In what appears to be a brewing crusade against Budapestʼs Central European University (CEU), Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that he believes the “Soros university” enjoys an “unfair advantage” over Hungarian universities because it can award both a Hungarian diploma and an American one, according to reports.
Orbán talked about the ongoing issue of the Central European University, set up and funded by Hungarian-born financier George Soros, during his regular biweekly interview on state-owned Kossuth Radio this morning. The prime minister defended a draft bill that the government claims will make the activities of foreign universities more transparent, while CEU claims it would force the university to close its doors, and is specifically targeted at them. Although government officials have dismissed such allegations, the U.S. Embassy in Budapest has voiced concerns over the matter.
According to Orbán, the future of the Budapest-based Central European University depends on talks between the governments of Hungary and the United States, Hungarian news agency MTI reported. As an apparent response to CEU’s openness to negotiate with the government on the matter, Orbán said “CEU needs to abide by laws; they donʼt have to negotiate with us, though maybe they would like to do so, but they are not the American government yet,” according to Hungarian online news portal index.hu.
According to the index.hu report, Orbán used strong words about the university during the interview. The Hungarian prime minister reportedly made statements such as “fraud is fraud, no matter who commits it,” “even if somebody is a billionaire, they cannot be above the law,” and “CEU only needs to abide by laws.”
CEU has strongly countered that it abides by all current related laws. CEU’s rector stressed at a press conference Wednesday that the university has operated lawfully since its foundation and possesses all the necessary accreditation.
Orbán said this morning that “we tend to hold thorough investigations every four or five years,” and the most recent one showed that many foreign universities operate “in an unruly manner” in the country. However, index.hu notes that this has been the first ever such investigation, citing a statement sent to economic news website hvg.hu by the Ministry of Human Capacities.
Various figures in the Hungarian government have recently directed repeated and heavy criticism at Soros, who founded CEU in Hungary more than 25 years ago.
During his university years, Orbán himself received a scholarship from the Soros Foundation and spent four months studying at Pembroke College at the University of Oxford in 1989, according to his CV posted on the Hungarian Parliament’s official website. Orbán halted his studies in England and came back to Hungary for the parliamentary elections in 1990.
Last May, in order to demonstrate his political distance from Soros, Orbán was quoted to be ready to repay the scholarship he received from Sorosʼs foundation in 1989, Cabinet Chief János Lázár noted at the time.