The failure of Hungarian democracy: The universities

Yesterday I indicated that the administration at ELTE must have known what was going on in HÖK (Hallgatói Önkormányzat). It has been an open secret inside and outside of the university for years.

Since I aired my suspicions yesterday afternoon, more and more facts have surfaced about the activities not only of the HÖK of the Faculty of Arts but also of the HÖK that represents the law students at ELTE.

Last night a website appeared written by an unnamed student of ELTE’s faculty of arts (BTK) who penetrated Ádám Garbai’s HÖK, allegedly in order to unveil their activities. Although some of the Fidesz politicians, like István Klinghammer, the new undersecretary in charge of higher education and former president of ELTE, expressed their suspicion that the list is a fake, or as Klinghammer put it, “a provocation,” our unnamed student swears that the lists are for real.  Our “secret agent” claims that “the reign of Jobbik in HÖK has been going on for years with the tacit consent of the administration.” I think that it is enough to look at the following interview of Olga Kálmán with György Fábri, vice president of ELTE, to believe what our “secret agent” alleges.

Fábri seems to be very satisfied with the work of HÖK, which he considers to be a vital part of Hungarian university life. He obviously wouldn’t like to curtail their wide financial and educational powers. As for the concern expressed by Olga Kálmán about the undue influence of Jobbik within HÖK, he defended their right to belong to the party of their choice. As it turned out at the end of the conversation, he as a student was one of the founders of the first HÖK at ELTE. I couldn’t help thinking that Fábri might be a supporter of Jobbik himself. If that is the case, HÖK will never be cleansed, at least not as long as Viktor Orbán is the prime minister of Hungary.

Mushroom farm

Mushroom farm

But it is not only the administration that seems to be tacitly supporting HÖK and through it Jobbik. There are several faculty members who are actively involved with this extremist party. For example, János Stummer, former BTK HÖK deputy chairman, who just started a student movement at ELTE called Magyar Tavasz Mozgalom (Hungarian Spring). A video that is available on kuruc.info.hu about this movement indicates that it subscribes to a far right irredentist ideology. Even the freshman picnics that BTK HÖK organizes regularly end with “Down with Trianon,” says our informer.

HÖK activists have been involved with Jobbik’s election campaigns, often being used to distribute Jobbik propaganda material. Their latest contribution was the distribution of 6,600 copies of a free Jobbik newspaper called Hazai Pálya (Domestic Course) in District VI in Budapest. Often the propaganda material was actually stored in the university’s building on Múzeum körút. Naturally, after the scandal hit the Internet the Jobbik leadership tried to distance itself from the official university student groups.

The semi-official government paper Magyar Nemzet was slow to respond to ATV’s publication of the list and the comments. Quite a few hours passed before they managed to find their voice. A few minutes after Antal Rogán warned people that one must carefully check the authenticity of the list, Magyar Nemzet decided to publish an article with the headline: “One must very carefully check whether the students really made lists at the university.” Almost as if the editors waited for a signal from the government on how to respond to this embarrassing event.

Naturally, HírTV was quick to interview Ádám Garbai. Garbai “admitted that they were negligent” because they were not careful enough when storing the lists and thus enemies of HÖK could get to them and alter their content. Because this is Garbai’s story. He also claims that he has not seen any lists since he became chairman in January 2011. Our informant predicts that they will deny the charges to the bitter end.

Yesterday right-wing students tried to break HaHa’s strike. However, they seem to have a manpower shortage. They managed to gather about 50 students, not all of whom were students at ELTE’s BTK. Their plan was to join the HaHa students and outvote them in order to end the strike. Once that plan failed, they were satisfied to conduct a shouting match in which they fiercely defended HÖK and claimed that the list is a fake.

So, here we are in a politically polarized situation at the universities. All this while no political activity is allowed in Hungarian universities. This decision was made back in 1990 when perhaps the restriction was more understandable than it is today. During the Rákosi and Kádár regimes both at the workplaces and at the schools and universities there used to be communist party cells.  Naturally, the opposition didn’t want parties to recruit or put pressure on students and employees and therefore fought to end the practice.

But in normal democratic societies it is in schools and universities that students learn the rudiments of democracy in theory and practice. In the United States already in elementary school students learn to campaign for class offices. By the time they reach college age they have a fair idea about political campaigning. Both in Canada and in the United States political parties have student organizations in the universities. I urge readers to take a look at the parties that exist at Yale University under the umbrella organization called the Political Union. To ban political discussion at universities is a crime against democracy.

Moreover, as we can see, the ban was good for only one thing: the underground–or not so underground–growth of a racist, irredentist, far right party. And this official student organization has the support of both the university and the government. It is a shame.

Demokratikus Koalíció was the first to respond with a suggestion that might remedy the current situation. Csaba Molnár, one of the deputy chairmen of DK, suggested that parties should be able to function under the supervision of the university authorities. This is the situation in Germany and in Austria. He might also have mentioned the United Kingdom, Canada, or the United States. I can only agree.

Advertisements

51 comments

  1. “You lost the debate”

    Careful, Charlie – classic Fidesz/Jobbik troll accusation. There is no debate – to win or lose. Whatever you say, you’ll ‘lose the debate’.

    They might as well just say “my opinion trumps yours” – it would at least be more honest.

    And, yes, I know I’ve just written three paragraphs in reply to our latest troll! But this will be the last from me to him. (Unless he makes me laugh of course! I do miss ‘Johny Boy’…)

Comments are closed.