Budapest & Beyond

Defending Intellectual Freedom

It was no coincidence that the first Debates on Europe event took place in Budapest in 2012. Back then, Hungary had only been a member of the European Union for eight years but already started to steer away from its core values and principles. Today, almost a decade on, Hungarian “illiberal democracy” has developed into one of the biggest challenges facing the European integration project. As Debates on Europe revisit Budapest in an online series of talks, leading writers, experts and public intellectuals discuss current threats to academic and artistic freedom and how history has become an instrument for authoritarian political projects. What role does Hungary play for the future of Europe? And what is the EU’s role in Hungary?



  • May 4th

    • For years, Hungary has been at the vanguard of a growing group of EU countries, challenging some of the values and legal principles at the core of liberal democracy. At the same time, voices inside the country call for Brussels to help stop autocratic tendencies and backsliding on the rule of law. Hungary is in many ways a test case for the European integration project and it is still far from obvious what the result of that test will be.


      Timothy Garton Ash (professor of European Studies at Oxford University)
      Moderators: Gian-Paolo Accardo (editor-in-chief, Voxeurop) and
      Réka Kinga Papp (editor-in-chief, Eurozine)

  • May 5th

    • Attacks on academic freedom in Hungary are legion. The Central European University has been forced to move from Budapest to Vienna and the independence of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences has been undermined by a controversial new law increasing state control.
      What does “freedom” at all mean in a country with such a short history of democracy as Hungary? And in what way is the situation in the UK after Brexit different? What happened to the beacon of liberal democracy and the institutions of higher education?


      Rüdiger Görner (professor of German with Comparative Literature at Queen Mary University of London)
      in conversation with
      Győző Ferencz (executive president, Széchenyi Academy of Letters and Arts, Budapest)

    • Recently, the decision to transfer ownership of the state-run University for Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest to a private, Fidesz-allied foundation spurred loud protests. Are there strategies to defend the academic and educational system against such attacks? Simultaneously, long-time trends undermining academic freedom continue to affect institutions not only in Hungary but across Europe: the primacy of “useable knowledge” over “critical thinking” or the decline of the humanities. What alliances can be formed – locally, nationally, internationally?


      Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger (rector, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin)
      in conversation with
      Anna Gács (Department of Sociology and Communication, BME University in Budapest, member of the Hungarian Network of Academics, OHA)

  • May 6th

    • Across Europe, politicians are increasingly using history as an instrument to realise current ideological projects. In Hungary and Poland, national-illiberal governments keep a firm grip of the narrative and put limits to which histories can be told. In Germany, the function of history is different and the confrontation with the darkest moments of the past has become a way to take responsibility and determines both domestic and European politics. What is the role of history in identity- and nation-building? How can museums and other institutions of commemoration avoid being instrumentalized and at the same time be relevant in contemporary societies?


      Joachim von Puttkamer (director of the Imre Kertész Kolleg Jena)
      in conversation with
      Paweł Machcewicz
       (founding director of Muzeum II Wojny Światowej in Gdańsk)

  • May 7th

    • Hungarian culture is in the middle of a major upheaval. A new law on cultural policy emphasises the aim to preserve national culture and strengthen national identity. Via a Culture Council the state gets influence over both the organization and content of cultural institutions. How does this affect writers, artists, and other cultural workers? In the UK, populist nationalism has divided society over Brexit and nostalgia for an imagined past is charting the country’s course for the future. How free is literature in a politicised society – in Hungary and in other parts of Europe?


      Speakers: A. L. Kennedy (writer, Scotland) and Zsófia Bán (writer, Hungary)
      Moderator: Rosie Goldsmith (director of the European Literature Network, UK)



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