BUDAPEST, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Hungary has extended a deadline
for a U.S.-accredited Budapest university founded by George
Soros, philanthropist financier and prominent critic of Prime
Minister Viktor Orban's government, to comply with a new
education law or face closure.
As Hungary prepares for parliamentary elections in early
2018, the nationalist, right-wing Orban, who leads the ruling
Fidesz party, has launched a "national consultation campaign" on
Soros and what he has dubbed the "Soros plan".
The higher education bill applies to all international
universities, not just the Soros-founded Central European
University, but critics say it was clearly targeted at the
Hungarian liberal, whom Orban accuses of planning to bring
millions of migrants into Europe.
Parliament approved to amend the higher education law, which
sparked big protests when it was passed in April, to extend the
deadline for foreign universities to meet conditions for
operating in Hungary until end-2018 from end-2017.
Justice Minister Laszlo Trocsanyi said in the bill that the
legislation wanted to create a level playing field for all
institutions of higher education.
Critics say Orban's efforts against Soros and
foreign-accredited universities are part of an election campaign
strategy to whip up support among Hungarians who also hold
anti-immigration views and fear perceived foreign interference.
Soros, 87, lives in the United States but funds a number of
initiatives in his home country, including civil rights and
refugee rights NGOs. He has heavily criticised Orban's
"I admire the courageous way Hungarians have resisted the
deception and corruption of the mafia state Orban has
established," Soros said in June.
Opponents to the higher education bill said it was an
attack on academic freedom, provoking big protests in Budapest
in the spring and causing Orban's approval ratings to drop.
Although polls show Fidesz' approval rating to be only
around 30 percent at present, it is still predicted to win over
the deeply divided opposition.
CEU said in a statement on Tuesday that "it has taken all
steps to fulfil the conditions of the amended Hungarian higher
It also said the extension of the deadline for compliance is
an "unnecessary delay" that subjects the university to a further
year of legal uncertainty.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
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