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CEU controversy rolls on

April 13th, 2017

As the State Department urges Hungary to suspend the implementation of the new Higher Education Act, commentators disagree sharply on what lies behind the controversy within Hungary and internationally.

Commenting on a meeting between CEU rector Michael Ignatieff with Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the United States wants to ’see a review and discussion in order to address any concerns through dialogue with the university itself’. Earlier on Tuesday, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Asian Affairs Hoyt Yee told the Associated Press that Washington will not conclude agreements about universities, and that the matter was ’for the government of Hungary and the CEU to work out’. The law passed by Parliament on Tuesday last week requires an intergovernmental agreement for the operations of a non-EU based university to continue in Hungary. (CEU is also chartered in Budapest and the courses accredited in Hungary can continue, the government has said. CEU, on the other hand, says those courses and the those accredited in the US are too intertwined to be separated.) In a latest development, the State Secretary in charge of higher edication said allcCEU courses could continue exactly as before. If the CEU chartered in New York licenced the CEU registered in Hungary to hold its courses, the new provisions about foreign based universities would not apply, Mr László Palkovics said.

In Népszava, editor Péter Németh accuses the government of steering Hungary towards Russia and away from her western allies. The left-wing pundit thinks that the Higher Education Act which he calls ‘lex CEU’, is further proof of that trend, just like the decision to have Russia’s Rosatom build Hungary’s new nuclear power station at Paks. Németh believes that Hungarian society can surely not tolerate their country ‘being led further away from democratic societies’. Although people are not visibly moved by debates on the rule of law or on corruption, he continues,’ Russia means darkness to them’. He opposes violence on the street, however, and hopes peaceful demonstrations might eventually produce ‘a force that will channel the diverse forces’ of the opposition.

Magyar Idők’s Zsolt Bayer also sees the controversy as part of a conflict with international dimensions. The organisations sponsored by George Soros (the founder of the CEU), he suggests, are intent on destroying the nation states and flooding Europe with refugees who would become their voters. He believes, therefore, that ‘this is a war’, in which ‘we should not rest our arms’ for one moment. The struggle waged by the Hungarian government, he writes, is the only legitimate one, since it is based on a democratic mandate, unlike the NGOs supported by George Soros which engage in politics without being elected. The government has a mandate to defend national borders and keep migrants away, Bayer claims. Anyone who acts in the opposite sense without a democratic mandate, he concludes, is opposing the will of the majority and thus ‘must face the consequences’.

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