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COMMENT: New enemies of intellectual freedom

These governments want to establish an educational system according to which the state alone decides which fields of research are necessary and socially important. In the long run, they probably also want the state to grant political loyalists the right to produce and transfer knowledge.

In other words, access to knowledge will cease to be a civil right. Political trustworthiness will determine who can teach and study what about a country and its past. This would mean the de-democratisation of higher education and of science in general and putting “experts” in the service of broader anti-democratic goals. To prevent the latter, we must resist the former.

Democratic science policies build on the principle that access to science is a human right. Furthermore, they assume correctly that the knowledge produced through a democratic spirit of inquiry is of higher quality than that produced by someone who became an “expert” through political connections.

Many questions in the social sciences and humanities have straightforward answers. Ultimately, we should accept the verdicts of experts who have devoted their careers to a particular issue, and not those with political axes to grind.

We must, therefore, fight the disturbing trend of European governments giving themselves the right to decide scientific questions, and appointing loyal supporters to act as arbiters of truth. And we should question whether the new, ideologically-based governmental research institutes and universities in some of these countries have a rightful place in the network of European universities and research institutions.

Social scientists and other academics across ex-communist Europe are once again working in an increasingly oppressive intellectual climate. It must not be up to them alone to defend the democratic quest for knowledge against those who would decide by government decree which pistol was fired in Sarajevo.


Andrea Pető is a professor in the Department of Gender Studies at Central European University and a Doctor of Science of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. In 2018, she was awarded the All European Academies Madame de Staël Prize for Cultural Values.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2019.

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