Recent Developments in Hungarian Archaeology

By Bokonyi, Sandor | Antiquity, March 1993 | Go to article overview

Recent Developments in Hungarian Archaeology


Bokonyi, Sandor, Antiquity


The Soviet Union and its satellite countries were not completely uniform. In spite of the fact that the USSR made every effort to change them to its own image, it failed because of the different characteristics of these nations derived from their ethnic backgrounds, history, way of life, religions, cultures and forms of political and scientific organizations.

The same held good in the field of scientific research. It is true that attempts were made to introduce organizational changes, which mainly aimed at standardization: e.g. the scientific degree system, which should have been the same throughout the whole eastern block. Nevertheless, they failed even in this because each country wanted to retain some of its original specialities.

In the field of scientific research the fundamental problem was that the Soviet model placed the national Academies in a central, organizing position. It is therefore not surprising that, as a result of the recent far-reaching political changes in these countries, changes in the role of the academies and their research institutes have become the central question. The structures of universities and museum organization have basically not changed apart from some shifts in importance and, of course, in their ideological backgrounds. Nevertheless, in both fields fundamental changes can be expected, although this is still a question of time.

Because of differences in the application of the Soviet model the recent changes have followed different courses in the countries of central and eastern Europe.

These changes have probably been least drastic in Hungary. The reason for this lies in the origin of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, on the one hand, and on the role it played between 1949 and 1989, on the other.

The Academy was founded not by a regime, government, or monarch but by a private person, Count Istvan Szechenyi, in 1825 (interestingly enough, his father was the founder of the National Museum in 1802). As a result, the Academy has always been an autonomous public body. Throughout its existence the communist regime interfered only twice: once in 1949, when it expelled a large number of the members of the 'old' Academy, and subsequently, when it kept an eye on the election of new members. This did not necessarily mean that members were selected only on the basis of political merit (i.e. party affiliation). However, election could be blocked on the basis of political 'misbehaviour' by the individual proposed for Academy membership.

The Academy institutes in principle followed the Soviet model, but they did not exceed their possibilities and did not try to exercise exclusive control over whole branches of science or humanities. Last but not at least there was a tradition of research institutes independent of the universities in Hungary: before the appearance of the Soviet model ten such institutes were functioning (the number has increased to 38), the earliest founded in 1902.

In spite of all these factors, broadside attacks were launched against the Academy institutes immediately after the political renewal. One group wanted to attach them to the universities, others wanted to make them independent, and others wanted to organize them into a national research network. Nobody has, however, yet produced a study demonstrating what kind of improvement in function would result from any of these reorganizations.

It was the joint efforts of the leadership of the Academy and the Rectors of the universities that ultimately found the solution. The essence of the solution is that the network of Academy institutes (though not necessarily all the institutes) would remain under the Academy. At the same time the Academy would hand over certain rights to the universities, and the institutes or some of their researchers would play a greater role in university teaching, particularly at graduate and postgraduate level.

This decision was based on the fact that in most countries two research networks have evolved: the university research base, and the system of the 'pure' research institutes, such as the Max Planck institutes in Germany, the institutes of CNRS in France, or those of CNR in Italy.

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