Kariko had the choice: to agree to cooperate with the communist security apparatus or to accept that her career in scientific research was over before it had even started.
“I knew how the system worked, I was scared, so I signed the recruiting document,” she said in a statement more than four decades later on May 24, 2021.
Kariko had good reason to be afraid. Since the crushing of the 1956 Revolution by Soviet tanks, hundreds of people have been executed and hundreds of thousands of Hungarians have fled the country under the paranoid regime of Soviet-backed Janos Kadar. In addition to executions, those who did not comply were often deported to the Soviet Union.
Kariko was warned that if she did not agree with state security, she would let it be known that her father had been given a suspended prison sentence for his “sinful” role in the 1956 protests when a Hungarian uprising against the Communist government was brutally suppressed.
Her father was then fired from his job and was unable to work for four years.
Between 1978 and 1985, Kariko was listed as a counterintelligence asset, tasked with identifying anyone from her institute who stole or attempted to steal industrial or scientific secrets. During this time, however, she never did.
“I never made a report and did not identify anyone who was trying to steal secrets, because there was none,” she told Euronews in an email.
While in Hungary, Kariko never changed jobs, was never promoted, and never attended conferences or meetings abroad. She got married, had a daughter, and spent time at home raising the baby. She did not even socialize, spending the little time she had working on her doctorate, which she obtained in 1983 at the University of Szeged.
“My outlook was bleak,” she said.
“I have always wanted to do research, [to create] something that [would] heal people but wherever I am I have always been hassled [and] persecuted.
So in 1985 Katalin Kariko moved to the United States.
Once in America, Kariko did post-doctoral degrees in biochemistry in Pennsylvania and Washington before becoming a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where she continues to teach 32 years later. Since 2013, she has also been Senior Vice President of BioNTech, which developed the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.
His area of expertise is mRNA, also known as messenger RNA, the technology used to develop vaccines but also to heal wounds, rebuild bones and help treat cancer. Kariko’s work has won her numerous awards and recently nominated her for the 2021 Nobel Prize. It also won her praise in Hungary, a country she left 35 years ago.
This is where the problems started.
On May 22, it was reported that Kariko had become an honorary citizen of Szeged, where she began her studies in the early 1970s. She traveled to Szeged to receive the award and to remember with former comrades from classify their time studying there.
While in Hungary, a far-right web portal, Kuruc, published an article about her recruitment by the state security services, citing a book published in 2017. Kariko quickly admitted that she had was recruited and issued a statement via the media.
In it, she not only denied having ever informed about anyone during her stay in Hungary, but pointed out how this experience had pushed her to leave her country to continue her work.
Kariko was reluctant to discuss in detail her life in Hungary under the Communist regime.
“I don’t intend to talk about those years, to live in fear, to notice that someone was in my apartment while I was at work, and to know that no matter how hard I work hard [at] the mercy of some. [That they could] destroy me if they wish, ”she told Euronews.
But she also said the experience had motivated her.
“I have been doing my research and my activities for 36 years with the goal of healing people. No one has ever been able to break me, take me away from my goals, ”said Kariko.
As to why a neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic news portal decided to suddenly put a biochemist on events that took place over thirty years ago, Kariko can only speculate.
“The motivation could be political or more likely the act of the anti-vaccination movement. But honestly, I don’t care, ”she said. ” I am innocent, [I] did no harm.
“There are people who have never done anything meaningful in their life, but who like to destroy others who have.”
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