As many as 80,000 people gathered in the heart of Budapest yesterday to protest recent amendments to the higher education act that, in their view, target the Central European University (CEU).
While the ruling Fidesz-KDNP coalition claims that the new amendment is meant to address “irregularities” among foreign universities operating in Budapest, the legislation is widely perceived as targeting on institution in particular: The Central European University (CEU), which was founded by Soros a quarter-century ago, and routinely ranks as the best university in Hungary.
According to Hungarian news site Index.hu, while it is hard to say exactly how many attended yesterday’s demonstration, there were certainly tens of thousands out on the streets expressing their support for CEU. 40,000 people registered that they would attend the event on Facebook; during the march itself, organizers initially put the number of protesters at 60-70,000, but ultimately announced from the stage that, by their estimation, 80,000 people had taken part in their demonstration.
The crowd filled the western embankment of the river Danube between the Chain Bridge and Erzsébet Bridge.
The event was organized by the “Freedom for Education” group, and was officially titled “Free Country, Free CEU, Free Thought!”
Some demonstrators waved Hungarian and EU flags, while others carried signs that with slogans such as “Let’s stop Viktor Orbán” or wore badges with the inscription “I stand with CEU”. Protesters also chanted slogans such as “Free Country, Free University,” and “Viktator,” the latter a combination of the term ‘dictator’ and the first name of the Hungarian Prime Minister.
Protesters met at the Várkert Bazár at 5pm, before making their way across the Chain Bridge to the Parliament. There, the crowd listened to speakers from CEU and Greenpeace. And while the official protest ended at 7pm, a large number of people remained on Kossuth Square in front of the Parliament Building; the crowd then moved to Szalay Street, where the Ministry of Human Resources is headquartered, and then on to Fidesz party headquarters.
Today, political site Slejm released a drone video of the massive demonstration, which you can view below:
Calls for Áder Not to Sign Bill
At the protest, demonstrators demanded that President of the Republic of Hungary János Áder send the legislation to parliament or the Constitutional Court for review.
Before coming into legal force, the bill must still be signed by President of the Republic János Áder, who has one of three options: to sign the bill into law as it is, to return it to the Parliament for further deliberation, or to send it to the Constitutional Court of Hungary, which would rule on the underlying constitutionality of the legislation.
Áder must decide by the end of the day today what action he will take; if he chooses to turn to the Constitutional Court, it in turn must issue a decision on the legality of the bill within 30 days of receiving it. In its ruling, the Court can strike down any and all parts of the law that it finds to be unconstitutional, or it can accept the constitutionality of the legislation.
Even if Áder chooses to sign the bill into law, the legislation could still find its way before the Constitutional Court, if either one-fourth of MPs, the Head of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, or the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights requests it.
As we have previously written, the “Lex CEU” legislation has been opposed by numerous political and intellectual leaders worldwide, as some of the most prominent institutions of higher education in the world have come out in support of Central European University.
CEU “Deeply Touched”
Reacting to the size of the protest, CEU released a statement saying that
Yesterday tens of thousands of people marched in defense of academic freedom and free universities. CEU is deeply touched by the support shown in Budapest.
Szilárd Németh, deputy head of ruling Fidesz, claimed that the protest was organized by “agencies financed by (billionaire George) Soros” in retaliation for Fidesz’s submitting a bill concerning the transparency of organization using donations from abroad. He also attempted to link the protest to the ongoing refugee and migrant crisis, claiming that its organizers were linked to those “agencies” aimed at “undermining Hungary’s border protection and force the country to provide free entry to illegal immigrants”.
UPDATE: Pro-CEU Demonstration in Berlin; Former UN Sec. General, French Gov’t Express Support
On Sunday, a few hours before the huge CEU protest began in Budapest, a large demonstration was held in Berlin in support of the Central European University. In pictures below, the Stand With CEU! Twitter account posted pictures of the crowd gathered at Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt, in front of the Schiller Statue:
— Stand With CEU! (@StandWithCEU) 2017. április 9.
In addition, today Kofi Annan, Former Secretary General of the United Nations, sent an open letter to CEU Rector Michael Ignatieff expressing his support for the university. In his letter, Annan wrote that
The Central European University’s contribution to a progressive democratic order is essential, especially in a part of the world that has historically been so plagued by harmful ideologies, be it at societal or at governmental level,” Annan said in his letter. “At the heart of a rights based order, of free speech and of intellectual freedom are centres of higher learning that promote these values to its future leaders. The CEU is a case in point and its importance to present and future generations can hardly be overstated.
In addition, on Friday the French government also wrote a letter expressing its concern over the Hungarian government’s legislative attack on CEU, while the New York Times’ Editorial Board published an article entitled “Hungary’s Assault on Freedom,” which you can read in full here.
You can view additional photos and videos of yesterday’s protest below:
Via MTI, Hungary Matters, index.hu, mandiner.hu, Magyar Nemzet, ceu.edu, and the New York Times
Images via MTI and Riley Dunbar
Videos via Slejm Facebook page and Riley Dunbar