Hungarian academy president vows to keep fighting for independence as government takes control
Today, Hungaryâs parliament approved an amendment that makes it legally possible to transfer a large part of the budget of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) in Budapest to the countryâs newly established Ministry of Innovation and Technology (MIT). The vote is the first step in a process that may bring almost â¬88 million of MTSâs â¬124 millio n annual budget under direct control of MIT; the next step is a parliamentary vote on the science budget itself on Friday. The governmentâs proposal is widely expected to pass.
Minister for Innovation and Technology LÃ¡szlÃ³ Palkovics has said the transfer will unite Hungaryâs innovation and science policy and end fragmentation of research budgets. But many scientists see the move as a power grab by an increasingly authoritarian regime that would extend political influence over science spending and research agendas.
Last week, ScienceInsider talked to MTA President LÃ¡szlÃ³ LovÃ¡sz, who has negotiated at length with Palkovics in search of a last-minute compromise. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: Why is this budget proposal unacceptable for the academy?
A: The majority of our budgetâ"mostly for the maintenance of our research institutes, recruiting new research ers and some of our grantsâ"would be distributed by this new ministry. Minister Palkovics has said that means the ministry will determine which areas to focus [the budget] on. Unfortunately, this is a very broad statement. We were promised everything will remain the same, but then I donât understand why they need to be changed.
What worries me is there will be a very complicated financing system where, letâs say, weâre the owner of the buildings, but if we want to repair a roof we would need to run to the MIT. I canât understand why they couldnât take the prestige of the academy into account when they decided on these changes. To say we cannot finance ourselves shows a lot of distrust.
Q: How has the scientific community responded?
A: We want to avoid taking the whole debate to a political level, but many international institutions have expressed their concern and solidarity. The academyâs presidiumâ"which has a bout 25 members with various political viewsâ"has unanimously adopted a resolution [to boycott the governmental proposals]. I believe this shows clear support from the Hungarian scientific community.
Q: Do you see this as retribution for public criticism of the government by MTA or its members?
A: I donât think so. Our criticism, for example, on the education system was based on evidence. The right-wing media have attacked the academy on many occasions, but if there is any claim about us expressing antigovernmental opinion, then it is a misinterpretation because this was never the case.
Q: You negotiated with Palkovics for weeks. How did it go?
A: We were asked to draw up alternative proposals. As a compromise, we made them an offer in which they would take over the budget for the academyâs science grants, allowing the government to implement changes in science policy, while we w ould keep control over the basic financing of the academyâs institutes.
Q: Last week, the minister rejected MTAâs proposals. Whatâs next?
A: Unfortunately, Minister Palkovics has taken a hard line in the case, and we couldnât reach a compromise. If the budget and the amendment get approved, of course, we will comply with the law, but Iâm afraid this will result in the need to fight for the recognition of certain types of research on a daily basis. By now, itâs clear the minister and I have different perspectives on bottom-up research. He doesnât support such projects for some reason, regards them as endless and haphazard to some extent, while the academy believes they are essential for the advancement of science and for Hungarians. They help ensure that the country does not lag behind cutting-edge science by decades.
Q: What will be the future of Hungarian science?
A: Th e new ministry doesnât even have âscienceâ in its name. Based on that alone, I cannot see the guarantee that they will remain responsible for science in the long term. I can trust the promises of Minister Palkovics, but guaranteeing the independence of academic research must not depend on one person. It will become more difficult for the Hungarian scientific community, but I hope the prestige of the academy and the joint efforts of scientists will help us continue scientific research according to the current standards.
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More SifterSource: Google News Hungary | Netizen 24 Hungary