The European University Association (EUA) strongly condemns the recent intimidation of academics in the Hungarian media. The pro-government magazine Figyelo listed the names of more than 200 people, calling them “mercenaries” of George Soros, a Hungarian-American entrepreneur and philanthropist who founded EUA member Central European University (CEU). The list includes current and former CEU staff members, as well as employees of NGOs that are financially supported by Soros.
“This is a direct attack on academic freedom, a fundamental principle of higher education that we as Europeans must share and protect,” said Lesley Wilson, EUA Secretary General. “We cannot allow university staff to teach and conduct research in an atmosphere of intimidation and oppression from political groups or governments. This is simply unacceptable.”
The attacks were at the heart of a political campaign linked to the country’s parliamentary elections held on 8 April, which saw Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party secure a two-thirds majority. Next month, the re-elected government is expected to adopt the so-called “Stop Soros” legislation package, which will heavily impact NGOs receiving foreign funding.
This intimidation is the latest in a series of attacks on CEU over the past year. Most prominently, in April 2017, the Hungarian government amended higher education legislation in a way that would exclusively impact CEU, in an attempt to force its closure. This was the first time that the government of an EU country sought to shut down a university – an act that was widely condemned, including by EUA. CEU has worked to comply with the additional regulations set out in the legislation, which require a university issuing foreign degrees in Hungary to establish educational activities in the institution’s country of origin. While CEU has done this at New York's Bard College, it remains in limbo as the Hungarian government has yet to sign off on the new operating licence.
Given the latest developments, EUA calls upon the Hungarian government and the press that supports it to refrain from political interference in university matters, to respect institutional autonomy, and to establish a dialogue with the sector that is based on mutual trust and the rule of law. Specifically, it calls on Hungarian President Janos Ader to fulfil his duty as the leader of an EU member state to protect academic freedom as a shared European value.
Freedom from political intervention and pressure is a condition sine qua non in enabling universities to fulfil their very important role in our societies. EUA will continue to monitor the events in Hungary and to stand by its member CEU.
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