No Room at the Budapest Inn?

History

As the year nears its turn, it is naturally to look back, and so it is appropriate that our focus for this issue, as has become traditional, is a recap of the past 12 months, and more especially the biggest business and real estate deals.

In our business section, ITSH looks back on a year which saw it move into a purpose built HQ. Law firm Bird & Bird is looking even further back, ten years, to be precise, to the founding of its office in Hungary. There is an exclusive interview with the CEO of Citibank Europe, Zdenek Turek, who recalls his own time as head of the Hungarian operation in 2002, and Citi’s operations here going back to 1985.

One organization unlikely to be looking back on 2018 favorably, however, is the Central European University. The news conference it called on December 3 to announce it had been “forced out” after a December 1 deadline expired without agreement with the government surprised no one.  

The CEU confirmed students beginning their U.S.-accredited courses would, from the start of the 2019 academic year, do so in Vienna. Those already embarked on their courses here will finish them in Budapest. CEU is still an accredited Hungarian university, and insists it will stay in Budapest (a city Rector Michael Ignatieff said “we call home”) as long as it can.

The university says that under Hungary’s amended higher education law (known by many as Lex CEU because they argue the new rules were written to target the George Soros-founded graduate school), without an agreement with the government of Hungary, it cannot accept new students after January 1, 2019. With no indication the government would sign, it decided it had to act now to give it enough time to recruit staff and students.  

The government, for its part, insists the December 1 deadline was arbitrary, and that the university has chosen to leave. In a video message on the government’s official Magyarország Kormánya Facebook page, spokesman István Hollik said the fact that CEU has vowed to remain in the city “makes it clear to everybody that the whole affair is nothing else but the usual political bluff by Soros, which the government does not wish to deal with,” Hungary Today wrote.

News of the move drew much criticism from the West, with news organizations such as the Washington Post describing it as “a humbling for the West”, and former U.S. diplomat William J. vanden Heuvel writing in the “Opinion” section of the New York Times: “We should recall our ambassador. The attempted silencing of a great university should be met with unyielding resistance.”

U.S. senators Roger Wicker (Republican) and Ben Cardin (Democrat), speaking for the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, an independent body set up by Congress in 1975), said the “Hungarian government was resolved not to take ‘Yes’ for an answer”.

That seems a sobering way to end the year, so let me instead end by wishing you all, whatever you do, a happy and relaxing Christmas and a peaceful, and prosperous New Year. The Budapest Business Journal’s print edition will be back for our first issue of 2019 on January 18, looking at what might be in store in the year ahead. Until then, happy holidays.

Robin Marshall

Editor-in-chief

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