Attack on academic freedom or stand against pseudoscience: Is Hungary right to ban gender studies?

Viktor Orban’s Hungary risks becoming a European pariah after declaring it will no longer certify gender studies courses. Even if they’re right about their academic worthlessness, should officials tell universities what to teach?

“Astonishment” was the word Budapest’s Central European University (CEU) used in response to the government’s measures – “without any justification or antecedent” – first proposed last year and outlined in detail earlier this month. The 44 students enrolled in the master’s program at the George Soros-backed university would be allowed to complete their courses, alongside the 10-person intake at the state-funded ELTE, the only other Hungarian university to teach the discipline. But from next year onwards, the ministry of education will not spend public funds on gender studies, nor award diplomas for completing a degree (though CEU students can continue to study for the English-language US-certified degree).

READ MORE: ‘Christian democracy’ to crush multiculturalism in EU vote next year – Hungary’s Orban

The decision places Hungary radically at odds with the rest of the Western world. From Croatia to Ireland, every other EU state has at least one functioning gender studies program, and in the US, the number has risen threefold in the last three decades, with courses offered at over 350 higher learning institutions.

‘Gender studies is ideology, not science’

But perhaps more astonishing than the closure itself is the honesty with which the government is justifying its decision. Although officials’ statements mention low enrollment, financial expediency, and real-world applicability of gender studies diplomas, they have made it explicit that this is an ideological decision first and foremost.

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© Brian Snyder

For the first time in decades, a democratic country has made an explicit pushback against the left-wing drift of academia.

“The subject of the discipline goes against everything the government thinks about human beings,” Bence Retvari, the minister of human resources and one of the ideologues of the proposal, told parliament last year.

“Gender studies—similarly to Marxism-Leninism—can be called an ideology rather than a science, and therefore it is doubtful that it attains the scientific level expected for a university degree course.”

It can be argued that rather than being “like Marxism-Leninism,” gender studies are in fact Marxism-Leninism, founded on feminist theory and intersected with the latest left-wing sociology and political science.

Here is a sample of the areas of specialization from the CEU course website: Gender Dimensions of Post-State Socialism; Feminist Knowledge Production; Activism, Social Movements and Policy; Gendering Theory.

It is, frankly, doubtful that it is possible to meaningfully engage with (or even critique) most of these topics without contentious pre-existing ideological suppositions.

And having emerged from their own traumatic history of totalitarian socialism, Viktor Orban’s nationalists do not want to see their homeland re-infected with a new strain they see as wreaking havoc in Sweden or Germany.

“This study does not help in raising our nation; moreover it destroys value-oriented thinking that is still present in the Central European countries. Our burning problem is the demographic issue, which will not be solved by studying sexual minorities and deepening feminist philosophy,” Lorinc Nacsa of the ruling coalition Christian Democrats wrote to ELTE after it unveiled its gender studies course last year.

Stripped of the initial shock value, this perspective is at least understandable. For the current government, the growth of a self-perpetuating cottage industry of gender studies faculties around the world is no more a justification of their legitimacy than the popularity of alchemy at medieval universities is proof that base metals can be turned into gold.

And this fits in perfectly with Orban’s vision of his provocatively-named “illiberal democracy,” for which he has been given mandate by an overwhelming victory in April’s election.

‘Arrogant decision’

But the line between a robust democracy that refuses to shepherd its electorate into a narrow corridor of acceptable social views, and outright authoritarianism is not an impermeable one, particularly in a new, and still relatively fragile, social order such as post-Communist Hungary.

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Illegal immigrants get on a bus under police custody in Hungary. © Global Look Press/ Attila Volgyi

ELTE issued an extended statement in which it accused the government of violating the constitution, and pointed out that its studies have specific societal uses, such as understanding the impacts of an economic crisis on women, or the social effect that many Hungarian women going abroad for childcare jobs has had on the men left behind at home. ELTE also said the government did not directly inform them of the proposed changes, and demanded a consultation that would hopefully result in a compromise.

Gabor Bencsik, the pro-government editor-in-chief of the Hungarian Chronicle, also called on the ruling coalition to re-evaluate its “arrogant decision,” saying that gender studies courses are not in themselves against traditional values, and could be used to ask questions such as “Is it possible to boost the birthrate?” or “How can men and women in families better relate to their children?”

Despite these dissenting voices, the decision doesn’t appear to have provoked concerted outrage, particularly as it has been dragging on for 18 months, and is sandwiched between dozens of other stories pointing to the ascendancy of the government, such as the campaign against Lajos Simicska, a former pro-Orban media magnate-turned nemesis, and the decision by Soros’ Open Society Foundation to close its Budapest offices. If Orban’s opponents want to reverse his policies, they will not do it with editorials about the “Magyar dictatorship”, but will likely have to wait their turn at the ballot box.

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Chelsea boss Sarri seen clutching packet of cigarettes during Arsenal game (PHOTOS)

Maurizio Sarri, notable for smoking on the sidelines during his spell in Serie A, has found another way around the Premier League smoking ban, by clutching on to a packet of cigarettes during his home debut against Arsenal.

The Italian, 59, a heavy smoker, was spotted last week chewing on unlit cigarettes during Chelsea’s game away to Huddersfield Town to get around the no smoking policy implemented at English football grounds in 2007.

This time around, Sarri, who reportedly smokes around 80 cigarettes per day, held on to a packet of cigarettes in the dugout as he watched his side score a late winner through Marcos Alonso to pick up three points in a 3-2 victory against Arsenal.

READ MORE: New Chelsea boss Sarri gets around smoking ban on Premiership debut… by chewing cigarettes!

True to form, Sarri was also spotted chowing down on some unlit cigarettes on the touchline in an attempt to satisfy his cravings. It remains to be seen how long Sarri will be forced to continue his touchline tobacco habits as, according to the Mirror, the Chelsea hierarchy are considering building a specially designed ‘smoking room’ for him within Stamford Bridge.

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Off-target: Ukrainian Buk missile launcher slams into busy Kiev building  (VIDEO)

Driver of the 30-tonne launcher caused panic on the sidewalk, as he lost control of the vehicle after a rehearsal of the Independence Day parade.

Eyewitness videos from Saturday night show a group of curious onlookers filming a column of moving artillery as it drives through the heart of the Ukrainian capital.

As one of the vehicles attempts to change direction at a crossing, it takes too big a turning circle and slams at cruising speed into the wall of the Astarta business center, as screams ring out and the crowd scatters.

“Well, there is your parade for you!” wrote one eyewitness, ‘Vlad Vash’, on Facebook, along with a series of photos and videos. “First a tank nearly mowed me down, but stopped just in time. Then the very next vehicle drove into a wall.”

There were no casualties, but a towing truck had to extract the Buk from its resting place, where it had left a distinct wall imprint.

The Buk, a medium-range mobile surface-to-air missile, was one of the mainstays of the Soviet military, and has been adopted and upgraded by both Russian and Ukrainian forces in the aftermath of the break-up of the USSR.

On August 24, it was to join in a military parade involving 4,000 personnel and what had been announced as world-leading Ukrainian military inventions.

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6.9-magnitude earthquake strikes Lombok island in Indonesia, the 2nd in less than a day

A new powerful earthquake has hit Indonesian island of Lombok in half a day after another jolt. The island has sustained a series of earthquakes recently, which killed over 400 people.

The powerful jolt occurred 4 km away from the village of Belanting in northeastern Lombok, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports. The epicenter of the new earthquake was some 20 km underground.

The tremor was felt on the nearby Indonesian islands, including Bali, which is a popular tourist destination. The spokesman for the National Disaster Management Authority (BNPB) tweeted a video showing tourists pouring out of their hotels into the streets as they felt the jolt.

The earthquake followed another powerful jolt of 6.3 magnitude, which damaged a number of houses and injured several people on the island. The major quakes were accompanied by several lesser jolts.

READ MORE: Magnitude 6.3 earthquake hits Indonesia’s Lombok island (PHOTOS)

Earlier in August, Lombok island was rocked by powerful 6.9 quake followed with hundreds of aftershocks. The disastrous tremor leveled many buildings and killed at least 436 people. Tens of thousands of properties were damaged and thousands of people have been displaced.

DETAILS TO FOLLOW

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Street artist transforms Facebook bus adverts with forthright message

A protesting street artist has altered Facebook’s London billboard ads to include some home truths about the social media giant.

The ad campaign was launched in a bid to win back consumer trust in wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal where raw data from some 87 million Facebook profiles was harvested by the political consulting firm for the alleged purpose of influencing the US election.

READ MORE: Cambridge Analytica formally accused of violating US election laws

The billboards included messages such as ‘Fake news is not our friend’ and ‘Data misuse is not our friend’.

The statements did not go far enough for artist Protest Stencil, however, who decided to enhance the posters with some harsh realities about the corporation’s actual motives, as he sees them.

‘Fake news is not our friend, it’s a great revenue source’, one updated billboard read, while another stated ‘Data misuse is not our friend it’s our business model’.

Photos of the the parody adverts at London bus shelters have been shared online by Protest Stencil, who claimed that the make-over ads were created with “some leftover blue paint.”

Facebook has been desperately trying to repair its damaged reputation in the fallout of the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal.

READ MORE: Banning users & throttling posts: Facebook leans on NATO think tank to ‘sort out the Russian bots’

It has continued its crackdown on ‘fake news’ by teaming up with MSM news outlets to fact-check news, and even went as far as partnering with NATO think tank the Atlantic Council for help in monitoring misinformation and foreign interference. The measures have been criticised by some for being partisan and biased.

RT has reached out to the social media giant for comment on the billboards.

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‘Virtue signaling’ or ‘on brand’? New Zealand Green MP cycles to hospital to give birth

A New Zealand Greens minister showed remarkable commitment to her party’s environmentalist ethos by getting on her bike and cycling to hospital to give birth.

Minister for Women and Associate Transport and Health Minister Julie Anne Genter posted a photo of herself on Instagram, Sunday morning, standing beside her bike outside Auckland City Hospital.

She revealed in the post that she cycled to hospital, with her partner, so she could be induced into labour. “There wasn’t enough room in the car for the support crew,” she wrote, explaining their decision to cycle.

Genter added that the bike ride had put her in the best possible mood and included the hashtags  #42weekspregnant #cycling #bicyclesarethebest.

The move has been praised by many, including Genter’s colleagues. Green Party leader James Shaw described Genter’s actions as “very on brand.”

However, others viewed it as a virtue signaling stunt and questioned how the baby was going to get home.

Others described the cycle as “crazy” and dangerous, suggesting that Genter could have injured herself and her baby.  

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Tyson Fury confirms Deontay Wilder bout after second comeback win

The lineal heavyweight champion of the world, Tyson Fury, set up a November date with undefeated WBC champion Deontay Wilder after Fury turned in a measured performance to outpoint Francesco Pianeta in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Fury and Wilder announced in the ring in Windsor Park on Saturday night that the much-anticipated clash between the lineal world champion, Fury, and his undefeated WBC champion rival would take place later this year – likely November – but, as promoter Frank Warren was keen to impart, a specific date and venue hasn’t been selected as of yet.

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Nando's, Dublin Road, Belfast. © Ardfern

Fury won every round on the judges’ scorecards in Belfast, though some sections of the crowd appeared frustrated at his measured performance, clearly feeling that he could have finished the fight if he had upped his intensity.

For Fury though, the prize was too lucrative to take any chances. The bout will be the biggest heavyweight attraction since Anthony Joshua defeated Wladimir Klitschko in May of last year and the winner will be in prime position for the heavyweight world title unification bout with Joshua in 2019, in what would be the most lucrative fight in boxing.

At the conclusion of Saturday’s fight, Wilder climbed into the ring to tell the audience that the fight was “officially on.” Fury retorted with “I’m knocking you the f*** out, boy.”

READ MORE: ‘Ireland, I’m here baby’: WBC champ Deontay Wilder crashes weigh-in, confronts Tyson Fury (VIDEO)

“It is one thing that Tyson Fury has never had,” Wilder later elaborated about the world title he holds. “He had many belts, but he’s never had the WBC belt. And if he ever thinks about having this belt, he better wake up and apologise to me because he’ll never have this.

“I can’t wait to fight you because I am going to knock you out, I promise you. You’ve never been knocked out but you’re going to feel the experience, what it feels to get hit by the Bronze Bomber.”

As for Tyson Fury, his comeback was a simple one: “Listen, you can’t knock out what you can’t hit. This man [Pianeta] couldn’t land a blow on me tonight.”

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Iran deal, Syrian crisis & Nord Stream 2: Putin, Merkel find common ground on tough intl issues

The Iran nuclear deal, which was recently ditched by the US, humanitarian efforts in war-ravaged Syria, and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project… Putin and Merkel hold three-hour talks and are mostly on the same page.

The surprise visit announced earlier this week between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin took place in Meseberg Palace, 65km north of Berlin, on Saturday afternoon. Putin arrived in the 18th-century palace shortly after attending the wedding of Austrian FM Karin Kneissl.

Both Russia and Germany have been affected by US tariffs, while Moscow has also been hit by sanctions. As rifts with Washington grow, the two leaders found some common ground in their detailed three-hour talks.

Purely economic project Nord Stream 2

The €9.5 billion (US$ 10.8 billion) pipeline project was one of the key talking points at the meeting. During the Saturday media conference, Putin said the Nord Stream 2 is a “purely economic project” and does not mean the transit of gas through Ukraine will stop. “I am aware of the Federal Chancellor’s position. All that matters to us is that this transit is economically feasible… and makes economic sense.”

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During the closed talks, Putin and Merkel discussed the project and the prospects for Russian gas transit through Ukraine. Merkel said that even after the launch of the Nord Stream 2, Ukraine “should play its part in gas transit to Europe.”

READ MORE: Putin & Merkel could stick it to Trump as they look to bring Nord Stream 2 over the line

Merkel and Putin are obviously aware of the backlash from Washington and some Western politicians on the joint project between Gazprom and Western European energy giants. European Council President Donald Tusk has campaigned endlessly for the cancelation of Nord Stream 2 ever since it was announced in 2015. US President Donald Trump has also expressed strong opposition to the project, calling Germany a captive of Russian energy. The US leader has made no secret of American ambitions either, promising during his last whirlwind tour of Europe that Europeans will be buying “vast amounts” of US-produced liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Iran: Merkel, Putin stand for saving nuclear deal recently dumped by US

Both the Russian leader and the German chancellor are in favor of preserving the milestone Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Putin insisted that it is important “to preserve this multilateral agreement” approved by the UN Security Council, which aims at “strengthening regional and global security and the nuclear non-proliferation.” Merkel also supports the deal, but noted that Germany is “following Iran’s activities with concern, be it the missile program or the situation in Syria.”

READ MORE: ‘Iran Action Group’ a new US tool of regime change, but Tehran’s resilience is ‘strong’ – researcher

It has been three months since Donald Trump, a long-standing critic of the Iran deal, pulled out of the agreement, despite the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed Tehran’s compliance with the deal on numerous occasions. The US president also ignored attempts of world powers, including France and Germany, to talk him out of withdrawing.

Syrian crisis: New talks format & humanitarian issues

The leaders also tackled the crisis in war-ravaged Syria, which is trying to get back on its feet after militants were expelled from large parts of the country. Putin pointed out the intensifying flow of refugees returning home and called on European countries to support the process. Ahead of the meeting, Merkel noted that “we, of course, should first of all, avoid a humanitarian disaster around and in this country [Syria].”

The two sides also discussed the possibility of a four-way meeting on Syria, involving Turkey, Russia, Germany and France, the Russian president’s spokesman said. The idea of the format was proposed in late July by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who suggested holding talks on September 7.

On Friday, Merkel said that Germany is looking into the possibility of such a summit: “A meeting between Germany, France, Turkey and Russia could make sense — this must be well-prepared, so there is no date yet.”

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South African winemaker warns land seizures could be ‘disastrous’ for industry & economy

Land expropriation in South Africa is touching almost all spheres of business in the country, and wine making is no exception. RT has talked to a South African wine producer concerned about the land seizures.

At the moment, South African wineries are not a subject to land redistribution, where a white minority reportedly still owns almost three quarters of the land – almost a quarter century after the end of apartheid.

“There is no historic ‘land ownership’ that was taken away in the winelands area. But if the constitution is amended, it might as well happen. It can go both ways. For now we believe in the law as is, and continue investing,” Josef Dreyer, winemaker at RAKA wines told RT.

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© Siphiwe Sibeko

However, there is uncertainty looming over the vineyards, and it hardly adds to confidence in this business, said Dreyer. If land expropriation hits winemakers, the effect would be ‘disastrous’ for the industry, he warns.

“I think it will result in a drop in production, and negatively impact the export of our valued product. We might end up where the government own all land and we must rent it from them… Remember: the possible beneficiaries are unschooled, uneducated, how must they run a business,” Dreyer said.

According to Dreyer, land expropriation is hardly a solution to South Africa’s economic problem, where only a tiny fraction of the population pays income taxes, and more than a third are unemployed.

“We are one of the countries with a wide gap between the rich and the poor, where 13 percent of the South African population of 56 million people are the ones paying income taxes! Yes, 13 percent make the country run! 18 million of the 56 million is reliant on social grants, and unemployment is at 37.5 percent, so yes it is much easier to hand out land as the money is drying up,” he said.

The winemaker notes that his company employs 44 people. “Why would I work hard and create jobs if it is to be shared among all,” Dreyer says. “It is the government’s job to create a corruption-free environment that is favourable for investment,” he added.

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VIDEO shows Putin dancing with Austrian FM, delivering toast in German at her wedding

Vladimir Putin was filmed showing off his language skills and dancing at the Austrian FM’s wedding. The happy couple and their guests also enjoyed a performance of the Kuban Cossack Choir, which the Russian leader brought along.

The video shows Russian President Vladimir Putin arriving with a big bouquet and then dancing to a cheerful piano tune with Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl. The two smile and enjoy themselves as guests take photos and film them on their phones. Kneissl and Putin certainly didn’t forget about etiquette. The foreign minister, dressed for the occasion in a beige dirndl – a traditional alpine dress – ended the dance with a curtsy, while Putin responded with a bow.

Kneissl, 53, tied the knot with businessman Wolfgang Meilinger, 54, on Saturday in a vineyard in the picturesque town of Gamlitz.

When the guests were seated, the Russian president had the opportunity to show off his German skills. Putin delivered a lengthy toast, honoring the newlyweds and wishing happiness, harmony, and love to the couple. He also threw in a few jokes, eliciting laughs and applause from the newlyweds and their guests. He noted that Kneissl enjoys Russian culture, so he brought a bit of it with him.

READ MORE:VIP guest Putin brings big bouquet of flowers, dances with Austrian FM at her wedding (PHOTOS)

The Kuban Cossack Choir, dressed in traditional red kaftans and wool hats, performed songs in Russian and German.

But that wasn’t Putin’s only gift – he also gave Kneissl and Meilinger a rural landscape painting, an antique butter churn, and a samovar – a tradition Russian water boiler used to make tea.

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