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Back to the Future: Report from Hungary


At present, the descriptive term “Left-liberal” has been dislocated from its complex meaning rooted in a profound European historical tradition and imbued with highly negative connotations. In Hungary, the term now functions as a synonym for those believed to have benefitted under the former Socialist-Liberal coalition of the MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party) and SZDSZ (Alliance of Free Democrats / Hungarian Liberal Party) parties.

On January 8, an editorial in Magyar Nemzet (Hungarian Nation)—a newspaper intimately connected to the present Fidesz Party government under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán—accused a number of prominent philosophers of having taken, “in a morally and legally questionable way,” 1.85 million Euros in grant money under the Socialist-Liberal coalition government in 2004–2005. The allegation focused on a group of academics that included philosopher Ágnes Heller (professor emerita at the New School for Social Research), Mihály Vajda, Sándor Radnóti, and others, in order to question the legitimacy of properly distributed research funding. The philosophers were also accused of being “by self-definition and according to public consensus ‘liberals,’ who have not settled for staying in the ivory tower and who wish to share their views and thoughts with a wider public beyond the academic arena.”[footnote Beside Magyar Nemzet, other the government-tied newspapers and news channels (MTV, Hír TV, and Echo TV) were involved in the campaign. If not stated otherwise, all quotes are from the editorials of Hungarian Nation starting January 8, 2011. About the grant results see .]

The editorial highlighted six projects (all in the fields of aesthetics and philosophy) out of a total of 35 funded projects, describing them as “not even on familiar terms” with the initial purpose of the grants, which were allocated from the National Office for Research and Technology (now the National Innovation Office) in order to enhance research in social sciences. The accused intellectuals, many of whom served as unpaid project leaders, have mostly been referred to as “the Hellers” (after Ágnes Heller) or “the liberal clique.” Though they clearly share liberal principles, their individual scientific and political approaches differ in many ways.

Two days after the editorial appeared, the government’s Accountability and Anti-Corruption Commissioner launched an extensive investigation into the “suspicious” projects, and the case was soon handed over to the police, who investigated probable malpractice and the fraudulent misuse of funds. Under the pretext of alleged financial crime, the scandal-mongering media campaign soon expanded to become a full-fledged political battle.

Read the full article here.