Large rally in Hungary for imperiled Soros-founded school

Corvinus professor Daniel Deak says the proposed changes to Hungary's higher education law could force CEU to close and was "a shot coming from the Hungarian government against all Hungarian universities".

It would also require that a deal be signed between the American and Hungarian governments, which would be hard as in the USA, higher education is organised at a state level.

"This university", Ignatieff said, "has always been in full compliance of Hungarian law".

The US-registered institute claims that it is being directly targeted by draft legislation submitted by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government last week.

(Zoltan Balogh/MTI via AP, file).

Ignatieff, who's married to a Hungarian and who gave up a professorship at Harvard to take the helm of CEU past year, recalled that until recently he'd been the one telling critics that Hungary "is still a free society" when asked about what it's like living in Orban's idea of illiberal democracy.

Education Secretary Laszlo Palkovics said the proposed legislation followed a review of 28 foreign universities operating in Hungary, including the CEU in Budapest. It now has approximately 1,400 students and 370 faculty members.

CEU is technically an American institution, and is accredited to award degrees by the state of NY, despite having no physical presence there.

CEU rector Michael Ignatieff met Tuesday in Washington with U.S. Under Secretary of State Tom Shannon.

Despite this, a CEU spokesman has said: "This fight is not over".

"Our current plan is that we want to remain in Budapest", he said. "We've done nothing wrong". Orban now accuses Soros of meddling in Hungarian political life.

The U.S. State Department expressed its concern in a statement on Friday and urged Hungary's government "to avoid taking any legislative action that would compromise CEU's operations or independence".

A year before 2018 elections, Orban has raised the stakes in his fight against civil organizations funded by US financier and philanthropist Soros. The U.S. State Department said in a statement that CEU was a "premier academic institution" that promoted academic excellence and critical thinking.

Orban said Friday that the bill's aim was to stop universities based in countries outside of the European Union from being able to cheat students.

It received vocal support from numerous academic groups inside and outside Europe, including Princeton University and the European University Association. The school, founded by Soros in 1991, enrolls over 1,400 students from 108 countries.

Hungary's governing Fidesz-KDNP coalition needed only one week to table and pass the new legislation, which has been met with strong global condemnation from academics, professionals and politicians of every hue.

Hungary's Foreign Ministry said it had summoned diplomats from the US and Germany to discuss the new law on Wednesday.

On Wednesday (29 March), the mayor of Vilnius said on social media that the Lithuanian capital would gladly welcome the CEU if it were forced to leave Hungary. He did not hide his disdain for the Hungarian-born Soros' policies supporting the university and numerous non-governmental organizations that Orban considers "foreign agents" working against Hungarian interests.

"Academic freedom, right to education are key", spokesman Daniel Holtgen said in a tweet.

The deadlines for meeting the new conditions set in the law were markedly shortened in a last-minute modification backed by the government.

Academic freedom is a cornerstone of democracy and a free society. "This is a punitive timetable".

  • Leroy Wright