Brussels hits Orbán where it really hurts — education – POLITICO

William Nattrass is a freelance journalist and commentator based in Prague and covering Central Europe.

In its long-running rule of law dispute with Budapest, Brussels may have just stumbled upon a tactic that strikes closer to the bone for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán than anything it has attempted so far. now: targeting the influence of the ruling Fidesz party on higher education .

When it emerged last month that the European Commission would block grants for Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe student exchange programs to 21 universities run by public trusts linked to Fidesz, the panic among Hungarian ministers was palpable. The move was described as “unacceptable and intolerable”, and two ministers responsible for the government’s handling of the rule of law dispute quickly flew to Brussels for talks on the issue. One of those ministers, Tibor Navracsics, suggested a quick fix would be forthcoming, but EU officials questioned that, and the Hungarian government spokesman warned that legal action would be taken. if the situation was not resolved quickly.

This reaction, and the resulting coverage in Hungarian media allied to the government and the opposition, suggests that it is about much more than money withheld. After all, 40 million euros of Erasmus funding is an insignificant sum compared to the billions of euros of cohesion funds currently withheld from Hungary.

Many opponents of Orbán dismiss Fidesz as a kleptocracy, but the truth is that this party has deep cultural and intellectual roots that it is keen to nurture. Controlling the dissemination of knowledge and ideas and framing cultural debates are essential foundations of Orbán’s political ecosystem. It’s a project with long-term power goals – and that’s why an attack on Fidesz’s influence on higher education is so important.

Orbán was totally open about the link between knowledge and power. And his government influences the information citizens receive daily through the media, while shaping a general conservative intellectual climate through academia.

Addressing a meeting of the American Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Budapest last year, Orbán said conservatives “need to have our own media” in order to “show the crazy ideas of the progressive left” . In an ideal world, he said, politics and the press would be independent of each other, but since leftist forces have already broken that alliance, it is only right that conservatives follow suit.

Similar motives underlie his interventions in academia, a sector often seen by conservatives as institutionally biased in favor of progressive and leftist ideas. Fidesz actively promoted a conservative intellectual culture, celebrating thinkers like English philosopher Roger Scruton – a favorite of Margaret Thatcher – attracting like-minded scholars from around the world.

However, after a wave of university privatizations in recent years, the role of politicians in maintaining this university environment has become increasingly evident. Fidesz cabinet ministers, past and present, now run “public trusts”, which control some of Hungary’s leading higher education institutions – and it is this apparent political scrutiny that has led the EU to block funding.

Students at the universities involved are understandably furious.

Orbán described the funding block as the EU taking “revenge” on Hungarian youth, saying “Brussels has a vision of the future that is at odds with what Hungarians think”. And to achieve this, European politicians “want a change of government” in Budapest, he says.

Teachers and pupils draw 16,140 missing marks on the stone floor of Heroes’ Square in Budapest on January 31, 2023 to mark the end of a week-long teachers’ strike. – 16,140 teachers are missing from the Hungarian education system. (Photo by ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP) (Photo by ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP via Getty Images)

Minister Gergely Gulyás threatened that the government would consider taking the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union, saying the Commission’s decision violates Article 13 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which states that “the arts and scientific research shall be free from constraint. Academic freedom must be respected.

The legal basis of the funding block in the EU’s rule of law conditionality mechanism is also in question, with some arguing that preventing Hungarian students from participating in Erasmus+ makes no difference to the protection of interests. financial institutions from the EU, even if these students attend universities which are under the influence of Fidesz. Hungarian opposition politicians have also expressed concern that the Commission’s decision will harm students instead of Orbán’s regime.

The Hungarian government’s response, however, suggests otherwise. And if Brussels sticks to its guns, targeting the Hungarian university could, indeed, deal a blow to Orbán’s conservative project.

It would, of course, be wrong to suggest that universities under Hungarian public trusteeship engage in some sort of pro-Fidesz ideological indoctrination. Yet even so, they play a vital role in improving the knowledge environment, helping to maintain the party’s grip on power.

Fidesz’s emphasis on having “its own” media and academic institutions works as a hedge against the left’s alleged capture of institutions in other Western countries. As “O’Sullivan’s First Law” puts it, “all organizations that are not truly right-wing will in time become left-wing”.

In this context, conservative intellectualism is seen by Orbán as something that, like traditional Christian notions of family and gender, is of fundamental importance and must be protected from progressives.

This attitude offers a unique take on another famous maxim, that “politics is downstream of culture,” as a thriving conservative intellectual culture is a key part of the knowledge ecosystem that facilitates Fidesz rule.

It is arguably this relationship between state and academia – and between politicians and intellectuals – that really sets Orbán apart from other European “populist” leaders. Orbán is not a political chameleon, and Fidesz’s particular power stems from the fact that his style of governance rests on a solid intellectual foundation. As such, the reduction in international funding for the Hungarian university could hit Fidesz much harder than many realize.


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button