Members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences speak out while its president is quiet

On October 10 I published an open letter by 28 members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences to László Lovász, its president. They expressed their “concern about the antidemocratic processes that have been taking place in Hungary in the last few years, especially the threat to freedom of the press.” They were troubled by the transformation of public radio and television into propaganda outlets and the makeover of Origo into a government mouthpiece. The final impetus for writing the letter was the shuttering of Népszabadság on October 8. They asked Lovász to “see to it as soon as possible that the leadership of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences initiates a discussion about committing itself to launching scholarly investigations as well as conducting debates concerning these urgent issues facing Hungarian society.” Within days the number of signatories had grown to over 160.

Prior to the appearance of this letter, several so-called outside members of the Academy, scientists in foreign countries, resigned. Again, the last straw was the closure of Népszabadság. The first outside member who resigned was Thomas Jovin, head of the molecular biology department at the Max-Planck Institute in Göttingen. He was followed by the Hungarian-born Stevan Harnad, professor of psychology at the Université du Québec à Montréal and professor of cognitive science at the University of Southampton; Israel Pecht, a biologist from Israel; and Torsten N. Wiesel, a Swedish Nobel laureate in neurophysiology.

The public may never have known about these resignations were it not for Stevan Harnad’s special relation to Hungary. He made sure that his and his fellow scientists’ resignations wouldn’t remain a secret. In the last two weeks the Hungarian media has been full of articles about the large number of academicians who are demanding the academy’s involvement in the defense of democratic values which, in their opinion, are being trampled on by the Orbán government.

Among recent presidents of the academy Lovász is perhaps the most distinguished. He is known worldwide as an accomplished mathematician. He is also highly thought of as a man of integrity. As one of his fellow academicians said, in the past to become the president of the academy was a great honor but, with Lovász, it is he who brings honor to the institution.

I’m certain that the political developments of the last six years are not to Lovász’s liking. While his two predecessors, E. Szilveszter Vizi (2002-2008) and József Pálinkás (2008-2014), had strong ties to Fidesz, Lovász tries to maintain a neutral position vis-à-vis the current regime. He heads an enormous organization that is totally dependent on the goodwill of the powers that be.

Lovász has given quite a few newspaper interviews lately, explaining patiently that politics has no place within the walls of the academy. As he puts it, half the academicians support the government, the other half don’t. An open debate would do harm to the institution. He is convinced that his election by the members had nothing to do with politics. That may be so, but whether Lovász likes it or not, the election of the president of the academy is not a purely academic matter. For example, Pálinkás was chosen by the academicians because he was a member of the cabinet during the first Orbán administration (1998-2002) and they believed his presidency would benefit the academy financially and politically once Fidesz is in power again. After 2010 their prediction was amply fulfilled. According to Stevan Harnad, the government used Pálinkás as an instrument of political pressure.

László Lovász / Népszava, Photo: Gergő Tóth

László Lovász / Népszava, Photo: Gergő Tóth

The problem with Lovász’s argument about the non-political nature of the academy is that since it is a state institution, it is by definition political. Back in May Viktor Orbán was a speaker at the yearly general assembly of the academicians, accompanied by János Lázár and Zoltán Balog. I remember that some people objected at the time. They argued that politicians had no place at their gathering. And what Orbán had to say at the assembly was not at all reassuring to anyone who cares about the independence of the academy and the scientific community. He talked extensively about “the alliance of science and politics” and “the joint effort of the scientists searching for truth and the politicians who want to create a more just society.” He emphasized the common responsibility, the common challenges. He said, “We are chained together. We can progress only if we move in the same direction. Let’s not beat around the bush: the future, quality, good name of Hungarian science is a political matter. A national political (nemzetpolitikai) matter.”

The fact is that the academy has been the captive of the Hungarian state ever since 1948. Prior to 1945 the academy was largely independent financially. It was established through the generosity of István Széchenyi, György Károlyi, György Andrássy, and others. The academy’s library was a private gift of 30,000 volumes. The academy received gifts from wealthy noblemen throughout the nineteenth century. For example, the academy’s gorgeous building came from a 1858 gift of 80,000 forints. Private donations kept the academy going between 1919 and 1945 as well. At the end of the 1920s a very rich man willed his entire estate to the academy–cash, stock holdings, real estate, and agricultural land that produced a handsome yearly income for the institution. This source of funding disappeared due to inflation during and after the war and the nationalization of the academy’s real estate and land.

With the communist takeover the independence of the academy came to an end. It was completely reorganized along the lines of the Soviet model. In the 1950s and 1960s a network of research institutes was attached to the academy. Today 15,000 researchers are employed in these institutes, some of which necessarily touch upon politics. For example, there are institutes of political science, history, sociology, philosophy, linguistics, and several other workshops dealing with politically sensitive issues. Lovász claims that they are not political workshops in the strict sense of the word. The researchers do their work guided only by the principles of scientific inquiry. But a few years ago, under József Pálinkás,  the institute of philosophy was reorganized in such a way that certain philosophers were forcibly retired because the new director didn’t find their work useful or, rather, found their political views unacceptable. Scientific inquiry doesn’t always produce results that mesh with the views of the current Hungarian government. That’s why the Orbán government began establishing alternate research institutes of its own.

The storm at the academy is far from over. Lovász received a new letter lately, this time from Lajos Rakusz, former president of the Council of Research, Technology and Innovation. The letter was published in today’s Népszava. Rakusz accuses Lovász of remaining silent even as he witnesses the degradation of the Hungarian educational system. He reminds Lovász that he as a former employee of Microsoft should know that a country’s future depends on the acquired knowledge of its population. Yet less and less money is spent on education and research. Less money than the country could actually afford. As a result, Hungary’s competitiveness has been rapidly declining. Twenty-one years ago Hungary ranked 26th out of 140 in the Global Competitiveness Report published by the World Economic Forum. Today it is 63rd. The country is moving in the wrong direction, and it is incumbent on Lovász to raise his voice. “Your voice carries weight. But your silence is even weightier.” Harsh words. Moreover, Rakusz didn’t forget Orbán’s speech at the academy in May. “At this year’s general assembly the academicians applauded the prime minister when he declared that we, the government, and the academy ‘are chained together.’ Really? Does that deserve applause?” Lovász should respond, but can he?

November 5, 2016
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Member

typo: “shuttering of Népszava on October 8”

Member
Science serves the society. Scientists are citizens, their lives are influenced by the political system, the policies of politicians and Government. A scientist, who does not raise his voice in opposition to policies endangering basic human rights, who remain silent when sees moral and monetary corruption, distortion of history and the truth, neglects his civic duties and on the long run become the supporter of the destructive regime. =========================== Let’s remember Galilei, who contrary to common belief, did not say while stomping the ground with his feet in front of the judges of the Inquisition “Eppur Si Muove”, yet the example clearly indicates, what is expected of a scientist and what may have been on his mind, for the rest of his life. ========================== DID GALILEO REALLY SAY: “AND YET IT MOVES”? ================= According to available evidence, Galileo Galilei never said these notoriously famous words. They are not mentioned in judiciary files from the trial, neither in Galileo’s own letters and other writings. First recorded mention of this famous quote being said by Galileo comes from more than 120 years later, from notoriously inaccurate work “The Italian Library”, written by Giuseppe Baretti. However, there is a very high probability that… Read more »
Guest

But Galileo never recanted his scientific beliefs – and around 350 years later the Catholic Church officially acknowledged that he was right.

Well, Catholics seem to be a bit slow intellectually … 🙂

Totally OT:
In the early 60s as students (when we were crazy enough to be interested in the strange world of religion – but not as believers, just wondering what went on in people’s minds …) we got hold of the (in)famous “Indexh of forbidden books” still maintained by someone in the Church and looked at the titles – everything was there from books by Copernicus to Marx, extremely funny in a way!

PS:

You shouldn’t forget that heretical scientists used to be burnt in those days – even Kepler’s mother narrowly escaped being killed as a witch!

I recommend the series of 10 books by Karlheinz Deschner:
Die Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums

Member
From: Lovász László Subject: Letter from President Lovasz Date: October 24, 2016 at 3:38:45 AM GMT-4 Dear Colleagues: I address this letter to Honorary and External members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Several of you have resigned from ourAcademy, protesting the policies of the Hungarian government and assuming that the Academy did not work to mitigate these. This is a very serious loss for us. I understand their concerns, and respect their decision, but I would like to make some comments about the Academy’s position. Democracy in Hungarian society is still evolving and sadly it has been and still is deeply divided between – roughly speaking – a liberal and conservative side. Throughout society, including intellectuals, this leads to opposing camps, and the tribal mentality often dampens the critical balanced approach that could be expected from such people. The Academy is one of the very few places where such divisions nevertheless enable creative activities, and where people voting for either side are willing and able to cooperate for the benefit of science and education. I was nominated and elected by all members on both sides of the line, and I promised to maintain this fruitful cooperation. From this it… Read more »
Member

See also: International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Report:
“Hungary: Democracy under Threat: Six Years of Attacks against the Rule of Law” November 2016

LwiiH
Guest

Well done Stephen. The response is spot on. This is not about differences between parties, it is about the framework that everyone works within. It is now badly broken, completely unbalanced. To suggest science has no role here is a darilection political scientists *need* to start pointing this out and suggesting ways to rebalance it.

LwiiH
Guest

Well done Stephen. The response is spot on. This is not about differences between parties, it is about the framework that everyone works within. It is now badly broken, completely unbalanced. To suggest science has no role here is a dereliction of duty. For one, political scientists *need* to step up and start pointing this out and suggesting ways to rebalance it. Other science should be pointing out how the media is being used to control and influence. There is clearly a role for science here that is neither left or right. But then, let’s not let facts confuse our thinking.

PS sorry for the earlier mess, editing on a mobile device is sometimes less than optimal. Maybe it can be deleted?

true-1956
Guest

It was a beautiful act from Stevan to express a brave stand on the affairs in Hungary.

Back to USA-Canada, we should start a cleansing movement for us to detox the Western minds from the poisoning disinformation poured into our lives by the State of Russia for the past 100 -200 years.

We should go back to original ideas of Jimmy Carter and our Ferenc Deak, and develop plans for non-violent nation reformations all over the world.

We have to erase the anti-intellectual arguments of the polarizing politicians and scholars from the extreme wings of our societies.

Let us be intellectuals and not ridiculous hostages of oceans of lies.

Member

Bravo, Professor Harnad !

Remark to Professor Lovasz’s letter:

“We must cooperate with the government (which was reelected with more than 50% of the votes cast)”

Prof Lovasz should have checked the facts before writing this down, because his statement is FALSE.

Even if we regard the narrower set “VALID votes cast” as 100%,

FiDeSz -KDNP received 43.55% of the domestic votes or 44.87% of the {domestic+”Transylvanian+Serbian” votes} in the April, 2014 elections.

http://valasztas.hu/dyn/pv14/szavossz/hu/orszlist.html

By the way, let us not forget that as much as 19.9% of the {“Transylvanian+Serbian” votes} were invalidated.

http://valasztas.hu//hu/ogyv2014/853/853_0.html

dvhr
Guest

I suppose you consider Jobbik as opposition.

webber
Guest

Is Jobbik Fidesz? Stop being ridiculous.

Observer
Guest

See also the studies by Prof. Kim L. Scheppele on the Hungarian state and law.

And Kudos for the succinct but precise description of the tragic developments in Hungary.
No doubt many support the Orban regime, but this doesn’t exonerate it of it’s immoral or criminal acts. After even the bloodiest regimes of Idi Amin or Pol Pot had many supporters, and in Ruanda the majority slauthered the minority by the hundreds of thousands. Academicians were/are harassed and fired in thinly disguised political attacks, grants have been distributed with regard to political affiliation or sympathy, ie. the Academy HAS BEEN/IS involved in politics.

petofi
Guest

Quite correct.

But let us remember: Orban is not only anti-democratic, he’s determinately returning conditions to the ‘rule of strength’–a society in which precepts, courtesy, ‘thinking’…have no place.

petofi
Guest

And I must add, that inspite of the bleeting, Hungarians are exceptionally suited (in the main) to live in such a society.

webber
Guest

excellent.

dvhr
Guest

I have the feeling that Dr Harnad withdraw his statement in his resigning letter quoted in hvg.hu
“Lemondó levelében ő egyebek mellett azt írta: mivel nem Magyarországon él, nincs joga arról értekezni, mit is tehetnének az akadémia belső tagjai. Reméli ugyanakkor, hogy más külső tagok is felismerik majd történelmi felelősségüket ebben a helyzetben.”[In his resigning letter he writes among other things: as he does not live in Hungary, he has no right to discuss what those members of the HAS living in Hungary could do. He hopes nevertheless, that other external members will recognize their historic responsibility in this situation.]

Member

“dvhr”‘s interpretation is incorrect. Both the words and the intent of the resignation are crystal clear and explicit:
“This call is addressed only to External Members, not to Internal Members, who might otherwise risk a fate comparable to that of the staff of Hungary’s largest independent newspaper, Népszabadság, often critical of the government, whose operation was abruptly terminated without warning or justification on October 8th 2016.”

dvhr
Guest

Sure, this is what you thought when you wrote this. What I claim is that you changed your mind, and this cannot be disproved by quoting the original sentence. Whatever the case is the opinion shared by e.g., Rakusz and thousands of comment-writers is that Lovasz should explicitly state that Orban’s system is bad, Orban must go, otherwise he (Lovasz) is a coward.

webber
Guest

You misread it very badly. Intentionally? I don’t know. I do know that I didn’t read it the way you did, and don’t know how you could have read it that way.
When Stevan resigned from the Academy he called on other external members to resign.
I suspect you intentionally misinterpreted what Stevan wrote, because what he wrote was so very clear that even a child could understand it. To put it a different way:
Which part of he resigns did you not understand?

Diplo
Guest

Thanks. People also have to understand that the majority of the Hungarian members of the Academy arr pro-Orban and will remain so for ever and no matter what. It’s a kind of religion for elderly, conservative people many of whom (including former heads of the Academy) worked for the Ministry of Interior in order to be able to a foreign research during communism. They made compromises and love that Orban makes them forget about those.

webber
Guest

Untrue. You are either lying or hallucinating.
There is not a shred of evidence that “the majority” of MTA members are pro-Orbán.

Member

This is how Rogan’s bond for green card scheme is advertised on the internet:

Schengen Permanent Residence in Hungary

Not required any time to be spent on the territory of Hungary
The owner of this status could be anywhere in the world
No need to renew or prolong
For life long and for all family same time
National Settlement status immediately

http://govresidenceprogram.eu/

and in a mall in Iraqi Kurdistan:

comment image

webber
Guest

The English is like that on information cards in third-rate hotels in rural Hungary.

bimbi
Guest

Thank you Tappanch for posting this “come-on” ad. for a Schengen permanent residence freebee for anyone with Є 360.000,00 to spare for the Rogan family support fund.

Does anyone else find it odd that a privilege that can only belong to the Hungarian state (and hence the Hungarian people) can be sold by a covert process for the benefit of one man and a few cronies? Why is Antal Rogan being allowed to steal at this rate from the Hungarian state?

Why? That is easy. It is because the process has been given legal blessing by the Hungarian government in the same way as many (most? all?) such frauds have been given a dressing of legality.

webber
Guest

In the mafia, each capo runs his own business, and gives an appropriate cut to the Capo di tutti capi, who in turn distributes appropriate amounts to the famiglia.
Rogan is giving plenty to Orban and the Party, you can be sure. That is why he still has this business. He (and perhaps Habony) worked it out, so the profit is “his,” it does not belong to the Hungarian state (in the logic of the famiglia). All he has to do is be sure that the proper cut is sent to the boss, and his position is secure, and è mera viglioso!

Guest

Actually it’s only 60 000€ plus the interest (nowadays really low …) on those 300 000 which you will get back/refunded after just five years.

Not a bad deal at all for those Russians, Arabs, Asians who have money to spare …

Their condos/houses in Budapest, London or Munich cost much more!

Guest

Mr. Lovasz in his leadership position looks as if he wants to straddle two opposing sides. Probably a good strategy as far as it goes. But perhaps events will overtake him when he’ll find himself at a river where the proverbial Rubicon and its decision-making awaits. There could be no turning back then. Apparently he got a hint of the effect with Prof Harnard and some of his colleagues. Mr. Lovasz as a leader should be prepared to ford if push comes to shove down the line. The way of events can incredibly push men to decisions that under reflection have to be made.

Wondercat
Guest

A pet peeve, and nothing to do with content of a deep-reaching and remarkably informative post… but what has become of sequence-of-tenses rules, and why do many writers confuse “may” with “might”? Example from an English tabloid — “The family may have survived if their seat belts had been fastened.” Well, are they dead or not? They’re dead. Their seat belts were not fastened, the family did not survive. Situation contrary to fact, event in the past; the family MIGHT have survived. So here, too, “The public may never have known about these resignations were it not for Stevan Harnad’s special relation to Hungary”. The public DO know, however, so MIGHT never have known. Oh, well!

Guest

” . . why do many writers confuse “may” with “might”?

It is a rather more pertinent question why a president of an academy of sciences confuses “democracy” with “autocracy”.

Guest

You know once again as in the historical area we in we see how specific narratives are co-opted now even in scientific investigation by meddling political powers. The clanging chains of science and history and its relationship to politics appears to get tighter as democracy dangerously veers to autocracy.

Prof Harnad and his colleagues arguably are the vanguard of upholding critical values in the science profession. It remains to be seen how those scientific investigators who ‘go with the flow’ and cling to their values as the insidiously burrowing and worming tentacles of political power slowly put creaking pressure on their efforts to give knowledge to their nation. One day their ‘research’ could suffer the fate of being looked upon as vapid and vacuous ramblings of obsequious scientists beholden to their political gods.

webber
Guest
Eva, I am afraid this post will shortly be closely tied to your pieces about Maria Schmidt, and attempts by Fidesz to re-write Hungarian history. On the fringe right in Hungary, which is now represented by Fidesz, there has long been a theory that the Academy has given the public a falsified version of Hungarian history, in which the Hungarian people are denigrated and blamed for every wrong committed in Europe in the 19th and 20th century. According to lunatics who believe this, the Academy has been a tool of Judeo-Communism (as once represented by the Soviet Union) to crush the spirit of the Hungarian people and to enslave them. Any history which even suggests that a Hungarian – any Hungarian – committed a crime in the past is, according to these nuts, anti-Hungarian. In their view, the point of Hungarian history should be to inculcate love of the nation among all Hungarians, and therefore it is imperative to ignore, or downplay criminal acts committed by Hungarians. Instead, the goal of every patriot, in their view, is to emphasize criminal acts committed against Hungarians, and the great acts committed by many Hungarians. This view is common to nationalists in all… Read more »
Guest

Thank you, Professor Harnad for these clear words! Even though there probably will be no reaction from those in the academy …

This almost reminds me of Nazi times where some scientists and there organisations swore allegiance to the “Führer” and there was “German Physics” instead of quantum physics etc – the next step for the academicians would be to introduce “Hungarian Science” as an alternative …

webber
Guest

Stevan Hernad, you may believe you left the Academy, but the Academy apparently doesn’t. Your name and picture still grace the Academy’s webpage where you are still listed as an external member (külső tag), like it or not… I guess you won’t, because in a way you are still legitimizing the institution.
See for yourself here: http://mta.hu/ii-osztaly-kulso-tagok
And here: http://mta.hu/koztestuleti_tagok?PersonId=19105

Member

They just have not got round to updating their records. (Not an unusual state of affairs in Academia, whether in or out of Hungary!)

dvhr
Guest

I think this depends on which class (department) you belong to. At my class, for example, all changes are always quickly made.

webber
Guest

OT – News on t.v. this evening is that the leadership of the Two-Tailed Dog Party have been arrested for painting sidewalks. The police say they have to have an expert estimate the “damage” done. The painting, shown on t.v., was rather pretty, and of course did no damage whatsoever. Yet they have been arrested.

webber
Guest

P.S. In Hungary, if you are a r-winger or even an extreme r-winger, you can erect a statue without a permit (Turul – and Horthy), the court can decide that the statue is illegal, the court can order that the statue be demolished (Turul), and the government ignores the order, and the police arrest nobody.
But if you are an opposition person, you will be arrested for doing something tens of thousands of Hungarian children do every year – painting a sidewalk.

webber
Guest

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Guest

“. . if you are an opposition person, you will be arrested for doing something tens of thousands of Hungarian children do every year – painting a sidewalk.”

Some police officers probably feel shame about taking part in such actions but conscientious objectors are fired.

webber
Guest

This is the police photo from the scene of the “crime.” Notice the police numbers placed beside the objects used to “commit the crime.” The “criminals” were painting bits of the pavement (asphalt) that are cracked and need replacement. The lines of the cracks gave the boundaries to the patches. Each patch of cracked asphalt got its own color (4 colors in total). This was done, in part, to call attention to repairs that need to be done. And, of course, it does no damage whatsoever to the asphalt.
comment image

Guest

“4 colors in total”

They know what they are doing.

“In mathematics, the four color theorem, or the four color map theorem, states that, given any separation of a plane into contiguous regions, producing a figure called a map, no more than four colors are required to color the regions of the map so that no two adjacent regions have the same color.” Wikipedia

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