U.S. envoy protests as Hungary crackdown threatens to shutter Soros university

by WorldTribune Staff, March 29, 2017

A draft bill in Hungary targeting foreign-funded universities seems specifically aimed at shutting down an institution founded by leftist billionaire George Soros and the U.S. opposes the legislation, the American envoy in Budapest said.

“The United States is very concerned about the legislation proposed by the Hungarian government that would severely impact the operations of the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest,” U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Hungary David Kostelancik said in an emailed statement on March 29.

George Soros speaks at CEU in 2012. /MTI/AP

The U.S. “opposes any effort to compromise the operations or independence of the university,” he said.

CEU, established by Soros in 1991, said the bill submitted to parliament by Human Resources Minister Zoltan Balog targets the school “directly” and must be withdrawn.

“The bill is a threat to our continued existence in Hungary,” Michael Ignatieff, the president of CEU, told reporters in Budapest. “This is an institution that doesn’t bow to intimidation or force.”

Balog said “national security considerations” and ensuring that university courses meet “foreign policy priorities” required amending current legislation.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is said to be stepping up a campaign to sideline opposition voices, analysts say. One of Europe’s strongest advocates of U.S. President Donald Trump, Orban “frequently denounces Soros, in particular for his support of open borders in Europe, which the Hungarian leader has thwarted by building fences to keep out migrants,” Bloomberg reported on March 29.

Trump has accused the Hungarian-born Soros, a major Democratic Party donor, of being part of a “global power structure” that has “robbed” the working class.

The new legislation proposes tightening regulations on non-EU universities issuing diplomas in Hungary, forcing them to close if there’s no bilateral agreement with their home countries. CEU, which is accredited both in the U.S. and in Hungary, doesn’t have such an agreement.

Another rule would require universities to have a campus in their “home” countries as well, a regulation which CEU alone doesn’t meet among 28 institutions reviewed, Education Ministry State Secretary Laszlo Palkovics told reporters.

“This isn’t targeted at CEU or against Mr. Soros,” Palkovics said. He said universities that don’t meet the new criteria would be barred from enrolling new students in September of next year.

CEU has “no other home than Budapest,” Ignatieff said. He demanded the government sign an “international binding agreement” guaranteeing independence from state interference. “This university won’t close and won’t be pushed around,” he said.

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