George Soros' Central European University faces closure after Hungary law targets foreign institutions

'In Hungary, one cannot be above the law — even if you’re a billionaire,' Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said

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The Independent Online

George Soros’ university in his Hungarian homeland is on the verge of closure after the nation’s parliament voted for legislation apparently targetting the institution.

The law was approved on Tuesday, having first been put in front of parliament only a week ago. It is the latest move in a lurch towards right-wing authoritarianism in Hungary that has increasingly attacked liberal institutions such as Mr Soros’ Central European University. 

It still requires the president to sign it before it officially enforced but this is deemed a formality.

The new law ostensibly places restrictions on all foreign universities but is widely believed to be a concerted attack on CEU, which is by far the highest profile.

CEU is seen by the ruling Fidesz party as a bastion of liberalism and the university has attracted heavy criticism from Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his allies.

Mr Orban has called the university a “fraud,” and said, “in Hungary, one cannot be above the law — even if you’re a billionaire,” the New York Times reported.

Before the vote in parliament, Hungary’s top education official, Zoltan Balog also reportedly said: “We are committed to use all legal means at our disposal to stop pseudo-civil society spy groups such as the ones funded by George Soros.”

Billionaire financier and philanthropist, Mr Soros, funds a host of projects around the world aimed at spreading free speech and democratic values, through his Open Society Foundations, 

The new law requires universities based outside Hungary to be approved through a “contract” between the Hungarian government and the country where they are accredited, which in CEU's case is the US.

It also requires each university to establish a campus in that country. The law also reinstates work permit requirements for non-EU citizens teaching at the campus in Hungary. The costs associated with complying with the new requirements could jeopardize the university’s future, Human Rights Watch has said.

“The law endangers academic freedom and the future of CEU, which has educated a generation of leaders in Central and Eastern Europe,” said Lydia Gall, Balkans and Eastern Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. 

“The president should not sign a law that seems motivated by a desire to silence critical voices in Hungary,” she added in a post on HRW’s website.

The pro-democracy group Freedom House accused Mr Orban’s party of “whipping up resentment and xenophobia” in order to win re-election. 

“In a year dominated by the Europe-wide advance of national-populist and radical parties, democratic governance in Hungary, a pioneer of ʼilliberal democracy,ʼ has further deteriorated,” the report said.

The Independent has contacted CEU for comment

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