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Posts tagged ‘Magyar Land of Hungary’

Hungary still defiant on US university after Brussels summit

April 29, 2017

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The Hungarian government remained defiant Saturday over the possible closure of Budapest-based Central European University, founded by billionaire George Soros. The issue was on the agenda during Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s meeting in Brussels with leaders of the European People’s Party, of which his Fidesz party is a member.

The EPP was unusually direct in its criticism of Orban over CEU, a government campaign called “Let’s stop Brussels” and a draft bill targeting civic groups which receive foreign funding. EPP president Joseph Daul said that in light of objections by the European Commission and after consultations with Hungarian civic groups and the academic community “we have come to the conclusion that dialogue alone is not enough.”

The EPP “will not accept that any basic freedoms are restricted or rule of law is disregarded,” Daul said in a statement. “The EPP wants CEU to remain open, deadlines suspended and dialogue with the U.S. to begin.”

Both Daul and EPP spokesman Siegfried Muresan posted messages on Twitter saying Orban said Hungary would comply with the commission’s requests and EU laws. While Orban said he was ready for cooperation with the commission, the EU executive, he indicated he was unwilling to eliminate new amendments to the law on higher education which could force CEU to stop operating as it currently does.

CEU, in Budapest since 1993, is accredited in Hungary and New York state, its graduate degrees are recognized both in Hungary and the U.S., but it has no U.S. campus. Orban says that issuing a U.S. degree without having a U.S. campus gives CEU an unfair advantage over other domestic universities.

“The existence of higher education institutions without actual activities operating as offshore mailboxes will not be permitted by Hungarian legislation in the future, either,” Orban’s press office said, adding that the government does not want to close the university and seeks to settle the legal dispute over the matter with the EU.

The government says it has no objections to the university issuing only Hungarian diplomas, but CEU says that would practically destroy its mission and its appeal to foreign students. CEU enrolls 1,440 students from 108 countries, including over 300 from Hungary.

If it fails to comply with the new conditions, CEU would be prevented from enrolling new students after the end of the year. CEU thanked EPP for its “unequivocal statement of support for our academic freedom.”

“We are grateful for the EPP’s call to suspend the deadlines and start negotiations,” said CEU Rector Michael Ignatieff. “We have called for negotiations from the beginning and we want them to reach a successful conclusion so that we can get back to work.”

Orban, who briefly studied at Oxford University thanks to a Soros scholarship in 1989, says he seeks to transform Hungary into an “illiberal state” modelled on countries like Turkey and Russia. He sees an ideological foe in Soros and his “open society” ideal and blames the Hungarian-born American for supporting migration through his backing of non-governmental groups like the Hungarian Helsinki Foundation and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, which advocate for asylum-seekers.

The government says a draft bill on NGOs receiving more than about $25,000 a year only seeks to increase “transparency.” NGOs, however, see the legislation scheduled to be passed in May as an attempt at intimidation and stigmatization.

Daul said that “NGOs are an integral part of any healthy democracy … and they must be respected.” Still, Daul’s harshest words were for Orban’s anti-EU campaign, which claims bureaucrats in Brussels want Hungary to raise taxes and energy prices and take in illegal migrants.

“The EPP has also made it clear to our Hungarian partners that the blatant anti-EU rhetoric of the ‘Let’s stop Brussels’ consultation is unacceptable,” Daul said. “The constant attacks on Europe, which Fidesz has launched for years, have reached a level we cannot tolerate.”

Humor, sarcasm at Hungarian anti-govt protest in Budapest

April 22, 2017

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Thousands of Hungarians are attending a “peace march for the government, for Russia and against everything else” organized by the satiric Hungarian Two-Tailed Dog Party. Saturday’s protest is a sarcastic take on current events in Hungary, like the government’s close ties to Russia and its campaign against the pro-migration policies of billionaire George Soros.

The government’s battle with Soros has resulted in legislation that could shut down the Soros-founded Central European University in Budapest. Firmly tongue in cheek, party leader Gergo Kovacs told marchers while it’s good Hungary hasn’t adopted the euro it’s a shame that Hungarians can’t use the ailing Russian ruble.

Other slogans of the march through downtown Budapest included “No more of that nonsense called democracy” and “Enough already with the EU stuffing the country with money.”

Hungary’s president signs bill aimed at Soros-founded school

April 10, 2017

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s president on Monday signed amendments to the country’s higher education law that could force a Budapest university founded by billionaire American philanthropist George Soros to close or move.

Central European University said it “strongly disagreed” with President Janos Ader’s decision and vowed to challenge what it called a “premeditated political attack on a free institution.” Ader said in a statement that the bill setting new conditions for foreign universities in Hungary was in line with the Constitution and international treaties and did not infringe upon academic freedoms.

Had he had concerns with the bill, Ader could have asked the Constitutional Court to review the amendments or sent it back to parliament for reconsideration. Nonetheless, Ader acknowledged that the fast-tracked approval of the law and some of the new conditions “provoked antipathy in many people.”

By 10 p.m. (2000 GMT), several hundred people had gathered outside the president’s offices in Buda Castle to protest his action. “As I have said before, we are willing to sit down with the Hungarian government to find a solution to enable CEU to stay in Budapest and operate as we have done for 25 years,” CEU Rector Michael Ignatieff said. “However, academic freedom is not negotiable. It is a principle that must form the basis of any future agreement.”

About 70,000 people rallied in support of CEU on Sunday, calling on Ader to refrain from signing the legislation approved last Tuesday. It was the third rally in eight days in support of the university, which enrolls over 1,400 students from 108 countries.

Ader called on the government to “immediately” begin talks with affected institutions about the implementation of the new rules. One new stipulation demands bilateral agreements with the home countries of universities from outside the European Union within six months, while another would require schools to establish campuses in their home countries by the end of the year.

For CEU, Hungary is demanding bilateral agreements with the United States and the state of New York, where the school is accredited, but does not have a campus. The bill was approved by lawmakers from Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party and their Christian Democrat allies last week.

“The situation is that in Hungary we are not closing a single university,” Orban said Monday in parliament. “In Hungary, we usually establish and open universities. You can trust in this in the future, too.”

Orban earlier said CEU was “cheating” and enjoyed an unfair advantage over other local schools because its students can earn both U.S. and Hungarian diplomas. CEU has vowed to remain in Budapest despite invitations to possibly relocate from cities in Lithuania and Poland.

Orban considers the Hungarian-born Soros an ideological foe whose “open society” ideals contrast with Orban’s plan to make Hungary an “illiberal state.” Orban has accused the billionaire of trying to influence Hungarian politics through his support of non-governmental groups like Transparency International and of working against Hungary’s interests by supporting refugees and migrants.

Opposition parties were quick to criticize Ader, a Fidesz politician who was re-elected by lawmakers to a five-year term in March. “Ader today proved that he is not suited to be the president of the republic because he is incapable of recognizing the nation’s interests and cannot express the unity of the nation,” the Socialist Party said.

The green Politics Can Be Different asked other opposition parties to support its plan to appeal the law to the Constitutional Court. Fifty of the 68 opposition deputies would need to back the motion.

Momentum Movement, a new opposition party whose campaign recently led Budapest to abandon its bid for the 2024 Olympic Games, said Ader was “hiding behind laws” and more interested in keeping his job than challenging the legislation.

Hungary approves stricter terms for Soros-founded university

April 04, 2017

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Lawmakers from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party on Tuesday approved an education bill that critics say targets a university founded by billionaire American philanthropist George Soros.

The move prompted thousands to protest outside the Central European University’s campus in Budapest, and drew swift criticism from the top U.S. diplomat in Hungary’s capital. The bill modifies rules regulating the 28 foreign universities in Hungary. CEU says parts of the bill directly target it, and could force it to close.

The legislation would require the governments of the United States and Hungary to agree on new terms for the university’s operations within the next few months. If a deal doesn’t materialize, CEU would be banned from enrolling new students after Jan. 1 and would have to conclude its educational activities by 2021.

“The United States is disappointed by the accelerated passage of legislation targeting Central European University,” David Kostelancik, the charge d’affaires at the U.S. embassy, said in a statement. “The United States will continue to advocate for its independence and unhindered operation in Hungary.”

CEU rector Michael Ignatieff met Tuesday in Washington with U.S. Under Secretary of State Tom Shannon. Ignatieff said the institution would appeal to Hungarian President Janos Ader to review the legislation, which it considers to be a violation of Hungary’s constitution

“CEU will continue its operation and maintain the continuity of its program in all circumstances,” Ignatieff said. “We want to remain in Budapest. We’ve done nothing wrong.” Orban, a former Soros scholarship recipient, has been increasingly critical of the Hungarian-born philanthropist, accusing him of trying to influence Hungarian politics.

Orban said last week that CEU was “cheating” because it did not have a campus in the United States, but issued diplomas recognized both in Hungary and the U.S. CEU is accredited in New York state but does not have a U.S. campus.

Despite protestations from the U.S. State Department, Orban insists that the future of the Soros-funded institution should be negotiated with the administration of President Donald Trump. Orban, who wants to turn Hungary into an “illiberal state” while promoting Hungarian nationalism, appears to be trying to ally himself with Trump against the Hungarian-born Soros, a promoter of liberal ideals around the world and a prominent backer of Hillary Clinton in last year’s U.S. presidential election.

However, Washington is not considering negotiating with Hungary over the university because it doesn’t consider it to be a bilateral issue between the U.S and Hungary, said a U.S. official who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.

The U.S. supports the university and hopes that Hungary’s government, having created the obstacle to the university’s operation, will find a way for the university to stay open, the official said. Hundreds of academics and universities have expressed support for CEU, founded in 1991. It currently enrolls 1,400 students from 108 countries.

“This law is practically a witch-hunt against CEU, freedom of education and against independent, autonomous and critical thinking,” said Bernadett Szel, a lawmaker from the Hungarian opposition party Politics Can Be Different.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France on Tuesday that Europe “cannot be silent if the air to breathe is taken from civil society, and even science, like now at the Central European University.”

Hungary’s Foreign Ministry said it had summoned diplomats from the U.S. and Germany to discuss the new law on Wednesday. Zoltan Balog, whose ministry oversees education, appeared to link CEU to the non-governmental organizations supported by Soros in Hungary.

Speaking at the start of the debate in parliament, he described them as “faux-civic, agent organizations” working to hinder the democratically elected Hungarian government. “Instead of respecting the laws, the Soros university has chosen to keep its privileges at all costs and is using every means to achieve this,” Balog’s Ministry of Human Resources said in a statement.

The deadlines for meeting the new conditions were markedly shortened in a last-minute modification backed by the government. “This is not how a normal democratic society should function,” Ignatieff said. “This is a punitive timetable.”

On Tuesday evening, protesters marched a few blocks from CEU to Parliament, where they stood facing rows of police officers on the steps of the legislature and demanded to place a European Union flag on the building.

Josh Lederman in Washington and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

Hungary: Government asks to rush bill targeting Soros school

April 03, 2017

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s deputy prime minister is asking Parliament to rush through a draft bill on higher education seen as targeting a university founded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

According to a motion sent Monday by Zsolt Semjen, also head of the Christian Democrat party, the debate and vote on the draft bill would take place on Tuesday. Semjen says his request to Parliamentary Speaker Laszlo Kover is justified by “government interests to pass the law early.”

Prime Minister Viktor Orban considers the Hungarian-born Soros an ideological foe whose “open society” ideal contrasts with his own efforts to turn Hungary into an “illiberal state.” On Sunday, some 10,000 people took part in a march in support of Central European University, founded in 1991 and currently counting some 1,400 students from 108 countries.

Large rally in Hungary for imperiled Soros-founded school

April 02, 2017

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Thousands of people marched in Hungary’s capital on Sunday to protest proposed legal changes that are seen as targeting a Budapest university founded by billionaire Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros.

Many Hungarian and international scholars and institutions have expressed support for Central European University. The school, founded by Soros in 1991, enrolls over 1,400 students from 108 countries.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban considers Soros an ideological foe whose “open society” ideal contrasts with his own efforts to turn Hungary into an “illiberal state.” Organizers said some 10,000 people participated in the march, which started at Corvinus University and ended outside Parliament.

Corvinus professor Daniel Deak said the protest was an attempt to defend CEU from the government attack. The new rules are “a shot coming from the Hungarian government against all Hungarian universities,” Deak said. “We strongly request freedom for academia and autonomy for universities.”

The draft law, scheduled to be debated by lawmakers on Wednesday, sets new conditions for foreign universities in Hungary. One would force CEU to open a campus in New York state, where it is accredited but does not carry out academic activities, while another could make it change its name.

Orban on Friday accused Central European University of “cheating” and unfairly competing with local universities since its diplomas are recognized both in Hungary and the United States. Orban also conditioned CEU’s survival to a bilateral agreement with the United States.

Some protesters chanted “Today CEU, tomorrow it’s you!” and held signs with phrases that included “We don’t want CEUthanasia” and “CEU stands for Community, Education, Understanding.” CEU student Gaspar Bekes compared Orban’s campaign to close CEU to actions by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“It is an attack on our democracy and an attack on the highest quality of education that people around the world deserve,” Bekes said.

Hungary opens base for army border patrols to stop migrants

March 20, 2017

HERCEGSZANTO, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s defense minister inaugurated a small military base on Monday on the country’s southern border for soldiers patrolling to prevent the entry of migrants. Defense Minister Istvan Simicsko said that base built with the assistance of Austrian soldiers would provide “worthy” conditions for the 150 troops to be stationed there.

“The defense of the border … so hundreds of thousands won’t march across the country, deserves total respect,” Simicsko told the soldiers. “Our most important common interest is the protection of the Hungarian citizens, our family members and civilians.”

The Hercegszanto complex, about 220 kilometers (140 miles) south of Budapest, was constructed from 90 containers and is that last of four bases built since January for soldiers patrolling the Serbian border in Bacs-Kiskun county.

The bases will significantly cut soldiers’ commute to the border zone for the patrols carried out jointly with police “border hunters,” Simicsko said. Prime Minister Viktor Orban said last week that a new fence being built on the Serbian border equipped with surveillance tools would withstand even a major surge of migrants, which Hungary is anticipating this year partly because of the deteriorating deal between the European Union and Turkey to prevent migrants from reaching Greece.

“This will be a fence that will be able to block the path of even the largest crowds arriving from Turkey,” Orban said on Hungarian state radio. “So in Austria and Germany people can sleep soundly, because Hungarians will be protecting Europe’s external borders.”

Hungary first built fences on the borders with Serbian and Croatia in late 2015, when nearly 400,000 people traveled through the country on their way to Germany and other destinations in Western Europe.

Simicsko said that he had no information about any abuses of migrants who are caught in Hungary and summarily deported across the fence to Serbia. Several aid groups, including Doctors Without Borders, have denounced numerous cases of migrants returning to Serbia from Hungary with dog bites and injuries from reported beatings by border patrols.

Recent changes to Hungary’s asylum policy, allowing the detention of all migrants, including children over 14, in border container camps, have also been the target of sturdy criticism by U.N. agencies and human rights advocates.

Simicsko said Hungary’s 2017 defense budget was 350 billion forints ($1.2 billion), or 1 percent of gross domestic product. Hungary plans to increase its defense spending by 0.1 percent of GDP a year until reaching 2 percent.

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