Monday

9th Dec 2019

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

"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.

News in Brief

  1. Greece denies access to fair asylum process, report says
  2. Report: Self-regulation of social media 'not working'
  3. Turkey: Greek expulsion of Libyan envoy 'outrageous'
  4. Merkel coalition may survive, says new SPD co-leader
  5. Von der Leyen Ethiopia visit a 'political statement'
  6. Over 5,500 scientists ask EU to protect freshwater life
  7. Iran defies EU and UN on ballistic missiles
  8. Committee of the Regions: bigger budget for Green Deal

Agenda

UK election plus EU summit in focus This WEEK

EU leaders will try to agree on the 2050 emission-free target - but they will deeply disagree on EU spending over the next seven years. Meanwhile the UK will elect its new political leadership.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. Russia makes big promises to Arctic peoples on expansion
  2. UK election plus EU summit in focus This WEEK
  3. Migrants paying to get detained in Libyan centres
  4. Searching for solidarity in EU asylum policy
  5. Will Michel lead on lobbying transparency at Council?
  6. Blood from stone: What did British PR firm do for Malta?
  7. EU Commission defends Eurobarometer methodology
  8. Timmermans warns on cost of inaction on climate

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us