We would like to express our support to you in defense of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and of academic freedom in Hungary.
As scholars with close personal, professional, and scholarly ties to Hungary, we share with you and your colleagues a grave concern over recent decisions made by the National Office for Research, Development, and Innovation, and in particular the launching of the so-called “program of excellence” by the Hungarian government on January 31, 2019. This program radically changes the funding structure of the academy and endangers the existence of many research units, and with them the work of thousands of scholars and scientists working in these institutes whose high-caliber work has made Hungary an internationally recognized center of critical research in many disciplines.
More fundamental structural changes, announced through semi-official channels by the Minister of Technology and Innovation, László Palkovics, strongly hint at the objective of completely dismantling the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ network of research centers, employing approximately 5,000 active staff members. Entire research institutes would be removed from the oversight of the Academy while many of those in the human and social sciences would be labelled “unproductive” and dismantled. All these changes were proposed or introduced without consultation with the academic community or in opposition to the decisions of the elected leaders and membership of the Academy.
The structural readjustment demanded by the National Office for Research, Development, and Innovation violates the fundamental principles of academic freedom, placing research in the natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences under increased and direct political control. Inquiry that is free of political interference is essential for scholarship to thrive. We therefore express our solidarity with a call issued by your colleagues on January 24, 2019, asking that the Hungarian government respect the independence of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and its research institutes, and return to and uphold a funding model that ensures the academic freedom and continued vitality of research conducted at the Academy.
We urge you to continue to stand strong in your efforts to protect the Hungarian Academy of Sciences as an independent body committed to academic freedom and scholarly excellence. At stake is not merely the future of the Academy and the research it facilitates, but of an entire academic community that has recently become the target of the Hungarian government’s anti-pluralist policies. Hungary’s public universities are currently under the effective control of government-appointed chancellors. In December 2018, the leadership of the Central European University made the reluctant decision to move much of its operations from Budapest to Vienna because of a government policy that thwarted its basic operations, and fearing for its staff and students in the increasingly hostile climate of government-sponsored political agitation in Hungary. And now members of the Academy are being forced to prove their utility to a government that appears less interested in scientific and technological innovation than in exerting direct and exclusive control over Hungarian society and intellectual life.
The prospects for critical inquiry free of government influence have diminished significantly in Hungary in a very short period of time. Choosing to voice your dissent was a bold if undoubtedly difficult decision. The stand you are taking speaks both to the immense value of academic freedom as well as to its fragility, admonishing us to shield it wherever and whenever it is threatened.
Steven Jobbitt, president of the Hungarian Studies Association of Canada
Árpád von Klimó, president of the Hungarian Studies Association of the U.S.
Judith Szapor, associate professor of history and classical studies, McGill University
Paul Hanebrink, associate professor of history, Rutgers University
Holly Case, associate professor of history, Brown University