Hungarian Academy of Sciences funding cut — Ordered to get in line with Fidesz

Now that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has successfully made a mockery of Central European University, convincing its rector, Michael Ignatieff, to spend twenty months jumping through hoops for the government in the naive hope of good faith negotiations, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) is next in line for some penance. In an emergency assembly of the Academy on Thursday, President László Lovász announced that the government was cutting the organization’s first quarter funding and that he did not know how they would continue operating given the circumstances. Innovation Minister László Palkovics was, of course, invited to attend the meeting, but decided to snub the invitation and to let the MTA scholars know where they stand by sending a letter instead. Earlier on, the government minister had already explained why he was unhappy with the MTA. He had noted that MTA was involving itself in “unworthy” matters (ie: political discourse) and that members ought not be “burdened” by such things. President Lovász shared with the members Mr. Palkovics’s belief that further funding is unwarranted, as MTA’s research network does no real work.

MTA’s network of research units may now prove unsustainable, following first quarter funding cuts. At the meeting, it was decided that MTA would attempt to initiate new negotiations with the Orbán government, communicating the expectation that funding to research units continue. In a compromise, however, MTA agreed to establish a 14-member committee to audit the work of these research units. It is quite clear that research deemed to have a “political” angle that is not in line with that of the current government will have to be halted–mostly likely by the MTA engaging in self-censorship. This is, after all, the beating heart of the regime: there is no need to throw people into prison for their views or take similarly heavy-handed action. It is preferable to have the players and stakeholders censor themselves, for fear of financial, professional or personal penalties otherwise.

Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest

Mr. Lovász indicated that he would like to negotiate a compromise with the government, which is accusing the MTA of engaging in politics and of being ineffective in its research–much of which, the government argues, is not relevant. Knowing full well what side their bread is buttered on, MTA tried to curry favour with the Orbán government by prohibiting two academic talks pertaining to gender studies and the role of women in computer science. In other words, the Academy believed that this very public form of self-censorship would appease the regime. It failed.

Now, perhaps lacking any other option, they are returning to negotiations which, in every instance thus far, have also failed. Mr. Lovász is hoping to convince the government not to cut funding next year. The only way it can possibly do this is to “put up and shut up,” and hope for the best possible outcome. And the MTA is already doing precisely this. The Hungarian Academy of Sciences has thus far had absolutely nothing to say about CEU’s announcement this week that it would be relocating to Vienna. The silence is clearly strategic.

If Mr. Lovász would like an example of how he ought to behave in his dealings with the government, he should turn to Echo TV. News anchor and television show host Vilmos Velkovics was introducing his next guest in the studio, Balázs Hidvéghi of Fidesz, to his viewers. In a Freudian slip of the tongue, Mr. Velkovics said: “Balázs Hidvéghi, the Director of Communications at Fidesz, is my leader.”

The journalist provided a perfectly honest and accurate assessment of the situation.

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