Hungary’s President János Áder, an ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, signed into law Monday night a controversial amendment that would in effect lead to the closure of the Central European University, an institution founded by U.S. financier George Soros.
The move came despite a series of protests calling for Áder to veto the law. On Sunday, 80,000 people marched in Budapest in solidarity with CEU. While the demonstrations were called initially over the amendment — nicknamed “Lex CEU” in Hungary — protesters quickly began voicing broader concerns about the Orbán government, chanting “democracy,” “dictator,” and “Russians go home” — a reference to Orbán’s close relationship with the Kremlin.
President Áder “did not keep his eyes on the law, nation’s voice or on the country’s best interest, but on the government’s phantom war and consolidation of power,” said the organizers of Sunday’s protest, a group of young activists called Freedom for Education. The group is now calling for the law to be brought before Hungary’s constitutional court.
Hundreds of youths marched through central Budapest Monday night and into early Tuesday morning, ending their protest at the Hungarian radio building at 2 a.m., where they hoisted an EU flag on the building. Police briefly fired a spray at the crowd that caused protesters to cough.
“The damage is huge,” Bálint Magyar, a former minister of education, told POLITICO following Áder’s decision to sign the bill. He added that academic freedom for all of Hungary’s universities will decline as a result of the move against CEU, while the country’s relations with the U.S. and European Union will also suffer.
Representatives of the U.S. government and the European Commission are both currently in Budapest to discuss the issue with Hungarian authorities.
But the outpouring of international concern from politicians, governments and academics has far from impressed Orbán, who has presented Soros and institutions funded by the Hungarian-born businessman as a threat to Hungary’s sovereignty.
“There is a disinformation campaign going on” against Hungary, Orbán said in parliament earlier Monday.
In a letter to students on Monday, CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff wrote “we are facing a political threat, but the University will continue, under any circumstances.”
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