Orban’s Science Crackdown Brings Hungarian Academics to Streets

(Bloomberg) -- Hungarians formed a human chain around the Academy of Sciences building in Budapest, saying the 200-year-old nerve center of research in the country is poised to fall prey to the crackdown against independent voices.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a standard-bearer of Europe’s resurgent nationalist movement, has stepped up efforts to flush out opposition to his illiberal vision following his third consecutive election win last year.

The most recent episode saw Central European University announce in December that it would have to move most of its programs to Vienna. At the time, Orban argued that his crackdowns were aimed mostly at reducing the influence of groups the government associated with Hungarian-born financier George Soros, a frequent target of right-wing nationalists around the world.

The demonstration on Tuesday came in response to the cabinet’s move to bring the hitherto autonomous Academy, which was founded in the 19th century and employs 2,500 researchers, under its oversight and suspend some of its funding. The government’s aim is to channel resources toward research that spurs innovation and adds economic value, without infringing on academic freedom, Orban said on his website.

Hungary this year became the first and only European Union member to lose its “free” designation at Freedom House, a Washington D.C.-based think-tank that annually surveys that state of political and civil rights around the world. It cited the “most dramatic decline ever charted” within the EU.

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