Soros-funded univer­sity, gov­ern­ment clash over law

School ac­cused of in­ter­fer­ence in pol­i­tics

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY PABLO GORONDI

BU­DAPEST, HUN­GARY | Law­mak­ers from Hun­gar­ian Prime Min­is­ter Vik­tor Or­ban’s Fidesz party on Tues­day ap­proved an ed­u­ca­tion bill that crit­ics say tar­gets a univer­sity founded by bil­lion­aire Amer­i­can philanthropist Ge­orge Soros.

The con­ser­va­tive, na­tion­al­ist gov­ern­ment con­tends the Soros-funded school is im­prop­erly in­ter­fer­ing in the coun­try’s pol­i­tics, but Tues­day’s move prompted thou­sands to protest out­side the Cen­tral Euro­pean Univer­sity’s cam­pus in Bu­dapest and drew swift crit­i­cism from the top U.S. diplo­mat in Hun­gary’s cap­i­tal.

The bill mod­i­fies rules reg­u­lat­ing the 28 for­eign uni­ver­si­ties in Hun­gary. CEU of­fi­cials warn that parts of the bill could force it to close.

The leg­is­la­tion would re­quire the gov­ern­ments of the United States and Hun­gary to agree on new terms for the univer­sity’s op­er­a­tions within the next few months. If a deal doesn’t ma­te­ri­al­ize, CEU would be banned from en­rolling new stu­dents af­ter Jan. 1 and would have to con­clude its ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties by 2021.

“The United States is dis­ap­pointed by the ac­cel­er­ated pas­sage of leg­is­la­tion tar­get­ing Cen­tral Euro­pean Univer­sity,” David Koste­lan­cik, the charge d’af­faires at the U.S. em­bassy, said in a state­ment. “The United States will con­tinue to ad­vo­cate for its in­de­pen­dence and un­hin­dered op­er­a­tion in Hun­gary.”

CEU Rec­tor Michael Ig­nati­eff met Tues­day in Wash­ing­ton with Un­der­sec­re­tary of State Tom Shan­non. Mr. Ig­nati­eff said the in­sti­tu­tion would ap­peal to Hun­gar­ian Pres­i­dent Janos Ader to re­view the leg­is­la­tion, which it con­sid­ers to be a vi­o­la­tion of Hun­gary’s con­sti­tu­tion

“We want to re­main in Bu­dapest,” Mr. Ig­nati­eff said. “We’ve done noth­ing wrong.”

Mr. Or­ban, a for­mer Soros schol­ar­ship re­cip­i­ent, has been in­creas­ingly crit­i­cal of the Hun­gar­ian-born Mr. Soros, ac­cus­ing him of try­ing to in­flu­ence Hun­gar­ian pol­i­tics. The prime min­is­ter said last week that CEU was cheat­ing be­cause it did not have a cam­pus in the United States, but is­sued diplo­mas rec­og­nized both in Hun­gary and the U.S. CEU is ac­cred­ited in New York state but does not have a U.S. cam­pus.

De­spite protests from the State De­part­ment, Mr. Or­ban in­sists that the fu­ture of the Soros-funded in­sti­tu­tion should be ne­go­ti­ated with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. Mr. Soros, who made bil­lions as an in­vestor, has long been a ma­jor fun­der of lib­eral and Demo­cratic causes and gave mil­lions of dol­lars to Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign last year.

Mr. Or­ban, who wants to turn Hun­gary into an “il­lib­eral state” while pro­mot­ing Hun­gar­ian na­tion­al­ism, ap­pears to be try­ing to ally him­self with Mr. Trump against Mr. Soros.

How­ever, Wash­ing­ton is not con­sid­er­ing ne­go­ti­at­ing over the univer­sity be­cause it doesn’t con­sider it to be a bi­lat­eral is­sue be­tween the U.S. and Hun­gary, said a U.S. of­fi­cial on back­ground.

Hun­dreds of aca­demics and uni­ver­si­ties have ex­pressed sup­port for CEU, founded in 1991. It cur­rently en­rolls 1,400 stu­dents from 108 coun­tries.

“This law is prac­ti­cally a witch-hunt against CEU, free­dom of ed­u­ca­tion and against in­de­pen­dent, au­ton­o­mous and crit­i­cal think­ing,” said Ber­nadett Szel, a law­maker from the Hun­gar­ian op­po­si­tion party Pol­i­tics Can Be Dif­fer­ent.

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