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Academic Censorship under State Socialism: Czech Republic and Hungary

Final Report Summary - CZ-HU CENSORSHIP (Academic censorship under state socialism: Czech Republic and Hungary)

The project investigated the conditions of academic life and publishing in social sciences and humanities in Czechoslovakia and Hungary in late state socialism (1970s and 1980s) through the study of state and communist party policy documents and through the narratives of active participants in academic life in those countries at that time, but only those who were still today considered scholarly authorities by their peers. The main concerns were issues of academic censorship and self-censorship, with a focus on an analysis of the censoring mechanisms to which authors were exposed.

The study of the policy documents showed that in Czechoslovakia the system of regulations developed toward increased centralisation of control of academic research and toward increased emphasis on manifestations of ideological loyalty from 1968 to 1989 (social sciences and humanities were considered to belong to the 'area of ideology' in the official party rhetoric, and thus the ideological function and responsibility of social sciences was emphasised in every policy document), although many of the interviewed academics perceived the practice on the ground of research institutes and university departments to have been the opposite. In contrast, Hungarian academic institutions had more autonomy, although they were also subject to the research priorities set down centrally by the party and the government, and the party documents stressed economics, rather than ideology, as being the priority in social sciences.

The prevalent type of censorship in Czechoslovakia was preventive censorship, while in Hungary it was post-publication censorship. This explains the different 'national' narratives that can be observed in the memories expressed in the interviews: the Czechoslovak researchers emphasised the lack of academic freedom, while the Hungarians its considerable extent; the Czechs related their memories of their professional trajectories during state socialism to serial oppression, restrictions, vague threats and fear, while this emotional colouring is almost entirely absent from the Hungarian narratives, although all Hungarian interviewees listed cases of expulsions from research institutes and even imprisonment imposed on their immediate colleagues in the 1970s, and cases of silencing also in the 1980s, for a concrete piece of academic writing. No such case was recorded among the Czechoslovak interviewees (the extensive party purges in 1969-1970 that resulted in mass silencing and job losses were retributions for political involvement in the Prague Spring, rather than for concrete pieces of academic writing).

These different 'national' narratives of the past are perhaps the main reason behind the different reflection on the present: the Hungarian academics expressed a high level of criticism of post-state-socialist academic and social development and conduct active comparisons of achievement and failures of expectations in the new era, while the Czech academics (and the generation that was persecuted in the 1969-1970 purges in particular) more frequently cast the present in the light of relief and liberation, achievement and academic freedom, and rarely include stronger critical perspective (that appeared only among the members of the generation of academics who entered academia in the 1970s).