On the heels of the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) ruling on Tuesday about the government’s “lex CEU,” CEU’s head commented that they would exercise their freedom, while George Soros continues to criticize the government. Ruling Fidesz blames the ‘Soros network’ and the left side, while the Budapest mayor would “happily” welcome back the “country’s most internationally renowned university.”
According to CEU’s founder and main backer George Soros, the ruling came too late for Central European University to return to Budapest. He urged the EU to “make Hungary a test case” as it debates ways to force members to respect the rule of law, including tying EU financial resources to rule of law conditions, a prospect that has already caused a standoff between Orbán and Brussels.
In his view, academic freedom in Hungary remains on the wane due to government interference.
“The Hungarian government continues to trample EU law, with the latest victim being the world-renowned University of Theater and Arts (SZFE),”
he added, referring to SZFE’s struggle against a perceived government crackdown.
Meanwhile, the CEU head hailed the ECJ ruling as a major moral and legal victory for academic freedom. At a press conference held in Vienna, Michael Ignatieff said that a benchmark decision had been passed to reinforce legal protection for Europe’s free institutions. He added, however, that the university would maintain its campus in Vienna, while plans concerning Budapest were yet to be finalized.
He also claimed that CEU spent about 200 million euros on the relocation, and said that any compensation claims would be “for another day,” concluding:
“We have the freedom to decide what we want to do and we will exercise that freedom.”
In her reaction, the Justice Minister yesterday commented that “applying double standards is unacceptable,” arguing that each university must observe effective regulations. “There is no need for mailbox universities,” she said. Judit Varga also insisted that:
“It is not possible to pass legislation which would benefit the Soros university more than Hungarian universities.”
She also claimed that the Hungarian government would, as always, abide by the court’s ruling. However, she claims the government will implement the decision according to the interests of the Hungarian people.
While ruling Fidesz, in reaction to the opposition parties’ statement issued after the decision, commented:
“…the Soros network and the Hungarian left side use every forum, every means against our country, and this is the case in connection with Soros University as well.”
The statement continues that several non-European universities in Hungary had reached agreements regarding their operation, in accordance with the Higher Education Act, “very interestingly, it is only the Soros University and left-side led by Ferenc Gyurcsány which generates hysteria.”
The Socialist Party’s (MSZP) deputy speaker of parliament said he didn’t expect the ruling to change the situation, adding that “the government will stick to its point.” István Hiller said that a political decision had led to the contested legislation, and argued that “the problem was not with the performance of CEU but with the fact that it had been founded by George Soros.” He insisted that issues around the university could only be resolved through a “political change.”
According to Momentum MEP Anna Donáth, “Endless Soros-ing” has done real damage to Hungary.
“Viktor Orbán’s hatred towards his former mentor has made Hungarian higher education poorer (…).”
Shortly after the Putin-style NGO law “(…) here’s another decision that makes it clear: Orbán’s arbitrariness is clearly visible from afar,” she claimed.
The Budapest Mayor also spoke up and said that the city would “happily” welcome the university and its students and teachers back. “I am under no illusion as to whether the government will repent and invite CEU back but Budapest would happily welcome the university, its teachers, and students back,” Gergely Karácsony said.
“Driving away the country’s most internationally renowned university was “one of the most outrageous government decisions of the last ten years,”
the mayor said, adding “the capital’s previous leadership silently played along.” “The government considered its deceitful propaganda more important than education and respecting academic freedom,” he argued.
Featured photo illustration by Dániel Végel/CEU/MTI