Saturday

21st Oct 2017

Hungary attempts to stifle Soros-founded university in Budapest

The Central European University, an intellectual hub in Budapest that was founded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, has pledged to fight what it says is the Hungarian government's attempt to shut it down.

The top university, founded in 1990, says that a new draft piece of legislation on higher education - tabled on Tuesday evening (28 March) by the government of Viktor Orban - is "discriminatory" and "targets" the Central European Univeristy (CEU) to force them out of Hungary.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"This is not just a Hungarian issue, it is about international academic freedom", CEU rector and president Michael Ignatieff said at a press conference on Wednesday (29 March).

"We will never close this university, we will maintain the continuity of our academic programs no matter what. [...] This is our home," Ignatieff said.

"CEU will resolve to all available legal remedies if it is passed," he added.

Ignatieff said the draft law has to be scrapped and called for safeguards on the university's legal status.

The Hungarian government said that stricter legislation was needed after it discovered that 28 foreign-linked universities were operating "unlawfully".

Besides CEU, the bill would also effect British, German and French schools in the country.

The draft law would require CEU to open a campus in the US, while it is solely focused on central and eastern Europe, and would bar it from issuing degrees in Hungary, also forcing it to change its name, the university says.

Hungary's human resources minister Zoltan Balog was quoted by Bloomberg as saying that the bill was prompted by "national security considerations" and the needs to ensure that the university courses meet "foreign policy priorities".

CEU operates under an agreement concluded in 2004 between the Hungarian government and New York state, which was then enshrined in a special law. It issues degrees accredited both in Hungary and in the US.

Representatives of the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Romania were present alongside Ignatieff at Wednesday's press conference to show support for the university.

The US embassy in a statement called the university "an important success story" in the US-Hungarian relationship, and said that it enjoys strong bipartisan support in the US government.

"The United States opposes any effort to compromise the operations or independence of the university," the statement said.

Soros crackdown

The Central European University, that has an alumni of 14,000 students from 117 countries, is specialised in humanities and social sciences.

It is a major and symbolic postgraduate institution founded by Soros, who has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into central and eastern Europe, after the fall of communism, to promote the idea of an open society, and support the region’s transition from communism to democracy.

The targeting of CEU's is seen as part of a wider crackdown by the Orban government on organisations linked or funded by Hungarian-American financier Soros.

In January, a top official from Orban's ruling party said that NGOs funded by Soros should be "swept out" of the country.

Orban has been pursuing an illiberal form of democracy, championed in Russia as well, a country which has already expelled groups funded by Soros' Open Society Foundation.

If CEU is forced out, it would be a major blow to Hungary's reputation and to higher education in the country.

On Wednesday, the mayor of Vilnius, Remigijus Simasius, a CEU graduate himself, has already said in a Facebook post that the capital of Lithuania would welcome CEU if it were to be forced out of Hungary.

European Commission silent

The European Commission has so far been reluctant to criticise the draft bill.

A commission spokeswoman said on Thursday that the issue was raised at the college of commissioners the day before, but added that the EU executive does not comment on "drafts".

According to a source, commission vice-president Frans Timmermans raised the issue, and the Hungarian commissioner responsible for education, Tibor Navracsics, outlined the draft legislation in response.

"We will see how this project will develop," the spokeswoman said on Thursday.

Navracsics, a well-respected university teacher of political sciences is an ally of Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban.

Orban received a scholarship in 1989 from Soros to study at Oxford.

EU stands aside as Hungary detains migrants

Commission is withholding action on Hungary's detention of asylum seekers, even as the Hungarian government tries to "stop Brussels" on immigration policy.

Soros-linked NGOs defy Orban purge

Hungarian NGOs funded by philanthropist George Soros have vowed to defy prime minister Viktor Orban’s plan to “sweep them out” of the country.

Soros to EU: Help 'new Ukraine' against 'new Russia'

US philanthropist George Soros has said the EU needs to support "new Ukraine" in its struggle against Putin's "new Russia". His words came as Ukraine's President ended a unilateral ceasefire with separatists in the east of the country.

Opinion

The university so disliked by Orban

In a world with many new phrases like 'fake news' or 'alternative facts', Viktor Orban's government in Hungary is taking a more familiar approach to shutting down academic free expression in Hungary.

Pressure mounts on Hungary over university law

EPP group leader Manfred Weber calls for the European Commission to investigate Hungary, but the centre-right party still stands by prime minster Orban in the wake of international uproar over legislation targeting the Central European University.

Turkey funding cuts signal EU mood shift

EU leaders at their summit spent some three hours deliberating on relations with Turkey before asking the EU commission to come up with a plan on cutting and reorienting some €4.5 billion in pre-accession aid.

News in Brief

  1. Rajoy to trigger Article 155 on Saturday in Catalan crisis
  2. EU conducts unannounced inspection of German car firm
  3. Lithuania calls for new EU energy laws
  4. EU leaders aim for December for defence cooperation
  5. Juncker says hands tied on Russia pipeline
  6. Czechs set to elect billionaire Andrej Babis
  7. Italian regions hold referendums on more autonomy
  8. EU leaders refuse to mediate Catalonia conflict

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Friends of ArmeniaEU Engagement Could Contribute to Lasting Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
  2. UNICEFViolence in Myanmar Driving up to 12,000 Rohingya Refugee Children Into Bangladesh Every Week
  3. European Jewish CongressEJC Applauds the Bulgarian Government for Adopting the Working Definition of Antisemitism
  4. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  5. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  8. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  9. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  10. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  11. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!
  12. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People

Latest News

  1. The mysterious German behind Orban's Russian deals
  2. Mogherini urged to do more on Russian propaganda
  3. Turkey funding cuts signal EU mood shift
  4. Posted workers top EU agenda This Week
  5. Leaders lobby to host EU agencies at summit's margins
  6. Legal tweak could extend EU control on Russia pipeline
  7. Ukraine language law does not harm minorities
  8. EU begins preparations for Brexit trade talks