We have been spending an inordinate amount of time on the media law and with good reason, but let’s not forget about other “sins” of the Orbán government. Among them is the slated closure of thirty-five foundations, including the 56-Institute. But on the list we can also find foundations established for the assistance of the homeless, the Foundation for the Gypsies of Hungary, the foundation for the collection of old Hungarian films, the Gandhi Foundation for the education of the Roma, and one could continue.
According to Zsolt Semjén, deputy prime minister, in place of these foundations the Ministry of National Economic Development will come up with other solutions. We don’t know what these other solutions might be, but I know for sure that the government has the brilliant idea of subordinating the 56-Institute and its fifteen or seventeen historians to Mária Schmidt’s House of Terror. It is a suggestion that cannot be accepted by the historians working in the Institute. So, it is very possible that the 56-Institute after twenty years will cease to exist. An awful loss. But the 56-Institute has been a thorn in Orbán’s side for a long time. Between 1998 and 2002 the institute’s subsidy was halved, but now it seems that it can close its doors for good and its researchers can look for new jobs.
What’s wrong with the 56-Institute? Their research doesn’t support the image of the 1956 Revolution Orbán and the Hungarian right have in mind. Orbán has tried at various times to reinterpret 56. While in office he gave a lecture on the subject in Austria in which he described the events of 1956 as a “bourgeois revolution.” Anyone who has some knowledge of the history of those two weeks knows that the events don’t support such a contention. Lately, he even went so far as to claim that his “revolution” in the voting booths is the direct continuation of the Revolution of 1956!
There are also attacks on people who show open opposition to the Orbán regime. For months now the newly appointed head of the Institute of Philosophy of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences has been after certain members of the staff who, in his opinion, are spending too much time writing political types of articles in periodicals, magazines, or even newspapers. Now the philosophers are accused of a much worse thing: “fraudulent misuse of funds.” Monsters and Critics considers this latest assault on the philosophers a punishment for signing an open letter complaining about what they called the dismantling of democracy in Hungary. The letter was signed by 70 civil rights activists, including former dissidents like Vaclav Havel, Adam Michnik, and Árpád Göncz. But among them were also philosophers Ágnes Heller and Mihály Vajda as well as literary scholar Sándor Radnóti.
Magyar Nemzet, a paper close to Fidesz, started the attack by claiming that a “liberal circle of philosophers” managed to get almost half a billion forints in grants from the National Office of Research and Technology that was set up by the liberal minister of education, Bálint Magyar. According to the paper, this office’s funds were considered to be a kind of private bank for liberal intellectuals–among them Sándor Radnóti, Ágnes Heller, Mihály Vajda, György Gábor and György Geréby–who received grants for topics that had nothing to do with the Office’s stated requirements.
The grand inquisitor, Gyula Budai, the man who was entrusted by Viktor Orbán with unearthing information that would prove Ferenc Gyurcsány guilty of something or other, was quick. On the very same day that Magyar Nemzet‘s article about the fraudulent philosophers appeared, he announced that his investigation is proceeding with “full speed” and that he had already launched a complaint with the prosecutor’s office. This guy means business.
Coincidence or not, Jews figure prominently in Budai’s investigations. Two of his big cases involve the attempts of Israeli investors to establish entertainment centers. Magyar Hírlap, a far-right paper, felt compelled to mention that György Gábor’s field of research is anti-Semitism. And the above mentioned philosophers are all Jews with the exception of György Geréby, who happens to be my best high school friend’s son.
By the way, by the time the news about the philosophers appeared in Magyar Hírlap, the amount of money allegedly fraudulently expropriated shrank from half a billion forints to 70.5 million, which was a grant to the Institute, not for one year but for three. At today’s exchange rate this amounts to a little over $100,000 a year.
Yesterday I mentioned that János Kornai is a Permanent Fellow of Collegium Budapest, Institute for Advanced Study. Well, the Collegium Budapest might not exist for long. The Collegium has been financed ever since 1992 by two German provinces in addition to foundations from France, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, and Switzerland. The Collegium received a building which they renovated and added a guest house to it for foreign scholars. Wolf Lepenies, the founder of the institution, put in a request to the minister in charge for some financial help in 2000 during the first Orbán government. The answer was that the Collegium will not receive any assistance because it had good relations with the former government. The interview with Wolf Lepenies appeared in Die Welt, who ended his conversation with the journalist with this sentence: “At the beginning of the year the Orbán government introduced the censorship of the press. Now spring cleaning is taking place in Hungary.”