungary had come under threat spread like wildfire around the BCB campus. Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, had launched a legislative attack on the institution, indirectly calling for it to close down. When pressured for a reason, Orban’s government claimed that the legal measures they had taken were only to protect the affairs of higher education in the country. However, the proposal underlined many prospects that seemed to single out CEU, including complex conditions it was required to meet to remain in existence. One such demand was that Hungary would have to sign an intergovernmental pact with the home country of the university, meaning that CEU’s associations with other universities would become highly politicised as Hungary would be obliged to have political ties with the countries that set up shop in their nation. Another demand was that foreign universities could only exist provided they had a campus in their home land, something that CEU doesn’t have as it is a cross-border institution. Orban’s government also seemed to be opposed to the issuance of double degrees (i.e., Hungarian and American) by the university, which many American universities operating outside the United States do, including Bard College Berlin!

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Wafa at a student artwork exhibition on campus (credit: Tamar Maare)

Wafa at a student artwork exhibition on campus (credit: Tamar Maare)

Wafa was arrested in 2011. The protests against the Assad regime had begun to heighten in frequency and intensity, with riots regularly breaking out in different Syrian cities. The Syrian authorities launched a nationwide crackdown on protesting in an effort to quell the rising dissent against the government, arresting many civilians. Amongst these were students who were dragged into prison for their activism, including Wafa Moustafa, now a BA1 student in the HAST program at BCB. “It was hard,” she says to me. “At this point, they didn’t arrest girls very often, so they had no idea how to deal with us appropriately.” After being beaten many times for disobedience, she decided that she would go on a hunger strike. But that, combined with serious asthma and an undiagnosed stomach condition, didn’t end well. “They summoned a doctor who force-fed me with syringes. Doctors here don’t help you, they’re all a part of the regime.”

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The Student Action & Youth Leadership Conference in Istanbul, Turkey brought together people from all over the world to the only city in the world that stretches on two continents – Europe and Asia. Although the busy schedule at the conference left us with little time to go out and explore the city, I had firmly decided to take advantage of our last day there, as well as the guided tour, to bring some snippets of Istanbul back to Berlin. Without further ado, here are some glimpses of Istanbul in one day, March 18:

Eye-shaped amulets in Turkey (better known as “nazar”) are believed to protect against “the evil eye” (ill intentions). They can be found everywhere – at bazaars, local gift shops, people’s homes… It would be almost heretic to leave Turkey without purchasing one. Beware though: the amulet only works its magical properties if given to you as a present! Photo: Inasa Bibic

Eye-shaped amulets in Turkey (better known as “nazar”) are believed to protect against “the evil eye” (ill intentions). They can be found everywhere – at bazaars, local gift shops, people’s homes… It would be almost heretic to leave Turkey without purchasing one. Beware though: the amulet only works its magical properties if given to you as a present! (Photo: Inasa Bibic)

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Pergamon Altar

The Pergamon Altar, Pergamon Museum Berlin.

As ECLA of Bard students, we are relatively familiar with one of Berlin’s most amazing treasures—the Pergamon Altar. Not only do we visit it annually in an almost festive fashion as First Years, but it also decorates our homepage. I would even dare to say that if ECLA of Bard were to establish a formal sports team, Pergamon’s Zeus would serve as a mascot.

Yet in the past few years, the Pergamon and other artifacts of Turkish origin are at the center of a cultural battle comparable in scale to that of the Olympian gods and Giants. Recently, the directors of several of the largest and most distinguished museums around the globe such as The Metropolitan, The Louvre or The Pergamon have accused the Turkish government of unprecedented aggressiveness, claiming that the Turks are using any means (including extortion) in order to retrieve their cultural artifacts. Turkey has also been accused of threatening sanctions against countries currently in possession of these treasures (this includes, but is not limited to, forbidding universities and research institutions from conducting excavations on Turkish soil). German officials responded by claiming that all of the Turkish artifacts which are displayed in German museums were purchased legally more than 100 years ago, therefore absolving them of any legal obligation to return them. Irrespective of the legal reality surrounding the artifacts, Turkey’s culture minister, Ertugrul Gunay, claimed in an interview for “The Guardian” earlier this year that these aggressive measures are proving effective, spurring on further reacquisition: “Whatever was returned till today is only the start…We will retrieve many more Turkish  national treasures in the next few years”.

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