By Ábel Bede
This Tuesday the Hungarian government proposed legislation banning foreign-funded universities that do not operate a campus in the country they are registered in. This new law would affect 28 institutions in Hungary, but the Central European University founded by George Soros is a direct target, since there is not a single other university in the country that would be affected by this part of the legislation.
The far-right Fidesz-party has always casted the Brussels-Immigrant-George Soros type as a public enemy. Government rhetoric is calling the institution “the Soros University.” There is no doubt that this law is an attack on him and his interests. However, Soros – a businessmen and investor – is only an enemy created by the government, because his name can be exploited to silence those who really pose a threat to them: the educated Hungarian elite. This is not the first time Soros has been used against the government’s critics; he was used as an excuse to start a war on civil organizations a few months ago.
CEU is by far the best university in Hungary and in the whole region. Its world-class education allows top Hungarian talent to stay in the country, attracts international students alike, and it pays taxes as well. Therefore, its closure would go exactly against the country’s interest, which is why this legislation is a milestone on the road from democracy to dictatorship.
The university stands for everything the Orbán-regime is against; openness, European cooperation, free speech and internationalism. Its closure could silence international experts who live in the country, and make Hungarian talent leave as well, since they would not vote for Fidesz anyway. Even if the government backtracks from the legislation, or CEU is somehow saved, this move is a message to the educated elite, which says stay silent, because the government has the power to silence them.
If the legislation does go through it will be symbolic. The Central European University was founded to bring back academic excellence and free speech to countries that were ruled by autocratic regimes. Its closure could be a final dark cloud to arrive before the storms of dictatorship return to Hungary.
Photograph: Frank Schmidt via flickr.