Budapest Background: Budai

Concern about the campaign directed against six Hungarian philosophers (three more scholars have in the meantime to be added to the list) has spread. Blogs have taken up the issue in at least three languages:

There is, however, little outside knowledge about the institutional mechanism at work. Julian Nida-Rümelin, in his programmatic appeal talks about the Hungarian government initiating procedures against members of the incriminated group. The following remarks attempt a closer look at the procedural details.

Dictators discard legal safeguards right away; democracies are built on due process. The case at issue falls somewhere in between.

See also: this excellent account which comes to conclusions similar to those presented here.

The Gyurcsány government and its minister of education, Bálint Magyar, are ultimately responsible for spending quite some money (appr. 1.6 million €) on six research projects. The calls were made in 2004 – 2005 and the projects were to run for three years. (Total costs for full-time Austrian post-docs are about 60.000.- € per year, you can do the math.) The programs have been evaluated and results published. May 2010 Viktor Orban, elected with a huge majority, has succeeded the Bajnai administration.

In June 2010 Orban appointed Gyula Budai special government investigator charged with a review of the privatisation program of the former government. It was claimed that fraudulent real estate deals had been made. November 2010 Budai was made anti-corruption “czar” and started to investigate the managment of the NKTH (National Office of Research and Technology). (See previous post.)

This assignment was clearly directed against the defeated political opponents. Scores were to be settled. It is, however, not unheard of that similar steps (appointing a “special counsel”) are taken in Western democracies. The US-Republicans, after winning a majority in the House of Representatives, immediately announced plans to “go after” President Obama. It has to be kept in mind that Gyula Budai is neither a judge nor a jury. His task is to investigate and to hand his findings over to the judiciary.

While this sounds vaguely comforting on paper (on screen), it is a sanitized account of what is actually happening. Budai has handpicked six cases, neclecting similar grants given to scholars close to the present government. His investigations are meticuosly synchronized with a press campaign against high-profile representatives of the independent left. Internal documents of NKTH transactions regularly turn up in reports by “Magyar Nemzet”. The actions of the goverment appointee and the government friendly daily newspaper are cleverly orchestrated; one may call them a witch hunt.

Trying to assess the situation one point deserves special emphasis. There is a crucial difference between

  • the acquisition of scholarly projects according to a set of rules which is invariably shaped by a given political climate (this includes “value neutral” approaches)
  • project implementation, including proper accounting, evaluation and sustainability

Having read the German translation of a pertinent article in “Magyar Nemzet”, dating from Jan. 25th, 2011, I am clear on one thing: this distinction is systematically and willfully disregarded by a certain press. The main purpose of the article is to direct popular wrath at a group of scholars that has taken advantage of the policies of the previous government. There is no interest whatsoever in the quality of research and no tangible proof of wrongdoing. One may argue that the previous government has taken Hungary for a ride. This is a legitimate political view. But here a number of passengers have selectively been picked out and held responsible for benefits received in good faith.

Is this a violation of common decency, of judicial impartiality and of fair journalism? It certainly is. Is it a plunge into autocracy? It remains to be seen.

Herbert Hrachovec

Herbert Hrachovec

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