Joint effort of the Hungarian state and the churches to keep some schools segregated

It was about a week ago that I wrote a post about “the growing influence of the Catholic Church in Hungary.” In that post I mentioned that both the Church itself and Catholic lay organizations had acquired schools in Hungary. For example, the Kolping International has taken over at least three schools.

No one knew at that time that a school acquired several months ago by Kolping International in Szászberek (pop. 987) would soon be the focus of a huge controversy as it expanded its “campus” to take over part of the segregated public school of nearby Jászladány.

Jászladány has been in the news off and on since 2000 when the “independent” mayor of the town (pop. 6,000) decided that the single eight-grade elementary school was not big enough for both Gypsy and non-Gypsy children. I might add that according to the official statistics 11% of Jászladány’s population is Roma. So came the ingenious plan of establishing a private school, to be housed in part of the enlarged school building, where students had to pay tuition. The bulk of the expenses, however, were covered by the municipality.  For example, the newer half of the school building was given free of charge to the private foundation that ran the school. The town also allowed the new school to use all of the equipment that had earlier belonged to the public school. There was a door between the two wings of the school building, but it was locked for six solid years.

Those children whose parents could afford the tuition fees went to the good school; the rest, like the Roma, went to the inferior school. The “private school” children received all sorts of privileges. For example, a free lunch regardless of need. They were the first ones to receive free textbooks; the children in the “Gypsy” school got them only once everybody was served in the “private school.” At one point the Open Society Institute offered to pay the fees for those children who wanted to attend the private school. The Institute was told that it had missed the deadline.

Erzsébet Mohácsi, director of CFCF and lawyer for CFCF, Lilla Farkas after the Supreme Court's favorable decision

Erzsébet Mohácsi, director of CFCF, and lawyer for CFCF, Lilla Farkas, after the Supreme Court’s favorable decision

The head of the local Roma organization is an energetic man who soon enough called the attention of Esélyt a Hátrányos Helyzetű Gyermekekért Alapítvány (Foundation for Equal Opportunity of Underprivileged Children), popularly known as CFCF, to the situation in Jászladány. For ten years CFCF fought against the barely disguised segregation in Jászladány, losing one case after the other, until June 2011 when at last the Supreme Court (today the Kúria) ruled in favor of CFCF and Jászsági Roma Polgárjogi Szervezet (JRPSZ), a Roma organization in the area. The court ordered the town to work out a plan to integrate the two schools.

The new mayor, Katalin Drávucz (Fidesz), whose own child attends the “private school,” ostensibly complied with the court order. She began negotiations with the plaintiffs’ representatives to work out the details of the integration of the two schools. But behind their back she also began negotiations with the county’s “government office,” a newfangled institution that is supposed to be the arm of the central government in every county. Her real goal was to avoid the integration of the school in Jászladány.

They came up with a splendid solution: they decided to pass the private school over to Kolping International, which functions under the authority of the Archbishopric of Eger. The idea was to automatically transfer the pupils of the “private school” to the new Kolping Katolikus Általános Iskola. Although negotiations between the town and the “government office” began more than a year ago, the deal materialized only on August 30. Since Szászberek is only 10 km from Jászladány, the deal stipulated that the Szászberek Kolping school will simply “expand” and take over the former “private school” of Jászladány.

This new-old school will not charge tuition, but the Roma parents were not notified of this rather important change. By the time, practically on the day that school opened, the CFCF learned about it, it was far too late. They managed to get in touch with about twenty families, and a handful of children enrolled. The new Catholic school has no more places. As the spokesman for Kolping International said, their first obligation is to the children of the “private school.” Segregation remains intact in Jászladány. With the active participation of the Catholic Church.

And now let’s move back in time to the first months of the Orbán administration. Zoltán Balog, a Protestant minister and now the head of the mega-Ministry of Human Resources, was in charge of Roma integration in the Ministry of Administration and Justice. He often expounded on the plight of the Gypsies and promised all sorts of remedies. These remedies did not, however, include school integration. In his opinion, segregation works to the advantage of the underprivileged, most of whom are Roma. They need special attention to catch up with the other students. Of course, we know that this is a myth. Just as the U.S. Supreme Court declared when rendering its historic decision in Brown v. Board of Education, “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” And, indeed, the special classes into which Roma children were herded in the past almost guaranteed failure. Balog, however, remains unrepentant. Only recently he repeated this mistaken notion when he sided with the Greek Catholic Church in a suit brought against it by the same CFCF that handled the Jászladány case.

What happened in this instance? In Nyíregyháza there was a school in a largely Roma inhabited section of town that was closed in 2007 because of its blatant segregation. In 2011, however, the new Fidesz administration in town reopened the school and it was given to the Greek Catholic Church. CFCF pointed out that only a couple of bus stops from this segregated school there was another school that is also run by the same Greek Catholic Church. It is a newly refurbished modern school. The Roma children could certainly attend that school. Balog offered himself as a witness on behalf of the Greek Catholic Church which refused to close the segregated school and refused to integrate the Roma children into their modern facilities.

There is more and more criticism of the churches lately because they seem singularly insensitive to social issues. Criticism of the Hungarian Catholic Church has grown especially harsh since the installation of Pope Francis, who has been a spokesperson for the downtrodden. Critics complain about the extreme conservatism of the Catholic hierarchy and point out that their involvement with charity work is minimal. It is quite clear from these two cases that the churches are reluctant to deal with disadvantaged children, Roma or not. And the good minister, Zoltán Balog, advocates keeping the disadvantaged separate from “mainstream” Hungarian children. The state and the churches are working hand in hand to keep segregation alive in the Hungarian public school system.

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32 comments

  1. Since returning to Hungary after a 40 year absence I have encountered the identical discrimination toward returnees that the Roma are facing! Once a ‘Hungarian’ gets it in his mind that you are inappropriate in his system of reference you are OUT once and for all.

    This applies to any area where you are deemed in his mind as a ‘threat’ within his existential paranoia. That is, in cases where you do not fit into his narrow coordinates deemed ‘acceptable’.

    Such coordinates are defined by his sense of being threatened in his existence. As the mood is an insular one, anything that is deemed ‘other’ is lumped into this category. The tougher the going gets over time the narrower his sense of acceptance.

  2. Whilst I doubt that you really are encountering “identical” discrimination to the Roma, you are right about the attitude to the ‘other’.

    Friends of ours who were returning 56ers a few years after the change of regime discovered this, my in-laws, moving over from Ukraine, were greeted with a similar reaction, and again friends of ours who moved from Romania to Hungary were treated like outsiders. Even my wife, an avowed supporter of Fidesz, is sometimes quite openly treated as a ‘traitor’ for choosing to live abroad.

    To some extent, all societies react like this to ‘returnees’ or ex-pats, but the Hungarian reaction does seem extreme.

  3. I would suggest to the CFCF to contact the Pope. I am not kidding the least ‘bit. I feel very strongly that this Pope who is already well know about his modest approach to life his humility and compassion toward the poor. Pope Francis to papacy is the extreme opposite to Orban to Prime Ministry. I believe if he would learn how the poor are being treated in Hungary (new law about forbidding the homeless from public spaces is at the parliament), how the gypsies are humiliated by the catholics, he would not take this easy.

  4. andy :
    Since returning to Hungary after a 40 year absence I have encountered the identical discrimination toward returnees that the Roma are facing! Once a ‘Hungarian’ gets it in his mind that you are inappropriate in his system of reference you are OUT once and for all.
    This applies to any area where you are deemed in his mind as a ‘threat’ within his existential paranoia. That is, in cases where you do not fit into his narrow coordinates deemed ‘acceptable’.
    Such coordinates are defined by his sense of being threatened in his existence. As the mood is an insular one, anything that is deemed ‘other’ is lumped into this category. The tougher the going gets over time the narrower his sense of acceptance.

    As a returning ’56 er, I can vouch for the truth of this. Most Hungarians are stuck in a morass of Envy, Greed, and Jealousy whipped to a boil by their inherent laziness.
    I have had to learn that ‘secrets’ are a must: no one should be told if I buy a new tv set.
    If I go on a holiday, I must stress the humble aspects of it. This society is terminally sick.
    Since achievement requires effort, people have turned to slavish fawning–the very definition of the Fidesz party members.

  5. It was not just the municipalities (local politics), but also very much the teachers all over Hungary who did everything thy can to resist and prevent mixed education.

    They were tired of working with “problematic” kids and their parents, when such teachers felt (with or without basis) that without such problem children the lesson would have gone well. It is extremely frustrating to realize how much disruption one or two kids can cause. Also a year or two age difference means a huge difference in physical size, one frustrated failed kid can be a real threat to his classmates.

    And what are the consequences of such disruptive behavior? Teachers felt powerless to discipline kids as these kids and their parents did not react to normal incentives. What happens when such a kid get an “intő”? They lough at you.

    As they say, in the old days if the kid got an F the parents beat up the kid, these days if the kid gets an F the parents beat up the teacher.

    The compulsory education age was not decreased from 18 to 16 because of any retrograde labor policy to create a pool of young workers. It was introduced very simply because previously a small secondary school short of criminal behavior could not get rid of a 17-18 year old adult, however disruptive his behavior was.

    Needless to say, there are a number of fantastic examples of mixed education, but for that to work out teachers would have to modify their methods (which anyway don’t work in the age where kids’ attention is disrupted every minute by text messages, facebook updates and the like), learn new skills. But that would be a change and “there is nothing worse than a change. Change must be prevented by any means, since its outcome is inherently uncertain.”

    So teachers do everything to segregate the kids and the teachers assigned to the roma-only schools simply give it up, they don’t really teach (but, hey, they don’t get a good salary either), do not really expect anything from the kids, no homework, no reading, no essays, nothing. But no conflictswith the parents either, who themselves have no way of evaluating the quality of education, themselves extremely uneducated.

    These roma-only schools are essentially operate as day care centres, to kill time. It is thus not surprising to read that perhaps the single biggest portion of prostitutes in Amsterdam and Zurich are from Szabolcs-county and such women aged 16-35 simply cannot read and write, that is how effective their education was.

    Mixed education is difficult but possible, but it requires a lot of input from teachers, who are themselves, like the majority population, don’t like roma and treat them as the “other”. In addition, it would require a lot of extra effort to learn and apply new skills, which they don’t want to for a bunch of reasons. On top of those, even the baseline, white-only education is really low quality, which is the biggest problem.

  6. The Greek Catholic church in Nyíregyháza just constructed a brand new high school complete with an indoor swimming pool. The project had been in the books for years but they never seemed to have the money to execute until 2 years ago with the building went up almost overnight. That building is almost on the same block as the modern building they were using (not sure if this is the one you are referring to). It had been shared by the elementary school which is adjacent to it. The elementary school wasn’t in the best of condition but it’s not been renovated. Anyways, all of the money going into these schools has made them the most modern which has resulted in many parents moving their kids to that school. I doubt Roma kids would have much of a chance competing under these conditions. BTW, all of these schools are in the center of the city so any concerns with busing is complete bull.

    There are a lot of Roma all around the city but there are 2 large Roma getos on the east and western edge of the city. It is safe to say that Hungarians *do not* go into either of these areas. Even driving by these getos makes people uneasy. As school integration, each school will have a selection process and they use this to segregate Roma out of the “better” schools. Once the Roma start populating any of the lesser schools most of the white students move to other schools.

  7. Economy:

    The numbers for the national debt do not look good.

    So the “Budgetary Council” (2 fideszniks: Domokos, Matolcsy and 1 sympathiser: Kovacs) recommend changing the way the debt is calculated.

    Read the last sentence in

    http://nol.hu//gazdasag/a_koltsegvetesi_tanacs_szerint_igy_is_tarthato_a_hiany

    “Pelikán: Azért van egy kis rossz érzésem. Miért kell ekkora felhajtást csinálni? Mégiscsak becsaptuk az embereket.

    Virág elvtárs: Ugyan, kit csaptunk be? Magunkat? Mi tudjuk, miről van szó. A kutatókat? Azok örülnek, hogy plecsni van a mellükön. A széles tömegeket? Azok úgyse esznek se narancsot, se citromot, de boldogok, hogy velünk ünnepelhetnek. Az imperialistákat? Ühüm, azoknak alaposan túljártunk az eszén. Nem szeretnék most a helyükben lenni! ”

    Tanu, movie, directed by Peter Bacso

  8. Putin’s man won the mayoralty in Moscow.
    There was a new voting innovation: ‘stay-at-home-voting’.

    Let’s wait for it in Hungary…

  9. petofi :
    Putin’s man won the mayoralty in Moscow.
    There was a new voting innovation: ‘stay-at-home-voting’.
    Let’s wait for it in Hungary…

    I think the people of Moscow understand that there would be a price to pay if they go against the dear leader. What they know for sure is what happens under the Dear Leader, what they worried about is what will happen if they g against his wishes. I think most people know that the Dear Leader in one way or another is aware who votes what, so the choice is not to vote at all. In Hungary there are serious signs that Fidesz do have a list of those who do not support them, and the payback is already in full gear. This is not speculation, but fact. The tobacco shops, the credit unions, the land deals, the contracts, and now even the subsidized sanatorium treatments are filtered by the party. Moscow did not want to end up as Esztergom. The question is that will Hungarians will trust that everyone will step out to vote (in that case Fidesz will loose), or will be afraid that not everyone will vote and in that case the wrath of God will hit those who voted against the Dear Leader.
    Let’s put it this way, I find it interesting that there was not a single police officer on the train where 16 train destroyed by the Hungarian soccer fan club that or upon arrival, although they knew well what happened at the other side of the border with these fans, but they had officers at hand to arrest two peaceful activists prior to the “Orban Wedding” who dared to scratch in the pavement “Royal Wedding”. You do the math…

  10. The Hungarian ‘Roma segregation in schools’ issue – harking back to the initial conversation started by Dr. Eva S. Balogh – is an integral part of the general issue of human exclusion played out at every level within society and which fundamentally affects all social, political and economic issues.

    To try to be specific to Hungary, the above is the reason I digressed (see my comment No. 1) to point out that the issue of pre-judgment and segregation affects a vast range of aspects of Hungarian life and is deeply ingrained in the ‘Hungarian psyche’ in unique ways. Such attitudinal issues are responsible for causing the social, political and economic problems that Hungary is facing today.

    The schooling of the Roma population segment is indelibly tied to an ability in the future to ‘Westernize’ the Roma minority (I am generalizing here which is unfair to a minority of Roma but necessary here for sake of the discussion).

    In order to attempt to solve integration of the schools we need to ameliorate the quality of thinking of all the individuals involved.

    Everything needs to be done concomitantly: attitudes, behavior, expectations need to be more tolerant and accepting on all sides. This means clear, unemotional thinking and behavior.

    That is a huge task for all concerned, as the issue is historical, very deep-seated and frought with pre-judgment and intolerance.

    Humankind has never been good at solving issues of segregation. It has come to the fore recently many times in Africa, the Middle East, Europe (most recently in Bosnia), the Indian Subcontinenet among other areas – pervasive to this day.

    These issues have to be solved peacefully if we want to continue calling ourselves ‘human’ as opposed to animal.

    Society has over the years developed a system of legal checks and balances (legal, political, and armed forces) in order to try to keep excesses from being committed.

    While we like to maintain a level of calm and order in our system some of us continue being intolerant – some, more than others.

    We’ve got univerities and tools for social science. We’ve developed them for this need and pupose. But we are not effective enough in using them. While we are very good at cold formulae (mechanics, electronics, medical science) we go astray when emotional issues are added to the equation.

    The USA has made substantial advances and there are other societies (e.g. Netherlands) which are generally liberal but prone to regress occasionally on this front.

    In the way we spend huge amounts of money on space exploration, we need to pour more money and good-will into the social sciences and about learning how best to adapt ourselves to the task of harmonious union.

    In the meanwhile we need to continue piecemeal to try to improve ourselves, some of us who see through the jungle need to take a leading role. It’s very tough going.

  11. OT, but interesting: http://index.hu/belfold/2013/09/09/titkos_nyomozas_buktatta_le_az_nmhh-fotanacsadot/

    Funny story about the Media Authority. A ‘chief advisor’ (one Edit Péceli, no picture available on the net) to the now deceased previous head of the Authority apparently told everyone that she was placed to the Authority by the national security agencies. She had conflicts with another person, someone with a title of chief of stuff, who, after losing the internal battles with Péceli, quickly found work at the infamous TEK (Orbán’s private/public security organisation). In addition, the head of the Authority’s HR function and the authority’s security department also left to work at TEK in the wake of the conflicts (it’s unclear what they were about, because the investigation is classified).

    Thus it seems that there were at least these four relatively senior people from the national security organisations placed to the Authority. I suppose that there were many others too, whose position are not so obvious and were not necessarily connected to this bunch. Anyway, this little story just shows that the national security organisations loyal to Orbán and Kövér are absolutely everywhere. Orbán and Kövér are as we know absolutely paranoid about the “enemies” being everywhere trying to sabotage the Government of the Nation.

  12. The second Gyurcsany movie is out.

    No subtitles. In short the Tiborcz klan (Orban’s new son-in-law) illegally stole large quantities of wood from this lady.

  13. A footnote to this movie. Gyurcsány in parliament today went up to Orbán and handed him an envelope in which the Felcsút and this video were. And he said the following: “Take a look Mr. Chairman how you, your relatives and friends ruined the lives of decent people. Take a look at the film and be ashamed. And don’t dare to touch these ruined people who dared to tell their story giving their names and showing their faces.

    One sweet portion of the video when the old lady talks to Gy. and called him “Ferikém” my little Feri.

  14. Mutt :
    The second Gyurcsany movie is out.

    No subtitles. In short the Tiborcz klan (Orban’s new son-in-law) illegally stole large quantities of wood from this lady.

    Wowww. This is so sad, and so true. Goes back to my observation about how Fidesz will possibly win the next election and why Putyin is able to stay in power. People are so scared!
    THis is insane.

  15. Here is a professional short documentary by the atlatszo.hu (Hungarian anti-corruption group) about these people. It was made about a year ago.

    It’s about how the Meszaros family (mayor of Felcsut, Orban’s minion) and others bilked out the locals of their lands. Everything was legal. They purchased the land and sent the bulldozers. The only weird thing is that there are no traces of the transactions – price, public advertising of the deals and of course the locals never knew about it.

    It’s all lawful, but stinks from corruption. Sad story.

  16. Tappanch, you beat me to it …

    This “WorldHappinessReport 2013” is really something! When browsing it I first thought that they missed Hungary somehow – but then I found it on page 3 after most of the other European countries …
    Wonder how Fidesz etc will react to this – it’s surely all the Socialists fault!

    PS:

    Only Macedonia and Bulgaria are lower on the happiness scale …

  17. wolfi :Tappanch, you beat me to it …
    This “WorldHappinessReport 2013″ is really something! When browsing it I first thought that they missed Hungary somehow – but then I found it on page 3 after most of the other European countries …Wonder how Fidesz etc will react to this – it’s surely all the Socialists fault!

    Wolfi,
    Nothing to wonder, the list is part of the west, the leftist west’s propaganda.

    PS:
    Only Macedonia and Bulgaria are lower on the happiness scale …

  18. Re World Happiness Report: Hungary ranked # 134 in the listing for changes since 2005-2007 and 2010-2012: -0.300. Hungary is only a few countries below the USA on this list. The total # of countries evaluated is 156.

  19. @Gretchen: OK, I see what you mean… the change from 2005-2007 to 2010-1012 was similar in the US and in Hungary.

  20. Yes, An, 110th on the happiness scores. But 134th on ‘change of happiness’. In this listing–some pages after the happiness scores, all the countries are listed again for their changes between 2005-2007 and 2010-2012. Some countries increased their happiness, others lost, such as the US and Hungary. Unfortunately in this second list they were not numbered.

  21. Since I looked at this ‘happiness report,’ 156 pages of mostly tigtly spaced text text… I’ve become even MORE unhappy. Very much more unhappy. Caused by this long-winded Western report… It’s a self-generating prophecy.

    How those sad-faced Swiss fared so well (4th or so on the list) indicates that the numbers are cooked.. probably at the UN in Geneva…

  22. andy :
    Since I looked at this ‘happiness report,’ 156 pages of mostly tigtly spaced text text… I’ve become even MORE unhappy. Very much more unhappy. Caused by this long-winded Western report… It’s a self-generating prophecy.
    How those sad-faced Swiss fared so well (4th or so on the list) indicates that the numbers are cooked.. probably at the UN in Geneva…

    I have a solution for this!
    There could be pretty soon 8.5 millions of happy faces in Hungary, really!

    This is how:
    I have seen a couple of minutes of A.Rogán vs. O.Kálmán yesterday’s duel, Rogán is a happy chap indeed, kept smiling and giggling all the time, even when none any normal person would have, really.

    So, all we have to do is replicate his face, give away to the people and put on as a “mask of true (sic!) happiness”. Probably we should throw in with good measure a couple of G.Selmeczi too!

    Too bad, this is the only way, as it seems…

  23. @andy
    Not sure whether your comment is to be taken at face value, but Switzerland is a country I travel to often and where I have found people to be happier than in Hungary. Maybe I can relate a short story to illustrates that maybe decency and a shared sense of civic propriety may be factors contributing to a feeling of happiness.

    One of my friends is an internationally recognized authority in a particular and highly specialized medical field. He heads the relevant department at a major university hospital in Switzerland. In other words, he is a very big shot. His child flunked her first year at university, which she could not redo, meaning she had to move on to something else. My friend raised the issue with the dean of the university, his friend, who answered that he was faced with the exact same situation with his child having also flunked the first year.

    What happened next? Well, those two kids are now studying in another country. That is because in Switzerland the rule applies equally to all, even to those who, in Hungary, would have had “protectio” and would have thus taken the university spot of more meritious fellow students.

    So as “sad-faced” as they may be (whatever sad-faced means) this example may illustrate that “these sad-faced Swiss” may have a sense of belonging to a fair(er) society where some people are NOT more equal than others. Maybe this contributes in explaining the respective levels of happiness In “sad-faced” Switzerland as opposed to “happy-faced” Hungary.

    Maybe also we should not forget that Rousseau and his contrat social was Swiss.

  24. @Qaz
    I was serious about my evaluation. I am still amazed that Switzerland got, I believe 4th on the happiness scale.

    I have not taken the time to sift through the 125 pages of text accompanying the charts to figure out the details of what they based their evaluations on.

    However I personally never believed that happiness was measured in fairness of treatment in institutional terms… Obviously anyone can come up with their own criteria for happiness and readjust the scale. For example if you simply go on the basis of material renumeration in absolute terms the Swiss will come out in the top sector.

    I just go by ‘lookin at ’em’. If they dont look happy, I figure they… “not happy”.

    There are so many contradictions in this world I have not figured what criteria you’d really use for this test… I just have to laugh out loud when I look at a sad face and I am told he (she’s) happy. 🙂

  25. Re happiness:

    I can tell you that my family and most of my friends in Germany, my (Hungarian) wife and I are happy – even if life is not perfect …
    On the other hand I know a lot of people in Germany which are unhappy and complaining a lot – but there we have the proverb:

    Jammern auf hohem Niveau!

    loosely translated:

    Complaining on a high level!

    People in Western and Middle Europe (especially DACH) have never had it so good – when I tell Hungarians how much money someone in Germany gets when (s)he is without a job, they look so astonished …

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