University of Florida

My visit to the Center for European Studies, University of Florida, Gainesville

You may have noticed that I wasn’t around in the last couple of days. Alice Freifeld, director of  the University of Florida’s Center for European Studies, invited me to deliver the keynote address at a conference on “The Right to Know: Privacy vs. Transparency in the U.S. and the EU” yesterday.

bread and breakfast

The hallway of Magnolia Plantation where some of us were put up while staying at the University of Florida in Gainesville

Professors of law, political science, history, and journalism collaborated in a crowded but thoroughly enjoyable program. We started at 8:30 in the morning and didn’t finish until about 5 p.m., with a short break for lunch. I learned a lot from the panelists.

My hour-long talk was scheduled for 11:45, and I was pleased to see that a rather sizable crowd had gathered to hear what I had to say. It turned out that some of them are regular readers of Hungarian Spectrum.

The University of Florida has an international student body and faculty. I was picked up at the airport by a recent Ph.D. originally from Romania, Magda Giurcanu. Edit Nagy, a lecturer in the Hungarian language program, is also a recent Ph.D. from the University of Florida. She drove me to Alice Freifeld’s house for dinner. One of her students is a young American who took me to the airport this morning. She has been studying Hungarian for the last three years. She plans to write her Ph.D. dissertation on the status of sports stars during the Rákosi and Kádár regimes. A good topic. After all, these people had all sorts of  benefits (material and otherwise) as opposed to ordinary Hungarians.

Alice Freifeld’s major academic interest is Hungarian history. I must say she speaks Hungarian very well. In fact, she spent a semester at the Eötvös Lóránd University (ELTE) in 1972. Her book on Nationalism and the Crowd in Liberal Hungary, 1848-1914 (2000) received the Barbara Jelavich and the Hungarian Studies Association and Hungarian Chair of Indiana University book awards. But Professor Freifeld was not the only one who knew Hungarian among the panelists. In fact, we were somewhat overrepresented. Jason Wittenberg, associate professor of political science at Berkeley, also knows Hungarian. One of the panelists was Gábor Halmai, professor of law at ELTE’s Law School who at the moment is a visiting research scholar at Princeton University. Gábor and I knew about each other but had never met in person.

Our hosts were really fantastic. We were put up in beautifully refurbished Victorian houses that now serve as bed and breakfasts. Breakfast was fine, but even better was the unadvertised “cocktail hour” wine and hors d’oeuvres. Yesterday three of us who stayed at the Magnolia Plantation had a hilariously good time exchanging notes about each other’s experiences in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. Including the usual question to me about “and how did you escape?”

Now, I just have to catch up with news on Hungary.