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Mass Protests Fail to Curb Hungary’s Crackdown

President Signs Law Threatening Future of Central European University (CEU) Despite Outrage

The Central European University (CEU) represents everything the current Hungarian government sees as a threat: critical thinking, liberal values, and academic freedom. This week, Hungarian President Janos Ader signed a law specifically targeting the CEU and threatening its very existence. It comes after a massive demonstration last weekend when 70,000 people marched in support of the institution, and follows worldwide condemnation of plans to shut down the university from the German president, the United States State Department, the European Union Commissioner for Justice, and the European People’s Party – the political group to which Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party belongs.

People protest against a bill that would undermine Central European University, a liberal graduate school of social sciences, in Budapest, Hungary, April 9, 2017.  © 2017 Reuters

This attack on a prominent academic institution is just the latest in a series of moves to demonize Hungary’s civil society, including prominent human rights and anti-corruption groups – most notably those funded by the billionaire philanthropist, George Soros. Government media mouthpieces have bombarded the public with false messages describing nongovernment groups (NGOs) as paid foreign agents that support irregular immigration and endanger Hungary.

Last week, the government submitted a draft anti-NGO law, requiring groups receiving more than US$25,000 annually to register with authorities, itemize all financial transactions, and state publicly that they are foreign funded under Hungarian law. Those who fail to do so will be fined and may also be de-registered. This draft law is modeled on Russia’s Foreign Agent law, which both the EU and international rights experts have criticized as a tool to silence independent civil society.

Space for dissent and criticism in Hungary is shrinking rapidly, and it’s little wonder when the government rarely, if ever, faces any real consequences from the EU for its anti-democratic policies. The EU’s failure to act has emboldened Orban to pull his country further down the authoritarian slide while inspiring other European member states, like Poland, to follow suit.

It’s time for the EU to hold Hungary to account for hollowing out the very principles and values of the union it’s built on. The European People’s Party should consider expelling Fidesz Party from the coalition, the European Commission should consider whether Hungary is breaking its legal obligations to the Union, and the European Council should consider stripping Hungary of its voting rights. 

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