USA concerned about Hungary's university law, says envoy

Posted April 13, 2017

Hungarian president Janos Ader signed a controversial law on Monday that could force the renowned Central European University to leave Budapest.

Orban, who has vowed to end liberal democracy in the European Union country of nearly 10 million people, is stepping up a campaign to sideline independent voices a year before parliament elections that he's expected to win.

Orban has for years criticised Soros, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor who has spent billions of dollars campaigning for a liberal open society at odds with the more authoritarian social model the prime minister favours.

The legislation, seen as the latest attack on organisations supported by the philanthropist George Soros, would also force CEU to open a campus in NY and prevent it from issuing USA degrees. Other chants included "A free country, a free university", "Orban get out", "Viktator!" and "Europe, Europe".

They will also be required to have a campus and faculties in their home country - conditions not met by the CEU, which is registered in the United States. The legislation would require foreign universities like CEU, a 25-year-old institution accredited in both the United States and Hungary, to also undertake educational activities in their country of origin, not just in Hungary.

Without such consent, the law will ban the university from enrolling new students after January 1, 2018, and force it to close in 2021.

But the Hungarian government's refusal thus far to back down highlights the weak tools available to the European Union and global academia when confronting authoritarian governments intent on snuffing out academic dissent.

But Hungarian government critics see the move as part of a wider attempt to stifle dissenting voices who oppose the self-described "illiberal" Orban.

Hungarian President Janos Ader said Monday April 9, 2017, in a statement that he has signed the bill setting new conditions for foreign universities in Hungary which is in line with the Constitution, and called on the government to “immediately” begin talks with the affected institutions to secure compliance with the new rules.

The US State Department has expressed its concerns about the legislation and the CEU's ability to continue operating in Hungary.

"We're very concerned about the legislation", U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Hoyt Yee told The Associated Press. Yee is also expected to meet with authorities from the university.

"We don't want to resort to violence, but you can't stop us", one protester said through a megaphone.

The legislation does not mention the CEU by name but the university sees itself as the main target and has warned it may have to close. Ader, from Orban's governing Fidesz party, was re-elected by lawmakers for a five-year term in March.