HUNGARY/MAASTRICHT. On Tuesday 4 April, the Hungarian parliament adopted a bill that jeopardises the future of the well-known Central European University (CEU) in Budapest. Maastricht scientist Lutz Krebs has started a petition.
The bill by the Orbán government gained a majority in Parliament that is dominated by the governing party Fidesz. As a result, CEU, sponsored by American-Hungarian philanthropist George Soros, is one of the institutes that needs to meet stricter requirements.
Foreign universities must also have a campus in their ‘home country’. For CEU, this means that they should open a campus in the state of New York. Moreover, a separate agreement on higher education must be signed between Hungary and the federal government of the United States. Chances that the USA will co-operate, are small. Soros has never made a secret of his aversion to Donald Trump.
CEU has reacted militantly: rector Michael Ignatieff announced that they would take legal steps. According to him, the new bill is contrary to the Hungarian article of the constitution that protects the freedom of scientific research.
Lutz Krebs, political scientist and programme director at UNU Merit, has started a petition to support CEU. Last Monday, the day before the amendment had been adopted, the petition with over 30,000 signatures was delivered to, among others, Prime Minister Orbán.
Krebs has no Hungarian roots and no formal ties to CEU. He never studied or worked there. He thinks CEU is a “if not the” leading university in Central and Eastern Europe. “But more importantly, CEU is first and foremost a project about freedom. CEU was founded right after the end of the Cold War, and was specifically set up to be an independent university in a world region where education and science were often under direct control of the government, to stamp out any critical voices.”
The first reason for launching this petition was “because throughout Central and Eastern Europe, governments are clamping down on free, independent universities. While CEU is only the most recent and most high-profile target, this is a bigger movement that will affect the quality of research and education.” Secondly, he thinks, scholarship is all about “an unencumbered exchange of ideas. Every voice that is silenced, weakens the discussion as a whole.”
The petition is still open, it has already been signed by more than 45 thousand people at the moment (Wednesday, 5 April, 11:00). But does it still make sense now the amendment has been adopted? “I am certain that CEU will mount appeals and challenges to this law at national and international level. The petition can still be a supporting voice to their argument.”