Ilustration Katrin Stenmark

Ilustration Katrin Stenmark

Conference papers Academic freedom. The very heart of the scientific process

The Swedish National Commission for UNESCO and the Young Academy of Sweden arranged a symposium “The Shrinking Academic Freedom in Europe” November 9, 2018 in Stockholm. This symposium was one of many that have been organized lately on the topic threats to academic freedom, which can be seen as a sign and an acknowledgement that there is cause for worry.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 2018:4 Vol XI, pages 52
Published on balticworlds.com on mars 5, 2019

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UNESCO’s General Conference 2017 adopted a set of Recommendations on Science and Scientific Research, that stresses the importance of academic freedom as “the very heart of the scientific process, and provides the strongest guarantee of accuracy and objectivity of scientific results.” To participate in the international community and to travel and exchange ideas and information is also stated as an opportunity that member states should provide researchers with.

The Swedish National Commission for UNESCO and the Young Academy of Sweden arranged a symposium “The Shrinking Academic Freedom in Europe” November 9, 2018 in Stockholm. This symposium was one of many that have been organized lately on the topic threats to academic freedom, which can be seen as a sign and an acknowledgement that there is cause for worry.

Speakers from different countries and disciplines were invited to give insights into the state of academic freedom in Europe. Among the speakers, two in particular, framed the larger context in which such trends can be placed.

Staffan I. Lindberg, director of the Varieties of Democracy Institute, explained the global trend of autocratic regimes to first attack the rule of law, then the media, then civil society, and thereafter academic freedom. He also pointed out how autocratic regimes are more subtle today and manage to hold elections that appear like democratic elections, but between elections they impose restraints to control society.

Andrea Petö, professor of gender studies at the Central European University in Budapest, showed how in Hungary the state, or the “polyphor state” to use her term, has constructed a parallel structure that appear as, or mirrors, a democratic state. In the latest CEDAW report, for instance, it might seem that women’s rights NGOs are doing well in Hungary. But if one looks closer behind the façade, one discovers that those constructed NGOs have hijacked the concept of women’s rights for the purpose of pushing for issues that are contrary to the women’s rights movement’s agenda. The claim of women’s right to their own body is here mirrored towards the claim to protect the rights of the unborn child, etc. Another typical phenomenon of the hybrid regime is to create a fear of others and then to produce fake news and call for securitization in order to protect the nation from this made up threat. Polarization and fear are the modus operandi, says Andrea Petö, and she further warns that the anti-gender strategy will destroy the liberal values that science as we know it has rested upon since the Enlightenment.

The threat against academic freedom also has an enormous impact on individual researchers. Olga Selin Hünler, a postdoctoral researcher in cultural anthropology at Bremen University in Germany, told about the individual consequences for researchers after the purge in Turkey after the signing of the peace petition. Researchers have lost their jobs, their passports, their networks, and all prospects for careers or to be part of the scientific community. Many are trapped in Turkey in a sort of limbo, although she herself managed to find a place in Germany. Cross-border solidarity is making a difference, at least individually. ≈