“Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”: Hungarian college students and Rózsa Hoffmann

Let me state at the very beginning that I’m not against tightening requirements for college diplomas and introducing tuition fees accompanied by scholarships based on financial need. However, I’m against what the Fidesz government is doing to Hungarian higher education and the manner in which it is doing it.

As usual Fidesz politicians use the double talk that is so typical of Viktor Orbán and his entourage. The word “tuition” cannot be uttered. After all, earlier Fidesz forced a referendum to defeat a proposal to introduce a modest tuition fee at Hungarian colleges and universities. But then they were in opposition. Now that they are running the show it is obvious to them just as it was to their predecessors that there is not enough money for entirely free education. Moreover, let’s face it, half of the student population pays tuition already. What they are planning to do now is to widen the circles of those who must pay and to increase tuition fees. Naturally, these fees will not be called “tandíj” (tuition) but “önköltség” (cost of services rendered).

More injurious to Hungary is the government plan to reduce the number of entering university students. In the European Union the aim is to increase the number of university graduates but in Hungary the Orbán government is bucking the trend. Well, after all, we know that Hungarians have a “peculiar” way of doing things, as we often hear from the prime minister. I guess that’s why Hungary is doing so splendidly lately.

Another proposal which will be law very soon is that those lucky students who do not have to pay very high tuition fees must sign a “contract” in which they promise not to leave the country for a certain number of years. Not surprisingly Hungarian students are not exactly thrilled. Although the majority of students used to be Fidesz supporters, the love affair between them and the party is rapidly coming to an end.

The student leaders have been negotiating with Rózsa Hoffmann for a year and have gotten nowhere. A few days ago they decided to organize a nationwide demonstration. Students came to Budapest from all over the country until there were about 10,000 of them squeezed into a fairly narrow street where the offices of Rózsa Hoffmann and her staff are cooking up their latest ideas about educating the new “Hungarian men”–ideas that will be shaped by the principles close to this right-wing government’s heart.

A day before the demonstration the government decided to intervene in the hope of averting a large demonstration of young people whose support is really vital for the party. Orbán sent his honey-tongued deputy, Tibor Navracsics, to negotiate with the student leaders. And indeed the students liked Navracsics a great deal better than the sourpuss Rózsa Hoffmann. Their chief negotiator announced after the meeting that in a couple of hours they had achieved more than they had in over a year. But they were not impressed enough to give up the idea of the demonstration.

As far as I can see from the description and the videos that are available the students mistakenly think that the sole culprit is Ms Hoffmann. The typical misconception about the good king and his evil minister. As Hoffmann rightly pointed out after the students demanded her resignation, the students are mistaken. She is just the arm of the government.  Whatever she is doing is at the behest of the prime minister. And indeed, how often did we hear that Hoffmann reported to the cabinet and that she was bawled out by Orbán and sent back to rework the plan until he could approve it. Two days ago Orbán gave his blessing to the new law on higher education. After that the students can demonstrate till doomsday and curse or make fun of Rózsa Hoffmann. She is not the real culprit. Sure, she is an old, humorless, and far too pious lady whom one can make fun of easily, but she is only the messenger.

Here is a fairly typical picture of the demonstration that says a lot about the atmosphere:


Those who were burying Hungarian higher education were much more on target. Yesterday I wrote about a minister in the 1920s who spent incredible amounts of money on education. Although the ideology of his program is not to my liking, at least he realized the importance of education to Hungary’s future. The Orbán government’s attempt to save money on education is a grave mistake that will be an impediment to Hungary’s economic growth. Here is the coffin symbolizing higher education the students dragged out:


It’s unlikely that Rózsa Hoffmann will leave any time soon, but at this point whether she stays or not is really immaterial. The core problem is that this right-wing government is ruining Hungarian education. I’m just hoping that the Hungarian students will come to understand that and will do more than demand Rózsa’s departure.

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  1. I would like to give more credit to the students than not realizing the Ms Hoffman is only the messenger. If they do not realize that , I hate to say it, but they deserve what comes on their way and more so, they should not be in any university.

  2. some1: “I would like to give more credit to the students than not realizing the Ms Hoffman is only the messenger”
    I hope you’re right but after talking to Navracsics they seemed to be in seventh heaven. He told that they are sinking about increasing the amounts of student loans.

  3. “Nem tu’-rozsas a helyzet”. This was a bonanza for comedians.
    This name (Rose) is just too easy target.
    “A Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is
    A rose is what Moses supposes his toes is
    Couldn’t be a lily or a daphi daphi dilli
    It’s gotta be a rose cuz it rhymes with mose!”
    I wonder what will these guys think when the changes will go in effect anyway? Will they still hate Hoffman or start connecting the dots? Orban must be pretty happy finding another clueless KDNP zealot to take the blame for the drastic measures.
    FIDESZ support or not on the video these kids seemed to be pretty adamant about leaving the country if things go worse.

  4. Mutt: “these kids seemed to be pretty adamant about leaving the country if things go worse.”
    Yes. It seems that all this nationalistic propaganda is pretty well wasted on them.

  5. I am not surprised that the Viktator has his eyes set on education especially Higher Education.
    The ‘Mighty One’s (O.V.) is well aware of the problems educated people can and will cause him. He is wisely looking some 7 to 10 years into the future. He has read history and knows that it was the student population who precipitated the events of October 1956. He knows that the next time he will not have the backing of Foreign Bayonets and Armour to secure his throne.
    His idea is simple, minimise the number of ‘students’ and select ONLY the faithful like Johnny Boy (and those whose parents have large enough enveloped to hold the ‘bribes).
    Keep the rest of the ‘animals’ (the Hungarians) illiterate, indolent and ignorant. Let’s face it if the ‘animals’ do not know anything better they will think their life is good.

  6. I am seriously concerned about these students. Yes, it does bug me that it was enough for them that Navracsics kissed it better. Are these kids smart enough to have a “leader” who can replace the “old” party leaders? Can they offer an alternative for the new generations when they are so focused on spoken words and not on actions? Do the believe that something has changed in the last tow days in the “upper management” and now suddenly the “not listen what I say” from Orban, does not apply? Odin is right, as these students would split in a moment form Hungary if some opportunity would be given to them. (THat is of course not any different than what many prior generations did.) So, what is the difference between past generations and this group? I think under the previous “regimes ” most of those who “rebelled” did it for the bigger picture. THere was a sense of unity in the past amongst the opposing groups, and I do not see that here. Were these students out last week too? Wee they there on the Clark Adam ter before? Are each group rebells for their own little grievances versus going out with a common voice demanding changes? THe actions of these students are nothing. They would of gone and do the same if they did not like their new math teacher. I do not see any strength and clear goals in what they want to achieve and by when.

  7. I was just reading about Dora Polgar.She was one of the founders of Ha-Ha (Hallgatói Hálózat) another student movement.
    And she was forced to resign due to the fact that she was a member of Mszp (one of the youngest), and she was claiming that HOOK was a Fidesz organization, and therefore, Ha-Ha was officially no part of the October 23 demonstration. Although she and Ha-Ha was there.
    I do not know what is true and what is a lie, but an organized massive student movement seems to me too far away.

  8. Éva, you really do need to live somewhere less prone to the wrath of God!
    But, in the meantime, it’s over to us again. So here’s my starter for the Interim Hungarian Spectrum:
    I missed this when it was published as I was in the throes of half-term and trying to decorate four rooms at once, but the Guardian has finally woken up to what’s going on in Hungary and the impact it could/should have on the EU:
    “The EU must create a mechanism to discipline or eject errant members”

  9. Personally, I am not against setting conditions for free education or for state funded student loans. In the US, for example, you can get a free four year Batchelor of Science degree (and valuable civil engineering practical experience) at the West Point Academy. The catch is that upon graduation the student must serve in the US Army for 8 years (5 active duty, 3 in the Reserves). In the US there are many other tuition grants with employment conditions. A young friend of mine spent 2 years on a full grant studying the language and culture of a foreign country. In return the obligation was to spend an equal amount of time employed in the US intelligence community.
    For a country with limited resources, like Hungary, I think it would also make sense to set incentives for graduates to contribute to the Hungarian economy. Tax deductions, excelerated loan write-offs for those who stay would be OK with me. Other graduates would be free to leave the country, of course, but their foreign earnings would be garnished with their full monthly payments to the Hungarian loan program. No penalties, but no favorable treatment, either.
    Of course, this is based on Hungarian universities charging the full cost of education as tuition, coupled with a system of private and government loans and scholarships to help those who need it and deserve it.
    By the way, the full cost of a four year BS program at West Point is estimated to be $225,000.

  10. THe most relevant section of the article Paul posted is here:
    “Because all attention has been on the euro, few governments have followed developments in Hungary closely; and those who have are clearly too afraid to open a second front of political conflict at a time when EU legitimacy is already in short supply. And yet what has been going on in Budapest – the dismantling of the rule of law, the systematic weakening of oppositional media, the creation of a new nationalist and in many ways authoritarian constitution – arguably puts European integration much more in doubt than any problems with the euro.”

  11. Veering right off-topic – an article on Budapost, describes Seres László as an “ultra liberal”:
    Obviously such a description makes sense in a Hungarian context, but to a Brit “ultra liberal” is practically an oxymoron.
    To us, the Liberals have always occupied (or tried to occupy) the middle ground between left and right. They have always been the ‘nice’ party, with wishy-washy ideas that no one could really vote against, but few supported. They were often characterised as the party who firmly believes that you CAN make an omelette without breaking eggs.
    In the UK context, the words ‘ultra’ and ‘liberal’ just don’t go together!
    Could someone enlighten me as to what an ‘ultra liberal’ is in the Hungarian context?

  12. Paul, from me only a guess. In some countries on the Continent, you can think in terms of left-wing and right-wing, while both these groups expect the government and the state to play an important role in the society. I think in the case of the left-wing it is clear, in the case of the right-wing it is “conservative” authoritarian care (not necessarily welfare), but care it is (they tell you what you are allowed to do). Liberal is something distinct from it, as it wishes to reduce “care” and increase the responsibility of people. An ultra-liberal then may be expected to wish to abandon the state altogether, free market and social disintegration. You see, quite frightening! For me from this it follows that the general perception what the Hungarian state is about is still rather dated, both left- and right-wing appear to share the idea that democracy (if this can be called that way) should be “guided” by the state. Something similar to the 1980s, although this is typically denied.

  13. Kirsten – over here that would be called ‘libertarianism’ – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarianism
    It’s sounds like nit-picking but (in the UK at least) ‘classic’ liberalism and libertarianism are quite different philosophies. In fact, libertarianism, taken to its logical conclusion is effectively anarchy.
    It makes me wonder if this is just difficulties with translation, or if being a ‘liberal’ in Hungary (and the Continent in general?) means something different to what it means in the UK.
    Our Liberal party grew out of the old Whig party, so it didn’t have a ‘traditional’ liberal background, so perhaps it’s us who are out of step? (Wouldn’t be the first time!)

  14. I think there will be a different connotation, it might be rather positive in England or the UK but it is “too close to the market and its social hardships” for some groups on the Continent. “Liberal” is very much meant with reference to the economy, only rarely (I would say) it is thought of as people’s rights and freedoms, although this can also be included in the programmes of liberal parties. The role of the government should be minimal (as it is prone to abuse its powers), and it is most important in the economic sphere and not so in other spheres. I think in England “conservative” could come closer to what is meant with ultra-liberal here. That is why ultra-liberalism will not be the same as libertarianism, that sounds so “progressive”, “the bad liberalism” stands mainly for the cold cash cow.
    But applied to Hungary it is strange as the last period of glory was one that is called “liberal”.

  15. Ron: “In fact they expect to have 8,000 teachers less by 2015.” The article clearly states that there was a background information with the new education act that Fidesz decided not make public. The forty pages document contains some details that point out that the new education act did not have so much to do with the “helping students who do not want to be in school after age 16″ but more so with the projected savings on closing down schools, laying off teachers, and so forth. I can just imaging all the kissing up going on for Fidesz from teachers and principals to make sure that they will not be the ones loosing their jobs.
    So, the new law is just what Orban said before “do not listen to what I am saying”. I can on;y hoe that those teachers will be first in line to loose their jobs who were stupid enough to buy into the Fidesz BS over and over again.

  16. Can anyone give me an idea of what Ron’s links say? I’ve tried Google translate, but the result is bizarre.

  17. I am sorry Paul but did not you read my post right after Ron’s? It contains the following “The article clearly states ” I am not sure what are you asking, except if my sloppy English makes it impossible for you to get the hang off what a hack I am saying. lol The second article expands on the previous link.

  18. Another off topic. I stumble on this topic via the Washington Post.
    In which it was stated that decrease of the VAT rate will have (not immediately) a large impact on growth of demand. This is what is needed in Hungary.
    To my surprise the names to which this article is referring to sounded very Hungarian. And indeed was are talking about Hungarians, who have various suggestions how to improve demand/growth.
    Another surprise was that these guys (I assume) are actually working for the Hungarian government. Their findings, although lowered in result, were confirmed by other EU countries. Notably the UK.
    So my question is why Hungary is not implementing these findings, but doing exactly the opposite?

  19. Ron: “I was just reading about Dora Polgar.She was one of the founders of Ha-Ha (Hallgatói Hálózat) another student movement. And she was forced to resign due to the fact that she was a member of Mszp (one of the youngest), and she was claiming that HOOK was a Fidesz organization”
    I also listen to an interview with her and I was impressed. HOOK was indeed a breeding ground for young Fidesz politicos, but it seems that they are getting disillusioned.

  20. Paul: “an article on Budapost, describes Seres László as an “ultra liberal”
    If anything Seres is a neo-conservative.

  21. Now that I have deleted all the spams, I will post the article I wrote on Satuday and which I couldn’t post because of the flickering light that prevented me for finishing and posting it.
    While I couldn’t write anything I read a lot and I’m sure you would be interested in some of what I was reading. At least I think that it is interesting.

  22. Ron: “In which it was stated that decrease of the VAT rate will have (not immediately) a large impact on growth of demand.”
    I had only a quick look at the first of your links but I think that the outcome could very much depend on how useful the government expenditure is. If you collect taxes and these are used e.g. to finance Fidesz or MSzP connections (but this is the most obvious example, you could equally say: finance the alaptörveny asztala or the redesign of Kossuth ter), certainly any reduction in taxes will have a strong effect on GDP. I would not take the result as applying everywhere, for me it very much depends on which expenditures have to be cut as a compensation.
    Eva, I hope that the repairs now made sure than any further snow storm and hurricane will not immediately threaten the supply of power again. In any case, it is good to read that everything is restored, hopefully including your good mood!

  23. Sorry, Some 1, I did read your post, but it didn’t really give me what I wanted.
    What I really wanted was an English translation of both articles, but I appreciate no one has the time to do that, so I was just hoping someone could give me an English précis of what they said.
    This is important to me because it’s the first time I’ve had (what looks like) something concrete to present to my wife and in-laws as evidence of what OV is really doing. But unfortunately the Google ‘translations’ are so bad I can’t get the information I need.

  24. Just read in the New York Times in an article about Italy allowing IMF to monitor their finances that:
    “It is also preparing credit lines for countries like Hungary that are “innocent bystanders” of the crisis, a provision that goes well beyond the group’s traditional mandate of helping countries that are direct recipients of its financial aid.”
    I assume that means that Orbán had to give up his freedom fight against the IMF.

  25. Because of a new entry by a visitor of this blog, I had the fortune to read Eva’s entry from 2009 regarding Viktor Orban’s vinery. (Yes, I know it is his wife’s, but let’s get real…) http://tinyurl.com/3esnlt9
    I think it would be timely to repost or revisit that entry as Gyurcsany’s “unfaithful handling” case proceeds. As we all know Orban promised that he would bring everyone to justice who have ripped of Hungary or abused its power. Abusing power is avery serious issue in the developed world, and the last time (this year for that matter) in Canada and Member of the Parliament got involved in the dealings of her husband’s business, well she lost her seat. THe entry by Eva clearly states that Orban never fought the truth of the “charges” against him, but fought the technicality that the documents that were released were not “minutes of Board meetings”. I do not think any documents (if exist) against Gyurcsany were created in official meetings. THe fact that such document exist and shows clear interference, pressure and abuse of power and its content are not detested by Orban, shows that Hungary current Prime Minister is in fact likely abused his power, and probably more. I understad why there would be no-one who has the guts to put Orban to trial in Hungary, but sInce there were EU money involved , and also because there were several foreign investors, can it be done somehow through the EU? Just asking.

  26. Ron: “Another surprise was that these guys (I assume) are actually working for the Hungarian government. Their findings, although lowered in result, were confirmed by other EU countries. Notably the UK.
    So my question is why Hungary is not implementing these findings, but doing exactly the opposite?”
    No, these guys were working for the Fiscal Council, the independent instiution chaired by György Kopits and scrapped by Orbán in late 2010 after they revealed that according to the 2011 budget the crisis taxes were intended to remain longer than the government initially had admitted.

  27. Gabor: No, these guys were …..the government initially had admitted.
    Organizations that receive money from one source only (in this case the Hungarian government), are per definition not independent.

  28. Ron: The point is that it is pointless to wonder why Orbán’s governmet do not implemet the ideas of those whom they declared useless, regardless how you define independence. It was a correct (and probably not unfounded) answer to your question, but of course you are free to continue with picking at other minor details.

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