Hungarians took to the streets to protest for academic freedom and against government legislation that a university funded by George Soros said is aimed at shutting it down.
Thousands of Hungarians participated in the march on Sunday, Index news website reported. The demonstration was going to wind its way through Budapest, passing by the capital's main universities, including local ones as well as Central European University, which was established and is funded by Soros, a billionaire financier and native of Hungary.
The demonstration was part of burgeoning opposition against a bill proposed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government last week, which would tighten regulations on foreign universities. CEU has said the bill was "targeted, discriminatory and punitive" and aimed at driving it out of the country, a charge the government has denied. Orban, a frequent critic of Soros and his focus on funding organizations promoting human rights and government transparency, has pledged to eradicate liberal democracy in the European Union member state.
The U.S. urges Hungary to "avoid taking any legislative action that would compromise CEU's operations or independence," State Department acting spokesperson Mark Toner said in a March 31 statement. CEU, in an email Sunday, said 17 Nobel laureates were among thousands that have signed petitions pledging their support for the institution, which Soros established in 1991 to train a new generation of leaders committed to democracy following the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Hungary's parliament, where Orban's lawmakers have a commanding majority, is scheduled to start debating the education bill on Wednesday, according to an agenda posted on the legislature's website.