It’s official. Central European University has announced it will leave Budapest for Vienna next year. This is being reported as the first case of a major university being pushed out of a European Union country.
The university has been targeted by Hungary’s far-right prime minister, Viktor Orbán, because of its affiliation with George Soros, who founded it and is still on the board.
“This is a dark day for freedom in Hungary, and it’s a dark day for academic freedom,” said CEU’s rector, Michael Ignatieff, a Canadian former politician, at a press conference in Budapest on December 3.
As reported by The Guardian, CEU had given the Hungarian government until December 1 to sign an agreement that would give it a legal basis to operate in Hungary. Despite international pressure and the intervention of the US ambassador, the government made it clear it would not sign.
Zoltán Kovács, Orbán’s secretary of state for international communications, tweeted on December 2: “The Soros university is leaving but staying. It’s common knowledge that a significant number of its courses will still be held in Budapest. This is nothing more than a Soros-style political bluff, which does not merit the attention of the government.”
According to critics, Orbán’s government has launched a crackdown on independent media. The government is also accused of a series of rule of law and corruption violations.
Chasing CEU out of Hungary marked the start of a new era for Orbán, Liviu Matei, CEU’s provost, was quoted as saying by The Guardian. “A line has been crossed. People are being forced out of the country. This is not restriction any more, this is repression. In Hungary, the reign of repression has been started.”
The Hungarian government has painted the campaign against the university as purely legalistic, saying it is unfair that CEU issues US degrees but has no US campus. In response, CEU set up a campus at Bard College in New York.
“We complied, but the government of Hungary refuses to accept the word of the state of New York, it negotiated with the state of New York for three months and then walked away,” said Ignatieff.