Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hungarian Philosophers Harassed for Criticizing Right-Wing Government

The Collège International de Philosophie in Paris reported at the end of February that a group of Hungarian philosophers were being persecuted by the Hungarian government and media. The philosophers are presently under investigation for having allegedly misused research grants allocated to them. However, the philosophers claim that they are being harassed and libeled because they openly criticized Viktor Orbán, the current Prime Minister of Hungary, and his administration.

According to the Collège International de Philosophie, the current campaign against this group of philosophers is symptomatic of other issues afflicting the intellectual circles of Hungary: the Academy of Science recently dismissed four philosophy professors while the director of the National Theatre of Budapest was publicly stigmatized for being homosexual.

Among the group of philosophers being currently persecuted are prominent European intellectual figures such as Mihály Vajda, Sándor Radnóti and Ágnes Heller. Ágnes Heller was born in 1929, and was a follower of Hungarian Marxist philosopher and literary critic, György Lukács. Considered the founder of the Budapest School of Philosophy, Heller was persecuted as a dissident in the 1970s, and, in 1977, she left the country and pursued an academic career, first in Australia and then in the USA. Heller has been heavily slandered by the Hungarian media over the past few weeks, to the point that she has now put forward a criminal complaint against the newspaper “Magyar Nemzet” (“Hungarian Nation”) for its constant attacks.

According to Heller, the accusations of misuse of funding are just a cover-up, exploited by the government and the national press, to be able to harass a number of philosophers for their leftist inclinations, and for having criticized, in both the national and international press, the current policies of the right-wing government in Hungary. In an interview with “University World News,” Heller said the following: “There were more than 100 grants [given for research.] Why had they picked six of them for investigation? They gave the answer. The attacked philosophers were all liberal-leftist,” before adding: “Why was the attack concentrated on me, when I have not received one single penny? And why immediately criminal charges? On what ground, if not as ideological harassment?”

Many European intellectuals are worried about the safety of their colleagues in such a political climate. German philosophers, J. Nida-Rümelin and  J. Habermas recently published an open letter denouncing the campaign aimed at discrediting those philosophers. They actively called on the European Commission “not only to subject the Hungarian media law to a long-overdue legal assessment, but that, at the same time, in the course of this assessment, it [the European Commission] ought to take into account the general practices of the Hungarian regime and its agents, and in this case especially it ought to examine the treatment of critical academics and intellectuals.”

I hereby post a video of Heller explaining the situation:

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