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Government entrusts universities to foundations

May 3rd, 2021

Opposition-leaning commentators  condemn in unison new legislation which places those state-owned universities that opt in, under the control of foundations under the ideological control of the government.

The cardinal law (that can be amended only with a two-thirds majority) applies not only to universities, but to other, mostly educational and cultural institutions that will also be run by foundations which oversee their own endowment. Népszava estimates that the new boards will be given endowments worth more than 1,000 billion Forints. In his regular Friday interview with Kossuth Rádió, Prime Minister Orbán claimed that the restructuring of higher education will raise the quality of education and grant universities more autonomy, since the foundations ‘will have more independence from the government’. As for the composition of those boards, he added that universities need to serve national sovereignty and identity, therefore individuals who endorse ‘internationalist and globalist’ views should not serve on university boards.

In an apocalyptic prediction in Élet és Irodalom, János Széky believes the Fidesz tactics may eventually produce a revolution in Hungary. The liberal analyst is worried about the government establishing a ‘deep state’ by transferring public property into foundations that will be overseen by boards that include Fidesz politicians, as well as intellectuals and businessmen who sympathize with the governing party. Széky fears that such structures will enable Fidesz to practically remain in power even if the party loses the 2022 election. As the opposition parties will not have the power to effectively govern the country even if they win the election, he speculates, revolution may break out in Hungary.

In an interview with Válasz, András Jakab finds the creation of foundations overseeing vast amounts of public property unprecedented. The conservative constitutional lawyer fears that the new regulations will weaken the state and, consequently, democratic control by outsourcing state duties to organizations that are independent of the state.

In Azonnali, Donáth Szűcs also interprets the creation of public foundations as an effort by Fidesz to entrench its power even if it loses the next election.  Concerning the broader implications, Szűcs thinks that voters will not be excessively bothered by the new rules. Hungarians have learned that it is easier for them to navigate their lives if it is clear who is in charge. Hungarians may actually prefer the privatization of public property or the creation of foundations headed by political actors as these arrangements at least leave them with no doubt about who the boss is, as opposed to public ownership and governmental oversight of wealth, Szűcs suggests.

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