The Open Society Foundations (OSF), an international network founded by Hungarian-born financier George Soros, on May 15 officially announced the closure of its operations in the Hungarian capital after 34 years there and its relocation to Berlin.
The decision comes as the Hungarian government prepares to impose further restrictions on NGOs through what it has branded its “Stop Soros” package of legislation, the OSF adds.
The bill is targeted at what the government claims is a campaign by Soros to undermine Hungary’s security by promoting mass immigration.
“The government of Hungary has denigrated and misrepresented our work and repressed civil society for the sake of political gain, using tactics unprecedented in the history of the European Union,” OSF president Patrick Gaspard said.
“The so-called ‘Stop Soros’ package of laws is only the latest in a series of such attempts. It has become impossible to protect the security of our operations and our staff in Hungary from arbitrary government interference,” he added.
The legislation, invoking national security interests, would block any organisation from advising or representing asylum seekers and refugees without a government licence. The bill is seen as further eroding civilian control of Viktor Orban’s government, which has the required two-thirds majority to pass the controversial legislation.
The government will discuss the “Stop Soros” bill next week so that a parliamentary debate on the bill can start in early June, Cabinet Office Minister Antal Rogan, who is also responsible for government campaigns, said during his parliamentary committee hearing.
The Central European University, founded in Budapest by Soros in 1991 after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, said on Tuesday it would stay in the Hungarian capital despite the OSF’s decision to leave. However, Rector Michael Ignatieff stressed that if the government fails to recognise the university and give the necessary approval this summer, he will be forced to move it to Vienna.
“The CEU cannot go into another academic year in a situation of legal uncertainty. We call on the government to sign the agreement without further delay,” according to the statement from the university.
Last year, Hungaryʼs parliament approved amendments to the Higher Education Law — popularly dubbed “lex CEU” — which stipulated several new conditions for foreign-funded universities. The CEU has met all the requirements on its part and now it awaits the approval of the government to sign the agreement with the University of the State of New York that has been on the table since September 2017.
The Washington Post noted that if the government forces out CEU, it would mark the first time an accredited university in the EU has been evicted from a country. Ignatieff said the decision would be “a crucial indicator of the future direction of this government and just how far they’re willing to go.”