Whither Hungary: Academic Freedom and Authoritarianism
After another electoral victory in April 2022, the Victor Orbán-led FIDESZ government in Hungary continues to increase pressure on opposition parties, civil society, and the media. Freedom of speech and the independence of higher education in Hungary continue to face legal and institutional threats. Orbán and his FIDESZ government announced that they are once again modifying the National Higher Education Act, having already done so in 2011 when they increased the regulation of foreign academic institutions in Hungary. Part of the 2011 amendments required foreign universities operating in Hungary to strike a bilateral agreement between the country's autocratic government and the universities' country of origin, and to offer teaching services in its home country. According to the Hungarian government, Central European University (CEU) failed to meet these requirements and was forced to relocate out of the country and resume its operations in Vienna, Austria. The ruling was designed to target CEU.
As the 2021 Rule of Law Report of the European Commission highlighted, Hungary is one of the most extreme cases of democratic regress and restrictions of academic freedom in the European Union. The Union raised the possibility of invoking Article 7 of the EU Treaty, which defines the formal procedure of the EU to suspend certain rights from a member state. However, the EU’s threats to impose restrictions have not sufficed to reverse the regressive trend in Hungary. Rather the FIDESZ government passed a series of controversial laws to align the public education curriculum with traditional heteronormative family values and passed a law that restricted access to publications or broadcasts on LGBTQ issues and controversial topics such as racism, which ignores the constitutional and international regulations that guarantee the protection of freedom of speech and of information.
As of September 2022, academic freedom has plummeted worldwide, especially in Hungary. Under the latest legislation, the government can oversee and limit the research activities and funding of universities and research institutions in Hungary, which deeply compromises the autonomy of higher education and free production and dissemination of knowledge. On September 15, 2022, the EU parliament released a public statement to announce its new report on Hungary. According to the statement, Hungary can no longer be considered a democratic system, and should be rather labeled an electoral autocracy.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide (ESW) condemns the Hungarian government’s recurring attacks on academic freedom and the constitutional autonomy of higher education institutions in Hungary. The ongoing tensions in Hungary have had a profoundly negative effect on academic freedom and continue to pose a grave threat to higher education on a national scale. ESW urges the Hungarian authorities to respect and guarantee the autonomy of higher education in Hungary and to implement the provisions and principles of human rights as specified in international conventions and treaties, and to drop any charges against the democratic opposition arising from their nonviolent exercise of the rights to expression, association, and assembly.
(Last updated: October 11, 2022)
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