When the new law was introduced in parliament, it sparked national and international criticism. A few days after parliament passed the legislation, more than 70,000 people marched across the Danube to support CEU. It was one of the largest protests under Orban's seven-year-old rule. University officials in Hungary and around the world decried the perceived assault to academic freedom. “CEU is a very significant scholarly center,” Laszlo Lovasz, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, said in a statement. “It is good that it operates in Budapest.”
Last week, Ignatieff traveled to Washington. He met with officials at the State Department, at the White House and in Congress and asked for their support. His argument: Thousands of U.S. institutions run American programs overseas. “If the prime minister of Hungary” — a NATO ally, Ignatieff is always careful to point out — “gets away with shutting us down, what kind of example will that set? Who else is going to try that stunt.”
“As I have said before, we are willing to sit down with the Hungarian government to find a solution to enable CEU to stay in Budapest and operate as we have done for 25 years,” Ignatieff said in a statement. “However, academic freedom is not negotiable. It is a principle that must form the basis of any future agreement.”
But the appeals and criticism fell on deaf ears. On Monday night, President Janos Ader signed the measure into law. Shortly after, hundreds gathered outside his office in protest.
“We have a wonderful community of diverse people who believe in constructive and democratic approaches to problems — unlike the government,” Gaspar Bekes, a CEU student, said in an email. “This is the reason why we are under attack. The Orbán regime fears critical thinking, because its practitioners question their actions constantly. CEU is one of the last bastions of independent thought.”