After many months of uncertainty, during which the research institutes of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences were not even sure whether they would have the money to keep the lights on, the conflict with the government has finally been settled.
This settlement was similar to most other settlements in Viktor Orban’s land: all 15 institutes were placed under direct governmental control and none of the requests and demands of the affected were respected. The new governing board will have members nominated by the Academy, but the government will have a majority in the body and all members will be appointed by the prime minister.
Taking Control of Science Institutes
The latest move in the ever more extreme centralization of the Hungarian state was supported by a curious mix of pragmatic and ideological arguments.
The pragmatic aspect is championed by Laszlo Palkovics, Minister of Innovation and Technology, who wants more Hungarian patents and is convinced that a self-governing academic community will waste resources on projects that are of no use to the Hungarian industry.
Another grim milestone in Viktor Orban's war on academic freedom: His party has crushed the Hungarian Academy of Science, which funds independent research. Where's the American/EU condemnation? https://t.co/UelC8op1Oz
— Franklin Foer (@FranklinFoer) July 2, 2019
The ideological arguments come from the pro-Fidesz media that accuses scholars of serving a liberal agenda and spending the taxpayers’ money on studies that embarrass the government.
The superiority of the ideological justification is supported by the fact that, in parallel to the weakening of the “traditional” fora of research and teaching, the government pours an increasingly large amount of money into newly established institutions that are dedicated to the establishment of a radical right reading of history, culture, and society.
The attacks against academic freedom have already triggered the departure to the West of several young scholars.
In the meantime, the government seems to care less and less about providing an acceptable account for its actions. Palkovics in a recent interview alleged that the reforms follow a German blueprint, in spite of the written statement by relevant German authorities to the contrary.
In the same interview, the minister stated that Central European University “is a non-existent university in Hungary.” He then continued claiming that the university has no reason to complain and to “unleash political scandals.”
Finally, he compared gender studies to submarine-research, implying that since Hungary has no submarines, there is no reason to subsidize either of them. Putting the absurdity of the parallel aside, the minister seemed to have conveniently forgotten that the government has not only withdrawn public support from Gender Studies but also banned the MA in Gender Studies at those private universities who spend their own resources on the delivery of the degree.
European Union and Values
Last week European politics was, understandably, busy finding the new leaders of the European Union. The complicated maneuvers brought together politicians, like Emmanuel Macron and Orban, who are otherwise symbols of different approaches to fundamental values.
The new line-up is much less favorable to the Hungarian government than Orban hoped when he started his campaign against NGOs, the Central European University, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and, in general, against the remaining autonomous actors in the society. And yet, none of the campaigns were stopped, not a single concession was made.
The strong men of the periphery of the E.U., together with Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and a host of leaders on the Balkans, are convinced that the talk of Brussels on constitutionalism, academic freedom, media pluralism, and clean governance, is nothing but hot air.
So far, they have not been proven to be wrong.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.