BUDAPEST, Hungary — Scientists in Hungary on Tuesday protested government efforts to take control of their research funding, a move they say endangers academic freedom.

Several thousand people formed a human chain around the headquarters of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, urging the academy’s leaders to fight the government plan and hold onto their independence.

Researchers at the protest handed a petition to academy president and renowned mathematician Laszlo Lovasz, asking him to support keeping their research institutes under the academy’s management. The academy oversees some 5,000 researchers in a range of disciplines, from medicine and economics to computer science and astronomy.

Populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the government’s aim is to improve innovation in scientific research and to have publicly funded research projects create “a direct economic profit.”

“International innovation rankings show that, unfortunately, Hungary’s place is among the weaker performers,” Orban said Tuesday in an open letter to researchers. “Our ability to enforce our interests in obtaining significant scientific and innovation funds could be stronger. So in this case, a responsible government has to act.”

But scientists fear the new financing system being pushed by the Ministry for Innovation and Technology — which takes away basic funding for the research institutes and forces researchers to compete for funds for specific projects — will seek to impose political and ideological goals on their scientific work, while curbing their long-term financial and professional security.

Researchers also fear the government could eliminate institutions dedicated to the humanities and social sciences, where direct economic profits may be harder to demonstrate.

“If, after all, we yield to the will of the ministry ... then there’s no question that our community will lose its cardinal value, its independence,” said Adrienn Szilagyi, a researcher at the Institute of History.

Marton Zaszkaliczky, a research fellow at the Institute for Literary Studies, said the Hungarian government is trying “to control every possible institution in the country.”

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.