In June 2019, after some the usual mini-resistance, uproar, a little protesting and the obligatory voices of international disapproval, the academy of science (MTA) has been Orbanized. One year later, the minister personally rewrites the list of research grant recipients – to no one’s surprise.
And he didn’t just rewrite the list of recipients – he picked the applicant that was dead last on the list according to the professional judgment and gave him a juicy grant. The whole thing looks like a farce, and it is. With the whole academic sector as a casualty.
It is a long and tedious story. By 2019, after expelling CEU to Vienna and long after all universities received a politically appointed top dude to keep their institutions clean from dissent (or at least quiet), the regime’s attention turned to MTA and its money. At first, they rewrote the law to get hold of MTA’s properties, then the funding of its research network. Latter network (and its money) was put under a loyalist.
Now I will be the first to list the problems with academia, with research funding, with state-funded research, but funding based on loyalism is NOT the solution to anything.
Then a new, more Orbán-friendly president was elected and the takeover of the Academy complete, the dust settled, the protesters went home, some scientists really left the country, others adjusted to the new realities and stayed. Hoping, maybe, that the indignity was the worst of it.
Of course it wasn’t. And as of September 2020, the new normal is also undeniably visible. So visible as if no one was even trying to hide it. The minister just rewrote the list of research grant recipients, putting the applicant finishing dead last in biology and medical sciences according to the professional ranking straight to the top. And he is proud of it, thank you very much, he told them that it is a compliment that he only had to reverse their decision 9 times out of 320. (He could probably have them shot, too, paraphrasing the old joke about Stalin.)
This is a move of Orbanistan that not even the pre-1989 autocracy allowed itself. Communism and Orbán’s illiberalism are only branded as opposites to confuse simplistic onlookers. In reality, state control of every aspect of life is exactly the same, and so is the goal: control in one hand. If anything, Orbánism is more vicious because they aggressively rub it in to teach us total helplessness. (The other major difference is that the more equal comrades of today actually own the spoils of political gangsterism – under socialism they were ideologically limited to pretend they were penniless and only flexed their political influence to get stuff for themselves. Now they own it.)
And do you want to read something really sad? The scholars who submitted last year (after threatening to leave the country) are upset again (and threatening to leave the country). They may sign another letter of protest any minute.
Academics are never the most rebellious bunch. They study for decades how to think like academics before them, and then they conform as hard as they can to keep getting voted in by their holy peers. That is not how rebels are created or selected. But this is still sad.