The Hungarian scene: From economics to parochial schools

It is hard to pick just one topic to discuss today because too many important events have taken place lately.

The biggest bombshell yesterday was the final word on the Hungarian economy’s performance in 2012, which turned out to be worse than expected.  Hungary is still in recession, with the country’s GDP shrinking by another 1.7%. Hungary is the worst performing economy in the region and it doesn’t look as if there will be any change in the trend. After all, in the last quarter the economy performed even worse: the GDP decreased by 2.7% year on year.

The government blames the sluggish economy of the European Union and last year’s drought for the dismal numbers.  György Matolcsy naturally predicted that next year the Hungarian economy will be booming, and in his weekly essay for Heti Válasz he said that in twenty years Hungary will catch up to the living standards of the Scandinavian countries. He loves long term predictions, perhaps because he stumbles when trying to deal with the next few months. The brand new budget for 2013 will have to be readjusted because of the Hungarian government’s ill-advised purchase of E.ON. It is almost certain that new taxes will be levied either on businesses or on consumers in order to balance the books. And new taxes will put further pressure on growth. I may also add to that bad news another growth killer: the cost of agricultural products grew by 18.1%  in December year on year and by 15.4% during 2012. All in all,  Hungary has had the worst performing economy in the whole region in the last three years.

Yet Viktor Orbán goes on with his success stories. Every Friday morning we learn that all is in order. This time the story is that “five indicators in the Hungarian economy are all right; there is only one which is not and that is growth.” Naturally, receiving relatively high amounts of money per capita from the European Union is also a sign of Viktor Orbán’s political genius. As he repeats time and again, after Latvia Hungary received the most money per capita. But that is not something one ought to be proud of. It actually means that, after Latvia, Hungary is the country in which the economic problems are the greatest within the European Union.

It is hard to know when Fidesz supporters will realize that something is very wrong with the economic policy of the Orbán government. Even conservative economists, including Zsigmond Járai and László Csaba, are critical of György Matolcsy, and yet it doesn’t look as if Orbán is planning to get rid of him although naturally MSZP is demanding his resignation. At least Orbán announced this morning that he doesn’t plan any changes in his cabinet. But almost everybody is convinced that Matolcsy will be appointed the next governor of the Hungarian National Bank and that Mihály Varga, until now minister in charge of the nonexistent negotiations with the IMF, will replace him. Skeptics claim that nothing will change even if Varga takes over because the orders come from the prime minister, who seems to be an economic illiterate.

On the level of undersecretaries, on the other hand, there were changes in the last few days. Zoltán Balog decided to get rid of some people who were giving him headaches one way or the other. He dismissed László L. Simon, undersecretary for cultural affairs, admitting that he couldn’t work with the man. Rózsa Hoffmann was demoted, although my feeling is that Balog wouldn’t have minded parting with her. According to rumors Orbán saved Hoffmann’s skin, most likely not because of his personal feelings for this schoolmarm but because her dismissal would have created trouble between himself and his loyal supporters in the Christian Democratic parliamentary caucus. So, she relinquished all duties connected to higher education; she will be in charge only of elementary and high school education.

Orbán and Balog decided to pick István Klinghammer, former president of ELTE, to replace her because they were hoping that he would, because of his experience with university students, be able to find the right tone in negotiating with the rebellious students. However, I very much doubt that Klinghammer’s dictatorial style and his apparent disdain of the students will endear him to this bright young crowd. Because of his age (72) he spent almost his whole life in the Rákosi and the Kádár regimes, and his educational philosophy seems to reflect those days when Hungarian universities were no more than extensions of high schools. Hoffmann is seven years younger than Klinghammer, but she is also of that generation. These people reject anything considered to be progressive educational thinking. Klinghammer thinks that there are far too many young people going to the university and that they study Mickey Mouse subjects. He was against the Bologna system (B.A., M.A., Ph.D. sequence) and I’d bet that, if he could, he would return Hungarian higher education to those good old days when, in his and Hoffmann’s opinion, Hungarian education was the best in the world.

And while we are on the subject of education and Zoltán Balog’s ministry, let me touch on something that made my blood boil this morning when I read the report about what happened in an elementary school in Balatonfüred that had been taken over by the Hungarian Reformed Church. Let’s keep in mind that Zoltán Balog is a Hungarian Reformed minister. According to the article, two teachers were dismissed from the school because “they did not pray with sufficient devotion.” Mind you, the Hungarian Reformed Church promised at the time of the takeover of the school that there would be no discrimination on the basis of religious affiliation. Now, however, the Hungarian Reformed minister in Balatonfüred referred those who complained about the dismissal to §44 of the Hungarian Reformed Public Education Law that makes it a teacher’s duty to help the students become committed members of their church and country. In addition, the students should become believers. When the parents wanted to know what the two teachers had done wrong, they were told that “they behaved strangely.”



The officials of the Hungarian Reformed Church obviously lied when they promised religion-neutral education to all children. And the naive parents didn’t read the Hungarian Reformed Public Education Law. All this while the school is entirely financed by the Hungarian state. On all the taxpayers’ money, including the atheists’.

At least before the nationalization of schools in 1948 parochial schools were maintained by the churches and by tuition fees. Then it was crystal clear that in a parochial school there would be a large dose of religious indoctrination in addition to the compulsory subjects. In theory children of “other faiths” were left alone. They didn’t have to attend church services or the religious instruction offered in school. But in the school I had to attend out of necessity for two years the nuns made it quite clear that non-Catholics were simply tolerated and handled differently from the Catholics, who were in the great majority.

Churches certainly can have their own schools, but they should also finance them. Parents who think that their children would benefit from attending parochial school should pay for the privilege. And before parents are misled, as it seems the parents of this elementary school in Balatonfüred were, they should read all the paragraphs of the parochial schools’ public education laws. Very carefully. In this case, I’d bet a good number would change their minds.


  1. At least in Füred there are two other elementary schools. In lots of villages and even towns all schools were handed over to churches.(Parochial schools get more support from the central government than public schools)

    Who has data about the number of public schools turned parochial in the last 3 or in the last 6 years?

  2. I don’t remember exact numbers but something like 20% of all schools sounds right. In the last three years the number multiplied rapidly. A real disaster. Can you imagine the Hungarian Catholic or Hungarian Reformed Church shaping the mindset of the next generation? Absolute horror!

  3. The government blames the sluggish economy of the European Union and last year’s drought for the dismal numbers.

    This reminds me of an old joke from the Kadar years:

    – Who are the five chief enemies of Hungaria
    – Capitalism, and the four seasons.

  4. Sorry, it should read:

    Who are the five chief enemies of Hungarian agriculture? Answer: Capitalism and the four seasons.

  5. Rest assured, they will shape the mindset of the next generation. You can’t take these schools away. That is the trick. The number of parochial schools can only increase. Socialist Prime Minsiters Gyula Horn was the original sinner. He wanted to appease the Catholics so he concluded an international agreement (which takes precedence over even the constitution) with the Vatican. This agreement is not hard enough for Fidesz (although no other country ever conlcluded a stronger one from the region, I think Slovakia and the Ctzech Republic never even concluded one), so the Fidesz government is preparing to reconclude it.

    Interestingly Balázs Schanda, formerly an advisor at the constitutional court (perhaps to Sólyom even, but I am not sure) and now dean of Pazmány Péter Catholic Law School was representing Vatican, while the guy was sitting at the court as advisor (and his pal Zsolt Semjén is the deputy primce minister). He was asked to leave which he did.

    Anyway, the currently existing agreement granted extensive rights (most importantly with financial backing) for the Catholics which were then granted to four other “historical” churches. I am not sure about the status of the reconclusion, it would be good to know. But it will give even stronger rights to the church and remember we are talking about lawyers here who think in decades. And although this whole Vatican agreement has no relevence (the church would have righst anway unde the constitution and only a small fraction of the population is actual churchgoer), no left Government would ever terminate it, they simply fear the Catholics, even though never ever vote for the left. But the left is always a wuss in Hungary, that is a basic assumption you can always start. (The left has a bad conscience, weirdly still, and so they let themselves taken advantge of.).

    Gyula Horn – in his typical Socialist naivity – wanted to appease the conservative Catholics but obviously appeasement never works. So the Catholics to this day and forever I guess campaign strongly against MSZP (Bajnai etc,.) and for Fidesz/Jobbik.

    Partly because the Catholic Church was thouroughly penetrated by the secret police and Fidesz makes good use of the still existing network, plus the bad conscience of the church makes any cooperatiion with the left impossible (when talking to MSZP, they feel that they have to face their own ‘comprimises’ they made).

    Once a movement like this starts, like the transformation of state school into parochial hands it is extremely difficult to change the movement.

    Especially as the right to put your kids where you want to (i.e. not to the district schools where you live, which was the system before 1990) cannot politically be taken away.

    The parents want to have the right to put their kids in a school where there are less gipsies (which is this right is all about really). And this is often the parochial school in smaller towns.

    That said, I am not sure that the parochial schools are all that bad (the are the same bad quality as state school, just because ther sher volume, they represent the national avearge) or rather, that they can exert such an ideological influence as they intend to. They do exert that influence.

    Plus note two things. In villages where the social structure (fabric) is withering away (no jobs, people stop doing agriculture for personal consumption, intellectuals move away, populations decreases, petty crime increases etc.) a parochial school may be more useful (I am not saying actuall they are, but could be). These small communities need more than just education and state schools often are unable to provide for a needed ‘life-structure’, which religion can provide.

    In bigger towns, especially Budapest the ideological education has much less consequences then what kids get from parents etc. So all in all, there is a net ideological result for the Churchj and Fidesz, but it is much smaller than what they hope for.

  6. Two (and three tier) school system simply does not work or cost way to much. In Canada, provinces that run similar systems are struggling. Still Public education is mandatory, and where it cannot be provided they have to bus children back and forth to the closest public school up to a certain age. It is actually if a child lives 1600 meters (1 mile) away from the school, transportation must be provided by the school district. Same for the Catholic schools, and for the French school. You can just imagine how much does this cost. In Newfoundland (and in some other Provinces) simply got rid off the two-tier formula and mandated the public school formula.
    THe real question is that is what the Hungarian constitution says about the right to education, and religious freedom. What is the State’s position on ensuring that all Hungarian citizen in Hungary who are at the age of mandatory education has the right and free access to non-religious education?

  7. Thanks, Yolkai, for that very interesting info – though it is really depressing!

    A bit OT:

    The whole thing reminds me of my youth more than 60 years ago where we also had “Christian Primary Schools” i e a Catholic and a Protestant school in the small town where I grew up. My friends and I were very happy to go to school – but then we were told that we couldn’t go to the same school – because they were all catholic and I was protestant.

    The crazy thing was: It was one old school building with a wall built into the middle – that was the year 1949 …
    From that day I was lost for religion and when I was older I met my friends again in the Gymnasium and we tried to discuss with our teachers that silly concept of different schools but to no avail – we really started to hate them all, especially the gymnasium’s director/headmaster …

    So in the end that concept of “religion in school” had the opposite effect on most pupils – not one of my friends is what you would call a Christian!

  8. “All in all,  Hungary has had the worst performing economy in the whole region in the last three years.”

    It demonstrates that unorthodox economy is even worse than orthodox economy.

  9. Substitute act:

    Leo Frankel street will be renamed King Sigismund street next week.

    Frankel was a labor organizer (died in 1896). The mayor of Budapest accused him of causing the Communist takeover in 1948.

    King Sigismund is infamous for giving Jan Hus, the religious reformator a letter of safe conduct in 1415, then reneging on his word and burning Hus in Constance.

  10. Eva S. Balogh :

    tappanch :

    The Electric Company Elmu joined La Résistance – the brochure explains how much the government propaganda lied about the price of electricity. Bravo!

    Expect beheading at the company – Orban is merciless.

    A very good letter. All customers ought to understand the situation.

    Depriving Leo Frankel of a street name is incredible and only shows the educational level of these Fidesz types. Tarlos is such a boor on top of everything else.

    Sigismund already has a college named after him. Sure, the Huss affair was pretty bad but otherwise he was a successful ruler.

  11. Because of his age (72) he spent almost his whole life in the Rákosi and the Kádár regimes, and his educational philosophy seems to reflect those days when Hungarian universities were no more than extensions of high schools. Hoffmann is seven years younger than Klinghammer, but she is also of that generation. These people reject anything considered to be progressive educational thinking.

    I’d say they are looking for return to the 18th or 19th century. I had a nice conversation with my oldest daughter today about her history class. They go in, the teacher dictates notes to them and refuses questions. My comment to her was to tell the teacher to email you the notes and let her know when the tests were because going to class under these circumstances was a waste of time. The experiences of my younger are some what more bizarre. Fortunately for them we are supplementing their education outside of the system.

    What the teachers don’t seem to get is that todays world is a bit different than the world they grew up in. Both youtube and google have scholarly channels offer lectures on just about anything that is known. That plus I’ve noticed an up-tick in the amount of investment in the computer industry aimed directly at school systems. It seems that the educational system is now in the sights of software industry and they are taking quite a non-traditional look at how kids should be educated. Take a look at this for example. This is aimed at middle school kids. There is a separate support site for teachers that includes an element of social networking so that ideas can be shared. There are other even more innovative programs aimed at younger kids. Point is, the focus and investment will create some of the same interesting disruptions in education that it has made in a number of other industries. I feel a bit sorry for the poor teachers who are unprepared for what’s about to hit them.

  12. “They go in, the teacher dictates notes to them and refuses questions.”

    Exactly how I was ‘taught’ in the 60s – I absolutely hated history as a result.

    It was only years later, in my late 20s. that it dawned on me that I’d grown up in an immediately post-war world (I thought bomb sites and shelters, static water tanks, etc were just normal parts of city life) and that made me start reading up on WWII, which led to wanting to find out about WWI – and so on. I now have an avid interest in history and a large and growing library. But none of this is down to how I was ‘taught’ history at school.

    In fact it’s often struck me that, as history is such an interesting (and highly relevant) subject, it’s actually amazing how easily they put kids off it at school. And that this is a huge crime – think how much better the world would be governed if more of us understood our history.

  13. tappanch :
    The Electric Company Elmu joined La Résistance – the brochure explains how much the government propaganda lied about the price of electricity. Bravo!
    Expect beheading at the company – Orban is merciless.

    tappanch – this looks like fascinating stuff, and I’d love to know more about it, but sticking that lot through Google Translate is going to give me nothing but a headache!

    Can anyone give me a précis in English please?

  14. Paul, very briefly, it is trying to put right the claims from the government about “Hungarians have to pay the highest prices for electricity in Europe, the price is high because of the profit of the foreign service providers, the state would be a better provider, now people are paying 10% less” etc.

    a quick summary of what they are saying:

    1. electricity providers in Hungary are not making any profit, they are operating with a business loss

    2. the state has always had a lot of say about the prices

    3. most of a 45 Ft fee is not paid to the providers, the provider gets 2 Fts, 15Ft for transporting, 11 Ft for taxes (to the state) and 17Ft is the price of the product (indirectly to the state). 2 Ft are not enough to run the company, the costumer service, the billing etc, that’s why they are not making profit.

    4. the government has reduced the bill of of private costumers, but it has increased the fee for businesses and enterprises. As a result, the costs of running some businesses will increase and some people will lose jobs.

    5. the price of electricity in Hungary is lower than in most EU countries. The percentage of the income that is spent on the bills is higher because the SALARIES are lower.

    6. the service providers are old Hungarian companies – some of their SHAREHOLDERS are foreign, but some are Hungarian, including the state.

    Sorry if my English is not first class (it’s past midnight and I’m only a poor foreigner 🙂 ).

    I’m very happy to see these data. This is what most people would need about many other things – to make the facts public, against the propaganda, so people can see clearly.
    This would be partly the job of the media, I think.
    Such brochures could be even more simplified than this one, so that it is understandable for everyone, for the less educated, too.

  15. LwiiH:
    “They go in, the teacher dictates notes to them and refuses questions. My comment to her was to tell the teacher to email you the notes and let her know when the tests were because going to class under these circumstances was a waste of time.”

    You are right, it is a waste of time, and this kind of education has always been. Memorizing the notes (or the book) at home doesn’t have to be preceded by a teacher reading it out in the classroom.

    The sad truth is, most Hungarian teachers have never seen and have never known of more modern teaching methods. They have no idea how much better it could be. I’m worried that even people in charge like Hoffmann Rozsa don’t know, either.
    They look at reforms as over-liberal tricks that allow kids to do what they want. Let them memorize!

  16. Many thanks, cc, that’s very useful.. I wonder how far these leaflets have been distributed? I’ve never heard of this company, so I don’t even know if they are a major player or not.

    Wouldn’t it be fantastic if more companies put out stuff like this? Eventually, Fidesz wouldn’t be able to ignore/rebuff all of it.

    On a related note – watching the Hungarian news tonight, I found myself wondering why the journalists don’t make more of a fuss about the rubbish they are having to pretend is real ‘news’. OK, like all of us, they need their jobs, but there must come a point where enough of them have had enough of this mockery of a ‘news’ service and refuse to do it any more. What would the Fidesz PR machine say to that?

    I wonder how many times the people can hear “they’re all lying” before they start to smell a large and particularly smelly rat?

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