President of Hungary signs legislation to shut down Central European University

After a massive protest in Budapest on Sunday involving more than 70,000 demonstrators–who called for academic freedom and freedom in general in authoritarian Hungary–and after receiving letters and petitions from dozens of universities, academic associations and scholars abroad, President János Áder signed off on a bill that, in its current form, will make it impossible for Central European University to continue operating in Hungary beyond January 2018. According to Mr. Áder, the bill–which was designed specifically with CEU in mind, in order to strike a blow at the regime’s public enemy number one, George Soros–is not unconstitutional. Mr. Áder also remarked that the law would not impact any student who is currently studying at CEU or any other university-they will be able to complete their program as normal.

The now enacted legislation will, however, make it impossible for CEU to enroll any new students in the next academic year, unless the school somehow manages to open a new campus by September 2017 and if the State of New York, as well as the Trump administration all agree to negotiate a new agreement with the Orbán government. The tight timeline and the fact that the U.S. federal government does not have purview in this area, all but make any deal unattainable.

Mr. Áder said that he recognized that many students, researchers, professors and administrators now worry about the future of their universities. As such, the president asks the government to begin negotiations immediately, so as to ensure that “not a speck of doubt remains about whether foreign universities operating in Hungary will have the conditions in place to allow them to continue with their high quality work.”

It cannot be stressed enough that Mr. Áder is not an independent political player. Since assuming office in 2012, he has not once vetoed any bill of real significance, that was seen as important to Prime Minister Orbán. Mr. Áder is, in fact, one of the architects of the electoral reform that aims to keep Fidesz in power.

János Áder

Now that Mr. Áder has signed off on the bill, one quarter of parliamentarians may request that the Constitutional Court review the legislation. The only way that this could happen is if the left-wing opposition and Jobbik unite to demand this together.  CEU may also turn to the Constitutional Court, launching a legal challenge to the law. The problem is that this would in no way suspend the conditions of the new law. CEU would have to comply with these conditions, if it wishes to continue operating in Budapest, regardless of its legal challenge.

Perhaps the last hope may be if the ombudsman requests that the Constitutional Court suspend the implementation of the law until the end of any legal review.

A few words are in order about Sunday’s massive protest, drawing the most youthful crowd of protesters seen to date in the past seven years since the start of Viktor Orbán’s so-called Regime of National Cooperation (NER). Estimates of how many protested in downtown Budapest range from 60,000 to 80,000. The pro-regime media (most notably the Origo website) claimed that George Soros had flown in protesters from abroad–a completely absurd and patently false claim. The pro-regime media also claimed that the number of people who showed up to protest was far less than what organizers had expected. Again, this is an outright lie: the protest’s Facebook page showed that approximately 40,000 intended to demonstrate. In the end, almost double this number showed up on the streets.

The majority of Hungarians who get their news from either the public broadcaster or from regional, county-level papers would have thought that nothing of importance happened on Sunday. The regional papers simply did not bother reporting on the massive protest at all. Some people likened the bizarre and forced silence, and the outright lies of Origo and other pro-regime news organs, to when the Kádár regime referred to the 1956 Revolution as “the unfortunate event,” and turned discussion of it into a taboo.

The protest itself was an odd one. The initial crowd that had gathered was large and enthusiastic, but clearly seeking some sort of leadership and direction. There was none. When the formal protest had ended and the organizers asked people to disperse, around 3,000 to 4,000 people remained and launched illegal protests, first attempting to break into Parliament, and then marching over to the Ministry of Human Capacities, and attempting to lay siege of the building. In both cases, they were not able to get past the riot police. Some threw bottles and other projectiles at the police. They then did manage to shut down Budapest’s main ring road at Oktogon and began marching towards Fidesz party headquarters near Heroes’ Square, all the while taunting police and in some cases asking them to join the side of the protesters. The enthusiasm of earlier in the day turned into palpable anger, and the vast majority of these more “radical” protesters were Hungarians in their late teens, twenties and thirties. Some journalists felt that a good number of them were high school students. The protesters emphasized that this was no longer just about CEU–it was about restoring freedom to Hungary, throwing the leaders of NER into prison and demolishing the regime.

According to current plans, another mass protest is planned for Wednesday. Unless a group or an individual takes control and gives it some direction, it could take on a life of its own.

 

8 Comments

  1. It was not Áder, who signed the law, it was the dictator, who ordered the signature to the puppet president.

    Now it is up to the people to bring down the dictator NOW.

    Otherwise Hungary should leave the EU.

    If the EU, especially EPP, further protect and finance a dictatorship in the middle of Europe, it is not worth its name anymore.

  2. Hungary has a fascist state as this week’s events prove: everything is wrong with this act
    the ulterior motives
    the bill/law
    the way it was passed
    the reaction to the protest.

    Shame EU which supported this regime with its taxpayer’s money.

  3. Enough is enough! Those brave young men and women who marched on Sunday need to go out onto the streets again and TAKE THIS REGIME DOWN!!!

    NO MORE NEGOTIATIONS!

    NO MORE DIALOGUE!

    The time for talk has come to an end. There is no other solution.

    RISE UP!

  4. May Hungarians muster up enough courage, and resolve, and finish the job instead of leaving it half done. Once they are done, they should put the ND (the Nation’s Disgrace) where he belongs: in jail, and into the dustbin of history. His properties, the criminally accumulated wealth of his family, his cronies should be seized, the fraudulent misuse of billions of EU funds should be ended, and turned to the benefit of the people – to education, training, healthcare, appropriate infrastructural investments rather than stadiums. It’s time to topple the tyrant, before he manages to totally tie Hungary to Putin’s illiberal empire.

  5. Jozsef M. Kovacs says:

    Not a word of what the legislation is all about. Does the press really know what it is writing about? It seems not.
    Very biased information giving, but it sounds good, specially because it is about the bad Hungarians and of course they have to be thought a lesson. Wake up everyone the press is not writing anything without interest, it’s own.

  6. Sandy miller says:

    Why did they close down this university? The article doesn’t even mention the reason why is that?

  7. @ Kovács

    Try to refute the argument of those you disagree with, rather than just dismiss them as biased or ignorant. I offer the same invitation to all the other parrots who love to gather here.

    First of all, tell us why, tens of thousands of Hungarians marching in the streets of Budapest, why more than 100 non-governmental organizations in Hungary, including Hungary’s Civil Liberties Union should be categorized as biased, or ignorant ?

    Why do you think the entire western media – conservative, liberal, right, left, center – should be tainted by that brush ? Why do you think Western journalists are all stupid, biased and ignorant and you are the custodian of wisdom ?

    Once you have proven why we are all biased, show us why it is in the public interest to define Hungary’s highest rated University as an institutional “cheater”. Show us the evidence.

    Is Mr. Sólyom, the right wing, conservative former President of Hungary, and the former Head of the Constitutional Court of Hungary a liberal Jew , like Mr. Soros ? Is a liberal Jew a bad person ? Is Mr. Sólyom driven by the desire, like Soros, “to destroy the Christian Nation State” ? Are we all, critics of Lex CEU liberal Jews, bent on destroying Christianity ? Come on, out with it, spell out WHY you think we are all biased, tell us what’s behind our indignation, and show us your evidence. Prove that you are a Homo Sapien and not just a parrot.

  8. I find the the comments on here interesting. It doesn’t seem like everyone has the whole picture.

    I would not condemn a country for trying to raise its educational standards and its quality assurance process.

    No one mentions that this dual US/Hungarian accredited institution doesn’t actually have a campus in the US. The bigger question is how it received and maintained US accreditation at all? Who setup the programs? Who is doing quality control for this non-existent US university? It actually brings into question whether the Middle States Commission is even doing their job, or whether they themselves are credible.

    Seems to me that the only way one should be able to maintain any viable accreditation is by having a third party perform quality control on a program. This would be rather hard to do on an institution that exists only as an office and an idea in the state they are registered.

    I fail to see the majority of the problem in Hungary’s actions.

    I agree that CEU should probably not be allowed to falsely offer US accredited education for programs that cannot be audited properly by the US at a US campus. They should, however, still be able to offer Hungarian accredited programs as the local government gave that accreditation to them. The Hungarian government should not simply be able to rescind CEU’s accreditation which they rightfully gave out in the first place through due process.

    But this whole problem is a lot more complicated then that. They are not owned and operated in the country but rather by a “phantom” university in the US. So if they don’t physically exist as a school where they are registered, how can they have accreditation?

    There seems to be another 28 higher learning institutes in Hungary, several of which fall under the same category as CEU and they seem to be following the rules. The other international campuses actually have home campuses. They may have all had other paperwork problems, but they are still mostly following the rules.

    Seems to me that this institute slipped in while corruption in Hungary was at its highest and were able to operate on a rather stupid technicality.

    Looks like they got caught and are trying to blame the government that’s trying to ensure standards are strengthened or maintained.

    I have been reading that people are calling CEU a highly ranked university, but unfortunately I can only see that information in cookie cutter news articles and not on actual fact based websites. Most websites have it ranked as top-end mediocre. Rated high as a nice place to learn by most students, but mediocre at best in official standings. They average in the 300’s in most subjects while other universities achieved standings in the 70’s-80’s. Some others were as low as the 700’s, but I guess every country has their “nothing special” universities.

    If they don’t want to play by the rules, I don’t think they will be greatly missed.

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