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Weeklies on the Erasmus programs

January 23rd, 2023

Liberal commentators and an independent conservative columnist agree with the European Commission that the new university system does not meet rule of law criteria. Pro-government columnists dismiss the suggestion and accuse the EU of using double standards again to punish Hungary.

Minister of Justice Judit Varga and Tibor Navracsics, the Minister of Regional Development will meet the European Commission next week to discuss the future of the Erasmus student exchange program in Hungary (see BudaPost January 13 and January 12).

In Élet és Irodalom, István Kenesei, professor of linguistics at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences agrees with the European Commission that the new system of universities overseen by public foundations restricts academic freedom. The liberal professor acknowledges that the new scheme could secure more autonomy for universities but claims that the government’s decision to include on their boards their own politicians in lifetime appointments will make the institutions less independent. Kenesei speculates that the Hungarian government will find a way to trick the EU by formally complying with its requirements to secure Hungary’s full access to the Erasmus exchange and other suspended research projects. Kenesei also predicts that the government will nonetheless make sure that it maintains its leverage over universities by other means. At worst, the government could establish similar student exchange deals with Russian universities, Kenesei adds sarcastically.

Magyar Demokrata’s Dániel Kovács accuses the EU of ‘launching a revenge attack’ on Hungary by suspending its access to EU research funding. The conservative commentator agrees with the Hungarian government that the EU is applying double standards by demanding that politicians are not appointed as public university board members, while in other EU countries they can serve in such positions. Kovács suspects that by ‘opening a new frontline’, the European Commission wants to teach the Hungarian government a lesson and show that despite the deal concluded last December, Hungary will have no easy access to EU funding and will be put under further pressure.

On Válasz Online, Bálint Ablonczy writes that Hungary’s exclusion from the Erasmus program would amount to ‘higher-education Huxit’. The independent conservative analyst writes that the dispute over EU research is an actual ‘political nuclear bomb’ dropped by the EU. Ablonczy admits that politicians can serve on university boards in other countries but notes that these are rare exceptions, usually local politicians who are appointed until the end of their term.

In Heti Világgazdaság, Árpád W. Tóta finds the European Commission’s decision to suspend Hungarian universities overseen by public foundations both reasonable and legitimate. The liberal columnist contends that the government’s aim with the new scheme introduced at several public universities was to ‘exercise political control over them’. Tóta accuses the government of trying to dominate universities in the hope of channeling EU funding to its ideological hinterland. He goes so far as to liken the new system to the old Soviet-era arrangement when academia was under full political control and the focus was placed on absurd and unscientific theories. In an even harsher remark, he adds that Hungarian academia may follow the practice of Nazi German universities that wanted to replace ‘Jewish physics’ with ‘German physics’. Tóta goes on to claim that the new Hungarian system will result in ‘contraselection’, meaning that universities will ignore academic merit and promote ideologically fit and politically loyal scholars. He predicts that those schools will ‘brainwash’ students who, as a result, will focus on homophobia and obsolete nationalist myths and thus will hardly be welcome in European universities anyway.

Magyar Nemzet’s Tamás Pilhál dismisses Tóta’s accusations as absurd ranting. The pro-government columnist finds it nauseating that Tóta likens the public foundation board members to ‘harmful parasites’ and accuses the Hungarian university system of promoting homophobia and racist science. Pilhál concludes by suggesting that Tóta’s opinion is further proof that government-critical journalists are pathetic losers who hate their own country and care little for factual reporting.

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