Students on Saturday marched in support of a university founded by US billionaire George Soros in Hungary, ahead of a deadline for a legal dispute to be resolved.
The government says the embattled Central European University (CEU), chartered in the US state of New York, has not yet met the requirements of a law passed last year requiring foreign universities to have a campus in their home country.
The legal dispute is part of a wider campaign waged by Budapest in recent years against the Hungarian-born Soros, 88, accused by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban of stoking illegal immigration.
“No university can last in limbo for long,” said Petra Kornel, 18, one of around 2,000 students who took part in the march in Budapest.
The bill’s adoption, seen by critics as a blow against academic freedom, was cited in a recent scathing EU report on Hungary that prompted the European Parliament to launch unprecedented so-called “Article 7” legal action against Budapest in September.
CEU says it has complied with the law by opening a facility in New York State that US regulators have confirmed as hosting educational activities. But a government spokesperson last week called the American site “a Potemkin campus” that fails to satisfy the law.
Set up by Soros in 1991 to foster democratic values in post-communist countries, the university’s rector, Canadian author and academic Michael Ignatieff, said last month it had had enough of “legal uncertainty” and that from 2019 it would admit students to a new Vienna campus if no agreement was reached by December 1.
“You will bear responsibility for the harm that your decisions will do to Hungary’s higher education system and to the country’s international reputation,” Ignatieff said last week in an open letter to the government. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto accused Ignatieff Saturday of “political hysteria”.
Attracting students from over 100 countries and mainly offering US-accredited masters programmes, CEU has long been regarded by the nationalist Orban as a hostile bastion of liberalism.