Feature: Lex CEU - Orbán’s attack on academic freedom

Feature: Lex CEU - Orbán’s attack on academic freedom in Europe

On April 4th 2017, the Hungarian government passed amendments to the Higher Education Act which in their particular formulation are obviously directed against the renowned Central European University (CEU), based in Budapest.

  • The CEU has educated students from more than 100 countries in humanities and social sciences for 25 years, and has contributed significantly to academic culture and diversity in Hungary and Europe. The largest group of students comes from Hungary.
  • The university was founded by George Soros, against whom Hungary’s prime minister has waged a bitter struggle for several years. As a young politician, Orbán studied in Oxford on a Soros scholarship in 1989-90; today, he accuses Soros of being a “background power”. In response to former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s accusation that Poland and Hungary are striving for a “Putin-like leadership”, Orbán responded by saying: “The mouth belongs to Clinton but the voice is of George Soros.”
  • Moreover, Orbán insinuated that through his support for refugee organisations, Soros was “organising mass migration” with the aim of destabilising Europe. Orbán has repeatedly referred to non-governmental organisations supported by Soros funding programmes as “political activists paid from abroad”, and in early 2017 he announced that Soros-funded organisations would be “swept out of the country”.

The Heinrich Böll Foundation condemns the Hungarian government’s attacks on independent and critical thinking in Hungary and Europe, and urges the German government and EU institutions to speak out in the most forceful terms against the Hungarian government’s assault on CEU: #IstandwithCEU, Save Central European University!

On this site we publish articles on Orbán’s Lex CEU and his attack on academic freedom. You can find more current articles on Hungary in our dossier “Focus on Hungary”.

CEU Rector Michael Ignatieff made the following statement during a CEU press conference on 29 March:

“The legislation attacks the CEU and is an entirely unacceptable assault on our academic freedom – and not just our academic freedom: the academic freedom of Hungarian higher education in general.”

Recent articles on Orbán's Lex CEU

Democracy is out of order: CEU forced to leave Hungary


The Central European University (CEU) announced that it is forced to launch all degree programs in a new location in Vienna in September 2019. The Hungarian Government has made it impossible for the university to ensure its operations in Budapest on the long run.

By Gabi Gőbl

Veronika Móra: “Solidarity is a very strong force”


In Hungary, NGOs are now required to register as “civic organisations funded from abroad” if they receive financial support from a foreign source. The government is trying to delegitimise any organisation that criticises certain government policies, says Veronika Móra.

By Silja Schultheis

Lex CEU: A Kafkaesque Affair


The Hungarian government’s recently adopted legislation seem to specifically target the Central European University, creating a situation of existential instability. Anna Frenyó spoke with Zsolt Enyedi, the university’s Pro-Rector for Hungarian Affairs about the latest developments.

We Will Stay and Fight


On Tuesday, 13 June, Hungary’s National Assembly passed a law that requires NGOs which receive foreign funds above the annual threshold of 24000 EUR to register and label themselves as “foreign-funded organisations” on their websites and in their publications.

By Anna Frenyó

The role of irony in the political activism of Hungarian youth

In April 2017, a series of demonstrations took place in Budapest against an amendment to the Higher Education Act. They were organised by mostly social media-based groups, but they differed in several aspects from the demonstration culture that has been the norm in Hungary in recent decades.

By Andrea Szabó

"It’s about a battle of ideas in which we have to constantly engage our opponents"

In the beginning of April, the Hungarian President János Áder signed into force certain amendments to the Higher Education Act which in their particular formulation are obviously directed against the renowned Central European University (CEU), based in Budapest. We discussed with President Michael Ignatieff the implications of the new legislation on the university and its future prospects.
By Peter Brod

Orbán vs. the World: The Background Context of the Lex CEU

The attack on CEU is one in a series of attempts to eliminate the so-called enemies of illiberal democracy. The government has manufactured a fear-inducing narrative by inventing an imaginary enemy threatening the people of Hungary.

By Gabi Gőbl

Further articles and publications on Hungary

Focus on Hungary


Our dossier on Hungary is as a forum for critical voices since the right-wing government came to power in April 2010. The contributions reflect the socio-political changes as well as long-term developments.