A university founded by the philanthropist George Soros has announced it has been forced out of Hungary by the government of Viktor Orbán.
Central European University, which teaches in English, has gained a reputation as one of the best universities in central and eastern Europe since it was founded in the early 1990s. CEU’s rector and president, Michael Ignatieff, a former Canadian politician, told journalists on Thursday that as of next year many of its operations would be moved from Budapest to Vienna.
“We cannot operate legally in Hungary as a free US-accredited institution. We’re being forced out of a country that’s been our home for 26 years,” Ignatieff said.
“We have repeatedly indicated our openness to find a solution that guarantees our institutional integrity and academic freedom. We have waited as long as we possibly can. Unfortunately, we have been forced into this decision by the unwillingness of the Hungarian government to offer an acceptable solution.”
The US ambassador to Hungary, David Cornstein, a longtime friend of Donald Trump, has made securing a deal on CEU one of his top priorities since arriving in Hungary in the summer. Although Trump has also disparaged Soros, Cornstein said during his Senate confirmation hearings that he understood how important the university was to both Democrats and Republicans.
“Of my first 100 days, I have spent more time on Central University [sic] than on any other subject,” he said in a speech at CEU this month. “Right after I unpacked my bags and found out where the office was, the next stop I made was right here at the university. That was to show how important this subject was, not just to the American ambassador but to the American people as well.”
Although he repeatedly misstated the name of the university, he said he had raised the issue during a meeting with Orbán, and planned to facilitate meetings between the Hungarian government and the university with the aim of resolving the issue. It now appears those meetings were fruitless.
Orbán’s office released a statement denouncing the CEU decision, suggesting it was simply a means of attracting attention.
“The announcement by the CEU is a Soros-style political ploy. Up to now Central European University has operated here, it does so now, and we think that it will continue to do so in the future … The Hungarian government does not concern itself with Soros’s political ploys.”
There was no comment about whether the government would sign the agreement that would allow the university to remain in Budapest and issue US-accredited degrees.