BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s president on Monday signed amendments to the country’s higher education law that could force a Budapest university founded by billionaire American philanthropist George Soros to close or move.
Central European University has vowed to challenge the legislation and to remain in Budapest despite invitations to possibly relocate from cities in Lithuania and Poland.
President Janos Ader said in a statement that the bill setting new conditions for foreign universities in Hungary was in line with the Constitution and did not infringe upon academic freedoms.
However, Ader acknowledged that the fast-track approval of the law and some of the new conditions “provoked antipathy in many people.”
About 70,000 people rallied in support of CEU on Sunday, calling on Ader to refrain from signing the legislation approved last Tuesday. It was the third rally in eight days in support of the university, which enrolls over 1,400 students from 108 countries.
Ader called on the government to “immediately” begin talks with affected institutions to secure compliance with the new rules.
One new stipulation demands bilateral agreements with the home countries of universities from outside the European Union within six months, while another would require schools to establish campuses in their home countries by the end of the year.
For CEU, Hungary is demanding bilateral agreements with the United States and the state of New York, where the school is accredited, but does not have a campus.
The bill was approved by lawmakers from Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party and their Christian Democrat allies last week.
Orban considers the Hungarian-born Soros an ideological foe whose “open society” ideals contrast with Orban’s plan to make Hungary an “illiberal state.”
Orban has accused the billionaire of trying to influence Hungarian politics through his support of non-governmental groups like Transparency International and of working against Hungary’s interests by supporting refugees and migrants.
Opposition parties were quick to criticize Ader, a Fidesz politician who was re-elected to a five-year term in March.
“Ader today proved that he is not suited to be the president of the republic because he is incapable of recognizing the nation’s interests and cannot express the unity of the nation,” the Socialist Party said.
Momentum Movement, a new opposition party whose campaign recently led Budapest to abandon its bid for the 2024 Olympic Games, said Ader was “hiding behind laws” and more interested in keeping his job than challenging the legislation.
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