In 1825 Count István Széchenyi (also known as “the greatest Hungarian”) offered one year’s income of his estates for the purposes of a Learned Society, establishing the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. In 2019, Orbán turned it into a political tool.
Of course, it wasn’t that straightforward. In 1949, the communist regime already did it once. They have remodeled the Academy Soviet style. They integrated the Academy into the political system, ending its autonomy and placing it under direct Party and state control. The Academy was to play its part in disseminating the official ideology of Marxism-Leninism. Scientific research under communist autocracy has become strictly centralized and politicized – just like everything else – until 1994, when it regained its autonomy.
On July 2, 2019, the Fidesz supermajority passed the law stripping the Hungarian Academy of Sciences of its research institutes and its funding, and pulled it back under complete political control. The communist comrades would tip their hats in approval.
Orbán’s new law takes the entire research network away from the Academy and hands them to a new organisation called Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH), which is a plaything of the ministry. The ministry also gets to use the Academy’s property without compensation. The Academy is likely to demand a constitutional review as it violates academic freedom and their right to hold property but don’t hold your breath. The constitutional court has been gutted and made loyal by 2013.
The new law also creates the National Scientific Policy Council, lead by the Minister of Innovation and Technology to helpfully set the general directions of scientific research for silly, scientists who are unable to do so themselves. Because of course we need politicians to dictate science and what it’s allowed to research and what it doesn’t. The leader of this ominously named council will be only responsible to Orbán.
I can almost hear the authoritarian good boys subserviently – and safely – opining that it must make sense if it’s being done, and that centralization surely makes things … erm… cheaper. It worked under communism, it should work… oh wait.
Autocracy 101 teaches us that no one, not even a single individual can be allowed to have an economic lifeline independent from political will. That way they can be silenced. In fact, they will silence themselves when they know that their jobs are at risk. Rocking the boat will lose them their livelihood – but it will never make anything better. Dissent brings definite downsides for the individual – but no upside to society. Blowing the whistle, protesting, seeking justice and trying to flex your little rights will yield absolutely nothing – as it has been tried and failed hundreds of times before. You either leave, or contort your mind into submissive loyalty – there is no way to change the system. You can only hurt your own life.
That is the essence of oppression and autocracy. That you don’t matter – and neither does your little opinion, your little interests, your little life. Who would seriously think that the Academy, of all entities, could be allowed to remain more or less independent in Hungary?
Yes, academia spends taxpayer money (Hungarian and EU), and that is not without conflicts of interest, distorted incentives and dead weight. But that doesn’t make the attack on their independence justified. I don’t care about the length of the Academy’s skirt – my eyes are on the rapist and his actions.
Orbán didn’t strip the scholars from their research autonomy because he resented their taxpayer funding. He actually allocated even more of taxpayers’ funds to the politicized operation of the sciences. If he is striving for anything, it is that no one in his country should have any income that doesn’t come from the state, doesn’t come from rent granted by the state, and above all no money goes to anyone that the state cannot take away at will. Taxpayer money may be an enormous carrot to reward loyalty – but the other end of that carrot is an enormous dildo. As my father used to say, you don’t want to be on the wrong end…
The Academy’s budget for the future has already been cut – but their political overlords will see an increased budget to use as they see fit. The draft for Hungary’s 2020 budget already includes ELKH, and while the Academy’s planned expenses for 2019 were 175 million euros, the 2020 budget only has 52 million allocated for the Academy. At the same time, the ELKH gets 151 million euros in 2020.
And no, they don’t have the cure for cancer on their minds. If they want to use academia for anything, that is not your little interest either, dear public.
The ELKH will be controlled by a 13-member governing board all members appointed by Orbán. Delegates of the Academy will be in minority, and even if Orbán would appoint a bunch of non-loyalist rebels (he won’t), they couldn’t vote down the political delegates. This bunch will dick over the money – the whole point of the circus. The ELKH’s board will be in charge of reorganizing and shutting down existing research institutes, creating new ones, and allowing other research institutes to join the network. The research institutes will have no representation on the ELKH’s board. It will be purely political and top-down.
And just before you ask, yes, there were protests. Who cares? Protests are where people learn that not even protest can change anything.
And just to give a brief idea of how academic life looks like under comrades such as Orbán: In 1949, after the communist party’s takeover of the Academy, they had quickly fired or excluded many of its members with various excuses. Research institutions had been shut down, others opened – and to no one’s surprise their agenda was politically motivated. (We already know that eye-watering sums will be allocated to research whatever genetic-linguistic-historicist nonsense this particular regime wishes to peddle about where Hungarians came from.) When other people’s money ran out and Russia withdrew from Central Europe in the 1980s, the Academy also regained some of its independence.
It regained autonomy was formalized into law in 1994, when the Academy has been redefined as “a scholarly public body founded on the principle of self-government, whose main task is the study of science, the publicizing of scientific achievements, and the aid and promotion of research.”
And then the Russians returned and Orbán happened.