Hungary: Protesters rally in defense of university, NGOs

AP News
Posted: May 21, 2017 3:37 PM
Hungary: Protesters rally in defense of university, NGOs

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Thousands of protesters marched Sunday in downtown Budapest, calling on Hungary's government to repeal legal amendments which could force a university founded by an American philanthropist to leave the country.

Participants at the rally also said they want Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government to abandon a bill that is viewed as an effort to intimidate civic groups that receive foreign funding.

"We have to consistently stand up for our values," activist Katalin Lukacsi told the crowd. "We have a future. It is ours, and we won't give it up."

Lukacsi said she recently quit the small Christian Democrat party, which is part of a governing coalition led by Orban's Fidesz party. She said the government's actions were "neither Christian nor democratic."

The European Union has initiated legal proceedings against Hungary because of the university issue, while Orban says the government merely wants to eliminate "advantages" Central European University has over other Hungarian universities.

CEU, founded in 1991 and also accredited in the United States, offers Hungarian and U.S. diplomas, which Orban has called "cheating."

Fidesz said the protest was an attempt by the "network" of Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros to pressure the government into changing its anti-migration policy. Soros is the founder of CEU and a supporter of non-governmental groups in Hungary.

"We see that pressure is growing on our nation, but the government party and the government do not wish to change their migration policy," Fidesz said in a statement.

Orban considers Soros an ideological foe whose "open society" ideal contrasts with Orban's plans to turn Hungary into an "illiberal state," or a narrower democracy.

Hungary is suing the EU over a plan that calls for the country to take in nearly 1,300 asylum-seekers. The government also is in the midst of a "Let's Stop Brussels" campaign which argues the EU is centralizing power to the detriment of individual countries.