A university founded by Hungary-born American financier George Soros on Monday said it has been “forced out of” Hungary. In a statement, the The Central European University said it took the decision after a law enacted by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government forbade it from accepting new students in January 2019.
Critics said the university’s closure is the result of the government’s attempts to stifle dissent and consolidate control. The institution, which is accredited in the US and Hungary, was set up in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union to “promote the principles of democracy”. Orban has openly targeted Soros, a philanthropist who promotes liberal causes, in his nationalist and anti-immigration reelection campaign. The Orban government has argued that the university issues US degrees but has no campus in America.
The institution will relocate its United States-affiliated degree programmes to Vienna, Austria, in September 2019. “Over the course of 20 months, Central European University has taken all steps to comply with Hungarian legislation, launching educational activities in the United States that were certified by US authorities,” the statement read. “Nevertheless, the Hungarian government has made it clear it has no intention of signing the agreement that it negotiated over a year ago with the State of New York, which would ensure CEU’s operations in Budapest for the long term.”
Some Hungarian-accredited courses will still be taught at the Budapest campus, the university added.
Michael Ignatieff, the institution’s president and rector, said the situation was unprecedented. “A US institution has been driven out of a country that is a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally,” Ignatieff pointed out. “A European institution has been ousted from a member state of the European Union.”
The eviction is a violation of academic freedom, the university president said. “It is a dark day for Europe and a dark day for Hungary,” Ignatieff added. “The government has done an injustice toward its own citizens.”
US envoy blames Soros
The United States said it was disappointed that university could no longer operate in Hungary. However, US ambassador to Hungary David B Cornstein, who had earlier announced he would intervene in the matter, said he did not try sway Orban.
The European Commission, which has moved the European Union court against Orban’s education law, said it was “deeply concerned”, Reuters reported. An EU spokesperson said Hungary’s law “needs to be brought back in line with EU law”. “It is now for the Court [of Justice of the European Union] to clarify this matter,” the spokesperson added.