In the end, Hungarian President János Áder signed the law on foreign universities on Magyar territory. Protesters took to the streets several times since April 2 asking him not to, but according to the Danubian head of state, the law is not inconsistent with the Constitution and does not infringe academic freedom.
After signing, he urged the government of Viktor Orbán to sit down with the institutions affected by the measure to ensure compliance with the new rules. Central European University, the university founded by the Hungarian-American magnate George Soros in 1991 to encourage the spread of liberal ideas in the region, is the first institution in the crosshairs.
The new law would put CEU in the position of not being able to enroll students after Jan. 1, 2018, and would be forced to close or relocate by 2021. The incident led to the mobilization of many progressive intellectuals and students and teachers of other universities in Budapest, who participated in the protests organized in support of CEU. Around 90,000 people took part at the demonstration on April 9.
Officially, the other universities maintain a prudent attitude in this new phase of internal tension where the center-left opposition accuses the government of creating a measure capable of attacking not only the institute founded by Soros, but all institutes of higher education, freedom of research and critical thinking.
Soros is not well-liked by executive-branch Hungarian politicians; Education Minister Zoltán Balog accuses him of funding NGOs involved in so-called “anti-Hungarian” activities and bringing Muslim migrants into the country. “We will not allow it any longer,” said the minister. And the American tycoon is also blamed for the protests taking place in Budapest against the measures that would condemn the CEU to close its doors.
But all of that is nonsense, according to the supporters of the protest, who, in this new initiative by Orbán, only see the intent to silence any critical or otherwise dissonant voice and to escalate the country’s isolation.
The issue has sparked protests in Washington, Brussels and Berlin (in Budapest, there is also a German university). The Hungarian government replied to the U.S. State Department that it is fully willing to negotiate, given that, according to Budapest, foreign universities can operate in Hungary only by an intergovernmental agreement with the countries of origin.
The government’s assurances did not seem to have worked with Washington. Orbán also called back home the Hungarian ambassador in Washington, Réka Szemerkényi, a faithful supporter Fidesz, for failing to improve relations with the United States led by Donald Trump. And to think that Orbán had rejoiced at the election of the latter as a signal of the end of liberalism and hypocrisy of “political correct” Obama and the E.U. leaders.