Hungarian Academy of Sciences rejects conference proposals on political grounds

In the increasingly surreal world that is Hungary in 2018, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences has banned two presentations that would have formed part of an annual series of events where scholars present their research to broader, often non-academic audiences. The series, entitled “Give a Night to the Sciences” (in Hungarian: “Adjon egy estét a tudománynak!”) is scheduled for November and will include conferences, presentations and book launches. Researchers looking to participate were required to submit abstracts or proposals for review. Some have just learned that the Academy decided to reject their proposal on political grounds–and made no secret whatsoever of this rationale.

Beáta Mária Barnabás, the Deputy Secretary General of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA), rejected two proposed presentations. The first was entitled “The Role and Success of Men and Women in Computer Science, From the Perspective of Big Data.” The rationale for not permitting this presentation to proceed was due to the “other aspects of the thematic of gender.” The presentation was proposed by Balázs Vedres of CEU and Orsolya Vásárhelyi. The two academics purposefully chose about the most innocuous title possible for their talk and eschewed the word “gender.” The problem was that the content of the presentation looked at the under-representation of women in the computer science field of open source coding and this topic is now anathema for the Academy. The second rejected presentation was entitled “The Legal Side of Social Media.” In this case, according to Ms. Barnabás, the presentation could not proceed due to the “political angles” of the subject matter.

Beáta Mária Barnabás. Photo:
MTA – Tamás Szigeti.

According to two unnamed academic sources speaking with the Qubit news site, after several months of tension between the government and the Academy, in light of the threat of losing public funding and the elimination of accredited gender studies programs in Hungary in August, the current move is an attempt by the Academy to salvage its financing by appeasing the government of Viktor Orbán. In other words, academics are engaging in self-censorship, in order to save their research funding.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of academics in Hungary have been economical in their displays of civic courage over the past eight years. Scholars are mostly civil servants in Hungary, living on modest incomes and ever mindful of not attracting the displeasure of the state that pays their salary. The academics that have felt free to speak out have been those with potentially less to lose: these include retired scholars or ones working in very low-paying, specialized fields. The current climate of labour shortages would make it exceedingly difficult to replace them.

The Orbán regime is very much built on this type of self-censorship by people who have too much to lose. At present, there is little need to employ rougher tactics used by full-blown dictatorships.


  1. “In the increasingly surreal world that is Hungary in 2018”

    I only have one quibble with Christopher Adam’s important exposé of the assault on academic freedom in Hungary. And it is with his opening line. Yes Hungary is surreal, if surreal is to be understood as post-modern, i.e. a state of being best described by the late Jean Baudrillard as one, where the boundary between fact and fiction, reality and illusion is obliterated. Hungary is a post-modern autocracy. (I do not have a serious problem with those, who would prefer to label this regime type as neo-fascist. Why split hairs, when our boat is sinking.)

    Orbán’s post-modern autocracy is a prototype within the EU, and the so called Western alliance. The explanation of the relative popularity of this form of governance with the Hungarian electorate, or with white-supremacists, the Christian alt-right, or with people like Donald Trump, Steve Bannon or the leader of the Ku Klux Klan belongs to another day.

  2. Evidently the MTA is playing politcs. Or the government is playing “science” ? Just why not a total separation like the case of religion in a democracy ? Could Hungarians ever comprehend that ??? But just what does this Hungarian local issue have to do with Bannon, Trump and the KKK ?
    Does not Gollner know that the KKK has been put out of business long ago by libel suits ? I suppose the news does not cross borders !

  3. “Unfortunately, the vast majority of academics in Hungary have been economical in their displays of civic courage”

    Perhaps it is a lesson they learned very well from their Western peers, in regards to not opposing the prevailing ideological dictatorship. Perhaps they do not want to end up like this Swedish Professor who dared to state that males and females are biologically different:

    I guess even biology needs to be subordinated to ideological dogma. Perhaps too much ideological, rather than biological gender studies in this case.

    Or perhaps many Hungarian academics see the flaws emerging in the West and are genuinely not interested in following down the same path?

  4. Similar to flat Earth theory gender studies is pseudoscience.

  5. It seems like the bendy goose took Joey and Tony for a ride away from the subject matter of Dr. Adam’s post. What else is new. Birds of a feather flock together. These ones kwack like a duck, but flock to the goose. Strange birds, these Orbán trolls. Soon they’ll be leaving antlers in the tree tops and ask bendy to tell us who goosed the moose.

  6. Avatar Phil S. Stine says:

    Why would the academy of science not reject presentations of subjects that belong to the humanities and not science. Sociology is not science regardless of how much scientific language it chooses to appropriate.

  7. Avatar Caroline Kisch says:

    In the increasingly surreal world that is Hungary??? I go to Hungary at least once a year, with a stopover in a western European capital or a weekend trip from Budapest to another capital. It is Western Europe that is surreal, putting barbed wire around its October Ernest venues, bollocks around its Christmas markets and, for that matter, any other place that people gather, a see-through barrier around the Eiffel Tower, and that is just for starters. Children in French schools now include terrorist attack drills into the curriculum and parents worry if their teens insist on going to a concert, etc. and etc. and etc. again! Is that not surreal for someone who remembers the Western Europe of 40 years ago?

    I also remember the shabbiness of Budapest and its citizens winter clothing forty years ago. Today I see a vibrant, bustling, increasingly prosperous city with no bollocks or barbed wire or protective glass to protect against future horrific terror attacks. I walk around Budapest in the evening to restaurants or to concerts, surrounded by other people enjoying the evening, all of us confident in our safety and in the safety of the monuments and beautiful buildings that we love.
    I see people looking with cautious optimism to the future. This feels good, and right, and normal, NOT surreal.

  8. Is the presentation (“The Role and Success of Men and Women in Computer Science, From the Perspective of Big Data”) available somewhere? Can it be uploaded to e.g. Arxiv? I would love to read it.

  9. Phil Shine – the Social Sciences are under the protective umbrella of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and have been in that position since the creation of the Academy.

    Caroline Kisch – you should be grateful for your rose tinted glasses and your ability to put a wall around yourself and the lifestyle of ordinary Hungarians. I suppose, the reason why Hungary is experiencing the biggest exodus of its population since the start of the 20th century is that Hungarians have never had it as good as under Viktor Orbán. I suppose for you, the most striking thing about Fascism is that it makes the trains run on time. Thank your lucky star that Bernard Shaw never laid a hand on you.


      Sad part is that I just posted this same link probably about a month ago, proving that your “exodus” claim is mostly BS, and yet here you go again. Do facts matter at all to you?

      • Avatar Reality Check says:

        Joe is too funny. He posts a link that shows that Hungary has been consistently losing its population and it got worse under Fidesz.

        During the MSZP years for which there is data in the table, the average rate is -1.5 and during the Fidesz years, it’s -2.6.

        Joe might argue that the worse stats for Fidesz are because it includes years during the recovery from MSZP rule. But if we look at the last four years of Fidesz the rate of loss is still high, at an average of -2.5.

        In addition, if you look at the countries in the list, 11 are losing population last year and 23 are gaining.

        This link doesn’t support Joe’s argument.

        • Did you say you are an academic? We were talking exodus, not population growth. That means you have to go to the appropriate data on the site.

    • Forgive me if I trust Eurostat in this regard to a greater extent than I do sites which I have found to have pandered distorted views in the past. I am familiar with portfolio, and on many occasions I found that they were either pandering a partisan view, or simply pushing for the sensational, beyond what I would consider acceptable limits. I generally tend to only gather credible hard stats reported on there, ignoring most of the rest. Opinion polls, unfounded opinions, observations, interpretations, I can do without.

  10. Avatar StrandedinSopron says:

    ” I walk around Budapest in the evening to restaurants or to concerts, surrounded by other people enjoying the evening, all of us confident in our safety and in the safety of the monuments and beautiful buildings that we love.”.

    I agree Caroline the 5th District, Andrassy and the “Party Quarter” look great. Heard many Hungarian accents when you were dining in Nobu? Largely populated by tourists and Orban’s Nouveau Riche funtionaries.

    Now hop on the blue metro the next time you are over (and if it is functioning) and tell us about the “careful optimism” you find in places like Kobanya and Ujpest. Better still try a safari in Miskolc or Borsodi county and then get back to us.

  11. Avatar StrandedinSopron says:

    If you work for the Orbanist State, then when The Leader says “Jump” your question is not “why?” but “how high?”

    You can be a “lowly” teacher or doctor right up to one of the “elite” academics in the Academy. I know that the vast majority keep their mouth shut because if they don’t, then their family ultimately suffers.

    But if you work for Orban in whatever capacity then you shouldn’t be surprised when he does what comes naturally. Keep your head down and get on with surviving.

  12. @ Joe

    Your sleight of hand won’t fool anyone with a brain bigger than a wallnut. Every one of the articles I quoted above is a report, in plain Hungarian, on an empirically verifiable study published recently by non-partisan scientists at the OECD, the European Union, and the Hungarian Statistical Office. Why don’t you try to spin tales to your sweet Fanny Annie.

  13. Avatar Sandor Kerekes says:

    In the fundamental disagreement between the Academy and the Government over money and freedom, we are witnessing the Academy’s clumsy attempt at appeasement. And anybody, who has ever encounteredt this phenomenon and know what the word means, will be clearly aware what chances of the appeaser has: nil. The appeaser tries to soften the blow by submission and dishonest bargains. In turn the appeased will take all the deals, takes advantage the submissive position of the other party and at the end ultimately renegs on the deals and destroys the appeaser.
    As Churchill described this kind of spineless groveling, pointing at Chamberlain, the appeaser: ”You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour, and you will have war.”
    The same will happen to the Academy and soon.

  14. First article cites opinion polls in regards to how many people would be ready to leave Hungary, either temporarily or permanently. 15% of total population said as much. I doubt that it is a much higher number compared with most other EU countries. And in no way serves as an indication in regards to Hungary’s net migration situation.

    Second one is again an opinion poll. No actual reference to net migration.

    Third article cites OECD stats on how many people lived abroad at some point, but it does not mention how many people have since returned. Again, no actual measure of people permanently living abroad, or people moving every year.

    Last one mentions that 600 k Hungarians live abroad. Does not mention when they moved. It also mentions that just as many would be willing to move as well.

    The Eurostat data on the other hand tells us about net migration for each country every year, which as I pointed out does not show a spike in people leaving Hungary.

    Now you evidently seem to think that those polls, as well as some general data that is not specific in terms of yearly trends carry more weight than the detailed data in regards to net migration that Eurostat offers, even though, as I pointed out none of them are actual proof of a recent spike of people leaving Hungary, like you want to claim. I guess this is what separates modern day academics from the rest of us “dum-dums”.

  15. @ Joe

    Joey. You are better at storytelling than data analysis. I’m afraid, I have to give you a failing grade on the latter. Are you by any chance related to Roger Stone ? He also finds that facts are boring. Why not try your hand at squeezing water out of a stone ? Or if that is too difficult for you, try spaghetti bending. Your friend Morrison may even sing a couple of arias for you while you work at your craft. As for me ? I just think you’re a wet noodle, Caruso
    . .

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