By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe
BUDAPEST, Hungary — Over 70,000 people rallied in Budapest on Sunday in support of a university founded by American George Soros. Soros, who was born in Hungary, founded Central European University (CEU) in 1991. CEU has been operating in Hungary as a partial American institution with little Hungarian oversight and control. The bill was set forth by the ruling Fidesz party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Hungarian President Janos Ader must sign the bill by Monday in order to make it law.
The bill arguably affects two dozen universities, however many believe its main target to be CEU. The bill would require CEU to change its name, open a campus in the United States, and become part of binding university agreements between Hungary and the U.S. The bill also includes a provision which would restrict the independence of universities that offer diplomas from countries where they do not have a campus or offer courses, which is a restriction that would only affect CEU.
Many see the university as a target for Orban and his “illiberal policies.” The proposed law has been criticized by the U.S. government, European Union, and leading academics across the world. Protestors shouted phrases such as “What do we want Ader to do? Veto,” and “Free country, free university” in hopes of convincing Ader to reject the bill and consider it under constitutional review.
Kornel Klopfstein, a protest organizer and PhD student at the University of Bielefeld, commented that “[t]he government wants to silence pretty much everyone who doesn’t think the same as them, who thinks freely, who can be liberal, can be leftist.” Michael Ignatieff, CEU rector, assured that CEU will remain open and demanded the law be thrown away. Ignatieff also suggested that additional international safeguards for academic freedom should be added to current legal policies.
On Friday, Orban commented that CEU’s status as a partial American institution gives it an unfair advantage over other Hungarian universities. Orban also commented that CEU conducted a “fraud” and that billionaires are not above the law.
CEU enrolls over 1,400 students from 108 countries, and is currently an accredited school in New York state.
Orban and his party have recently faced criticism for targeting nongovernmental organizations, most of which rely on financing from Soros and are critical of Orban’s administration.
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