Europe

Large protest in support of Hungary's Soros-backed university

Demonstrators protest against what they say are plans to close the Central European University (09 April 2017) Image copyright EPA
Image caption The demonstrators want President Janos Ader not to sign the controversial legislation

Thousands of people have taken part in a protest in Hungary to demand the abolition of laws which could force the closure of one of the country's most prestigious universities.

New rules introduced by the government mean the Central European University (CEU) would be unable to award diplomas because it is registered in the US.

The university was founded by philanthropist George Soros.

The legislation has already been rushed through parliament.

Demonstrators in the capital on Sunday want President Janos Ader not to sign the controversial legislation backed by the governing right-wing Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said the demonstrations would not cause the government to back down.

"There's no reason to," he said. "It's possible for CEU to fulfil the requirements set out in the new law - they have a year to comply."


At the scene: The BBC's Erika Benke in Budapest

Unlike last Sunday's protest, it was not just students who were out in the street - there were also lots of families, with some middle-aged and some elderly people in the crowd.

They marched peacefully in the bright spring sunshine, crossing Budapest's historic Chain Bridge as they headed towards Parliament. The protesters chanted slogans urging President Janos Ader to ask the Constitutional Court to review the new law adopted by parliament last week that is likely to lead to the closure of the CEU.


BBC Budapest correspondent Nick Thorpe says it was probably the biggest anti-government protest in Budapest since Mr Orban came to power seven years ago.

The protesters took to the streets both to defend the CEU and protest against attempts by the government to pressure human rights and environmental groups which support refugees.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Some demonstrators were involved in a faceoff with police protecting the parliament building in Budapaest
Image copyright EPA
Image caption At least 50,000 people - organisers say as many as 80,000 protesters - took part in the demonstration
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Central European University (CEU) was founded by Mr Soros as a bastion of liberal thought

At least 50,000 people - organisers say as many as 80,000 protesters - took part in the demonstration.

The government passed amendments to the Higher Education Act last week which would make it impossible for the CEU to continue working in Budapest - 26 years after it was set up by Hungarian-born billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros.

The government opposes the liberal outlook of both the university and many non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

"We do have a problem with George Soros - or rather George Soros has a problem with us," said Mr Kovacs. "He's been using his money and influence - through his NGOs - to put pressure on Hungary."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Police blocked demonstrators from gaining access to parliament in Budapest

The CEU has vowed to fight the legislation. The English-speaking university is ranked among the top 200 universities in the world in eight disciplines.

Mr Soros has a strained relationship with Mr Orban - a keen supporter of US President Donald Trump - who has accused the financier of wanting a role in Hungarian politics and supporting the influx of migrants into Europe.

Mr Orban recently claimed Hungary was "under siege" from asylum seekers.

The prime minister won a scholarship sponsored by Mr Soros to study at Oxford university and the pair were allies in the days immediately following the fall of communism in 1989.


The Central European University

  • Founded to "resuscitate and revive intellectual freedom" in parts of Europe that had endured the "horrific ideologies" of communism and fascism
  • Occupies a building that began as an aristocrat's palace before becoming state-owned offices for a planned socialist economy
  • Has 1,440 students - 335 from Hungary and the rest from 107 other countries
  • Presents itself as a champion of free speech, with links to universities in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Kazakhstan

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