News News from Hungary New­ly-Elect­ed Sci­ence Acad­e­my Pres­i­dent Wants Bet­ter Rela­tions with Government

New­ly-Elect­ed Sci­ence Acad­e­my Pres­i­dent Wants Bet­ter Rela­tions with Government

World-renowned neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gist Tamás Fre­und has been elect­ed the new pres­i­dent of the Hun­gar­i­an Acad­e­my of Sci­ences (MTA). In the wake of the con­tro­ver­sial restruc­tur­ing, he said he aims to rein­te­grate the insti­tutes but first he wants to build a “work­ing rela­tion­ship and mutu­al trust” with the government.

The gov­ern­ment, name­ly the Min­is­ter for Inno­va­tion and Tech­nol­o­gy, Lás­zló Palkovics, is set to restruc­ture MTA after their tri­umph at the 2018 gen­er­al elec­tions. In July 2019, fol­low­ing one year of a one-sided bat­tle and protests of the major­i­ty of MTA’s schol­ars, the Par­lia­ment, thanks to Fidesz-KDNP’s two-thirds major­i­ty, vot­ed to strip Hungary’s no. 1. research cen­ter of its research insti­tutes and prop­er­ties and trans­fer them into a body called Eötvös Loránd Research Net­work (ELKH), where the gov­ern­ment has more pow­er and con­trol. You can read more about it herehere, and here.

After out­go­ing pres­i­dent Lás­zló Lovász couldn’t be fur­ther reelect­ed, three aca­d­e­mics went for the pres­i­den­tial seat. But after evo­lu­tion­ary biol­o­gist Eörs Sza­th­máry decid­ed to step back days before the elec­tion, Fre­und only faced famed psy­chol­o­gist-lin­guist Csa­ba Pléh, whom he even­tu­al­ly beat by 82 votes (555 assem­bly mem­bers had the right to vote, only 429 of them vot­ed). While Fre­und is said to be more friend­ly towards the gov­ern­ment, Pléh, on the oth­er hand, would have been more con­fronta­tion­al. There­fore, the elec­tion def­i­nite­ly had a polit­i­cal aspect too, and many spec­u­lat­ed that Freund’s vic­to­ry is prob­a­bly what the gov­ern­ment would have pre­ferred too.

Accord­ing to lib­er­al Index‘s lengthy report, Fre­und, aged 61, is report­ed­ly deeply reli­gious with a mod­er­ate right-wing polit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion who has long been known in aca­d­e­m­ic cir­cles to have a good rela­tion­ship with the Prime Min­is­ter. As the head of the Insti­tute of Exper­i­men­tal Med­i­cine (KOKI), he cre­at­ed the mod­el that con­tributed in mak­ing Hun­gar­i­an brain research world-class. Beside count­less oth­er awards, in 2011, he was one of the three Hun­gar­i­an sci­en­tists to be award­ed with the “Nobel Prize of neu­ro­science,” the ‘Brain Prize.’ In addi­tion, he per­son­al­ly lob­bied the gov­ern­ment for the Nation­al Brain Research Program.

He promised a polit­i­cal­ly-neu­tral Acad­e­my and to nor­mal­ize MTA’s rela­tion­ship with the gov­ern­ment: “MTA can­not be in oppo­si­tion,” he insist­ed. Besides, he is a mem­ber of the afore­men­tioned, new­ly-estab­lished ELKH, for which he was also crit­i­cized (from which he promised to renounce his mem­ber­ship). And still, he is nowhere near an uncon­di­tion­al sup­port­er of the gov­ern­ment. Fre­und, for exam­ple, con­sis­tent­ly protest­ed against strip­ping MTA of its insti­tutes, even address­ing Vik­tor Orbán in a let­ter. What is more, he exit­ed the con­ser­v­a­tive, right-lean­ing Batthyány Soci­ety of Pro­fes­sors (PBK) for the same rea­son. He also claimed that Orbán hasn’t received him for two years now, despite his efforts to meet him personally.

Fre­und, how­ev­er, also drew con­tro­ver­sy when, for exam­ple, he harsh­ly crit­i­cized social sci­en­tists. In a recent inter­view with pro-gov­ern­ment week­ly Mandin­er, among oth­er things he said that “social sci­en­tists who are not only lack­ing job offers abroad, but whose per­for­mance is inad­e­quate by actu­al inter­na­tion­al stan­dards, can only pre­vail under the guise of gov­ern­ment crit­i­cism.” In response, 67 (most­ly oppo­si­tion-lean­ing) aca­d­e­mics and sci­en­tists rebuffed his criticism.

Any­how, he is still crit­i­cal to the restruc­tur­ing of the insti­tute, and insists that Hun­gar­i­an sci­ence per­forms well, espe­cial­ly in com­par­i­son to the fund­ing it receives. At an online con­fer­ence held after the results were made pub­lic, he said he aimed to re-inte­grate the Academy’s [afore­men­tioned] research net­work into the MTA, but his first task was to build a “work­ing rela­tion­ship and mutu­al trust” with the gov­ern­ment. “Mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial coop­er­a­tion between sci­ence and pol­i­tics is key to the country’s devel­op­ment,” he said, besides pledg­ing to respect excel­lence in all fields of work regard­less of polit­i­cal affiliation.

fea­tured image via Lás­zló Beliczay/MTI

Source: MTI