The Akadémiai Dolgozók Fóruma (Hungarian Academy Staff Forum – HASF) is a civil initiative launched by researchers of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) amidst heightened political tensions in 2019. The research network that previously employed around 5000 researchers and staff was reorganised despite MTA’s, its members’ and employees’ and international colleagues’ disapproval. The HASF aims to represent the collective interests of researchers, academics, and administrative staff on concerns over autonomy of science, status of employees, financial modalities and conditions of scientific research in Hungary. The HASF observes legal and informal processes that affect their members and the Hungarian research community, facilitates communication over concern on academic freedom and labour rights, and promotes the protection of the integrity and dignity of researchers in Hungary. It operates, together with the online portal Átlátszó, the digital anonymous whistleblowing platform called Tudoleaks. In spring 2022, HASF has collaborated in publishing a book, together with other NGOs, on culture, education, science and the media in Hungary since 2020 (click on link to download).
The members of HASF are committed to promote the freedom of science and education, guard over the autonomy of science in general and that of scientific institutions and respect the freedom of scientific communication without any political bias. HASF intends to be an organisation that preserves the integrity of scientific life in Hungary in line with the traditions of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. As a broader concept, HASF keeps an eye on actual issues of cultural politics and comments plans and decisions related to the freedom of culture, art, education, and foremost, science.
Brief history of MTA
1825 – István Széchenyi donates the full annual income of his estate to establish a Learned Society for the promotion of Hungarian language and propagation of sciences and arts in Hungary, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences is founded. The Academy maintained its reputation as the most rigorous community of scientists and researchers in Hungary despite political revolutions, World Wars, economic crises and socialist transition throughout its two-century history. It consists of MTA members, who are renowned scientists, and had, until recently, its network of research institutes, the biggest research network in Hungary.
1865 – Inauguration of its central building in central Budapest on the Danube bank.
1919-1940 – Despite financial difficulties following the First World War and the dissolution of Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the Academy maintained its function as the foremost research institute through state subsidies and generous financial contributions from private donors. It is during this period when some of the most successful scientists were admitted to the Academy, including the first domestic Nobel Prize winner, biochemist Albert Szent-Györgyi. However, Hungarian academia suffered an immeasurable loss due to the shadow cast by the anti-Semitic ideology of the age. Many were forced to leave the country and continue their studies and research activities abroad due to fears of retaliations.
1945 – 1990 – MTA faced threats of first major political interventions by the Communist government. The organisational structure was changed to a Soviet style academy which introduced a unified and centralised system of scientific qualification, tasked with the supervision of scientific societies, and the steering of the publishing of scientific books and journals. Despite interventions in its institutional structure, it is during this period when major governmental funding and politically motivated expansion of domestic science contributed to the development of the research network.
1990 – The Academy successfully retains its values during the post-communist transition period, entering a new era with promises of democratic values and academic independence. The legal status of MTA was changed to ‘public body’, which reestablished its institutional autonomy. The Academy was tasked to function as the guardian of independent scientific research and freedom of expression.
2010-2011 – A comprehensive reform of the research network where smaller research institutions were centralised into fifteen research centres. The reform introduced a new performance evaluation system and increased the role of tender-based financing to specific research projects.
June 2018 – The first unilateral government intervention to the research network. The government allowed 54 minutes to the president of MTA to comment on a bill-proposal that fundamentally reorganised the financial structure of research centres. The President of MTA boycotted the government initiative that would have fundamentally altered the administrative control and the financing of the research network.
January 2019 – The assembly of employees of MTA drafted a statement on the claims related to the autonomy of science, status of the employees, financial modalities and conditions of scientific research in a wide social context. This led to the establishment of the Hungarian Academy Staff Forum.
July 2019 – Government passed the bill to establish a new research network (Eötvös Loránd Research Network – ELKH) which allows the government to have a closer administrative control over financing of research projects. The Assembly of MTA rejected the unilateral institutional reorganisation, and filed an appeal to the constitutional court over the uncompensated use of academic property.
The amendment on the Academy Act in 2019 created a new Governing Body (GB) for the research network, which is highly influenced by the government: it consists of 13 members, appointed directly by the Prime Minister or by the Minister of Innovation and Technology. The GB has the power to decide on the finances of the ELKH, organisation and reorganisation questions, and the general directors of the 15 research centres. The reorganisation of the Research Network is possible, thus led to increasing political influence over the Hungarian scholarship and interference into the academic work.
2020 – HASF formalised its activity in 2020 by founding an official association, and continues to promote academic freedom and freedom of expression under increased political pressure and uncertainties.
Governmental interventions to the research network since 2018
MTA and intellectuals in general have always been exposed to attempts of political interventions. This was the situation in 2005 when MTA successfully defended itself from the economic minister of the government at that time. From 2010, scientists (in particular, philosophers and other human scientists) were aimed at by the near-government press with “revolver articles”, even by listing scientists on the basis of their assumed political view. The direct governmental intervention started in June 2018 when the State Secretary allowed only 54 minutes to the president of MTA to comment a bill-proposal that fundamentally reorganised the financial pattern of the Hungarian scientific research network. From this time, the leadership of MTA attempted to negotiate with the government but the process proved to be totally inconclusive. At the end, the government submitted the bill unilaterally.
Control by keeping the hand on the wallett matter?
Although the constitution (called “fundamental law” since 2012) declares the autonomy of science, the current government intended to control the scientific and research sector. With such an aim, it rechannelled the financial resource of the research network from the budget of MTA to the Ministry of Innovation and Technology. This change in the financing pattern deprived MTA from disposing the basic allowance of the research network by its own internal consent and jeopardized the survival of research fields that dealt with “politically sensitive” issues such as history, law, democracy, sociology, gender issues etc.
In accord with the government’s initiative, a preliminary administrative control was tried to be established through a “program of excellence” that was meant to make the fundamental funding of the whole network based on its success in a newly established research framework program, reviewed by the Ministry. Finally, the President of MTA boycotted the process by not submitting the proposals prepared for this program.
Formation of the Hungarian Academy Staff Forum
Many researchers in the academic institutes recognised that the government’s pursuit to remodel the financing of the academic network would be potentially disastrous on the freedom of science and may lead to both unwanted self-restriction and a striving for compliance to the maintenance bodies based on non-scientific principles. For this reason, an assembly of academic employees held on 24th January 2019 composed a statement on the claims related to the autonomy of science, status of the employees, financial modalities and conditions of scientific research in a wide social context. This was the birth of the Hungarian Academy Staff Forum.
An unwanted divorce: Separation of the research network from MTA
In the first half of 2019, the failure of the implementation of the “excellence program” led the government to apply a new route to take over the control on the research network. As the government’s preference, it was communicated that the research network should run under a closer administrative control. Although a number of meetings were held with the participation of the representatives of the government and leaders of MTA, no real discussion could be performed, and even the tiny alleviations of the opposition were fully abandoned by the government later. This took place when the bill was submitted to establish a new supreme organization, the Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH), to coordinate the former academic institutes. Despite the rejection of this by the MTA Assembly, the bill was enacted on 2nd July 2019 and ELKH formally took over the institute network from September 2019. The financial conflict due to the uncompensated use of the academic property is yet to solve. MTA submitted a claim to the constitutional court, which is still pending.
Employment status – in the research network and in many other institutions
While the first year of the operation of ELKH passed with an apparent passivity of this new supervision body, some money injection took place into the research network in late 2020. This included a temporary wage compensation and an allowance for procurements. At the same time, it was raised that the public employment status would be discontinued in the research centres (similar measures were already implemented for other sectors of education, research, culture and the health system, too). The related bill was submitted to the parliament on a “last-minute basis”; hence, only the legally possible absolute minimum period of 1 month remained for the institutes to arrange all discussion and paperwork with the employees. Finally, the majority of the employees accepted the new contract offered. Worker unions, associations and political analysts considered this status change unnecessary, the problems that were claimed to justify the change could have been solved by various other means.
Mission statement and activity of the Hungarian Academy Staff Forum
In accord with the statutes of HASF, the members want to promote the freedom of science and education, guard over the autonomy of science in general and that of scientific institutions, and respect the freedom of scientific communication without any political bias. HASF intends to be an organization that preserves the integrity of scientific life in Hungary in line with the traditions of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. As a broader concept, HASF keeps an eye on actual issues of cultural politics and comments plans and decisions related to the freedom of culture, art, education and science.
As a part of this activity, HASF organized or took part at various events:
– Roundtable discussions on the regulation of various fields of art (theatres, collections of fine arts, literature and their budgetary support) and the similarity of their situation to that of scientific institutions (first anniversary event of HASF);
– Solidarity with the Hungarian Natural History Museum against the governmental initiative to move to the museum from Budapest to the countryside;
– Solidarity with the University of Theatre and Film Arts Budapest due to its highly unwanted reorganization initiated by the government, and with other actors of higher education, a sector that is being largely privatized in the last 1-2 years.
HASF organized various polls among the employees of the Hungarian academic sector in order to assess and communicate their opinion.
The Hungarian Academy Staff Forum would like to network with fellow organizations around the globe. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org