The latest Hungarian austerity program and the teachers

Although the big story of the day is that György Matolcsy had to announce another austerity program, I can’t go into the details of the package because we know only the skeleton of the program that is supposed to save about 400 billion forints. The program had to be announced in a hurry to avoid the continuation of the excessive deficit procedure that could result in Hungary’s losing the very substantial amount of money it currently receives from Brussels. The forint responded well to the news, but I think I should give economists a little time to go over Matolcsy’s figures to determine whether this particular adjustment to the current and next year’s budget is any more realistic than his earlier ones were. I’m almost certain that in a day or so all the numbers will be carefully analyzed. But for the final word from the European Union we most likely will have to wait for a while. As for the IMF, a couple of days ago the Budapest representative announced that the IMF doesn’t expect any more austerity measures. Instead they would like to see a well balanced economic policy based on realistic figures. Whether this latest package will satisfy them is impossible for me to judge.

Aside from lowering economic expectations and raising the deficit goal from 2.2 to 2.7% Matolcsy announced higher transaction taxes on bank withdrawals and better VAT collection. But what will cause the greatest consternation is the postponement of the salary hikes for Hungarian teachers promised for the fall of 2013. Even Heti Válasz ran an article with the subtitle: “There will be trouble.” Hungarian teachers are very poorly paid and since 2008 their salaries have remained constant. Keep in mind that the inflation rate in Hungary is high–on average 6-6.5%.

I suspect that the majority of teachers voted for Fidesz in 2010 because they fell for all the empty promises. Soon enough, however, it became obvious that the government in fact was hoping to reduce the number of teachers. The nationalization of schools that will take place on January 1, 2013 facilitates such plans.

Rózsa Hoffmann (KDNP), undersecretary in charge of education, promised that there would be no layoffs and that there would be a very substantial raise for teachers: 200%  for the university-educated who teach in high schools and 180%  for the college-educated who teach in the lower grades. Only last Tuesday Ms. Hoffmann announced that she couldn’t imagine the postponement of these raises. Well, Matolcsy forgot to tell her something.

This afternoon Zoltán Balog, the minister who among his many other duties is also responsible for education, announced that the decision to postpone the raises is not final. He expressed his hope that “in light of possible good economic figures” the decision will be reversed. I am afraid Balog is far too optimistic.

Mrs. István Galló (Pedagógusok Szakszervezete) seems to be suspicious of Undersecretary Rózsa Hoffmann 

Meanwhile there are two teachers unions in Hungary: the Pedagógusok Szakszervezete (PSZ) and the Pedagógusok Demokratikus Szakszervezete (PDSZ). The former is much larger, and in the past its leadership leaned toward the left. The latter in the pre-2010 period was clearly siding with Fidesz, and as soon as Fidesz won the elections the head of PDSZ received a lucrative government job. His replacement, however, is anything but a friend of the current government. Since 2010 both unions have been fighting for the rights of the teachers they represent. Both leaders, László Mendrey (PDSZ) and Mrs. István Galló (PSZ), announced shortly after the announcement of the latest austerity measures that “our patience has run out” and if necessary they will go on strike.

While Hungarian teachers’ salaries are among the lowest in Europe and while fewer and fewer Hungarian university students are getting tuition-free education Viktor Orbán is quite generous with the Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania. In 1999 it was the first Orbán government that approved a financial assistance package of 2 billion forints a year to the university that has three campuses–in Cluj-Napoca (Kolozsvár), Miercurea-Ciuc (Csíkszereda), and Târgu Mureş  (Marosvásárhely). The university opened its doors in 2001, and this is the first year that it can function as a fully accredited institution of higher learning.

Although there were some vague promises from Bucharest that the Romanian government would also take part in the financing of Sapientia, up to now the entire funding of the university with approximately 2,000 students is being undertaken by Budapest. Viktor Orbán visited the university a couple of days ago where he was received with such adulation that those present could only compare the servile attitude of the university staff to the behavior of the people during the Ceauşescu era toward the genius of the Carpathians. The university staff should indeed be grateful because Viktor Orbán arrived with a gift of 4 billion forints. The chairman of the board in his speech announced that with this gift “Viktor Orbán has joined the ranks of the great Transylvanian princes who were known for their patronage of learning.” What the chairman of the board forgot to mention was that this new “Transylvanian prince” was generous not with his own money but with the Hungarian taxpayers’ hard-earned money, of which Hungary at the moment has mighty little.

If I were Viktor Orbán I would be careful with all this largesse because I have the feeling that people’s patience is indeed running out. They are sick and tired of billions spent on items they consider unnecessary frills. They are tired of passing an incredible amount of money and land to the oligarchs. They are also angry about the games Fidesz is playing with the new elections laws. Seventy-five percent of the people are against the proposed registration procedure, but Viktor Orbán is bound and determined to go ahead with his plans.

And now the Christian Democrats are working hard to alienate those who live together and have children but didn’t feel the need to marry formally. Forty-three percent of all children are born to couples in this situation. During the discussion of the new Civic Code the Christian Democratic MPs insisted that these families are not “true families” and therefore don’t have the same rights as those who live in wedlock.

The Fidesz-KDNP tent is getting smaller and smaller.

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31 comments

  1. “I have the feeling that people’s patience is indeed running out”

    We’ve been told this for the last two years, my feeling is that they’ve got a lot more ‘patience’ to go.

    The chattering classes in Bp may be muttering darkly about OV, but in the rest of the country people are just keeping their heads down and looking after themselves.

  2. OT – and apologies if already posted, but British readers might be interested in this:

    http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/world-affairs/2012/10/hungary-being-held-hostage-outdated-tyrant

    It’s a little ‘tabloid’ in style, has a few minor mistakes, and ends rather oddly, but it tells the basic story quite well (if a little dramatically). For non-UK readers, this is a low-circulation left-wing periodical, so it’s readership isn’t large, but at least the Hungarian situation is still being reported on in the UK.

  3. ” Forty-three percent of all children are born to couples in this situation. ” i e out of wedlock …

    Now that’s an interesting statistic. The corresponding number for Germany is less than 33 % (in 2010), for the EU around 38 %.

    An interesting point: In the conservative/capitalist Western Germany that number is around 27 %, while in the former communist East Germany it’s over 60 %. Of course the numbers for second children etc are much lower, many people still decide to marry after their first baby.

    My interpretation for this: In conservative society people more often decide to marry when the woman is pregnant – even when they’re not sure whether it will work out. It would be interesting to find the numbers for divorce – but who really cares as long as there are enough willing slaves born …

    Re teachers’ salary and numbers:

    Didn’t Mr Romney just say something similar: We don’t need too many well paid teachers …

  4. The complaint that led to the American Revolution was taxation without representation. Now I suspect many heavily taxed Hungarians will not be pleased to learn that their government is granting representation (via voting rights) and benefits (like this example of pork) to people who are not subject to any Hungarian taxation at all. But the government should probably not be concerned about the possibility of revolt, as these Hungarians are exhausted from working so hard just to survive and pay their taxes.

  5. The government nationalized firemen, police & teachers to be able to fire any of the rebels for political reasons (in fact, any public employee can be fired without giving any reasons, by a recent change in the law).

    Entrepreneurs can be audited by the Tax Authority. So the system of fear works for now.

    The Fidesz government just laughs at the twice-a-year (March & October) demonstrations, no matter how large they are.

    Who knows when the explosion takes place. There has not been a big popular uprising in Hungary since 1956, people do not know how to organize. The country has not experienced mass violence since then.

    On the other hand, the economic situation is so dire in the NE part of the country that there are signs that revolts might erupt any time. Then Orban can introduce his pet project, the martial law.

    He has, say, two thousand members in his praetorian guards (TEK & others). He can make a deal with Jobbik to use their SA-like units, which have not been disbanded, despite court rulings.

    On the other side, ordinary people do not have any weapons in Hungary, and the army is tiny.

  6. I gather that the teachers already know that it is useless to demonstrate. If I understood Mrs. Galló right they are not planning any demonstration. I have the feeling that at the end they will decide on strike.

  7. It takes no great amount of foresight to see what the 2014 elections (if they’re held) will bring: a small turnout in Hungary but massive returns from outside of the country which will, magically, carry Fidesz to victory and even a 2/3 majority.
    Ahh, the benefits of the mailed-in ballot! Aren’t Hungarians geniuses?
    HAJ-RA MA-GYA-ROK!!!

    (Fraz Kafka is turning in his grave…)

  8. If there is a revolt, the West, with its current weak leadership, will not care if a few hundred people are murdered by Orban’s men. Look at Syria, 40 thousand people are dead in one and a half years, a million are displaced, and the West does not want to interfere – encouragement to any dictator.

  9. London Calling!

    No Tappanch.

    The whole of the Western World is aghast at how Bashir Al Assad is murdering his people.

    It is Russia (preserving their arms market) and China (afraid of any outside interference precedents in their politics) that are ‘not wanting to interfere’.

    Lessons learnt in Iraq, Afghanistan and Darfur – have made the West less keen – but only less keen.

    And we have to tolerate the massacres because of the voting system of NATO.

    But this is a Hungarian blog.

    I couldn’t let you get away with such an assumption.

    Regards

    Charlie

  10. London Calling!

    So the ‘London Scribblers’ have been fooled again! – the Forint lurches back up.

    Looks like Matolcsy’s fairytale is turning into a Grimm’s fairy tale.

    The miracle was supposed to begin ‘next year’ – but has been moved to 2030!

    Looks like the teacher’s salary increase will have to wait till then too.

    The ‘buying’ of Transylvanian votes could be the final straw – that breaks the back of the camel of indifference to the voting system; the gerrymandering; and the corruption.

    Let the revolution begin!

    (Ooops! This blog is in English – so the Hungarians won’t understand – shucks!)

    Regards

    Charlie

  11. tappanch :
    Fidesz leader Rogan orders a sculptor to change the design of his sculpture: the newsboy
    of the 1910s has to hold a modern newspaper in his hand instead of the popular “Az Est” of that era.
    Perhaps, Mr Rogan hated the fact the owner of “Az Est” was Jewish.
    http://index.hu/kultur/2012/10/05/rogan_kozpenzbol_reklamozza_a_blikket/

    The article suspects this was Mr Rogan’s way to thank “Blikk” for the 66 columns in which this tabloid wrote about his life in the last year. The sculpture was paid by the taxpayers.

  12. tappanch :
    A lay leader of the Budapest Jewish community was beaten up tonight in a racial attack.
    http://hvg.hu/itthon/20121005_Hasba_rugtak_a_Budapesti_Zsido_Hitkozseg_

    They caught the two attackers. Let’s see…according to the way they handled Csatary, it’ll go something like this: they’ll be put under house arrest. The police will discover that their parents have both been booted out of jobs by the evil bankers (read, jews) and so the culprits are due some ‘understanding’. They’ll be given a month of a suspended sentence under their own recognisance.

    The ‘signals’ to Jobbik and the right crazies will not be missed.

  13. Paul :
    OT – and apologies if already posted, but British readers might be interested in this:
    http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/world-affairs/2012/10/hungary-being-held-hostage-outdated-tyrant
    It’s a little ‘tabloid’ in style, has a few minor mistakes, and ends rather oddly, but it tells the basic story quite well (if a little dramatically). For non-UK readers, this is a low-circulation left-wing periodical, so it’s readership isn’t large, but at least the Hungarian situation is still being reported on in the UK.

    (What do you mean by ‘British readers’?)

    But thanks for it, anyway. A good read, and precise.
    We do need some British indignation here.

  14. Arithmetics as Bill Clinton said in democratic primary …

    I believe we have 150,000 teachers. Their average pay is about 3 million a year. So a 4% raise would cost 18 billlon (18 * 10^9) a year. Again this is only a 4% raise. How on earth does Rozsa Hoffman want to give such a high raise to the teachers? That would eat up the gains from this new Matolcsy plan and the 400 billion is probably just the usual fairy tale.

  15. No idea if and how many teachers thought the promised pay-rise was too good to be true but Hoffmann made the announcement. If she were a woman of principle, she might resign but something tells me that won’t happen earlier. There were teachers’ strikes in the UK over pension reform last spring and, apart from a lot of parents moaning about having to take time off to look after their kids, nothing really changed as a result. The good teachers will continue to leave, in Hungary as well, and schools will generally turn out kids who are incapable of making their way in a knowledge-based Europe without borders.

  16. London Calling!

    Slightly O/T

    Interesting ‘male subservience’ shown by ‘Mrs. István Galló’.

    How in heaven’s name is equality ever going to be part of Hungarian society if women can’t be MPs in their own name – in their own right?

    Truly barmy. Truly stupid.

    Get modern, Hungary!

    Regards

    Charlie

  17. Mutt :
    Arithmetics as Bill Clinton said in democratic primary …
    I believe we have 150,000 teachers. Their average pay is about 3 million a year. So a 4% raise would cost 18 billlon (18 * 10^9) a year. Again this is only a 4% raise. How on earth does Rozsa Hoffman want to give such a high raise to the teachers? That would eat up the gains from this new Matolcsy plan and the 400 billion is probably just the usual fairy tale.

    Mutt you assumption is incorrect. If the average salary is HUF 3,000,000 per year is the gross salary, on top of this is coming the Social Security (29%), Training Fund contribution (yeah crazy) 1.5% and a few other charges, in total around 34% of gross salary, as extra costs for the schools (decreasing their budget) an amount of HUF 6.12 billion must also be added..

    This is on top of other extra costs for the schools, such as every day gym (used to be 3 hours per class per week). Some of these schools expanded the gym lesson to the hallway, as they do not have enough gym space, of course bothering other classes. Yeah things are good in Hungarian schools.

  18. petofi :

    Eva S. Balogh :

    tappanch :
    A lay leader of the Budapest Jewish community was beaten up tonight in a racial attack.
    http://hvg.hu/itthon/20121005_Hasba_rugtak_a_Budapesti_Zsido_Hitkozseg_

    These puffed up barbarians. They think they can do anything. The sculptor should be ashamed of himself for letting this ignoramus do this to his work.

    Huh?

    You confused me there, Eva.
    Mixing your angers?

    Sorry, it is too early and I can’t see straight. I meant to quote the the Est v. Blikk story.

  19. Lutra lutra :
    schools will do generally turn out kids who are incapable of making their way in a knowledge-based Europe without borders.

    The IT curriculum that I’ve seen is filled with mostly useless facts making it so incredibly boring that I have no doubt that it’s driving kids away from the subject. Who here cares about Von Neumann. IT is a tactile subject and should no, must be taught that way. The vast majority of innovation in this space appears in English but not all… (http://www.devoxx.com/display/4KIDS/Home). The creator of this site has direct access to all of these industry experts (www.parleys.com) and in that group many that are either directly or indirectly involved with developing programs for educating kids. So the while the product appears in French/Flemish, the networking happens in English so even if teachers here were empowered or some what interested, they still face a language barrier. At least today those kids that really want to learn have youtube.

  20. GFidesz nstalled fears in people enough that there willbe no significant demonstrations from teachers. First they announced that they will cut back on positions. Later they announced that they will have no raise. Who will go out to march against this. Can you recall that the last time people protested against Fidesz non-actions (Csatary case), their photos were published and blood money was offered to identify them? This was OK by Fidesz. WHo in their right mind want to be on aposter for teachers to be fired first if they go out and protest? How about the case of Balazs Navarro? I bet not one of us know from the top of our head what happened to him at the end.

  21. Hungarian conditions….I wasn’t alive back in the 1920’s or 1930’s but I imagine it was something like this in Canada before labour unions took hold and workers’
    rights were established.

    Welcome to the Past, one and all….

    But, if there’s any anger left in one, we can always dole out some for that ridiculous organization called the UN which as zero requirements or standards of its members. Now, the EU has standards but does not
    apply them rigorously or Hungary would’ve been slap-crazy by now. Let’s hope that Barroso, Merkel, and Lagarde have long memories…And let’s hope that the
    revamped EU will have some cyanide-like measures
    for countries who wish to be led by petty, out-dated, tyrants.

  22. I am cynical regarding both the political and civic opposition to the regime *but* I do also think that Orbanistan stands on relatively weak foundations.

    Despite what Dr Balogh frequently says, not enough people care about the “abstracts” (eg media, judicial independence) to effect any kind of meaningful opposition.

    But there are certain groups who do have the power to hold the state to account/blackmail. Transport workers, pensioners, the cops, health workers and teachers can put the fear of God into even Orban if they decide to mobilize. Tipping points are rarely predictable- if the teachers think they have little to lose in the long term (and they don’t) and they decide to take on the regime it may just give the requisite courage to tothers to take on the Lord Shepherd.

  23. “(What do you mean by ‘British readers’?)”

    I meant readers of this blog who grew up in the UK. I wrote this for two reasons: 1) because I thought it might not be of a great deal of interest to non-Brits what was being written in a minor British publication, and 2) I assumed that Brits would be aware of the political stance of this particular publication – which might affect how they read it.

    It was just easier to say “but British readers might be interested in this”!

  24. “Who knows when the explosion takes place. There has not been a big popular uprising in Hungary since 1956, people do not know how to organize. The country has not experienced mass violence since then.”

    This reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about 1956 for some time.

    56 is a big ‘totem’ for Hungarians (both negative and positive) – possibly as significant as say Trianon or Mohács. Any situation like the one we are in now automatically arouses references to 56.

    But these references are always with the assumption that 56 could be repeated, that it was ‘just’ Hungarians having enough and fighting back. But what if 56, and what caused it, was actually unique, and cannot be repeated?

    It is commonly assumed that 56 was only about resisting the Communist yoke, of trying to break free of the USSR. But the conditions that led up to 56 were far more complex than that. For a start, the war had ended only 11 years before, the world in which 56 erupted was an immediately post-war world, so deeply affected by the war and how it had ended, that it is unimaginable to anyone who wasn’t alive at that time.

    I grew up in immediately post-war Britain – vast expanses of bombed damaged/destroyed houses, playing in bomb shelters and incendiary tanks (large concrete ‘ponds’ of water for putting out fire bombs), rationing, every aspect of life affected by the grey, worn-out state that everything was in – and this affects me and my thinking right to this very day. But for the people of 1956 in Hungary, especially Budapest, the after-effects of the war were far more significant and visible than that, and had a much greater day-to-day impact.

    Then there is the psychological impact of liberation – of the ending of the war – especially the overwhelming desire to go back to how things were, or to move on to some better world. The impact on any people of being invaded and controlled by another nation and an alien political regime is pretty overwhelming, but how much more so is it if you have only just started to get used to freedom and started to dream about a return to normality or the promise of a better future? To the people of 56, the, by then obvious, oppression of the Soviet occupation must have seemed like the bitterest possible pill to swallow after all they had just been through.

    And on top of all that, there are the physical aspects of having just fought and lost a war. In the Budapest of 56, people literally didn’t have that much to lose. In modern Western society it would take a great deal to get people to fight, they have so much to lose – mortgage, job, house, etc –
    they are so integrated into the very system they would be rising against, that they simply couldn’t do it. But in post-war Hungary, especially Budapest, people didn’t have very much left to lose – it was worth the risk of rebelling, of fighting. And, of course, many people had personal experience of fighting, of handling guns, explosives, etc – of seeing people die, perhaps even of killing. If I was involved in a revolution now and we stormed a barracks and liberated weapons, I would have very little idea how to use them, and no idea at all of what ammunition went with what weapon, and the idea off actually shooting anyone would be beyond my imagining. And, even were I to be trained to shoot or make Molotov Cocktails, the first sight of a tank rumbling towards me would probably scare the living daylights out of me. But many people in 56 did know how to use a gun, and had direct experience of fighting tanks, etc.

    So the fighters of 56 had a real and palpable enemy to fight, and little to lose. And many of them had first hand experience of fighting, even of killing – and psychologically they accepted war (including the possibility of their own death in the process) as a means to resist something.

    How much of that applies to the Hungarians of today? How many of them could even articulate what it is that they are so against that makes it worth fighting for – killing, dying and destroying for? How many of them genuinely have reached the point where they really do have nothing to lose? How many of them have any experience of fighting, of handling weapons, of killing?

    56 was a one-off. A unique response to unique circumstances. anyone waiting for something similar to happen again today to liberate us from Orbán is in for a VERY long wait.

  25. If would get that bad as in the 50th that is poverty with zero civil rights accompanied with terror I believe people will show up in the streets.

    As I said earlier real dictatorship is a whole lot of work and frankly there’s no need for it. The money is flowing steadily. These guys are cowards, lazy and dumb as hell. This is our hope.

    It’s an interesting question why the memory of the 56 revolution was abused so much in Hungary. We lost all fights, wars and revolts, but perhaps this was the only one where the country was crushed by the Soviets so swiftly that we din’t have a chance to fuck it up with our usual ways. This brutality helped us to preserve the good memories.

    My dad was 25. They were trained by army officers how to make molotov cocktails. The T34s had a flaw. They had an exposed air vent somewhere in the rear. So it went like this. You needed 2 or 3 buddies. The safest was to do it in narrow streets. One goes behind the tank and hits the air vent with the bottle. The burning liquid pours in and forces out the guys. As they come out one by one through the tower you shoot them. You have no choice. If you miss the throw and there is enough space for the turret to turn you are finished. No big deal. The hardest was shooting them I guess …

  26. London Calling!

    I would hardly say that the New Statesman is a ‘minor British publication’

    As a magazine it has been a titan in the world of serious journalism and politics – a left wing magazine in a sea of right-wing mainstream publications.

    A sort of ‘Hungarian Spectrum’ among the sea of Orban’s self-censoring press.

    It has spawned many journalists who have moved onto the Guardian and Observer and was originally started for the Fabian society – a left-wing Labour political group.

    I read it regularly for 10 years in the 80’s and only dropped it because I had too much reading to do! But it is always thought-provoking, has many ‘scoops’ is a must-read for politicians. Even if its circulation has dropped in the recent past.

    Not minor but major.

    If only Hungary had just such a publication.

    Regards

    Charlie

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