27 May 2019

Restrictions on academic freedom in Hungary have become so serious that researcher Károly Takács has moved from Budapest to Norrköping and LiU. He brings with him his family and a large part of his research group.

Károly Takács at Villa Fridhem outside of Norrköping. Photo credit: Mikael Sönne

The whole family follows 

Károly Takács paints a very troubling picture of academic freedom in Hungary during a break in the IAS conference at Villa Fridhem outside Norrköping. It’s now a few weeks since Takács and four members of his research group came to work at the Institute for Analytical Sociology, IAS, and Linköping University.

His wife, who works as an economist, and the couple’s three children, 9, 12 and 14 years old, will join him after the summer. The family will live in Lindö, Norrköping.

“It was a difficult decision, not least because of the children. But we have tried to explain the situation to them, and that it is partly because of them that we are moving. As it is now, their future will be better in Sweden”, says Károly Takács.

The Hungarian sociologist – who has received a large research grant from the EU to work on gossip and social networks – describes how scientific freedom has become subject to increasing pressure in Hungary. The authorities, through decisions about financing, organisation and alignment, have come to exert more and more control of research, not least within the social sciences.

"Systematic attacks"

Károly Takács

n parallel, attacks against researchers – including members of Takács’ research group – are occurring in the regime-friendly media, and the results of scientific research are in some cases being censored. Certain subjects, such as gender studies, have quite simply been forbidden.

“It’s a case of systematic attacks on academic freedom”, says Károly Takács.

The increasingly strict regime-based control of culture, the media and the legal system has led the independent organisation Freedom House to change its description of Hungary to “partly free”.

University moves to Vienna

The final straw that led to Takács seriously considering leaving the country was the way in which the regime treated the American Central European University, CEU, founded by Hungarian entrepreneur George Soros. Soros has long been the target of the regime’s hate, and the CEU has more or less been forced to leave the country and move to Vienna.

Károly Takács’ own university, Corvinus, has also been affected by several government decisions, although not to the same extent as CEU.

“Academic freedom had grown in the 20 years after the fall of communism, and the CEU was a symbol that research of high academic quality could be carried out in Hungary. For me, the way in which the regime treated CEU was a watershed”, he says.

“Viktor Orbán won the election in April 2018 convincingly, and between then and the summer the situation deteriorated further. A lot happened in an extremely short period. At the same time, we saw how the EU failed to have a positive influence on the country.”

Positive respons from IAS

Károly Takács telephoned the director of IAS, Peter Hedström, in August and started to discuss a possible move to Sweden. Hedström was immediately positive, but it has since taken extensive discussions with the university management to make everything ready. Takács was in contact with other universities outside of Hungary, but IAS at LiU was always his first choice.

“My field of analytical sociology is closely associated with Peter Hedström. It was a natural choice for me to come here. Now I’m hoping that my research will contribute something to IAS.”

It is too early to say whether Károly Takács and his family will remain in Sweden permanently, or return at some time in the future to Hungary. At the moment, there are few signs that political developments in the country can take a more positive direction.

Victory in the election

While it is true that the EU has several times criticised Hungary’s restrictions on democracy and human rights and freedoms, it has found it difficult to agree about sanctions to put pressure onto the country. And just the day before I interviewed Takács, the regime party received more than 50% of votes in the European Parliamentary elections. It can be difficult for outsiders to understand the broad popular support for the regime.

“It’s difficult for me, as well. The control exerted by the regime over the media is one factor, as are the campaigns against immigration. In addition, the economy is performing well and unemployment is very low. These are some factors in the explanation.”

IAS director Peter Hedström has commented on the arrival of Hungarian researcher Károly Takács as follows:

“Developments at the Hungarian university and at CEU are tragic. From our side, we are delighted to have recruited Takács to IAS, but we would, of course, have preferred that it took place against another background. Takács is an extremely successful researcher who will contribute a great deal to the work at IAS.”

  • Károly Takács explains the background to his desicion to leave Hungary in this Justification Letter

Read more:

The academy stands by its independence and the freedom of research

Joint statement of hungarian erc-grant winners regarding government plans

Interview with Ádám Török

The academy regards the negotiations with the ITM as stalled

Orban allies taget hungarian social scientists


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