According to organizers, 70.000 protestors Sunday demanded Hungarian president Janos Ader not to sign new university bill. Foto: ATTILA KISBENEDEK

— A big misunderstanding

European universities’ leadership labeled new legislation on international universities «an attack on academic freedom». The Hungarian Ambassador to Norway, disagrees and calls it untrue and politically motivated.

Publisert Oppdatert

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Bergen (Khrono): Tuesday April 4th the Hungarian parliament passed new legislation that is threatening international universities in Hungary, in particular the Central European University (CEU).

— 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, said Kornel Klopfstein, a protest organiser and PhD student at the University of Bielefeld, according to Reuters.

Klopfstein was, according to organizers, one of the 70.000 protesters in the Hungarian capital of Budapest Sunday April 9th, protesting the proposed bill.

The bill was passed in parliament by the ruling rightwing Fidesz party of the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, according to Reuters a critic of liberal civil organizations funded by the financier George Soros, founder of CEU.

President Janos Ader must sign the bill to make it law, or reject the measure and refer it to a constitutional review.

This is all based on a big mis-understanding.

Anna Mária Sikó

I want to make clear that the content of the teaching is not judged by the law at all. Therefor, to say that the academic independence is violated, is a politically motivated message that is untrue.

Anna Mária Sikó

April 6th the European University Association made a statement, calling for the Hungarian president not to sign this new legislation, claiming that this is the first time a European Union country seeks to shut down a university in this manner.

Nothing to do with universities’ teachings

Anna Mária Sikó, the Hungarian ambassador to Norway, was Friday April 7th in Bergen to finally experience the city after two previous official visits with no sightseeing.

— This is all based on a big misunderstanding, ambassador Sikó starts, continuing:

— Understandably, if I was to hear the same thing about Norway, without any background and knowledge of the country, then I would be shocked as well. The fact is that we have many, many universities in Hungary, and the state has nothing to do with their teachings.

She explains that Hungary has an independent accreditation board consisting of academics that accredits all new tertiary education courses, that was setup 27 years ago, and claims that this is similar to most other countries.

— Additionally, higher education institutions are audited every five years, she says, continuing:

— Parliament wanted to make a level playing field. The legislation now says that international universities need to have a campus in their country of origin.

Protesting normal in a democracy

Wednesday, two days after the protests, Sikó calls the protests politically motivated:

— Are the protestors part of this misunderstanding, are they misinformed?

— That is a matter of opinion. The protests are politically motivated to bring down the government. Such is normal in a democracy, and if more people are voting as a consequence of this then the government will be brought down in the elections next year. There were huge demonstrations when Trump was elected as well, she says to Khrono, adding:

— This move has provoked politically motivated protests.

Ambassador Sikó emphasizes that there were no atrocities during the protests - they were peaceful, also confirmed by Reuters.

— I want to make clear that the content of the teaching is not judged by the law at all. Therefor, to say that the academic independence is violated, is a politically motivated message that is untrue. They can teach what they want within the accreditation system. All the law is intended for is leveling competition, Sikó says.

Not only CEU

According to the ambassador there are 28 international universities in Hungary.

— 27 of them think that this new legislation is OK and will amend their institutions to compensate. Some of them will have to cease their activities, she says, exemplifying one French and one British university that were found to not actually be accredited in their respective countries, as they had claimed.

— But the 28th university has been loud, and it wants everything to be the same.

The ambassador explains that when routinely auditing CEU they found that it is two entities, CEU and the Hungarian translation «KEE».

KEE is fully recognized, fully functioning and accredited, and owned by Soros as well. The American one is set up in New York State, is not a college, and has offices in an office building in New York, she says, adding:

— It exists in New York, but not actually. The audit found that 17 of the courses CEU runs in Hungary are not accredited.

Sikó says she cannot deny that this is politically sensitive, and regarding Soras she says that «no one is a saint in their own village».

— He obviously sees the world very differently from the present government. We have had our differences, and we can not say that we are perfect.


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