Tens of thousands flooded the streets of Budapest on April 9 to support the scrapping of legislation that could force Central European University out of Hungary. Protesters called for President Janos Ader to veto the bill and refer it to the Constitutional Court.
Some estimates put the number of protesters at 80,000, which would make it the largest ever demonstration against the regime of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Since returning to power in 2010 Orban has proclaimed Hungary an “illiberal” state and dismantled many of the country’s democratic checks and balances.
Moves include filling the Constitutional Court with government-friendly judges and using proxies to buy up many of the country’s media outlets. However for many, the bill unveiled on March 29 that targets CEU, represents a chilling step from the illiberal to the authoritarian. It has brought outcry from academics and condemnation from politicians home and abroad, and even from within his own Fidesz party.
Protesters waved EU banners with “Help” written inbetween the flag’s stars, and held up signs with such slogans as “We will not be silenced”, “We need to do our homework” and “CEU, EU, U”. The latter was held by Professor Gergely Csibra, who teaches at CEU. He told bne IntelliNews “I just don't understand why they are doing this - the loss of CEU would be so huge for the country. We are a university, we teach in English, so we are hardly heard by the whole population, we don’t have any effect on political life."
Several other regional countries have publicly offered to host CEU if it is forced to relocate. “Anyone would be happy to have such a university," said Csibra. "We are carrying on as normal, except that we have to think about these things."
The protesters gathered at the Varkert Bazar, the protracted renovation of which has made it a symbol of corruption in Hungary. They then crossed over the Chain Bridge, past the main CEU building and arrived outside parliament, where there was a heavy police presence. There the mood became more tense.
Some of the crowd attempted to march to Fidesz's headquarters to continue the demonstration when the event ended, but were blocked from doing so by police.
President Ader is due to sign off on the legislation that will effectively outlaw the university on April 10. Lawyers at the presidential office have found no fault with the bill, Magyar Nemzet reports, citing party sources. Staff in several faculties at Hungary’s largest university ELTE will strike in support of CEU on April 10, the conservative, anti-Orban daily added.
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