Fact Check: EU Is NOT Financing Project On Sexuality Of Mythical Ethiopian Monsters


  • szerzõ: Lead Stories
Fact Check: EU Is NOT Financing Project On Sexuality Of Mythical Ethiopian Monsters Not EU Funded

Is the European Union financing a Ph.D. project on the sexuality of monsters in the mythology of the Oromo, a national group in Ethiopia, while refusing to support research by Hungarian students? No, that's not true: The Ph.D. candidate told Lead Stories that his dissertation is financed by a Belgian-Ethiopian scholarship program -- not the EU -- and it does not focus on the "sexuality" of fictional African fiends. His statement is supported by internet searches that turn up no evidence of EU support for the project.

The claim appeared in a Hungarian-language video (archived here) on TikTok on November 21, 2023, under the title (translated from Hungarian to English by Lead Stories) "These are the kinds of things on which Brussels spends money..." The presenter is Janka Sebestyén, a partner at Megafon Center, which produces social media content in support of Hungary's governing Fidesz party. Sebestyén says (as translated):

Did you know that while Brussels is excluding Hungarian students from the Erasmus program, and does not support their research, it is giving many hundreds of thousands of [Hungarian] forints to a project in Belgium that 'examines the gender relations of monsters in Oromo oral tradition?' Yes, you heard that right. Even though nobody knew who these Oromo people were up until now... Suddenly, we have to spend a ton of money on research about their monsters' sexuality? ...Are we sure that this has to be the most important thing for Europe? Are the Hungarian students who were excluded from Erasmus getting tossed aside?

This is what the post looked like on TikTok at the time of writing:

Screen Shot 2024-01-29 at 8.22.43.png

(Source: TikTok screenshot taken on Mon Jan 29 13:22:43 2024 UTC)

On December 20, 2022, the Council of the European Union made a decision (archived here) that restricts organizations managing the EU budget from making new legal commitments with Hungarian public interest trusts and their associated entities. This decision is based on concerns about conflicts of interest. Consequently, students from 21 Hungarian universities (archived here) that operate as "public interest trusts" may no longer take part in EU academic programs like Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe. This information comes from a statement by the European Commission on January 26, 2023 (archived here).

The Ph.D. project that Sebestyén singled out for castigation, titled "Monsters in Oromo oral narratives from a gendered perspective" (archived here), is not supported by the EU budget, the author, Megersa Regassa Tolasa, told Lead Stories in an email on January 26, 2024. Rather, it is financed by the Network for Advancement of Sustainable Capacity in Education and Research in Ethiopia (NASCERE), he said. NASCERE is a Ph.D. scholarship program jointly administered by Ethiopia's Jimma University and Belgium's Ghent University, where Megersa is doing his doctorate.

An announcement (archived here) on Ghent University's website says Megersa is a member of a team that received a grant from the Flemish Interuniversity Council-University Development Cooperation (VLIR-UOS), which is linked to NASCERE. The Flemish organization's awards are funded by the Belgian Directorate-General for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid (DGD), not the EU, according to a VLIR-UOS financial report (archived here).

The dissertation "has nothing to do with Erasmus policies," Megersa said.

EU grantmaking agencies list their awards online; searches turn up no evidence that Megersa's Ph.D. project is benefitting from Brussels' largesse. A search (archived here) for the keyword "Oromo" on a database of ongoing projects funded by Erasmus+ conducted on January 30, 2024, yielded no hits. A search of Horizon Europe's project database (archived here) for the same keyword on the same day also turned up no results. Neither did same-day Google searches for "Monsters in Oromo oral narratives from a gendered perspective" combined with "Erasmus" (archived here) and "Horizon Europe" (archived here).

Moreover, Megersa said his work does not focus on the "sexuality" of Oromo monsters, as Sebestyén claims. His email said:

The prime goal of this project is to analyse how Oromo oral narratives with various types of monstrous characters reinforce and/or counter gender hierarchies... Monster characters in oral narratives form an important part of the human imagination, and oral narratives on monsters discuss, reflect on, propose alternatives to, and/or subscribe to societal norms concerning femininity and masculinity. To study these narratives forms hence an important contribution to rethinking existing inequalities between men and women in Oromo communities.


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