BUDAPEST Hungary’s president on Monday signed new legislation on foreign universities that could force out a top international school founded by U.S. financier George Soros, despite large protests against the move by the nationalist government.
Tens of thousands of Hungarians rallied on Sunday in one of the biggest demonstrations against Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s seven-year-old rule, denouncing a law that critics and opposition parties say targets the Central European University (CEU) set up by Soros, a global campaigner for liberal “open society”.
More than 500 leading international academics, including 17 Nobel Laureates, have also come out in support of CEU, founded in Budapest in 1991 after the collapse of communism, saying it was one of the pre-eminent centers of thought in Hungary.
President Janos Ader, a long-time political ally of Orban, said he believed the legislation did not infringe academic freedom or international laws, and urged the government to hold talks with universities.
“It is the interest of all of us that the value created at foreign universities in Hungary in the past years should continue and accumulate further and academic work should continue undisturbed,” Ader told state news agency MTI.
Another protest rally is scheduled for Wednesday.
Orban, who faces elections in 2018, is not expected to backtrack on the legislation as it constitutes a major plank of his political strategy defending national interests, against what his government calls foreign meddling in Hungarian affairs.
Orban, whose Fidesz party has a firm lead in opinion polls, has often vilified Soros, whose ideals are squarely at odds with the Hungarian premier’s view that European culture is under an existential threat from migration and multiculturalism.
Orban told parliament on Monday that there was a…