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Sunday demo to protest govʼt interference in academia

Demonstrators are set to take to the streets of Budapest from 2 p.m. Sunday to protest against the governmentʼs recently announced plan to effectively nationalize the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) and take control of its research network.

Photo by Amy Brouillette.

As reported Wednesday, the government is planning to tighten the reins on funding and control of the MTA by introducing legislation in Parliament entering into effect on August 1. The proposal includes taking away all 15 research institutes from the MTA, alongside the creation of a new state research network controlled by a 13-person body comprising six appointees from the academy, and six from the government, but with a president appointed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán personally, based on a joint proposal.

Furthermore, the state will create the National Council of Scientific Policy (NTT), headed by Minister for Innovation and Technology László Palkovics, who will be in charge of suggesting appointments. The MTA will only have a single representative on this body. Additionally, the academy will be obliged by law to hand over the buildings of its research facilities, as well as its infrastructure, tools, and possessions for “free use.”

According to the Facebook Event page of the demonstration called by the Forum of Academy Staff - entitled “Academic Freedom!  Freedom for the Academy!” - the protest will begin in front of Corvinus University on Fővám tér at the Pest side of Liberty Bridge from 2 p.m. Sunday, with demonstrators marching along a route ending in front of the MTA building on Széchenyi István tér.

“Minister Palkovics has prepared a bill to arbitrarily deprive the Academy of its research network, without justification and despite the resolutions of the Academy’s General Assembly, and to de facto nationalize the property of the Academy,” reads a statement in English on the Facebook page. “This is robbery and appropriation of intellectual and financial resources,” it adds.

The council of leaders of the MTA research network issued a statement Wednesday saying that the proposed legislative changes do not conform to agreements reached in earlier negotiations between the MTA and the Ministry for Innovation and Technology, nor to oft-cited German professional research network models.

The council expressed concern about the future financing of the research network, as well as the autonomy of its scholarly operation.

“The amendments essentially ensure complete government - political - control over the research network,” said the council, adding that it is calling on the government to work out a draft in line with the proposals accepted by a consensus of the Strategic Committee and signed by both parties, since in its current form the draft “does not create a sustainable and viable institutional framework for quality scholarly research.”