Dániel Gazsó and an unethical government study on the Hungarian diaspora

Dániel Gazsó is a researcher and employee of the Budapest-based Research Institute of National Policy (in Hungarian, the Nemzetpolitikai Kutatóintézet – NPKI). In November 2015, Mr. Gazsó–a cultural anthropology graduate of the Universidad de Granada–contacted hundreds of Hungarians living in diaspora communities, who happened to volunteer for local Hungarian-language radios, television broadcasts, newspapers and news sites. Mr. Gazsó asked those engaged in the world of Hungarian diaspora media to complete an exhaustive survey, in order to develop a comprehensive and constantly updated database for the Orbán government’s ancillary research institute, the NPKI. The survey’s questions focused on three broad areas, namely: the particular characteristics of the radio, television program, paper or news site in question, the editor’s contacts with representatives of other diaspora media organs and communities abroad, and the respondent’s connections and interactions with media or individuals in Hungary.

I received the survey as well, in late November, and I hesitated about whether I should agree to participate. I was not comfortable with the intrusive nature of the questions around whom and with what media organs I interact, or my personal network of acquaintances. On the other hand, I did see this as an opportunity for Mr. Gazsó and his colleagues at the NPKI to gain a better understanding of the diversity of diaspora media. As such, I answered questions, at length, that focused on my impression of the Orbán government’s various political diaspora programs, notably the overtly pro-Fidesz, government-run Nemzeti Regiszter news site, which offers updates and news on diaspora communities, but will never publish anything critical of the regime in Budapest or any event in the diaspora that does not fit into a neat rubric and template of what it means to be Hungarian in Canada, the United States, Australia, Latin America or Western Europe. I also expressed my concerns about programs like the Kőrösi Csoma Scholarship fund, where each year over a dozen young Hungarians are delegated to Canada, and abroad in general, to serve for six month to one year in local Hungarian diaspora communities. In the Canadian case, these young scholarship recipients are all divided between two openly right-wing, political and pro-Fidesz Hungarian-Canadian umbrella organizations, which then have the responsibility of sending them off to various communities. I decided to share my responses to these questions in Hungarian, shortly after I sent them in to Mr. Gazsó.

Hungarian researcher Dániel Gazsó. Photo: Facebook.

Hungarian researcher Dániel Gazsó. Photo: Facebook.

I never received any kind of response from Mr. Gazsó, nor from the NPKI–no confirmation that my detailed responses and completed survey were received. In fact, when I tried to confirm reception, my email bounced back from Mr. Gazsó’s government account, with the following message: “Due to a lack of permission or a security problem, this message was not delivered. Perhaps it was rejected by a moderator, or the recipient’s address only accepts incoming mail from specified senders.”

I did not try to re-send it, I never received any confirmation, and I began to wonder where I had just sent in my personal, confidential information and why Mr. Gazsó, the government researcher tasked with collecting our data and who was able to contact us by email, was completely unreachable and would not accept any responses. In essence, Mr. Gazsó was somehow able to contact me on my private email address, but once we sent in the requested data, the information went into a virtual black hole, and there was no way to reach him.

As the weeks passed, the survey faded from my memory–until this past Friday, when László Bartus, editor-in-chief of New York-based Amerikai Népszava newspaper and news site shared an exchange with dozens of Hungarian diaspora community groups and media organizations about his experience with Mr. Gazsó.

Mr. Bartus, whose paper is certainly very vocal when it comes to the Orbán regime, responded to Mr. Gazsó after several weeks had passed and decided, out of principle, not to complete the survey that had been devised by a Hungarian government institution . He explained his  rationale very politely to Mr. Gazsó and wanted to ensure that the young researcher did not feel that his rejection was, in any way, personal.

This is what Mr. Bartus wrote to Mr. Gazsó:

“Please forgive me for only responding to you now–I have been travelling…I must reject this opportunity for cooperation, not because of the institution in question, but as a result of the unlawful nature of the Orbán regime. We consider this regime and the current government to be unconstitutional and unlawful. We do not consider it legitimate. As such, we are boycotting all branches of the government and refuse all cooperation. This is not personally about you or your colleagues, but is rather about the regime, which you serve…Thank you for your interest and for your understanding.”

Mr. Gazsó never responded directly to this letter, but instead shared it with colleagues of his, and wrote a disparaging note about Mr. Bartus to someone in his department called “Zoli.” Unfortunately for Mr. Gazsó, he made the mistake of accidentally sending this email not to Zoli, but to Mr. Bartus himself.

“Hi Zoli, so Bartus responded to me after all. Compared to what he usually writes, this time he was fairly restrained and he only addressed his letter to me. I am forwarding his letter to you, but please keep it confidential. I received lots of useful information from András, that I can use to explore this phenomenon. I am presently thinking about it. I should write about this in my study on the diaspora media, but of course not on this specific story, rather the phenomenon. Let’s talk about it. Best, Dani.”

I don’t know what kind of phenomenon Mr. Gazsó plans to write about, nor do I know who “András” might be, and what sort of “useful information” he was  able to supply about this “situation” and the Hungarian diaspora media. What I do know, is that Mr. Gazsó’s previous research has included essays on the Treaty of Trianon (where Hungary lost 72% of its land, following World War I), and he has taken trips to Chile, in order to gather information on local Hungarian communities.

After Mr. Bartus went public with his exchange, a handful of Hungarian publications picked up the story, including the CivilHetes news site and Gépnarancs. Mr. Bartus’s original piece in Amerikai Népszava is available here.

When government researchers request affected communities and individuals to submit copious amounts of private data, there is an expectation that it will be handled professionally and that it would be possible to follow-up with the researcher collecting this information. When large amounts of confidential data ends up in a black hole, when letters to the researcher bounce back for “security reasons,” because the recipient who contacted you in the first place only accepts mail from pre-approved individuals, and when the researcher sends snarky and disparaging emails about potential subjects in his study to fellow researchers, which then end up in the hands of the subject in question, there is a significant problem with the ethical parameters of the research project.

I strongly urge all Hungarian organizations and individuals in the diaspora to refuse any further cooperation the with Research Institute of National Policy, until Mr. Gazsó provides some explanations.

One Comment

  1. Avatar Charlie London says:

    Unfortunately the education system produces these pre-programmed Fidesz goons.

    They are all set to curry favour with the commocratic elite and do Orban’s bidding.

    The students already know where their bread is buttered – the hierarchy of KISS is made of maturely matured mature ‘students’ (minimum age 35) who get paid more than the professors to ‘keep an eye’ on the pre-natal goons in the making.

    It was the fanatical Jesuits that said “get ’em young and the possibilities are endless”.

    Brainwash in the classroom and you will have a faithful following.

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