The Hungarian prime minister has attacked local academics for supporting the threatened Central European University (CEU) after protesters took to the streets to demand it stays in Budapest.
Despite more conciliatory comments by Hungary's education secretary at the end of last week, Viktor Orbán gave a series of interviews over the weekend which portrayed his government's campaign against CEU as part of a broader struggle against those who want a “restructuring” of Europe’s population through migration.
CEU, which champions open democracy and has supported education for refugees in Hungary, says it has been specifically targeted by legislation passed earlier this month that would impose a raft of new obligations that make it impossible to stay. Thousands have demonstrated in support of the university, while academic groups in Hungary have also offered their backing.
Set up after the fall of communism across Eastern Europe, the institution is partially funded by US-Hungarian billionaire George Soros, whom the Orbán administration accuses of backing refugee flows into the country.
The Hungarian government maintains that the new rules simply level the playing field between CEU and other universities in Hungary.
“It is still not clear why, rather than seeking to ensure that their universities should also have the rights enjoyed by the CEU, representatives of Hungarian academia, scholars and professors at Hungarian universities are instead arguing for George Soros to keep his privileges,” Mr Orbán told Hungarian radio on 16 April, according to his office.
Protests about CEU were part of a “secondary battlefield” in a “larger, decisive conflict” between the government and non-governmental organisations that “envisage a Europe in which there is a partial restructuring of the population, with foreign ethnic elements being introduced from other parts of the world”, according to the summary of his interview.
He added that he could “live with” CEU “educating liberal activists for the political life of the Balkans and Central European regions”. But the “milk has curdled” because “the Soros empire” was promoting migrants, who Mr Orbán repeatedly linked to terrorism.
The prime minister’s combative stance follows comments on 13 April by the secretary of state for education, László Palkovics, who said there were a number of ways CEU could legally stay in the country. But a CEU spokeswoman said that his proposals did “not appear to be legally and operationally coherent and certain” and called on the government to enter direct talks.