Interview: Polish Ombudsman, CEU Alumni Speaker

July 16, 2019

Polish Ombudsman and CEU alumnus Adam Bodnar (LEGS ’01) took to the podium as Alumni Speaker at CEU graduation, on Monday, June 24. The CEU Alumni team caught up with him beforehand to talk work, human rights, his student days and the power of CEU. See below for what he had to say.

 As Polish Ombudsman you’re doing very important work. What motivates you?

The easy answer is that I promised to do this work. As Ombudsman, you swear to protect the Constitution and the rights and freedoms that are enshrined therein. You’re responsible and should do whatever you can to protect them.  Also, the situation in Poland particularly motivates me – the ‘avalanche’ of the restricting of independent institutions and rights and freedoms, creating a space where the rule of law is not respected and, as a consequence, rights are not respected.

By relying on the law you can try to help as many people as you can and, depending on your skills, persistence, and motivation, you can achieve some good results. That also motivates me.

As Alumni Speaker what do you wish to convey to students this year?

My message is that by training and by studying at this university you are becoming part of a unique society. Thanks to the people you have met and all you have learned, you are gaining a sense of freedom irrespectively of what is happening ‘outside’. And one day it will help you to rebuild and repair the situation inside.

As a graduate, what do you feel is the value of CEU?

I know that CEU has changed its statutes to be more open to the whole world, but for me, it was always based on democratic transformation in Central and Eastern Europe. In the early years, it was mostly attractive to people from this region, and later those alumni contributed to shaping the future of these countries. CEU created a sense of freedom in this part of the world.

How did CEU impact your life?

The most important thing is that I met great people who became my mentors. Thanks to CEU -and thanks to the mutual understanding that we have a bigger role in this society - I could pursue my work and my academic career. Basically, it changed my perspective of thinking about rule of law, democracy, and open society.

What do you miss about your student days?

Important for me was that there was a very good mixture of working and partying. I really liked this: after a full week of really hard work you could feel well with your group of friends, in Budapest’s very enjoyable atmosphere.

What do you think the university/community should focus on as it transitions to its next phase as a multi-national university?

In my opinion, we should not forget that it happened, we should use every possible legal avenue to stop it. By no means should we accept that such things are understandable or that they could happen in the EU. This is the very essence of Europe: having open and free universities. And we have a situation in which this value is undermined, and the EU, which is allegedly such a strong defender of Europe values, can’t react to this. It is simply a shame and we shouldn’t forget about it.