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Thousands rally for Soros-founded university

November 24, 2018

Students have marched in support of a university founded by US-Hungarian billionaire George Soros in Budapest. Central European University has said it will move abroad unless a government legal dispute is resolved.

A student and Hungarian citizens are holding placards during the protest in Budapest
Image: Imago/ZUMA Press/O. Marques

Thousands of people have protested in Budapest in support of a university founded by US-Hungarian billionaire George Soros that plans to leave the country amid strong pressure from Hungary's right-wing government.

Students from Central European University (CEU) and other universities including ELTE and Corvinus attended the rally in front of the Hungarian parliament.

Protesters voiced support for CEU, which said in October that it would start admitting students to a new campus in Vienna if the government did not acknowledge its legal status by December 1.

The government has rejected CEU's claim that it complies with a controversial law requiring foreign-headquartered universities to operate a campus in their home country.

CEU, which is registered in the United States but operates its main campus in Budapest, says it complies with the law after opening a facility in New York state. But a government spokesperson last week called the American site "a Potemkin campus" that fails to satisfy the law. 

Cracking down on dissent in Hungary

Crackdown on academic freedom

"CEU represents free education and diversity... I am fed up with what is going on here," Maria Palmai, 63, a retired bank official, told the Reuters news agency.

"You will bear responsibility for the harm that your decisions will do to Hungary's higher education system and to the country's international reputation," university rector Michael Ignatieff said last week in an open letter to the government.

The 2017 law that launched the legal dispute was one reason cited by the European Parliament for its decision to launch unprecedented legal action against Hungary in September.

Attracting students from over 100 countries and offering US-accredited masters programs, CEU, founded in 1991, has long been seen by the nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban as a hostile bastion of liberalism.

Orban's government has clamped down on academic freedom more broadly in recent years, banning universities from teaching gender studies in October. 

Orban has also targeted Soros personally, accusing the Hungarian-born philanthropist of destroying European civilization by promoting illegal immigration into the country.

DW exclusive: CEU's Michael Ignatieff

amp/cmk (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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