Democracy Digest: Hungary Celebrates Its Expat Nobel Prize Winners


Elsewhere in the region, polls tighten as Polish election approaches; Slovak interim PM says imposing border controls will be in vain; and Czechia orders up more foreign workers.

Two Hungarian-born scientists, Katalin Kariko and Ferenc Krausz, won Nobel Prizes this year, one in medicine and the other in physics. Kariko was honoured for her work on messenger RNA, which subsequently led to the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines made by BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna and is set to revolutionise medicine in various other ways. Krausz was recognised for cofounding attosecond physics, which provides fundamental insights into the behaviour of electrons in atoms, molecules and solids. Hungarian politicians, from the left and right, scrambled to congratulate the winners on social media, with President Katalin Novak quick to note how Kariko is the first Hungarian woman to receive a Nobel Prize. “We are immensely proud that our nation now has another Nobel laureate whose research has probably saved the lives of millions of people,” she wrote.

Yet both scientists work abroad – Kariko in the US, Krausz in Germany – which rekindled an old debate about whether Hungarians can only be successful if they leave their country. Hungary boasts 15 Nobel winners, the same number as Poland, which is relatively high compared to its population, but only two of them lived in Hungary when receiving the award and only one died in Hungary; all the rest were emigrants. Both winning scientists this year were graduates of Hungarian universities, having benefited from the country’s traditionally strong mathematics and science programs, but the media and some politicians question whether such scientific achievements will be possible in 20 or 30 years’ time, given the much lower level of science education due to a shortage of teachers and a chronically underfunded education system, which has only gotten worse since PM Viktor Orban’s time in office.

Meanwhile, Orban welcomed the victory of Smer leader Robert Fico in Slovakia’s general election on Saturday. “Guess who’s back! Congratulations to Robert Fico on his undisputed victory at the Slovak parliamentary elections. It is always good to work together with a patriot. Looking forward to it!” Orban wrote on X (formerly Twitter). Less happily, and therefore largely ignored by the government, was that no Hungarian party representing the 450,000-strong ethnic Hungarian community in Slovakia managed to make it into parliament, despite (or perhaps because of) the aggressive campaigning by Hungarian politicians. Budapest is now hoping that Fico will become an ally for Orban in his attempts to block weapons deliveries to Ukraine and push back on EU policies. Yet he might be disappointed. To form a government, Fico will need the help of other parties, which could tie his hands in many areas. As a foretaste of future Hungarian-Slovak relations, this week the Slovak government announced it was introducing temporary border controls at the Slovak-Hungarian border to curb illegal immigration and the activity of human smugglers. It seems that despite the fence on the Serbian-Hungarian border, Hungary is no longer able to successfully halt migration from the south and human traffickers are crossing the country with relative impunity.

Source : Balkaninsight