Putin’s award: 50s-style investigation of protesting Debrecen professors

Let’s continue with the Russian theme today: in this case, the scandal that has been growing ever since the senate of the University of Debrecen bestowed the title of Civis Honoris Causa on Vladimir Putin. The Russian president allegedly received the award because “both the Hungarian government and the Russian Federation intend to assign an important role to the University of Debrecen in the Paks2 project.” But the University of Debrecen is already the recipient of a sizable grant from a Russian foundation called Russkiy Mir, a soft power initiative created by decree by Putin in 2007, which aims at promoting the Russian language and “forming the Russian World as a global project.”

The University of Debrecen is not the only Hungarian university to receive grants from Russkiy Mir. ELTE was the first beneficiary, and the University of Pécs also got money from the Russian foundation. But, according to Dániel Hegedüs, a political scientist specializing in Russian penetration into western institutions, the University of Debrecen’s arrangement with Russkiy Mir is fundamentally different from the others because of the intensity of the relationship. For example, a new Russian center was established recently where students can have tuition-free Russian language instruction. The university has close contacts with many Russian institutions: Tyumen State Medical Academy, Belgorod Agricultural Academy, ITMO University in St. Petersburg, Russian State Social University, and the Chuvash State University.

According to people familiar with the scene, pro-Russian sentiment is quite strong at the university. A young historian who represents undergraduates and graduate students in the senate, for example, voted for Putin’s award and expressed pro-Russian views, including an endorsement of the Russian occupation of foreign territories by means of arms. Mind you, this same student is keeping a portrait of Miklós Horthy in his room, which he intends to take home once he no longer has an office in the university.

It took only a few days after the announcement of the award for a handful of departments at the University of Debrecen to object to bestowing an honorary title on an autocrat whose rule in Russia is dotted with grievous attacks on democratic institutions and who is most likely behind the murders of politicians and journalists who are in his way. It was these professors whom the rector of the university, Zoltán Szilvássy, called “balfácánok,” which is a somewhat milder synonym of “balfaszok” (two-left-handed pricks). It means “blundering dolts or simpletons.” Who is this cultured academic?

In 2013 it wasn’t Szilvássy who won the most senate votes when three professors were vying for the job of rector of the university. In fact, he received less than one-third of the votes, which didn’t please the Orbán government. The vote was followed by two and a half months of behind-the-scenes negotiations and deals, resulting in the appointment of Szilvássy. At that time, the Oktatói Hálózat/OH (Faculty Network) protested against the violation of university autonomy. OH asked President János Áder not to affirm Szilvássy’s appointment, of course to no avail. In fact, since then “he was reelected with an overwhelming majority,” as Origo put it. What a surprise, especially since this time no other “balfácán” bothered to challenge him.

Since it was the Orbán government that placed Szilvássy in his position against the express wishes of the majority, he gladly does everything the government wants. One such occasion was the granting of another honorary doctorate, this time to Lajos Mocsai, a handball coach whom the government wanted to name rector of the University of Physical Education. As a handball coach he didn’t have any higher degrees or academic achievements, which were requirements for the job. (One could argue the merits of the case, but once the Magyar Testnevelési Főiskola under Semmelweis University became a separate university at Viktor Orbán’s insistence, the rules applicable to universities in general had to apply to this new creation as well.) So, Mocsai had to have a degree, and if he didn’t have a real one, an honorary degree would do. Szilvássy was ready to do the dirty work. In a ten-person committee only one person voted for the handball coach, but a month later, through some clever finagling, Mocsai received the honorary doctorate, which was accepted as a real one. Today he is a professor and the rector of the University of Physical Education.

There is relatively little available about Zoltán Szilvássy’s academic career, but it seems that, although he is an M.D., he moved over to the field of pharmaceuticals. In addition to his university duties, he also has several quite profitable business ventures. According to an anonymous commenter, who claims to be a former student and instructor at University of Debrecen, Szilvássy is by now a very rich man who “with disgusting mafia-like means carries out the cruelest professional personal decisions. He destroys professional careers with the typical vengeance of petty and untalented people.” These harsh words might not be unwarranted because, in the throes of the upheaval created by Putin’s honorary degree, an associate professor who heads the department of infectious diseases and child immunology returned an award she had received from Szilvássy in 2014 because the rector “together with his subordinates destroyed in a mafia-like manner” her department. She asserted that what’s going on in the university is “an unprecedented evil destruction” of the university’s scientific reputation. These words are quite similar to the ones used by the anonymous commenter on Index’s Fórum. The general opinion of the man is that “he completely lacks the modern European point of view based on democratic values.”

Szilvássy was furious at those who dared to criticize his decision on Putin’s award. He instructed his chief-of-staff—because a Hungarian rector does have such a thing—to call in the rebellious “balfácánok” one by one for something that in the 50s was known as self-criticism. The faculty members were smart enough to say “no” to that suggestion. They were, however, ready to meet the dean of the faculty of science and technology, and a time was set for the meeting. But when the 50-60 professors showed up, they were faced not with the dean but with the same chief-of-staff, József Mészáros, whom they had refused to deal with earlier. Mészáros is an old Fidesz apparatchik and a good friend of Lajos Kósa, the former mayor of Debrecen. He gave each person a piece of paper with a number of questions on it, aimed at finding out who the initiators of the “rebellion” were. After the faculty members answered the questions and signed their piece of paper, he was going to have a talk with them, one by one. Well, at that point patience ran out. The professors refused to answer the questions and accused the university’s administration of using 1950s methods. Some tore the piece of paper into bits right there, while others gave it back without signing their names. A member of the department of constitutional law gave a legal lecture to Mészáros, and the former rector expressed his opinion that the questions led him to believe that they want to pin the blame on him and the department heads as the organizers of the protest.

This case lets us see Viktor Orbán’s system more granularly. This is how intimidation works at each level, in each school, in each hospital, in each university, and even in private companies if the boss or the supervisor is a Fidesz man or woman. Fear is spreading, and not without reason.

September 22, 2017
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“This case lets us see Viktor Orbán’s system more granularly. This is how intimidation works at each level, in each school, in each hospital, in each university, and even in private companies if the boss or the supervisor is a Fidesz man or woman. Fear is spreading, and not without reason.“ – Yes, this is Hungarian democracy ‘Orban style’. These methods are used at every level and at every instance in the administration of the country. Amongst all the crimes that are committed by the Orban regime the biggest harm done is the enslaving of the citizens’ minds and souls. No change of government can right the wrongs done by the 8 years of tyranny for a long time to come, as the un-poisoning of the minds may take a generation. And knowing that Orban will do whatever it takes to stay in power, his tyranny will continue until the desperation of the people will end in an uprising and bloodshed… And I can’t help coming back to the same questions; how is it possible that the EU leadership tolerates this regime? How is it that with the full knowledge that if only one of the thousands of Orwellian actions… Read more »
The question “how is it possible that the EU leadership tolerates this regime” seems to me to be answered because the EU has leaders and functioning committees on international trade that are every bit as corrupt as the Fidesz regime is. There has been evidence of this for a long time, here is a link to an article from 2014 that discusses how EU politicians are bought by corporations https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/08/lobbyists-european-parliament-brussels-corporate None of this is news and it was used by the British opponents of the EU very effectively in their campaign. We all know that JC Juncker was deeply involved in helping Luxembourg become a center of tax evasion and on and on. So it’s completely possible because Orban knows so many of these EU leaders and MPs are corrupt and he effectively has kompromat (provided by his friend Putin) on many of them. If the Russians were able to carry out operations relating to Trump with the use of corruption and greed one can only imagine what they have done inside the EU. That they just talk about Hungary and do very little is not surprising. I mean there is every reason to believe that Obama even suspected Merkel… Read more »

“And I can’t help coming back to the same questions; how is it possible that the EU leadership tolerates this regime? ”

I think the answer is partially because Hungary is a cheap assembly factory for many multinationals serving the more developed parts of Europe. Volkswagen, Mercedes and others would use all their lobbying force to avoid Hungary being pushed out of the Union. Furthermore Poland has already said that it would use its veto for blocking a resolution to kick Hungary out, while Little Boy Viktor would use its veto to protect his Polish counterpart. Then there is also already enough trouble with Brexit. As a result the 10 million Hungarians are sacrificed by the Commission.


In general I agree with you. I would like to have an idealistic vision of the EU, but I must admit I have become very disenchanted with the EU. Brexit was fueled by EU bureaucrats like Juncker who were easy pickings for a demagogue like Nigel Farage. Farage is a more rational version of the madman Trump, but equally vicious. Orban’s own success is also in part the result of the EU’s failure to fully intergrate the former Communist nations and their current reality as sources of low wage employment.

Hungary is none the less better off than let’s say Vietnam where in 1986 the Communist Party simply ordered capitalism with the party leading it. They called it Doi Moi meaning renovation in Vietnamese. The party is every bit as corrupt as Fidesz and the police state is all encompassing using the Chinese model more or less. I have been back to Vietnam several times in the last ten years and seen the rise is the standard of living, but also the total oppression of the people.


Istvan, what should the EU do/what can it do when Hungarians vote in large numbers for the “conservative” Fidesz – just like the Poles vote for their rectionary “Christian” party?

OK, even with all info available and a better education we’ll see tonight that about 10% (I hope it won’t be more – though I fear that in the East there will be more) of German voters vote for the quasi-fascist AfD …
And I’m not even thinking of Trump and the British Conservatives …

All that happens while the standards of living in the developed countries reach new heights!

Over the last days my wife and I talked with my relatives and our Hungarian neighbours about the “good old times” and evrybody of course knows how much better life is today in Europe.
Sometimes I wonder what young people in Europe would say and do if they had to live like their parents/grandparents 50 years ago …
Or if they had to live like people in some places in Asia and Africa even!


Now I even better understand why someone told me that he’d never return to Debrecen …
Of course if you’re good you have no problem finding a position at a university/institution outside Hungary – let the brain drain continue!

For several years I had a cooperation with a scientist in Debrecen. I visited him in Debrecen many times and I found him an intelligent and reasonable fellow and Debrecen a pleasant town. I actually enjoyed going there. Not any more. There was a very large factory in Debrecen called Biogal that supplied Hungary with antibiotics. After the collapse of the communist system this uncompetitive factory was closed down and put up for sale. Once when I visited my friend in Debrecen he told me “Biogal has been bought by the Jews”. With “the Jews” he meant Teva, an Israeli company. It dawned on me that he was an antisemite. (Like practically everybody else in Debrecen I realised later). Later I got quite shaken when his son declared that he aimed at a career in state security but I kept my mouth shut. Finally, when my friend explained to me that it was a wonderful idea that Fidesz was going to reform the pension system and put the private pension money under state administration I thought that I should try to reason with him. Impossible. I gave up and withdrew. After that I decided to begin following Hungarian politics closely… Read more »
Not too much OT: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said it is “totally unthinkable” that Hungary would lose European Union funding or be fined for its governmentʼs policy on migration, responding to a question in his regular weekly interview on government-controlled Kossuth Radio, as reported by official state media. And it goes on … https://bbj.hu/politics/orban-financial-sanctions-over-migration-policy-unthinkable_139174 “It is unlawful for Hungary to be fined for not wanting to accept immigrants,” he declared, adding – according to kormany.hu – that European leaders making statements of this kind are committing a crime. The prime minister urged citizens to participate in an upcoming “National Consultation” on what the Hungarian government has repeatedly termed the “Soros Plan” to resettle migrants in Europe because in his view, by doing so they can help Hungary protect itself from immigration. Speaking about funding, kormany.hu cited the prime minister as saying that he is unaware of any difference between Hungarian and EU funds, because “it is all our money.” Referring to Hungarian contributions to the EU budget and the fact that Hungary has opened its markets to Western companies, he said that “we don’t receive a single cent from the EU as a gift, as we give something for every… Read more »

Well it appears the ‘droogs’ in their own way have politicized academia to the extent that it has some Magyar administrators acting like ‘clockwork oranges’.

As Burgess the writer of the novel has noted the latter was a metaphor for “an organic entity, full of juice and sweetness and agreeable odour, being turned into a mechanism’.
And that mechanism apparently has infiltrated Magyar academic institutions so much that it has taken on the actions and attributes of an insidious outsider bent on simply using the country for its own ends. Simply not an enticing connection when it comes to the free flow of ideas at universities.

And perhaps we can look for more Russian-influence on the magyar language. With the study of the Russian , like Clockwork’s version of Russian influenced english (nadsat) it will be a ‘sublime penetration’ into the culture. Another avenue for propaganda to advance through communication.


Totally OT but really funny, this piece in the Onion made my day:
Anyone remember Sebastian Gorka?
WASHINGTON—Saying it was the first step in gaining the confidence and stability he would need to reintegrate back into society, residents and staff on Thursday welcomed former White House strategist Sebastian Gorka to New Beginnings, a halfway house for fired Trump administration members.

The 20-bed residential treatment center, which opened earlier this year in the capital’s quiet Woodland Park neighborhood, reportedly offers round-the-clock care to traumatized former West Wing insiders, providing life skills training, wellness workshops, and psychotherapy under the guidance of licensed social workers
And it goes on like this – made me hope again for sanity in the USA …

Tomorrow evening we’ll see how (in)sane Germans are …
I’m still hoping!


Gorka the Uborka…maybe they can can him!


The little fascist on the march.


Good one! I got my laugh.


Reading the comments, especially those about the corruption in the EU, and realising that it is most probably true not just speculation, made me more than sad and disappointed; it made me realise that decent Hungarian citizens have a ‘lose-lose’ choice under the Orban regime led EU-member Hungary…