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Strange Bedfellows Teaming up to Support Embattled Soros-linked University

Central European University may be saved from Hungary’s illiberal government by —the country’s far-right party?

By , a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews.
jobbik center left
jobbik center left

An rare alliance of Hungary’s far right and left are coming to the rescue of Budapest’s embattled Central European University, an unexpected development that could offer the institution’s best hope of survival.

Hungary’s center-left parties, including the mainstream socialist party, all independents, and, unexpectedly, the far-right Jobbik party are pushing for a court review of the constitutionality of a law that would effectively shut the university and which is broadly seen as an attack on George Soros, who founded the university in 1991.

A quarter of Hungary’s members of parliament need to make a request to force judicial review of the law, which was adopted by Hungary on Monday. The alliance between the various left parties and Jobbik is seen as enough to meet that threshold easily.  But it’s noteworthy that the Jobbik MPs are supporting the court review not because of their fondness for CEU but because they see it as a stick in the eye to Hungarian President Viktor Orban, whose “Bolshevik agenda” they oppose.

An rare alliance of Hungary’s far right and left are coming to the rescue of Budapest’s embattled Central European University, an unexpected development that could offer the institution’s best hope of survival.

Hungary’s center-left parties, including the mainstream socialist party, all independents, and, unexpectedly, the far-right Jobbik party are pushing for a court review of the constitutionality of a law that would effectively shut the university and which is broadly seen as an attack on George Soros, who founded the university in 1991.

A quarter of Hungary’s members of parliament need to make a request to force judicial review of the law, which was adopted by Hungary on Monday. The alliance between the various left parties and Jobbik is seen as enough to meet that threshold easily.  But it’s noteworthy that the Jobbik MPs are supporting the court review not because of their fondness for CEU but because they see it as a stick in the eye to Hungarian President Viktor Orban, whose “Bolshevik agenda” they oppose.

This is certainly not the only form of opposition the law has seen, as the attack on the young university has sparked indignation in Washington and in European capitals.

U.S. lawmakers weighed in on Tuesday, saying efforts to close CEU “would harm Hungarian higher education and impact bilateral relations between our two countries.” Also on Tuesday, acting State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said at a press briefing, “We’re urging the Government of Hungary to suspend implementation of the law.”

The European People’s Party (EPP), the pan-European coalition party to which Orban’s Fidesz party belongs, is thinking of cutting ties with Fidesz (though, to the consternation of some non-Fidesz members of Hungarian parliament, they have not done so yet). Meanwhile, the European Commission is assessing the Hungarian law’s compatibility with European law. On Friday, over 400 authors and artists have signed a letter in support of CEU.

But the left-right coalition driving the court review is the least expected reaction to the law — but perhaps the one that promises to be most effective. CEU rector Michael Ignatieff has previously noted that Hungarian basic law has a clause protecting academic freedom. And Hungary’s former president, László Sólyom, has called the law “clearly unconstitutional.”

And with far-right Jobbik helping the center-left to take the law to court, Hungarians — and observers around the world — can see if the country’s constitutional court thinks so, too.

Photo credit: ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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