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Thousands rally in support of CEU in Budapest

Thousands of protestors gathered in front of Parliament Sunday to support the Central European University (CEU), amid reports based on unnamed government sources that lawmakers may discuss a proposal in an expedited procedure Monday that would change higher education regulations to make it impossible for CEU to operate in Budapest.

The crowd moves past Astoria towards Parliament on Sunday evening (photo BBJ).

Events have escalated rapidly since the Hungarian government announced on Tuesday it would be submitting a proposal to Parliament it claims would clarify the regulatory status of foreign-based universities in Hungary. The Central European University (CEU), founded in 1991 by Hungarian-born philanthropist and financier George Soros, would be threatened with closure if the legislation is passed. CEU has claimed the legislation is specifically targeted at the institution, an assertion apparently confirmed by strong words directed at CEU by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, which the university has since rejected.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets Sunday evening to express their opposition to the proposed measures and support for the university, gathering in front of Corvinus University before marching through the center of the city past the CEU building to Parliament.

Protestors gathered outside Parliament heard several speakers deliver speeches in Hungarian and English.

Katalin Törley of Tanítanék Mozgalom, an education-focused movement that has repeatedly criticized the Hungarian government for its education policies, called on Minister of Human Capacities Zoltán Balog to resign. Törley also accused Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of making “defamatory” comments about CEU, based on “made-up accusations,” according to Hungarian online news portal index.hu, reporting live from the scene.

Taking the stage after Törley’s speech, a current CEU student, Daria Dubovka, recalled that she had been a student at university in Saint Petersburg when it was unexpectedly closed down at the end of 2016. She attributed the closure to the influence of Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to index.hu’s report, and compared the current Hungarian situation to Russia and Turkey.

A speech followed from András Gál, a leader of CEU’s Christian studentsʼ association, who stressed that freedom of thought and conscience is one of the most important Christian values that a state must guarantee.

With a closing chant of “free country, free university,” protestors were asked to hold their illuminated mobile phone screens aloft to demonstrate the masses present, recalling a similar demonstration against a planned internet tax in 2014 that made international headlines. The demonstration then concluded peacefully and the crowd dispersed shortly before 8 o’clock in the evening. 

Organizers of the demonstration promised to continue protests unless the government removes its education proposal from the table, index.hu reported.