Central European University (CEU) will leave Budapest for Vienna next year after continuous disagreement with the Hungarian government.
It will be the first university to be pushed out of a European country, after being locked in a legal and rhetorical battle with the government for the last two years. The next academic year in 2019 will see new students start classes in Vienna.
The conflict between CEU and the government is partly caused by the university’s continued relationship with George Soros, founder of and current board-member at the university.
The discord between Soros and Hungary’s far-right prime minister Viktor Orbán dates back to 2015, after the former’s “advocacy for the humane treatment for refugees” contradicted with the latter’s “ultra-conservative government”. Since then, a series of disputes has resulted from their rift.
Thus, the government did not respond to an agreement sent by CEU this year confirming its legal base in Hungary, despite intervention from the ambassador for the United States (US) and international pressure.
After winning a third consecutive term in April, Orbán’s government has been increasingly involved in cracking down on independent media and has been accused of violating the law and corruption.
The government made the case that its action against the university is due to legal reasons, and that although CEU issues US degrees, it does not have a campus abroad.
In response, CEU set up a campus at Bard College in New York, after the conclusion of the CEU-Bard College agreement in summer 2017.
At a press conference in Budapest last Monday, Michael Ignatieff, CEU rector and former Canadian politician, stated: “This is a dark day for freedom in Hungary, and it’s a dark day for academic freedom.”
Regarding CEU’s efforts in cooperating with the government, Ignatieff added: “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.”
According to Ignatieff, although some Hungarian-accredited courses would still be taught in Budapest, they will account for less than a fifth of the degrees available at CEU.
He further stated that CEU would not become a “university in exile” and would integrate itself in Austrian academic life, describing Austria as “a country where the rule of law and respect for free institutions still means something”.
Commenting on the government pushing the university out of Hungary, CEU’s provost Liviu Matei said: “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.”
On Monday, Zoltán Kovács, Orbán’s Secretary of State for International Communications, tweeted: “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,” he concluded.
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.
— Zoltan Kovacs (@zoltanspox) December 3, 2018