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US State Department disagrees with CEU bill

April 3rd, 2017

A statement by the spokesman of the State Department has added further vigour to the debate over the future of Budapest’s Central European University. One side forthrightly condemns the planned new legislation, while the other dismisses the unfolding protest as mere hysteria.

In an official statement by its acting spokesman, the State Department urged the Hungarian government not to pass the planned legislation that would make it difficult if not impossible for the Sorosfounded Central European University to continue operating in Hungary (see BudaPost throughout last week). In a swift reaction to Mark Toner’s communique, Hungarian government spokesman Zoltán Kovács expressed his ‘surprise’ over the ‘factual errors’ the State Department document contained. The Hungarian government ‘is ready to engage in talks with the Government of the United States with respect to György Soros’s university in Hungary’, Kovacs added. The rector of CEU Michael Ignatieff has said he would bring the matter to President Trump, although he also said that the functioning of his university should not be interfered with by governments, and he just wanted the CEU to be left alone. Meanwhile, in his biweekly Friday morning radio interview, PM Viktor Orbán said CEU enjoyed unfair advantages compared to Hungarian universities and that the playing field should be levelled for all participants.

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’. Stumpinterprets 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.

In a debate organised by Blikk, pro-government political analyst Ágoston Sámuel Mráz called the row over CEU 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.

On Mozgástér, Zoltán Kiszellexplains 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 progovernment political analyst borrows the name of a movement launched in Macedonia – “SOS, Stop Operation Soros’ as the title and the conclusion of his article.

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