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Scandal brews over proposed honor for Putin

The Department of Constitutional Law of the University of Debrecen has issued a statement strongly opposing the proposed granting by the universityʼs senate of honorary citizenship to Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to various domestic news reports.

Putin with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán during a visit by the Russian president to Budapest two years ago.

"The glorification of autocrats is unacceptable to us, and runs counter to everything we represent in the course of our professional university work," wrote the department in a Facebook post.

The senate of the university decided on August 18 to award the title Civis Honoris Causa to Putin. According to its official statement, the title is bestowed on Hungarian or foreign individuals who carry out "outstanding public or artistic activity, or who through their work, or moral or financial support, have helped strengthen the good reputation of the university or any organizational unit thereof."

The senate justified honoring Putin by citing Russiaʼs role in the upgrade of Hungaryʼs Paks Nuclear Power Plant, noting that "both the Hungarian government and the Russian Federation are assigning a significant role to the University of Debrecen in realization of the Paks II program."

As soon as the senateʼs decision became known, a report by news portal index.hu notes, the universityʼs own Facebook page was bombarded with condemnatory and critical feedback. The university began deleting negative comments after a while, even banning some commenters, and removing the option of rating the page after protestors had driven the point average sharply downward.

Index.hu added, based on a report in left-leaning daily Népszava, that Putin is expected to visit Hungary again in the first half of 2018 to collect the honor. The Russian president was originally due to pick up the award in Parliament during his short visit to Hungary on Monday, but his schedule was changed at the last minute.

Meanwhile, index.hu cites NGO the Eötvös Károly Public Policy Institute as saying in an open letter that the granting of honorary university citizenship to Putin is not only unacceptable, but illegal.

The institute argues that as a public institution, the University of Debrecen may only make decisions by respecting fundamental constitutional values, and that it cannot support or assist the "violation of human rights, democracy and constitutionality" in any way. It added that decisions of the senate "cannot injure or endanger the autonomy of the institution," and the university leadership cannot make decisions the goal of which is "to serve the political interests of the government."