Civil society the target in Hungary’s attack on Soros-funded university


Students and staff at the Central European University (CEU) in Hungary are protesting against what they say are government plans to close it down, the BBC reports:

The university says new legislation proposed by the right-wing Fidesz government on Tuesday night makes it impossible for it to function. The CEU’s founder, philanthropist George Soros, has a strained relationship with the PM Viktor Orban.

Orban, who has vowed to purse an “illiberal democracy” modeled on those in Russia and Turkey, is stepping up a campaign to sideline opposition voices, Bloomberg adds, noting that the former anti-communist student leader has overseen the most extensive centralization of power in Hungary since the fall of the Iron Curtain after returning to office in 2010. The U.S. criticized the draft bill.

“The bill is a threat to our continued existence in Hungary,” Michael Ignatieff (right), the president of CEU, told reporters in Budapest on Wednesday. “This is an institution that doesn’t bow to intimidation or force.”

Orban is a former Soros scholarship recipient, but he has been increasingly critical of the Hungarian-born philanthropist, accusing him of wanting to influence Hungarian politics and supporting mass migration into Europe, The Washington Post adds:

The populist Orban is leading a crackdown on migrants. Orban’s governing Fidesz party says it wants new rules on non-governmental organizations that receive international funding, such as the Soros-supported corruption watchdog Transparency International and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union.

“The rhetoric used against [Soros] reminds me of the anti-Semitic propaganda from my childhood, according to which the Jews were responsible for all of Hungary’s problems, like poverty, ignorance, and landless peasants,” Karl Pfeifer writes for Open Democracy.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy said it was “very concerned” about the legislation, Reuters adds.

“The University…enjoys strong bipartisan support in the U.S. Government. The United States opposes any effort to compromise the operations or independence of the University,” Charge d’ Affaires David Kostelancik said.

Defenders of CEU are calling for supporters sign an on-line petition.

“We, scholars, students and supporters of free and unbiased scientific research and education call on the Hungarian National Assembly to drop the proposed legislation and to enter negotiations with the leadership of CEU that will ultimately allow this prestigious university to remain a proud contributor to scientific discourse in Hungary,” it states.

When true transparency is only to be encouraged, it clearly is not the goal. The government may say that it wants to expose the foreign sources of funding in Hungarian civil society, but its real target is civil society itself, writes Goran Buldioski, director of the Open Society Initiative for Europe:

The government is very selective when it criticizes foreign sources of domestic spending. Hungary accepts more than 5.5 billion euros (about $5.9 billion) in EU funding and it is one of the major net beneficiaries of aid from Brussels. Nor is it squeamish about accepting a $10 billion loan from Moscow. If we use the same logic, should not these funds be labeled as foreign, or will this label be reserved only for those who operate independent of the government and dare to have a different opinion? RTWT


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