As the Government claims its Education Agency has detected irregularities in the functioning of 28 foreign owned universities in Hungary and the Minister of Human Resources has tabled a bill to tighten their regulation, Hungarian political commentators believe the real target is Central European University, founded and mostly funded by Hungarian-born investment tycoon George Soros. Hungarian press round-up by budapost.eu:
In Kettős Mérce, András Jámbor fulminates against the bill. The left-wing commentator contends that CEU is Hungary’s best university and is assessed in international rankings far higher than the rest. He praises the University founded by George Soros as an institution offering Hungarian (postgraduate) students internationally competitive knowledge and degrees, and well-paid jobs to Hungarian academics. Jámbor is convinced that the new legislation aims to close down CEU and suspects what he calls ‘power considerations’ behind the move.
In his Magyar Idők editorial, János Csontos describes the planned legislation as fair, and being aimed at restoring order in higher education. He thinks it is justified to expect an American university to run courses in the US since it issues American degrees in Hungary. (The bill would require CEU to do so in order to continue its operation in Budapest, apart from its presence being formally stipulated in an inter-governmental agreement.) Csontos suspects political and business interests behind what he calls the ‘serial production’ of US diplomas for high tuition fees. He interprets the current ‘Katyusha artillery fire’ including angry reaction by the Chargé d’Affaires of the US Embassy and by scientific circles as proof that there is more to this matter than just a dispute over higher education. He is certain therefore that the Hungarian government will be put under heavy pressure over the case of CEU: ‘they will defend their privileges until their last drop of blood’. David once managed to defeat Goliath, he concludes, and wonders ‘what slingshots will be worth against Katyushas.’
On Mandiner, András Stumpf fears that the government’s planned move may prompt similar steps by Romanian nationalists who oppose the existence of Hungarian universities in Romania. Former Prime Minister and strongman of the now ruling Socialist Party Victor Ponta did not surprise him, Stumpf explains, when he wrote on his Facebook page that the proposed Hungarian rules about foreign universities should not be rejected out of hand. It was clear from the start, Stumpf argues, that nationalists in neighbouring countries would espouse the idea, in order to promote their anti-Hungarian cause. Since practically all leading Romanian politicians are nationalists, he continues, the only question was who would be the first to do so. Mr Ponta has won the contest, Stumpf bitterly remarks. ‘For make no mistake, Romania’s Soros is us, Hungarians’. Stumpf interprets the planned legislation as a sign that foreign universities are seen as risks to national security and asks what Hungary could do in defence of Hungarian universities in neighbouring countries if they were viewed similarly by local authorities. He also mentions that Hungary is going out of its way to promote and finance all kinds of Hungarian initiatives in Transylvania from education to various business projects. While he finds the reform of higher education bill, which will probably be discussed in parliament this week, revolting in itself, but he also thinks that it harms Hungary’s obvious national interests as well.
Also On Mandiner , Gábor Bencsik, the publisher of Demokrata, believes that a life and death struggle is underway between conservatives and liberals, but it is not their lives that are at stake: it is the lives of unborn European babies and thus of Europe’s two thousand year old civilisation. The intellectual elite that ‘grabbed Europe’s soul’ since at least the late 1960s, he explains, are ‘relentlessly fighting to destroy Europe as we have known it for two millennia’. Besides a group of politicians, but often as their surrogates, ‘groups of vigilantes called newspapers, theatres, universities and NGOs’, he continues, take an active and successful part in this endeavour, protected by their right to free speech. Nevertheless, Bencsik believes that CEU, which is one of them, must be tolerated. He even goes so far as to warn the governing forces against the ‘incalculable consequences anyone crossing the democratic Rubicon’ will face. The struggle for the future of Europe, he concludes, must be won by democratic means and with ‘belief in the wisdom of the electorate’.
On Mozgástér, Zoltán Kiszelly explains why pro-government circles detect a threat in the network of organisations funded by George Soros. He describes the ‘Soros Galaxy’ as a ‘vocal minority’ embodied by ‘so called NGOs, allegedly scientific vagaries and demonstrations turning violent’. They set foot in Eastern Europe in the power void of the early 1990s, but now, he continues, more and more people would like to stop ‘the billionaire and his interest circle’, namely in the USA, Macedonia and Hungary. CEU was ‘ushered out’ of Czechoslovakia where it was originally set up and moved to Budapest only in 1993, he recalls. Kiszelly cites the systematic effort of Soros-funded organisations on behalf of migrants of African and Asian origin, as well as Mr Soros’s idea to ‘import’ hundreds of thousands of immigrants to Europe yearly as proof that despite their claim to be non-political, these foundations serve a social transformation project. The pro–government political analyst borrows the name of a movement launched in Macedonia – “SOS, Stop Operation Soros’ as the title and the conclusion of his article.
In a debate organised by tabloid Blikk, pro-government political analyst Ágoston Sámuel Mráz called the row over CEU a political hysteria, which is being exploited by the political Left to improve its standing. The issue was raised by Mandiner’s correspondent who reports on his site that political scientist Zoltán Czeglédi interprets the government’s intention as an onslaught on ‘a Soros bastion that radiates liberal values’. For his part, he advises all opposition forces to draw on their own ideological sources (meaning that the Socialists should not espouse liberalism-libertarianism). Á.S. Mráz suggests that CEU has nothing to fear if the government remains faithful to the Fundamental Law (which stipulates the principle of freedom in education). In his reading, the statement by the State Department expresses Washington’s readiness to sign the agreement required under the new bill and concludes therefore that ‘this is a non-issue’. A third political scientist, Gábor Török shares Mráz’s view about political hysteria being whipped up around CEU, but views the issue as a move engineered to forward Fidesz’s political designs. The Fidesz strategy, he suggests, is to tell the public that it is protecting them against foereign pressure and thus the predictable reaction from abroad comes handy as the governing party will be able to show once again how it stands up to international pressure. ‘If the scandal is to last until the next elections, it will only boost Fidesz’ chances further’, Török believes.