In the end, it didn’t even matter. After months of protests and critique of the government’s proposal to strip the Hungarian Academy of Science of its research network and funding, everything came to the most dreaded conclusion: the president, who holds a power of veto, signed the bill proposed by the parliament.
Hungarian government takes control of Academy of Science’s research network
131 MPs voted for the bill, with just 53 voting against and three abstaining. The successful approval of the reform is a complete victory for Orban and his government.
According to the new legislation, the Eotvos Lorand Research Network, which is a grouping of 15 research institutions and centers, will be taken over and controlled by a committee made up by twelve people, half of whom will be appointed by the government and the other half by the Academy. The head of this committee will also be nominated by the Academy and the Minister of Innovation and Technology, later on to be approved by the Prime Minister. This sets a dangerous precedent and puts the government more than ever in control of Hungarian academia, skirting the line of academic freedom, one of the most important pillars of democracy.
Furthermore, the funding of the academy’s research will now be subject to approval from the Ministry of Innovation of Technology, which means that all potential research funding has to meet some sort of criteria set by the government itself.
All around Europe, and even in the neighbouring countries, national research academies have strongly criticized the new bill. The Slovak Academy of Sciences, for instance, said this legislation damaged and undermined the freedom of academic research and science, even insinuating that a move like this may threaten post-communist countries to remain underdeveloped just like before 1989.
A battle is lost, but the fight is far from over
As Orban’s grip on Hungary tightens and the country slips even more into a state of illiberal democracy, people need to continue to defy any attempt to subvert what they achieved since the fall of communism. Common sense would have us believe that, more than anyone else, post-communist states should be able to understand and defend the value of democracy, freedom and liberalism, and be aware of the tremendous improvement of the quality of life since 1989. This new development suggests, on the contrary, a kind of apathy in that regard.
Central European countries such as Hungary or Poland, should remember what it was like to live under an oppressive regime and be mindful not to repeat the mistakes of the past. No one should. Recent developments seem to confirm many thinkers’ view of history as a cyclical phenomenon that keeps repeating itself. But more importantly, it’s our apathy to what’s happening around us that leaves more and more room for opportunistic populist leaders to rise and tighten their control over many aspects of life in democratic societies.
The protests against the bill did not work out in the end, but continuous pressure matters in the long run. The fight for our democratic rights and freedom in Hungary is far from over. To quote one of my favourite speeches: “We will not go quietly into the night”.
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!