Hungarian Law Targeting Soros-Backed University Generates Protests

The Hungarian government appears to be having second thoughts about a new law that would force a university founded by Hungarian-American financier and philanthropist George Soros to close its doors, the New York Times reports.

Passed last week and signed into law on Monday, the new law requires Central European University, a joint U.S.-Hungarian entity, to operate a campus in the United States, which it currently does not do and, according to CEU president and rector Michael Ignatieff, would be financially prohibitive. The legislation is seen as the latest development in a sustained crackdown on free expression and liberal values by the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Since introducing the legislation in late March, the Hungarian government has faced large street demonstrations and protests from university officials as well as the U.S. State Department and the U.S. embassy in Budapest. On Wednesday, following a meeting of the European Commission, EC first vice president Frans Timmermans said the university should be "able to operate in Budapest undisturbed," adding that the commissioners resolved to "consider next steps on any legal concerns by the end of April."

Earlier this week, Hungary's minister for state education, László Palkovics, suggested a loophole that the university might use to circumvent the new law. "The government is open and willing to discuss any solution," he told MTI, the Hungarian news agency. "I believe we will find one." CEU officials said they had not been approached directly by Palkovics and remained skeptical. "This is not a robust, secure solution," Zsolt Enyedi, the university's pro-rector for Hungarian affairs, told the Times. Under such an arrangement, said Enyedi, CEU would no longer be an international university operating in Budapest but an American university operating through a Hungarian partner.

Also this week, more than ten thousand people gathered in Budapest to support the university and protest another law proposed by the Orbán's government that would require nongovernmental organizations to reveal their sources of foreign funding — a law also seen as targeting Soros-backed organizations. One protester told the Times, "Of course we have to stand for everybody the government kicks, like CEU or NGOs."