Soros-Founded School, ‘Forced Out’ of Budapest, Moves to Vienna

(Bloomberg) -- Central European University, founded by Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros, confirmed that it’s relocating its American-accredited degree programs to Vienna after getting insufficient support from Europe and the U.S. in a legal dispute with Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government.

“CEU has been forced out,” school President Michael Ignatieff said Monday. “This is unprecedented. A U.S. institution has been driven out of a country that is a NATO ally. A European institution has been ousted from a member state of the EU."

The university’s ouster marks a milestone in Orban’s construction of an illiberal state, which he’s solidified with campaigns vilifying Soros, a philanthropist for liberal and multicultural causes. It also highlights the ambivalent role of Donald Trump’s administration, with which Orban has many affinities, especially on immigration. The government dismissed CEU’s announcement as irrelevant.

"This is nothing more than a Soros-style political bluff, which does not merit the attention of the government," Zoltan Kovacs, a state secretary in charge of international communication, said in a tweet.

Insufficient Pressure

Hungary’s European and American allies haven’t exerted enough pressure on Orban to persuade him to let CEU stay, Ignatieff told reporters.

"At the end of the day they have not made this point sufficiently strongly to their Hungarian partners," he said.

The U.S. State Department said it was disappointed by the failure to find an agreement with Hungary despite having worked "diligently" with both parties.

"The departure of these U.S.-accredited programs from Hungary will be a loss for the CEU community, for the United States, and for Hungary," the State Department said.

While CEU retains accreditation as a Hungarian university and will seek to continue teaching and research in Budapest as long as possible, it considers the move to Vienna permanent because Austria can guarantee the rule of law, Ignatieff told reporters. CEU also can’t be sure it can indefinitely maintain its facilities in Budapest due to the ongoing legal uncertainty created by the government, it said.

"This game has to stop," Ignatieff said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.