Hungary Insight

Viktor Orbán’s latest target: the Hungarian Academy of Science

The struggle for democratic and academic freedom in Hungary continues, with Orban’s latest attempt to consolidate power: after taking control of several Hungarian institutions, the media, large parts of the economy and education with his attempt to shut down the Central European University, Orban is now targeting scientific research and the Hungarian Academy of Science.

For centuries, academia has been a predominantly neutral place, where people of various ideologies, cultures and classes met to discuss, study, research and analyse without any sort of oversee from the government or other actors that might influence its neutrality. This principle is being compromised again in Hungary, with the Hungarian Science Academy (Magyar Tudomayos Egyetem, or MTA) coming under threat by the government.

“My actions are driven solely by the desire to make the Academy and the entire Hungarian research ecosystem more efficient,” Palkovics Laszlo, the head of the controversial reform, told

At first, the government only planned to take part of the research arm’s budget, but as the months went by, the government upped the stakes and sought to take control of the whole research network of the academy. The proposals made by the government angered both students and researchers, who saw it as ‘government blackmail’, leading to several more protests against Orban’s move to overhaul the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and in defence of academic freedom in Hungary. As part of the blackmail to stop the protests, the Ministry of Science withheld funding from several research institutions, employing nearly 5,000 people.

The Hungarian Academy of Sciences was established in 1825 to cultivate research, foster scientific research and development and improve the standards of education in Hungary.

It’s extremely worrying to see science profit-driven, as its purpose has never been to provide monetary gains for the governments or universities. “This is a pretty dangerous tendency when we talk about the need for science to turn a profit immediately and manage scientific life solely according to economic interests,” said 19-year-old student Milan Szabo. As soon as the European Parliamentary elections were over, it came out that the government wanted to forcefully take away the Academy of Science’s research network and institutions, together with the budget of the academy for the government to freely use it and reap the economic benefits of research. This further aggravated the long ongoing crisis in Hungary and accelerated its slide toward an increasingly corrupt, authoritarian regime – considering that, with the judiciary and media largely under Orban’s control, it’s unlikely this move could seriously be challenged.

The president of the MTA, renowned mathematician Lovasz Laszlo, says that the coming days will be important, commenting: “We should not lose the main goals, so that the research network’s researches here at home, without any political pressure, according to international norms of the freedom of choosing their own research topics, with the possibility of planning their funding in advance, so that they could continue with their research without any meddling”.

The president of the Hungarian Academy of Science, Lovasz Laszlo wants to preserve academic freedom in Hungary according to the tenets of MTA and its founder and protect it from government meddling.

It’s safe to say that the question of academic freedom has always been very important and linked to contemporary political developments. Especially in central Europe, where famous activists such as Jan Opletal during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, died in a protest against the closure of Czech schools and universities. Similarly, Jan Palach, who in 1969 ignited himself in Prague as a protest against the occupation of the Warsaw Pact troops and sovietisation of Czechoslovakia’s academics and society.

What will it take to stop the government’s actions in Hungary? Will protests be enough ? Academic freedom is something that should not be tampered with and is supposed to remain a neutral ground. With his latest move, Orban is trying to wash away the last pillars of democracy and places of freedom in Hungary, accelerating its path toward full-grown authoritarianism.

Hopefully, the protests will draw the attention of the EU, which can apply pressure on Budapest. Although some see Orban’s move to suspend plans for further judiciary reform as a proof of the EU’s leverage, others argue it only amounted to a temporary tactical retreat from the Hungarian government to appease Orban’s EPP allies.

Hopefully, Hungary can get back on the right track, and not negate all the democratic progress made since the fall of communism. Are supporters of Orban and his policies wishing to go back a pre-1989 era? Probably not, but in times such as these, when nationalism comes back in full force, one never knows.

Written by Mark Szabo

An international relations and European politics student at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, Márk grew up in a bi-cultural Slovak-Hungarian family, stoking his interest in Central European politics and cross-national relations. A former intern at the Bratislava-based Globsec Institute, Márk aims for a career in diplomacy. He joined the team of Kafkadesk contributors in April 2019. To check out his latest articles, it’s right here!