NEW YORK—The expulsion from Hungary of the country’s most prominent and highly regarded institution of higher education, Central European University (CEU), provides a devastating capstone on a wide-ranging multi-year campaign to stifle free expression in the country, PEN America said in a statement today.

The confirmation on Monday that CEU would be forced to relocate its operations to Vienna came as the final step in a campaign by Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban’s government to force the university out of the country, including via a law specifically targeting foreign-registered universities. The campaign has led to widespread international uproar and tens of thousands of demonstrators on the streets in Budapest. Orban has also engaged in a smear campaign against CEU’s founder, George Soros. 

“During the nine years Prime Minister Orban has been in office, the persistent effort to suppress freedom of expression in almost every way imaginable has been a recurring theme,” said Thomas O. Melia, Washington Director of PEN America. “The continuing takeovers or closures of private news outlets, and the complete control over the public airwaves, suborning them to the interests of the governing party—these recall the days of Hungary’s communist past. This action against a university that is incorporated both in Hungary and the United States shows that the government in Budapest is hostile to academic freedom and freedom of thought—the very ideas CEU was founded to celebrate and support in 1991. This also provides yet another example of how the current US administration’s approach to authoritarian governments—whether Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Hungary—emboldens them to run roughshod over their own people, and American interests, as well. The US government had said it wanted to find a way to keep CEU in Budapest, but now the American Ambassador to Hungary has absolved the Orban government of responsibility for its actions.”

In addition to its campaign against CEU, the Hungarian government effectively banned gender studies in all universities, passed laws in June 2017 and June 2018 criminalizing the work of civil society organizations (especially those groups that provide humanitarian assistance to migrants or advocate on their behalf,) and recently consolidated control over private news outlets in the country.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: agasparian@pen.org