CEU delegation advocates in Washington as US concern grows

May 29, 2017

CEU delegation members Daniel Berg, Alexandra Medzibrodszky and Éva Fodor with House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (second from right)

A delegation representing the Central European University (CEU) of Budapest met with several US lawmakers and senior government officials in Washington last week in an effort to raise awareness of the university’s plight.

Daniel T. Berg, a CEU student who has become known as an activist after speaking at several recent rallies, traveled to the US with a fellow student, history PhD candidate Alexandra Medzibrodszky. They were joined by Éva Fodor, Pro-Rector for Social Sciences and Humanities at CEU. Human Rights First, an advocacy group, facilitated the delegation’s visit.

“Lawmakers were very receptive to our message and expressed their concerns about the situation,” Medzibrodszky told the Budapest Beacon.

The delegation met with Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi and co-chair of the Congressional Hungarian Caucus Marcy Kaptur, among others.

“There were no differences along party lines – everyone we met recognized that this is an attack on academic freedom which is a bipartisan issue,” said Medzibrodszky.

The delegation’s advocacy efforts in Washington coincided with growing interest among US decision-makers in the fate of the university.

On May 26, four members of the US House of Representatives introduced a bipartisan resolution urging Hungary to “reverse laws and policies that curtail individual rights and basic freedoms.”

“It is increasingly disheartening and concerning that Hungary is progressing to a rigid, authoritarian society—one that restricts individual rights and freedoms cherished by all democratic nations,” Republican Congressman Joe Wilson said in a statement. “I am grateful to join my colleagues Congressman Seth Moulton, Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, and Congressman Gregory Meeks in condemning the government of Hungary’s progression to a less free society and standing up for democracy in Eastern Europe and around the world.”

But concern about the situation in Hungary is not merely relegated to the legislative branch.

“The United States again urges the Government of Hungary to suspend implementation of its amended higher education law, which places discriminatory, onerous requirements on U.S.-accredited institutions in Hungary and threatens academic freedom and independence,” Heather Nauert, spokesperson for the US State Department, said on May 23.

For the CEU delegation, a priority was convincing US policy-makers that action on the CEU issue must be taken now.

“We conveyed the severity and the urgency of the matter,” said Medzibrodszky. “As the new law directly threatens the existence of CEU, it is very hard to focus on our academic work, and we cannot function properly as a university,” she added.

Some Washington observers believe that the Hungarian government’s moves against CEU pose a risk to democratic standards around the globe.

If Hungary’s education amendments are implemented, “it would be seen as a direct attack—by a NATO ally, no less—on an American institution and universal values,” said Rob Berschinski, Human Rights First’s Senior Vice President for Policy, in a statement. “The issue goes well beyond Hungary. The United States maintains roughly 30 American universities in foreign countries around the world. If successful, [Prime Minister Viktor] Orbán’s gambit could serve as a model for other repressive governments.”