Budapest Protesters Defend Central European University

BY HANK REICHMAN

Last week I posted an item on threats to academic freedom at Central European University (CEU) in Hungary and European University at St. Petersburg (EUSP).  Yesterday, tens of thousands of demonstrators swarmed Budapest in defense of the CEU.

Protesters Flood Across Danube Bridge REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

The protest drew some of the largest crowds against right-wing prime minister Victor Orban’s seven-year rule, with organizers estimating attendance around 70,000. The crowd marched across a bridge over the Danube and filled the square outside Parliament, which was defended by several lines of police, some in riot gear.  Thousands, mostly students, stayed on after the main protest for an unannounced march on the building of the Education Secretariat, then on to the headquarters of Fidesz, the ruling party.  A smaller group later blocked Oktogon square, a busy intersection in central Budapest.

REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

Hungarian President Janos Ader must sign the bill today to make it law. The protesters said they wanted to convince Ader to reject the bill and refer it to a constitutional review. [UPDATE: Ader signed the bill on Monday.]

“What do we want Ader to do? VETO,” the crowd chanted. “Free country, free university!”

“The government wants to silence pretty much everyone who doesn’t think the same as them, who thinks freely, who can be liberal, can be leftist,” protest organizer Kornel Klopfstein, a PhD student at the University of Bielefeld in Germany, told Reuters.  “According to the government one of the centers of these people is at CEU… We should stand up for academic freedom and for CEU.”

David Kostelancik, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Budapest, expressed objection to the proposal last month.  CEU officials say they are ready to fight back with “all legal remedies.”

Here is some video of the demonstration:

 


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