Right-wing government in Hungary tightens grip over research institutes amid widespread protests

With a new legislation, prime minister Viktor Orbán intends to control a network of autonomous research institutes that were hitherto administered by the country’s premier science research academy

July 15, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
researchers' protest Hungary
Hundreds of students and academics have been protesting the new law to take over research institutes in the country. Photo: Hungary Today

The academic community in Hungary is protesting a new legislation passed by the right-wing government to take over autonomous research institutes in the country. On July 2, the Hungarian parliament passed a bill, supported by 131 members in the 199-seat assembly, which enables the takeover of research institutes that are currently run by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA).

The academic community in Hungary, especially the Forum of Academic Workers (ADF), has been continuously demonstrating ever since the plans for restructuring the MTA were announced in 2018. The ADF organized a protest on July 2 too.

The MTA has been functional since 1825 and currently employs some 5,000 staff members, including around 3,000 researchers. It is the country’s oldest and largest scientific institution that performs a vast range of research activities. As per the new legislation, a new institution with board members appointed by the government will have the discretion to allocate funding for research. The body would also use the MTA’s assets and carry out its administration.

The ADF said, “The Hungarian government is continuing its crackdown on academic freedom. The Hungarian government is introducing a new system of research financing, in a way that itself contradicts the appropriate manners of policy making, and which, after implementation, will have disastrous effects on the autonomy of scientific research and scholarship in the entire country as well as our work and life altogether.”

Earlier, on June 2, thousands of academicians and students had marched in Budapest, protesting the government’s plan to control research institutes.

The right-wing government in Hungary, led by Viktor Orbán from the conservative Fidesz party, has been continuously pursuing anti-student, anti-labor policies. Earlier, the government had placed all universities in the country under the direct supervision of a special administrator appointed by the government. It had also forced the Central European University to relocate most of its programs from Budapest to Vienna. In December 2018, a controversial labor bill was enacted by the government that provoked widespread protests by the trade unions. The regressive bill, that permits employers to demand about 400 hours of overtime from their workers, has been dubbed as ‘slave law’ by the outraged trade unions.