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Orban restricts Soros' university

April 4, 2017

Hungarian lawmakers have fast-tracked into law controls that could close Budapest's Central European University. Its philanthropist founder George Soros faces subversion claims from Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Ungarn Tausende demonstrieren in Budapest gegen drohende Schließung von US-Uni
Image: picture alliance/dpa/Z. Balogh

Solidarity rally in Hungary for Soros university

Orban's right-wing Fidesz party used its majority Tuesday as parliament voted 123 in favor and 38 against to pass legislation imposing tough criteria on foreign universities operating in Hungary.

Last Sunday, thousands of students, lecturers and supporters of the English-language Central European University, CEU (pictured above), had rallied in Budapest to demand that Orban's government withdraw the legislative measure.

The bill, submitted only last week, requires foreign universities present in Hungary to also have a campus in their home country.

Ungarn Bildungsminister Zoltan Balog
'Pseudo-civilian' targeted, says BalogImage: Getty Images/AFP/A. KisKisbenedek

The CEU is accredited in New York state but does not have a US campus. If a solution does not materialize quickly, the CEU could be banned from enrolling new students from January 2018 and would have to halt its activities by 2021.

Addressing Hungary's parliament Tuesday, Orban's human affairs minister, Zoltan Balog, who oversees education, accused Soros' organizations, such as the CEU he founded in 1991, of operating as "pseudo-civilian agents."

"We are committed to stamping out such activity with all available legal means," Balog said.

Last week, Orban, himself a Soros scholarship recipient-turned-Soros-adversary, accused the CEU of "cheating" by issuing diplomas in both Hungary and the USA, giving it an advantage over Hungarian institutions.

Calls on Orban's government to withdraw the bill had also come from the US State Department and in an open letter signed by more than 900 academics around the world.

George Soros
Hungarian-born Soros founded the CEU in 1991Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/B.Szandelszky

CEU rector Michael Ignatieff wrote in a New York Times article published Sunday that the bill amounted to the first time an EU member nation had "dared to legislate an attack on the academic freedom of a university."

The CEU was "one of the few remaining institutions in Hungary that can stand up to the government," Ignatieff added.

Orban replied Sunday that the future of the CEU depended on the completion of a treaty between the Hungarian and the US government within the next six months.

Soros, 86, whose institutions also include the Open Society Foundations, has often been accused by Orban, who has an anti-immigration stance, of meddling in central and eastern Europe by backing open borders and pro-refugee policies.

ipj/rc (Reuters, AP, AFP)