BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Central European University said Tuesday that government-proposed amendments to Hungary’s law on higher education “would make it impossible to continue its operations” in Budapest, its home for over 25 years.
University President and Rector Michael Ignatieff said in a statement that the closure of the school founded by U.S. billionaire George Soros “would damage Hungarian academic life and negatively impact the government of Hungary’s relations” with its neighbors, its fellow European Union members and the United States.
The university, most of whose nearly 1,800 students are Hungarian, said provisions in the draft bill submitted to parliament by Zoltan Balog, the minister who oversees education, are specifically meant to damage the school. They include an obligation for CEU to open a campus in New York state, where it is also accredited, allowing it to award degrees accepted both in Hungary and the U.S.
The proposed amendment would also eliminate a waiver allowing academic staff from non-EU countries to be employed at the university without a work permit and force the institution to change its name.
Ignatieff proposed talks with the government to find “a satisfactory way forward that allows CEU to continue in Budapest.”
“We will defend our achievements vigorously against anyone who seeks to defame our work in the eyes of the Hungarian people,” he said.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban is a former Soros scholarship recipient, but he has been increasingly critical of the Hungarian-born philanthropist, accusing him of wanting to influence Hungarian politics and supporting mass migration into Europe. The populist Orban is leading a crackdown on migrants.
Orban’s governing Fidesz party says it wants new rules on non-governmental organizations that receive international funding, such as the Soros-supported corruption watchdog Transparency International and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union.
An early support of U.S. President Donald Trump, Orban is staunchly anti-migration and his government on Tuesday began applying disputed asylum rules allowing the detention in border camps of asylum-seekers, including unaccompanied children over 14.
The government has also been very critical of a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that awarded compensation to two asylum-seekers from Bangladesh found to have been illegally detained and deported from Hungary in 2015. They are represented by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, which has also received funds from Soros’ Open Society Foundations.
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