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October 17, 2017

Hungarian Government Hampers Efforts to Resolve Central European University’s Status

New York City—Human Rights First today expressed concern over the Hungarian parliament’s passage of a one-year deadline extension to the higher education law known as "Lex CEU" despite Central European University’s (CEU) acknowledgement that it has taken all required steps to comply, a move the university believes is both unnecessary and meant to prolong uncertainty surrounding its legal status. 

 “The Hungarian government’s actions once again underscore ‘Lex CEU’s’ true motive: to strangle an esteemed graduate university, silence critical voices, and settle personal scores,” said Human Rights First’s Rob Berschinski.  “CEU has satisfied the terms of an unnecessary law. If, as reported, negotiations between the Hungarian government and the government of the State of New York have concluded, Hungarian authorities should sign the agreement immediately.” 

CEU’s administration also made public the text of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed September 8 with Bard College specifying the “educational activities” that CEU will conduct in New York state, in keeping with the requirements introduced by the legislation. CEU additionally released a letter from the commissioner of the New York State Education Department verifying the validity of the memorandum. CEU had previously announced that an agreement between the Hungarian government and the State of New York had been finalized. 

“The attack on CEU has never been about a university or education, though it’s certainly an attack on academic freedom” added Berschinski. “Prime Minister Victor Orban and his government are making every effort to silence criticism, scapegoat dissenters, and erode Hungary’s democracy. This is a brazen attempt to score political points on the backs of students. Members of Congress and the administration should press Orban to end this attack by signing CEU’s agreement with New York.”   

On April 4, 2017, with no consultation and only a week’s notice, the Hungarian parliament passed amendments to Hungary’s higher education law that would have the effect, if implemented, of forcing CEU out of the country. The legislation, known as “Lex CEU,” set new, onerous, vague, and legally unnecessary requirements on universities registered in foreign countries, several of which applied only to CEU.

Republican and Democratic members of Congress in both the House and Senate have  pressed the Hungarian government to cease its attack on CEU and academic freedom, noting that compromising the university’s operations would negatively impact bilateral relations with the United States.

Human Rights First’s fact sheet, Hungary: Eroding Democratic Institutions, Closing Space for Civil Society and recent reports "How the U.S. Government Should Respond to Hungary’s Slide to Authoritarianism" and "No Society Without Civil Society" detail steps the United States can take to counter Hungary’s erosion of democratic institutions and its attacks on civil society. 

For more information or to speak with Berschinski, contact Corinne Duffy at duffyc@humanrightsfirst.org  or 202-370-3319.