Exchange with President of HUngarian Academy of Sciences

From: Lovász László
Subject: Letter from President Lovasz
Date: October 24, 2016 at 3:38:45 AM GMT-4

Dear Colleagues:

I address this letter to Honorary and External members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Several of you have resigned from ourAcademy, protesting the policies of the Hungarian government and assuming that the Academy did not work to mitigate these. This is a very serious loss for us. I understand their concerns, and respect their decision, but I would like to make some comments about the Academy’s position.

Democracy in Hungarian society is still evolving and sadly it has been and still is deeply divided between – roughly speaking – a liberal and conservative side. Throughout society, including intellectuals, this leads to opposing camps, and the tribal mentality often dampens the critical balanced approach that could be expected from such people.

The Academy is one of the very few places where such divisions nevertheless enable creative activities, and where people voting for either side are willing and able to cooperate for the benefit of science and education. I was nominated and elected by all members on both sides of the line, and I promised to maintain this fruitful cooperation. From this it follows that I should not make any political statements in the name of the Academy, since I was not elected on any political platform. Any political statement would be opposed by a considerable fraction of the members.

Of course, it is not always easy to draw the line between political and moral concerns. On issues when politicians from both sides advocate one-bit answers, we try to express a scientifically supported, balanced opinion. This requires rigorous work and advice from experts. For example, our Academy did carry out a thorough and (I hope) unbiased study of the composition of migrants, and with some recommendations, released it to the government; this is now publicly available. On the also hotly debated issue of public education, we did not take sides on whether it should be run by the national or local governments, but started more than a dozen research groups to design education methodology based on real experiments performed in real schools. An extensive volume about the status of the Hungarian legal system has just been published by our research institute (this is also freely available from our web site). We publish well-researched (and often critical) studies about many other legal, sociological, educational, economic issues of our society.

We must cooperate with the government (which was reelected with more than 50% of the votes cast) on a number of issues like research funding (we maintain a research network of institutes employing about 3000 researchers), education, water management and other problems raised by climate change, just to mention a few.

I regret the resignation of several of our external and honorary members. I hope very much that those who have resigned will maintain their close relation with the Academy, their collaboration with Hungarian scientists. I also hope that your expert and wise advice will help the Academy to work for progress and ensure that decisions are made on scientific basis. I want to thank those external and honorary members who expressed their support for a policy as outlined above.

I am at your disposal should you have any questions, and so are your collaborators in research, as well as the leaders of the section of your research area.

Laszlo Lovasz
President, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

From: Stevan Harnad
Subject: Reply to Letter from President Lovasz
Date: October 24, 2016 at 9:05:09 AM GMT-4
To: Lovász László

Dear Professor Lovasz,

Thank you for your message to External and Honorary Members.

I regret that I cannot agree that the underlying issues are merely a matter of political differences of opinion between between liberals and conservatives in an evolving democracy. 

Nor can I agree that ? in the name of keeping science separate from politics ? there is nothing more the Academy can do. I think the Open Letter of the Internal Members and Doctors indicates what the Academy can do.

But I fully understand the difficult position you are in, in view of the fact that the Internal Members? salaries and pensions as well as their research grants are under the control of the Orban regime.

Please believe that our resignations and critique are not intended to harm the Academy but to help it.

This is a reflection of my view only. I do not speak for the other resignees.

Yours sincerely,
Stevan Harnad

From: Stevan Harnad
Subject: Fwd: Letter from President Lovasz
Date: October 24, 2016 at 8:34:23 AM GMT-4
To: Thomas Jovin, Israel Pecht, Torsten Wiesel, Daniel C.Dennett

Dear colleagues,

The… letter, sent today by the President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences to all the External and Honorary Members, is unfortunately a confirmation of the degree to which the Academy is now under the thumb of the Orban regime. It recites the all-too-familiar ? and highly misleading ? talking points of the Orban regime, marshalled for every occasion: 

(1) Hungary and the Academy have democracy and pluralism 

(2) the issues cited by the resignees are merely political differences between liberals and conservatives

(3) the current government is a reflection of the free will of the majority of the populace

(4) an Academy of Science must be independent of politics

(There is also some muted indication that the President?s and the Academy?s hands are tied because they are dependent on the government for support and subsidies. This is certainly true. But the rest is quite the opposite of the truth.)

1. Democracy in Hungary is not evolving, it is devolving, being systematically dismantled by the Orban regime.

2. The differences among the members of the Academy, and in the general population, are not differences between liberals and conservatives, but between proponents of democracy and proponents (or fellow-travellers) of autocracy.

Opposing the Orban regime are not just liberals but centrists and conservatives, although they are all collectively labelled as liberals (and communists and traitors) by the Orban regime. Even the neo-nazi Jobbik party, which is as far right as one can be, is opposed to Orban?s kleptocracy.

3. The current government is not a reflection of the free will of the populace: It is the reflection of a population under duress from an ever more autocratic and corrupt machine that is controlling their media, their education, their livelihoods, their health, their laws, their tax money and their elections. None of this is a liberal/conservative matter.

4. In a democracy, an Academy of Sciences should be independent from politics. In an increasingly flagrant autocracy, an Academy of Sciences, like every individual and institution, should be opposing the autocracy in any way it can.

The many international, nonpartisan reports in the database linked to our call for resignations contain some of the abundant and definitive evidence of the ever-growing anti-demcratic actions of the Orban regime.

The signatories of the Internal Members’ and Doctors? call for the Academy to investigate and openly debate these actions. This is the way the Academy can do its part in trying to restore freedom and democracy in Hungary. Not in trying to reassure External Members that these are all just partisan political differences on which science is best served by remaining mute.

I close with an illustration of how the familiar tactics of the Orban regime are again palpable in Professor Lovasz?s letter (without a doubt vetted and partly also redacted, by the Orban regime?s minders):  

One of the signatories of the 2011 Open Letter about the “philosopher affair? (which had been a microcosm and harbinger of what was to ensue in the country as a whole in the next 5 years) had been successfully persuaded to withdraw his signature ? by receiving a barrage of the apparently polarized views on the issue (government press and police harassment campaigns against Academy members critical of the Orban regime)?  that this was just a partisan political matter on which he could not make a judgment one way or the other. The ensuing five years have since demonstrated to the world that the polarization is not between liberals and conservatives in a democracy, but between opponents and collaborators of a malign and sinking autocracy. This time this prominent academician resigned. I doubt that Professor Lovasz?s letter will persuade him to withdraw his resignation, or to rue it.

Yours sincerely,
Stevan Harnad