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Controversy over research reform plans

February 11th, 2019

As the government plans a radical overhaul of the structure of scientific research, a historian critical of the government calls for a concerted protest against those plans, while his pro-government colleague accuses him of harbouring anti-democratic intentions.

168 óra and HVG have published a document according to which Technology and Innovation Minister László Palkovics plans to leave the Academy of Sciences (MTA) as a society of  prestigious researchers, as is customary in the West, without being in charge of a vast network of research institutions as it has been for decades.

The paper published by the two opposition media is a report by an unnamed academician on his meeting with Mr Palkovics and quotes the latter as saying that he plans to integrate most social science research institutes into universities while the rest would be annexed to existing research centres which get funding from the government. Gergely Gulyás, the Cabinet Minister in charge of the Prime Minister’s office told the press on Thursday that Mr Palkovics had ‘not submitted any proposal to the government’ recently. 

In an interview with Valasz.hu, Hungarian-Italian historian Stefano Bottoni quotes legal experts within the newly founded Forum of Academic Workers who accuse the government of acting illegally by withholding the bulk of the budget of the research institutes as well as planning to reorganise the existing network of 15 scientific institutes. He suggests that the government wants to lay its hands on billions of EU funds for scientific research from 2020, and get rid of critics for ideological reasons. He acknowledges that Hungary’s universities are not ranked among the first few hundred of the world because the most quoted and best ranking scientists don’t teach there, but says the universities are underfunded and therefore cannot sustain research. The system outlined by Mr Palkovics partly resembles the German Max Planck Institute that coordinates and funds research there, he acknowledges, but without the independence which in the German case is guaranteed by a public endowment, while the Hungarian system would depend on annual funding decisions by the government. (Mr Bottoni also tells Valasz.hu that he will teach history at Florence University from the next academic year.)

On Mandiner, historian Márton Békés calls Bottoni’s attitude ‘a textbook case of a conceited intellectual living outside and above Hungarian society’. He quotes a statement by his Hungarian-Italian colleague on ATV about the researchers at MTA who represent a significant portion of Hungary’s scientific élite and who ‘will mobilise half of the world’ against the planned reshuffle of the institutional framework of scientific research in Hungary. He believes there is a contradiction between liberalism and democracy, or at least (as Ortega y Gasset wrote), one can be very liberal and not at all democratic and vice versa. The liberal élite, he explains, now wants to break the popular will (which keeps Fidesz in government) by mobilising outside forces. That’s why he believes the liberal elite is anti-democratic in its endeavours.

In a short reply, Bottoni writes that he has no time for ‘such bullshit’ and tells Békés, in Latin, “Potes meos suaviari clunes”, the translation of which can be found in the dictionary of Latin profanities.

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