Thousands protest in solidarity with Budapest’s Central European University

3 April 2017

Around 10,000 protesters took to the streets of Budapest last night to rally in support of the Central European University (CEU), after the government announced proposed legislation that could force the university to move abroad.

The potential new legislation, which was announced on 28 March and is due for debate in parliament on 5 April, would establish new requirements for foreign universities, including that they must have a campus in their home country. CEU is registered in the state of New York, USA, but has no campus there. The government claims that CEU is operating illegally.

According to a report by BBC News, the attack on CEU is “the latest battle in a war against liberalism” waged by conservative Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and is primarily aimed at hurting university founder George Soros. Mr Soros is a Hungarian-born investor and philanthropist who has invested a considerable portion of his wealth in liberal NGOs, of which Mr Orbán is a critic.

Due to its links to Mr Soros, officials from the governing Fidesz party often refer to CEU as “the Soros university”, while university officials argue that the philanthropist plays no part in the day-to-day life of the educational institution.

The BBC News report posits that the scope of the crowd, which made its way from Corvinus University to CEU buildings, surprised the government. Students and professors from a number of Budapest universities came to the defence of CEU at the rally, while the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 15 Nobel Prize winners, the US State Department and several universities outside of Hungary have expressed their solidarity. Furthermore, senior Fidesz official and EU Commissioner Tibor Navracsics has gone against his own party to support CEU.

“The Central European University is one of the most important higher education institutions not only in Hungary, but also in the European higher education region,” he said.

Rector Michael Ignatieff, a former Canadian Liberal Party leader, has vowed that CEU will remain open and based in Budapest — a reassuring statement for those alarmed that CEU might meet a similar fate to the European University at St Petersburg, which had its educational licence revoked by the Russian government last month.

Source: BBC News