January 20, 2011
An Open Letter Regarding the Situation of Philosophy and Philosophers in Hungary *
By Professor Laszlo Tengelyi
University of Wuppertal
I would like to make you aware that in Hungary, very recently, a campaign has been initiated against philosophers such as Agnes Heller (Prof. em. at the New School for Social Research), Mihály Vajda, Sándor Randnóti and others.
As you probably know, the Hungarian parliament recently passed a law concerning the media, which is not compatible with European norms.This media law, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. One could cite a whole series of further measures from the last half-year, which add up to a dismantling of democratic institutions in Hungary. The Young Democrats (Fidesz), a party elected to parliament with a two-thirds majority, have already altered the constitution more than ten times. The constitutional court has been stripped of essential rights. The so-called “Budget Council”—a body which is independent of the ruling party, and which is composed of economic experts and tasked with overseeing the economic policy of the current administration—after the first critical positions it adopted, was dissolved and replaced with members of the Fidesz party. The post of the chief justice in Hungary was similarly filled by a well-known Fidesz party member.
The principle of the separation of powers in Hungary today is plainly at risk.
Under these conditions, the newly named director of the Philosophy Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences dismissed four colleagues and rated 15 of 23 other colleagues “professionally unqualified.” This ranking was even extended to colleagues who themselves had already been granted the local equivalent of the Habilitation in Hungary. Philosophers and academics from neighboring disciplines argued against these dismissals last November. Prof. Sándor Radnóti began a protest online. Over 2000 signatures were gathered, not only from Hungarian academics, university professors, and researchers, but also from significant philosophers and politicians from other countries as well. In defense of these colleagues who had been dismissed, I myself published an article at the end of November in the Hungarian weekly paper ÉS, in which I requested the President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences to carry out an investigation into the completely arbitrary and at least in part apparently groundless dismissals at the Philosophical Institute. Nothing of the sort has been done since that article appeared.
Ten days ago (January 8, 2011), however, an article appeared in the newspaper Magyar Nemzet (Hungarian Nation), which was aimed at a “liberal circle” of philosophers. Magyar Nemzet is a newspaper that is intimately tied to the Fidesz government. The word “liberal” refers to the party that, in coalition with the Socialists, constituted the previous government. The article makes clear, without a doubt, that political opponents among the philosophers ought to be attacked.
In the case of some philosophers, e.g., Prof. Béla Bacsó, it is clearly stated that he was a counselor of a liberal minister in the previous government. One of the other philosophers attacked, is called a “friend” of this counselor. One must understand that these words, “liberal” and “left-liberal” are not used in today’s Hungary without clear anti-Semitic undertones. This “liberal circle” of philosophers—the majority of which has never exercised a political function, not even as a counselor, but rather have devoted themselves to teaching and research — this “liberal circle” were accused of having taken research grants, under the Aegis of this liberal minister. for various projects, given by the European Union, even though the terms of their grant applications differed from the initial purpose of the grant outlined in the application form. (This funding was especially generous, about 360,000 Euros per grant.) In the case of such a charge, it is naturally very difficult for outsiders to make a justified protest. Six projects were attacked, all of which came from the so-called “liberal circle” of Philosophers. Other disciplines were not affected by these charges. These projects, by this time, were already finished, and their final reports had been published on the website of the state office which had distributed the money.
A whole series of further articles followed this first article in Magyar Nemzet about the six philosophy grant applications. One can speak here without exaggeration of a campaign, which was fueled further day by day. One week ago on Wednesday (January 12, 2011), the public received the news that an authorized representative of the government would undertake an investigation of the six projects. On Saturday (January 15), it was reported in the newspaper Magyar Nemzet, that this authorized representative of the government had handed the investigation over to the police, who, at least in the case of one of the six research projects, would begin an investigation “with justified suspicion.” Yesterday (January 18), it was announced in the same paper that a police investigation would be begun also in the case of other research projects.
I can’t speak, of course, as to the perfect handling of the individual projects, because I don’t know the individual details. I have lived and taught in Germany for the past ten years, and I take part in the Hungarian philosophical life only in the case of talks and publications. Nevertheless, my long-standing personal relationships with these philosophers who have had these accusations lodged against them is one of the reasons why I doubt the reliability of these allegations.
I would like to point out some further facts (and in addition, to show that this whole situation clearly has the character of a campaign against those who see politics from another perspective):
1) It is a false and misleading claim, that the six philosophical grant proposals were inconsistent with the text of the call for proposals. In order to enforce this claim, in most cases the title of the Fifth Program of the application is cited: “Research of the national heritage and of the social challenges of the present age.” Yet in the call for proposals, it is clear how this general theme ought to be specifically understood: “The application proposal should present, on the one hand, the themes which have until now been determinative of the framework of European scientificity and, on the other hand, the integration of essential questions of the present time in the human sciences.” The six incriminated project applications, which dealt with classical themes of Philosophy, were fully consistent with this description.
2) The research grants were awarded to the six project applications through a State office, in a public application process, and based on the decision of a panel put together from highly qualified professionals in the field.
3) The use of the research grant money took place, just as in Germany, through the academic administration (the administration of individual universities or the administration of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), and was subject to the usual regulations at these institutions for financial cases.
4) From the investigation of the distribution of the research grant money only the six grant applications in philosophy are affected; the entire system for distributing this money is not being investigated.
5) These six projects were chosen, because someone filed charges against the project director and some of the participants. It is surprising, that in two articles in the Magyar Nemzet, the director of the Philosophical Institute, against whose measures the protest action in November was undertaken, is the only expert in the affairs of Philosophy who is cited; also, it is a striking feature of the present campaign against philosophers that one of the main persons charged is Prof. Radnóti, who in November 2010 began the online protest.
6) The project director receives very little income from the grant for which she is responsible; the amount of this income is strictly regulated.
7) The six philosophical projects made possible for three years the employment of a whole group of colleagues and even doctoral candidates (in total more than one hundred people). The various monies were divided among many jobs, so that the colleagues who were employed, whose net income, in the case of full professors, by the way even today barely rises above 1000 Euros, each in the end could receive only modest shares.
8) Since then, the results of the accused projects can be found on display online for a larger public, in short summaries. The individual project directors of the incriminated projects are able to show in each case about ten book publications and a whole series of scientific treatises. In addition there are not only philosophical translations and collections of articles, but also a considerable amount of monographs. Not even a tenth of the research grant is allotted to publish a book, because also many individual treatises were written within the limits of work contracts, because furthermore a part of the research grant would be spent on computers and books for that particular Institution and because a considerable portion of the entire grant was given over to the administration of that particular Institute. What caught my eye especially, besides newly edited translations of Plato, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, were some monographs: In addition to books from Gyula Rugási, György Tatár, Gábor Borbély, I would like to mention a very strong six-hundred page book on Winckelmann from Sándor Radnóti and an excellent Kant monograph from a younger colleague.
9) So many colleagues, who are so brilliant, have taken part in these six projects, that if this campaign were to be thoroughly carried out, it would mean the destruction of the entire profession of Philosophy in Hungary.
I am sorry that I have to bring you such news. I would be very grateful to you, if you would forward this present letter to other colleagues and if you could support the case of Hungarian philosophy in this difficult time.
With friendly greetings,
P.S.: In order to give the present concern bigger publicity, I have informed the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, and the Neue Züricher Zeitung that I have sent this letter to the leaders of some of the larger philosophical societies in Germany
UPDATE: Friends from Hungary have made clear to me that I must make a correction to my public letter above on one point: In regards to the research grants in question, it was not the case that the grant money was coming from the European Union. The National Office for Research and Technology—which supported, among many other project proposals from the various sciences, the six incriminated project applications—distributes monies from an Innovation-Fund, which is created from a percentage determined by law of the taxes of businesses active in Hungary. Meanwhile, the situation in Hungary has worsened: On Friday an investigation by the police was initiated in the case of Ágnes Heller (Professor emerita at the New School for Social Research) and Mihály Vajda (Professor emeritus at the University of Debrecen, who was also for a time a colleague at the University in Bremen).
* TRANSLATOR'S NOTE The following is a letter by Professor Laszlo Tengelyi regarding the current situation in Hungary, especially with regard to the predicament of Philosophy and of specific philosophers there. It was initially written on January 20, 20011. It was sent to all Prof. Tengelyi’s German colleagues, but directed especially to the leaders of some of the various prominent philosophical societies within Germany, including Prof. Julian Nida-Rümelin, currently president of the German Philosophical Society, Prof. Wolfram Hogrebe, former president of the German Philosophical Society and editor of the anthology Philosophica Hungarica, Prof. Thomas Spitzley, President of the Society for Analytic Philosophy, Prof. Iris Därmann, President of the Society for Phenomenological Research, as well as Prof. emeritus Klaus-Michael Kodalle, President of the German-Hungarian Society for Philosophy. It was sent as well to three of the major German language newspapers, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, and the Neue Züricher Zeitung.
My goal in this translation is simple: to spread the word about these unfortunate events. It is my belief that the events of the past six months in Hungary should concern us all, both as philosophers and as human beings who value the lived principles of democracy.
—D. P. O’Connell, Ann Arbor, Michigan January 24, 2011