No let-up in the case of the Hungarian philosophers

While I was busying myself with Hungarian history there were new developments in the "Heller case." I don't think that Ágnes Heller would be terribly happy about my naming this whole sordid affair after her, but let's face it, among the six or seven names mentioned by Magyar Nemzet and its unidentified informer hers is the best known. After all, she was the recipient of several prestigious international awards and for years was the Hannah Arendt Visiting Professor of Philosophy and Political Science at the New School for Social Research in New York.

I mention the New School because it was Ágnes Heller's former American colleagues who felt that they should write an open letter to Viktor Orbán in which they express in no uncertain terms their opinion of what is going on in Hungary. After all, it is not an everyday affair in the modern democratic world, in a country that belongs to the European Union, that someone is preparing a show trial against philosophers. Because the more I read about this case the more I suspect that something like this is afoot. The philosophers who signed the open letter share my suspicion: this is a politically motivated attack because only those people whose political views are not in line with the current government's position were singled out from the thirty-two people who received similar grants.

In any case, twenty philosophers, political scientists, and members of the administration either currently employed by the New School or Ágnes Heller's former colleagues signed the letter in which they asked Viktor Orbán to use his "informal influence" to put an end to the attacks and make it clear that he and his government have nothing to do with the smear campaign against the philosophers. 

Shortly after Élet és Irodalom published the open letter from Heller's New School colleagues an interesting letter came to light that wasn't exactly intended for publication. Back in the 1990s a group of mostly conservative scientists got together and established an association of professors named after Hungary's first prime minister, Lajos Batthyány. There are a lot of chemists, biologists, physicists, mathematicians, and doctors who belong to the Batthyány Circle of Professors. One of their leading lights is a chemist, Gábor Náray-Szabó. If you want to have a good laugh, please read what is perhaps my most hilarious piece, "Raising chickens in time of trouble," about a radio interview with the gentleman. I hope it will give you an idea about the political acumen of these distinguished professors.

The members of the Circle like to exchange their profound thoughts about politics among themselves, and therefore they have an online discussion forum closed to the public. It was on that list that László Hornok, second to the president of the St. Stephen University–perhaps we could call him in this country "provost"–vented his hatred against the liberals in general and the philosophers in particular. However, it seems that there was a "traitor" in the group who found Hornok's letter outrageous. In no time the letter was in the hands of the editors of Stop, an online newspaper. In the letter Hornok talked about "the deadly enemies of the nation who leave no stone unturned" to blacken the good name of Hungary. According to Hornok, the philosophers are trying to convince the "foreign associate members" of the Academy to sign letters of protest. Hornok didn't hide his opinion that it was a terrible mistake to accept these "foreign members" into the Academy. Actually these foreigners are Hungarian-born scholars who made names for themselves abroad.

Hornok then asked his fellow members to ostracize these enemies. "When we meet them and their ilk we should look them in the eye but we shouldn't say hello to them. When they sit down next to us, we should get up because this is the only way to handle their hatred and this is the only way to express our silent and complete contempt." Gábor Náray-Szabó, famous for his chickens, refused to condemn Hornok and his attitude. The only thing he said was that the professor's words don't reflect the official view of the Batthyány Circle of Professors.

At this point József Pálinkás, president of the Academy, felt that he could no longer remain silent. He made a statement in which he called attention to the Hungarian Constitution in which it is written that "only qualified scholars and scientists have the right to arrive at decisions in regard to what should be credited as a contribution to science, a scientific result, and to assess the scientific value of research." He asked the officials of the government and the journalists to keep this in mind. He repeated his favorite mantra that at the moment the awarding of grants is somewhat chaotic, something that should be rectified.

Pálinkás complained in particular that from the grant program designed for the natural or exact sciences, social science researchers also receive money. It is important to note that the organization in charge of giving grants, Program for Research and Development (Nemzeti Kutatási és Fejlesztési Program = NKFP), was set up during the first Orbán government, at the time when Pálinkás was undersecretary in the Ministry of Education. In fact, from day one the NKFP handed out grants to social scientists. Pálinkás himself talked at that time about "the research of our national heritage and its present challenges." So it is hard to know what he is complaining about today. In the last eight years NFKP has provided grants to sociologists, political scientists, historians, and, yes, philosophers. Tomorrow I will give a list of some of the other recipients.








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I see it left us all speechless. But honestly, that this could not remind people of earlier practices seems impossible. (In particular when there is this hightened awareness of the evil done by Communists…). OV and his people are really gaining territory, next time they will make people obedient by pointing to this case. The choice of “philosophers” as an early target also starts to make sense to me, for massive protests this is too remote an area (but the example is nevertheless set).


Some background on the philosopher cases in German here:
Meanwhile chief-inquisitor Gyula Budai moved on from “liberal” philosophy to the previous governments’ arts funding. Looks like from now on he and his office are going to define the value of modern works of art and criminalize past funding of works they don’t like. See hvg/MNO
And I guess this guy is as much an expert of Fine Arts as he is of philosophy.