Trampling on individual freedom: First the Internet, now education

Almost a month ago I wrote a post that touched on Viktor Orbán’s brainstorm to introduce dual education. The upshot of the scheme is that some students will have to spend a large part of their time in school preparing themselves for a trade in a kind of apprentice program. Right after the announcement of that scheme on October 10, I wrote that Viktor Orbán was contemplating an educational program that  Nikita Khrushchev had tried in the Soviet Union. I reminded readers that the Soviet experiment had been a flop.

In my haste I fear I missed a sentence that foreshadowed what has come to light lately. Orbán is not thinking of introducing dual education within the present structure of public education. Instead, he plans to force a certain number of youngsters into vocational schools. This will be achieved by closing about half of the gymnasiums that currently graduate 190,000 students a year. Orbán wants no more than 60,000-80,000 matriculants. If more students would like to go to gymnasium, which is the traditional route to university, tough luck!

I can hardly find words to express my outrage. Orbán’s regime is trampling on Hungarians’ rights. The government fears the internet, so let’s make sure that fewer people can get to it. They decide that Hungary needs more skilled workers, so about 120,000 students are deprived of their right to enter the school of their choice.

Not that the current public school system is all that terrific or fair. I have a problem, for example, with the homogeneity of the student bodies of elite gymnasiums: practically all students come from the same socioeconomic group in Budapest and some of the larger cities. Admittedly, most countries have struggling educational systems; few can be described as success stories. Finland is always held up as a model given its spectacular results over the last twenty years, and lately one can read a lot about Poland where in the last ten years or so PISA test scores have shown a remarkable improvement.

Today there are three main types of schools serving Hungarian students between the ages of 14 and 18. There are the vocational schools that are, like their American equivalents, pretty useless. In these schools students spend a decreasing amount of time on academic subjects: 100% in grade 9 and 40% in grade 10. In the last two years they allegedly learn a trade. These schools don’t offer “matriculation,” without which one cannot enter university. The second type of school is unknown in Canada and the United States, the two countries I’m most familiar with. It is called “vocational middle school” (szakközépiskola). These schools seem to be a mixed bag. For example, some concentrate on economics, others train students to enter the catering business. These schools do offer the option to take matriculation examinations. The third type is, of course, the beleaguered gymnasium.

Earlier all these schools were under the ministry of education, but in 2010 the Orbán government abolished the separate ministry of  education and put it under the mammoth ministry of human resources. Well, that is coming to an end. From here on the two kinds of vocational schools will be overseen by the ministry of national economy. The man who will be responsible for these schools is Sándor Czomba, an engineer without any experience in education. Czomba in a speech at an exhibition ironically entitled “Decide well–At stake is your future!” outlined some of the steps that will be taken. Teachers, parents, students–be prepared. The government will examine each and every gymnasium and will decide which ones do and which ones don’t deserve to exist. Czomba reassured his audience that “this will not automatically mean that there will be no gymnasium in a given community.” Unreal!

The traditional graduation, "the ambling"  Fewer will be marching into universities

The traditional graduation, “the ambling”
Fewer will be marching into universities

How can they achieve their aim of reducing the number of students seeking acceptance in a gymnasium? There are several possible methods. For example, they could demand a certain grade point average as a prerequisite for entering gymnasium. Just think how many future leaders could fail right here. Pick your favorite: Winston Churchill comes to mind. They could try to steer students toward vocational education, in effect browbeating them, all the while describing student decisions as personal choices. The problem is that these “choices” severely limit future options. How many 14-year-olds know what they want to do with their lives? Mighty few. Even older students have a hard time deciding. One of my favorite stories is about a student of mine who complained that I had assigned a psychologist to serve as his freshman faculty adviser. What on earth was I thinking? I showed him: he himself had written the summer before arriving in New Haven that he wanted to be a psychologist. He didn’t even remember it.

To give you an idea of how far Orbán is from mainstream thinking, the European goal is that 75% of all youngsters take matriculation exams and that 40% of all matriculants enter college or university. With this new program Hungary cannot reach this goal. University-bound students will come mainly from gymnasiums, especially since the current five-year program of vocational middle schools will be reduced to four years, during which students will spend a great deal of their time engaging in practical training at the expense of traditional academic subjects. Moreover, the Orbán government wants to introduce stricter college entrance requirements. For example, students will have to know a foreign language. But since language training in Hungarian schools is notoriously poor, high school students will struggle to learn a language well enough to pass the required language exam. The surest path to passing the exam is private tutoring, which only well-off parents can afford. It is unlikely that students from the vocational middle schools will ever learn a language well enough straight out of high school, and few of them will have well-heeled parents who can pay for the necessary private lessons. As we will see tomorrow, the new undersecretary in charge of higher education, again an engineer and not an educator, already announced that Hungary does not need to have 40% of the adult population be college educated, as suggested by the European Union. For Hungary 30-35% would be more than adequate.

Some suspicious souls speculate that Viktor Orbán does not want a highly educated public. The more ignorant the better. They can be more easily manipulated.

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46 comments

  1. I suspect the reason is simpler than that. Orbán, like most of Fidesz, simple fears and distrusts ‘intellectuals’. He wants a society he feels comfortable in, not one where he is constantly reminded of his intellectual inferiority. He needs to dumb-down Hungary to his own level.

    The future is very bleak.

  2. “Some suspicious souls speculate that Viktor Orbán does not want a highly educated public. The more ignorant the better. They can be more easily manipulated.”

    Retarded propaganda. School begins at 6 years old, if a change is made now to how the education system works the results of it will first start to appear 12 years from now. And those are the first results only. Before an education system has any electorally significant effect 30-40 years will have to pass. Every year about 1% of the population gets educated. So if you change the whole system now the first 1% who were studying completely in the new system will appear in 12 years. In 22 years their rate will go up to 10%. And so on.

    Educational changes are much more long term as having any chance to do with present politics. For example the Rakosi era deepest darkest communist system that took place in the 40s and 50s still has an effect on todays politics. People that were going through that communist education system are still with us, and have positions of power in the public life. They even influence Hungary-USA relations. These people, were molded by the Rakosi era. That time was when they were young that is the origo of their existence, the Rakosi style communist system with all consuming internationalism, hatred of Hungarian national heritage, history, just generally trying to wipe out anything having to do with the Hungarian past and replacing it with new communist symbols. (for example the coat of arms of Hungary full with Hungarian symbols was to be replaced by new symbolism like the communist red star, hammer and sickle and others). That was the Rakosi era, remember this was for the most part a time when Stalin lived and Stalinism was still the norm. If you were young during such a time, your personality was formed in such a time you will carry that until you die.

    So that is certainly an effect that still lives on today even though Stalin is in the ground, his legacy lives on in the people who were formed, who were molded during his rule and who are still live with us to this day.

    Hungary needs about 20 more years until this Stalinist influence disappears forever.

  3. Eva it looks to me that Orban’s Hungary wants to model itself only our own county. Approximately 34% of Americans 18 years of age and older hold college degrees according to the United States Census Bureau report of 2007. Nineteen percent of Americans have attended college but have no degree.

    I share your abhorrence of the type of tracking being proposed in Hungary, but unfortunately it exists all over the world. I was tracked effectively from age 15 when I joined the Junior a Reserved Officers Training Corp in high school until the day I graduated college and became an officer. In my case it is my family that to a degree dictated my track into military service. There are thousands like me that me were raised to be in the military. West Point, VMI, and the Citadel (military colleges in the USA) are filled today with young people who experienced similar forms of educational tracking into military service. It is what it is and I have no regrets.

    Possibly choice in education is sometimes dictated by family circumstances and values, sometimes by state policy including funding policy for higher education. In the ideal world young adults would be able to have free choice to select the educational options that are best for themselves, but unfortunately that is not the world we live in.

  4. Wow…I knew how controlling Orban was, but didn’t realize he was taking it to the extent where he was changing the educational system :/ this is sad, and I’d really like to read up on your source material (if you don’t mind sharing…I follow the news but most of it only really talks about the gas deal that Hungary and Russia are striking up).
    Also, I found @beacon’s reply interesting. I love how you bring up the Rakosi-Stalin era and how it has impacted Hungary’s identity and way of thinking today.

  5. THis brings into mind the 1970s when my generation was applying for high school. Everything Orban is thinking was done in that time. There were no guarantees to be able to enter high school, and many of my classmates did not meet the required marks. Those were the kids, who ended up in vocation schools that taught sewing, nursing, car repair, waitering, etc.
    There were always exceptions to the rule although. Some kids, who’s parents were well connected to the communist party did get into high school, and it did not matter what they marks were. University entry was very much the same. Some kids worked very hard to get in, some bribed their way in, and some had parents who had great party connections, and had to be admitted regardless of their marks. I guess Orban not only wants to restore the Horthy era…

  6. Elitists might clap their hands, worldwide.
    The full extent of the consequences could be understood only in conjunction with “reforms” in the University education. This new elitist system will confine Hungary to a second or third grade status within or outside the EU’s economy (periphery, support capitalism, etc.). The outcome would be just opposite what OVi was so vocal about two years ago: in no time, Hungary will be a German colony. Or, anybody else’s. (As usual, just the opposite happening what he is saying.) I am not surprised he has taken his daughter to Switzerland.
    To some extent, Rakosi and Stalin are still with us. Agreed. For example, like many of us I hate authoritarianism (at first I found weird the practice of applauding and quoting leaders in the US), I cannot stand propaganda, etc. Please, don’t deny people’s right to change. That is our only hope for Hungary.

    I highly appreciate what Eva is doing. This post is timely. Two short OT on the sideline: 1. The meeting with State PM Horst Seehofer seem to be of crucial importance to OVi. Planned or not, the visit to Bavaria aimed at securing his back and divide. PM looks more concerned about D. T-COM stance than street demonstrations. I wonder what the reaction in Berlin was. http://www.csu.de/aktuell/meldungen/november-2014/seehofer-empfaengt-viktor-orban/ Actually, I am not surprised that this place is on the US list to watch out for.
    2. Recently, an agitprop (quality) clip is run on some media outlets about controversies surrounding the US Steel presence in the Region. Needles to say, the ad is heavily critical (closure in Serbia). I believe that the Slovak unit is from where most of the metal comes to the “Hungarian” auto industry.

  7. Do you know what it is to live in this system? My wife is a teacher in szakközépiskola and has lost the hope of any future in Hungary. Thanks to KLIK/Klebelsberg Intézményfenntartó Központ her school is unable to secure enough teachers. Due to law, KLIK is responsible to find and hire all the teachers for the schools. Except that they only do the hiring and firing part. Her school lost two very critical teachers because the new, strickly enforced rules that pensioners can’t be teachers. These two were teaching very critical core subjects (technical field) in the school. Yet KLIK has not been able to deliver any replacements for them. And this school feeds the future workers for regions big export factories. But now missing the core teaching due to law and KLIK:

    While the school can’t hire a teacher, then can find them at their own expense (from general budget). They indeed found a one teacher who wanted to shorten his commute. But when the teacher informed his school, that he is going to switch to other school, his headmaster told that he won’t go, he won’t allow that. And here comes the funny part when it comes to KLIK. All headmasters in the schools are now Fidesz appointments, but not all are equal. The headmaster that was not allowing the teacher to move had bigger political cloud among the KLIK regional HQ than the one in my wife’s school. So, when you enter to profession of teaching in Hungary, you sign yourself as a slave for KLIK. As KLIK does all the hiring in teaching, you can’t get another job if any headmaster places you in black list. Of course you can go on private sector, but also there is the issue, that if you have black list teachers in payroll, you won’t get any public works (which at the moment are the lifeline for remaining private language schools).

    This and few similar episodes has made some mark on my wife’s school. Half of the teachers are now there just because they get salary after clocking the necessary hours. Any co-op projects that would require any commitments has been dropped. Teacher’s are all the time reminded that THE LAW requires this and that. But when it comes to KLIK, the law does not apply to them at all. There is the law, that says that class size is max. 16 students. Yet my wife has been teaching a class of 30 students the last 2 months. According to KLIK and The Law, this is illegal, my wife is breaking the law! But what does KLIK do? „Don’t bother us, we are busy!” is their only answer.

    And this is in school, that has been designed as high regional importance due to it’s core subjects and regions export factories. Try to guess what is the going for schools on „less important” parts of the country.

  8. For years already, my Hungarian colleagues at universities have been complaining about their students: young people coming from schools are increasingly naïve and ignorant. The Hungarian school system obviously never was really good at developing creativity and independent thinking, and the language teaching, of course, has been a catastrophe as long as I know…
    In the Central European feudal tradition, the working class really didn’t need an education. (In Austria, when discussing Finland’s successes in the PISA tests, I’m always confronted with the same argument: “But youth unemployment in Finland is so much higher.” The silent assumption behind this comes directly from the 19th century: don’t educate the common people, because that will leave them in a limbo, they’ll start desiring the impossible, i.e. to become like gentlefolk, and despising honest hard work.) And children of the higher classes would get their positions by virtue of their birth and connections; the “gymnasium” was simply a class marker, it wasn’t so important to really learn trigonometry or Latin but to be able to show (off) that you had studied them.
    Somehow, I believe that the Socialist system in Hungary never really destroyed this way of thinking, it just replaced the privileged class with a new one and glossed everything over with lies and false propaganda which (almost) everybody knew were lies. The tradition of rote learning and acquiring certain external “class markers” continues. And teachers are seen as humble servants of the system who are only there to look after the kids and discipline them until they are old enough for real work. This is directly reflected in the low prestige and low pay of teachers, and in teacher education and its recruitment problems (both in Hungary and in Austria, I’m being told, time and again, that the teacher education programmes in whatever discipline have become the refuge of the laziest and the least talented students).
    Actually, an essential part of the problem lies with teacher education. If you want to develop the school, you should train better teachers and give them more responsibility. But considering what is being done with higher education in Hungary now, can you expect anything better for teacher education?

  9. Please tell your wife for me, to speak to her colleagues and organize a “work to rule” campaign. No matter how much clout his principal has, that would sober him up at once.
    How can so many educated, smart people be so stupid!
    But what I really wanted to mention is the look-out campaign I am on, trying to catch at least one, only one single politician who would point out the obvious, that even for a successful training for a modern trade, secondary school education is essential.
    The fact is that Orban lulled the education establishment into believing that vocational training is a natural alternative to secondary school, whereas all children need at least secondary in todays society, including those going onto the trades.
    So far nobody mentioned this in any discussion I have heard on the subject.

  10. @ambator
    Rule of law has no role in Hungary when everything is rigged. When KLIK came, their one of the first commucations was that teachers should turn to them all their emails and social media profiles that they are using. So that KLIK could communicate directly with them. My wife’s headmaster openly confess that he is keeping record of their political views, because that is headmasters job. That is how Fidesz appointments see their work. Their loyalty is party, not the school, not the teachers, not the students, it’s the party.

    Did I mention that FEAR is a thing you can feel in teachers room?

  11. beacon:

    you are the same troll loitering here all the time. What do these current teachers of age 25-30 have to do with Stalinism? (Or even the teachers under 60 for that matter. Stalinism ended in 1953.) They were almost toddlers in the late 1980’s in the happiest barrack of the Peace Camp (the Eastern Bloc). There is no way they could have gotten any Stalinist (Communist) indoctrination.

    What you say is a crazy, but often repeated bullsh*t pushed by Fideszniks: that the postcommunists still lurk in the shadows and whatever we do is justified because we have to get rid of them. Too bad Fidesz is still full of communist era spies, internal informants, former party members, communist party functionaries. They serve Fidesz so they were forgiven. (Rózsa Hoffmann – the now Christian Democrat (KDNP) member – quasi minister for education between 2010-2014 was an enthusiastic Russian teacher and a politically reliable communist era government official.)

    This message is being pushed relentlessly by the Fidesz media and its servants because the ignorant Bavarian Germans – who still adore Orban – love to hear it, just as the GOP politicians eat it immediately. What, communists? We’re against them!!

    But like it was said, unless we project a North Korean style enduring dynasty, Orban’s madness and corruption can end in only one way. If history is any guide, it won’t be such a glorious end.

  12. @István, sure there is tracking often by the family but there are some cases when the result is a very unhappy individual. I have witnessed quite a few such careers. Smart obedient boys who later end up to be very unhappy human beings.

  13. Oh, this is much more devlish than that.

    Only Westerners and liberals are almost genetically too naive to face the real situation.

    The point is that Orban will close down only the *state-owned* gymnasiums. Get it?

    Outside of Budapest even now there are few places where there are 2-3 gymnasiums, or a real choice. Even in such places one or more is surely already a parochial (mostly Catholic) school, which parochial schools in Hungary receive the exact same kind of state subsidies (and in fact more!) than public schools.

    Now, after this cull, in most rural places the only available gymnasium will be a Catholic school. However, in Hungary, unlike in the US or in Western-Europe, the Catholic Church is a really active, very conservative in every sense, political instrument and a tool for Fidesz, which coopted the church via KDNP (whice, besides being a pseudo-party, is also a kind of representative of the interests of the Catholic Church within Fidesz). When all is said and done, this culling will mean that about half of the gymnasium kids will graduate from parochial schools, where teachers (again, unlike in the US or Western Europe) are hired solely based on loyalty to the faith and being conservative enough, rather than based on quality of teaching.

    But most of the kids graduating from public schools will graduate in Budapest (where there are lots of public schools and many will remain after culling) — and as we know Budapest is a compartmentalized region in terms of election laws.

    In other words, the rural, traditional elite will be educated almost exclusively by conservative churches (all of them staunch allies of Fidesz and Jobbik). The – mostly Budapest-based – public school kids (given the election laws) will be in no position to “poison” the thinking of the rural, conservative elites.

    Case closed.

    The Hungarian leftist/liberal elite thought that they are OK, that they don”t have to work, that they have “won”. Unfortunately for them, the hungry and hard working (at least when it comes to grabbing power or entrenching themselves) rural, conservative elites thought otherwise and slowly, but surely, working for the long term took over the system. End of story.

    (ps: this war of elites happened in Turkey as well, with the same results.)

  14. Hello Dr. Balogh,

    I am reading your blog with great interest and great sadness. I remember well the hopes and dreams of students in Szeged in 1991-1992 when I got this now-framed tee-shirt.

    Jan Holmes

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  15. @Zulejka: Very interesting observation. I certainly did not look at it from that angle, but I think you a re right. Coming out and saying that we will shot down private schools would generate outrage, but Fidesz again packaged a deal on a way that people ail knot realize the full implication.

  16. It is true that Charles Gati, Paul Lendvai and Eva S. Balogh and many others

    were educated under the Rakosi / Stalinist education system. Their influence, the Rakosi influence is still very powerful in today’s Hungary. And even more so in the west. Because after 1956 the KGB and its Hungarian wing sent thousands of agents into the west. They always had the same cover: they “participated in the revolution” and they had to flee. It was the perfect cover. Their role was to monitor Hungarian expats and get into important positions within their host countries.

    But there is no replacement for these ideological warriors. They are getting older and there is nobody who could take over their place. The ideological foundation (giving up their lives for the “cause”) can only be found in someone who received proper training from the KGB and or Hungarian variants. The Rakosi / Stalinist education system was very good preparation for such life-long service. Not everyone is willing to throw away years of their life to fight an ideological war, a cultural war. That requires a very special type of person, who is utterly loyal. Who will never give up. Not until the very end when they are unable to fight any more.

  17. @wohveli
    “Rule of law has no role in Hungary when everything is rigged. When KLIK came, their one of the first commucations was that teachers should turn to them all their emails and social media profiles that they are using. So that KLIK could communicate directly with them. My wife’s headmaster openly confess that he is keeping record of their political views, because that is headmasters job. That is how Fidesz appointments see their work. Their loyalty is party, not the school, not the teachers, not the students, it’s the party.
    Did I mention that FEAR is a thing you can feel in teachers room?”

    Hungarians should start familiarizing themselves with Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy… even though the Orban regime is not a brutal dictatorship in that it is not jailing and killing people (not yet?) but its everyday operation (expanding control, suffocating the civil sphere and autonomy in the society, intimidation, inciting fear, brainwashing, control of the media) is dictatorial.

    One point Gene Sharp makes that no dictator is able to stay in power without some support and collaboration from the population (this support could be voluntary, misguided, opportunistic, or forced by intimidation). The regime needs people whom it can rely on and who can make the system work. So it is essential that to fight a dictatorship, this support should be weakened.

    Sharp advocates nonviolent means of fighting dictatorships (protests, non-cooperation).
    http://www.hermanos.org/nonviolence/dictodem.html

    Here is another good site on non-violent action:
    http://www.aforcemorepowerful.org/resources/nonviolent/methods.php

  18. The development of the vocational middle schools (“szakközépiskola”) that give a kind of matriculation examination will allow the regime to claim, by adding up the numbers of students of these schools with those of the gymnasiums, that it achieved the European target of 75 %. It will forget to add that the educational level in these schools is quite low, and certainly doesn’t allow continuing studies at a university level. And if criticized on this point, they will say -as they answered when criticized on a number of point in their ‘constitution’- that in most European countries there is a similar system: a general education gymnasium or equivalent, and a more specialized vocational middle school. Except that in Western Europe attending the latter do not exclude entering college level education, but that they will forget to mention.

    This system will lead to Hungary losing one of its still existing attraction for foreign firms to implant factories or research units, i.e. the existence of a well-educated workforce. The catastrophic state of the Hungarian education system for the last 15 years has already begun to weaken this aspect and these new rules will only strengthen this trend. Orbán has the illlusion that it’s enough to offer a cheap workforce, even if weakly educated, that will suffice to attract capital. He doesn’t realize -and the recent Internet tax, or the destruction of the Hungarian research system (see the article in the latest issue of Nature about that) that the only way to compete nowadays is by increasing the level of education, of access to information and recent techniques, and that the cheap workforce he offers will never be competitive with that of the developing world.

    To Beacon:
    1) Those who were 20 at the beginning of the Rákosi era are today more than 80, and certainly not in positions of influence today! Same for those who were 20 in 1960 (and got most of their education in the Rákosi and early Kádár regime) and who are today well over 70. People holding power today have been mostly formed in the sixties-seventies, a reform-minded and relatively soft “communist” regime on the one hand, the generation of Orbán (who just turned 50) who are the generation of the transition on the other hand. These generation do not carry on any stalinist culture, talking about that is a complete mistake. Many of them have interiorized, however, the reflexes of most people of the late Kádár regime: try to survive to the regime by not meddling in politics, have no initiative, find the small accommodations and backdoors to survive and go on with one’s individual life. These are the reflexes that explain, in part, the success of the Orbán regime today with the people in Hungary, and not some hypothetic stalinist legacy.
    2) It’s quite true that today’s educational reform will have their full effect in some 20-30 years. But don’t forget the Hungarian educational system has been in free fall for the last fifteen or more years, that the educational level of a large part of the society -especially in East-Hungary, it’s not a hazard that most foreign implantation are in the Western part of the country- is abyssal, that the lack of perspectives force youngsters and their families to emigrate and this lack of perspective will be reinforced by these measures. So I think these orientations will have, unfortunately, very immediate effects.

  19. An wrote at November 8, 2014 at 10:37 am:

    Hungarians should start familiarizing themselves with Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy…

    I am glad the Gene Sharp was mentioned here. He is a student of Ferenc Deak.

    Tamas Csapody is teaching his ethics to students at ELTE and SOTE.

    Hungarians will be wise to nurture the ideas of Deak Ferenc and Gene Sharp.

  20. “The catastrophic state of the Hungarian education system for the last 15 years has already begun to weaken this aspect”

    What are you talking about? Between 2002 and 2010 MSZP-SZDSZ had total control over the education Ministry. There is not a single word of criticism in the blog post about those years. That can only mean that education was pretty much perfect in those years, and now you say it was in a “catastrophic state”?

  21. @beacon, if I were you first I would learn to read. The blog indeed dd not speak about the catastrophic state of Hungarian education in the last fifteen years. A commenter did. I didn’t because I supported Bálint Magyar’s reforms.

  22. @Some1

    One of the craziest of things is that the Hungarian Catholic Church is a staunch Fidesz ally, supporting Orban’s and Fidesz’ anti-Western, anti-globalization ideology.

    But if you really think about it, the Catholic Church is a globalized organization par exellence and is by definition a Western institution when it comes to the East – West divide (ie it’s not an Orthodox Christian institution, the center of which is Moscow — many in the West doesn’t not know that Moscow seriously thinks of itself as the Rome of the East).

    But the Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists all support Orban to the very last bullet because they feel that Orban is their natural ally, as opposed to the more urban, liberal (jewish) left-wing parties.

    There was a weird post on Orban’s facebook page a couple of days ago.

    Orban alongside Gergely Pröhle (the demoted Lutheran pseudo-moderate politician) inaugurated a new Lutheran kindergarten in the provinces. The title of the post was “Hungary, the land of tolerance”, in other words because Hungary although being overwhelmingly a Catholic country (at least on paper) allows a (essentially a privatized/outsourced but still Lutheran) Protestant kindergarten (well, the public kindergarten somehow didn’t get funds to renovate its buildings), Hungary must be deemed tolerant (ie, its leaders think of themselves as tolerant folks).

  23. @Jean-Paul
    I wrote to the commenter Jean-Paul. He said the “Hungarian education was in a catastrophic state in the last 15 years”. I wanted to know how his theories connect to what the blog was talking about. For example was the catastrophic state (according to Jean-Paul) in the MSZP-SZDSZ years done to produce people who are: “The more ignorant the better. They can be more easily manipulated.” Or does the commenter Jean-Paul offer other explanations as to why HE thinks education was bad in those years?

  24. “But the Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists all support Orban to the very last bullet because they feel that Orban is their natural ally, as opposed to the more urban, liberal (jewish) left-wing parties. ”

    Doesn’t anyone find it tiresome? Everything is always about the Jews? Why do you think that left-wing parties are Jewish? What gives you the right to label them or the liberals as jews? How about you dial back the antisemitism and start to think in realistic terms. Not everything is about the Jews all the time.

  25. I have a split-opinion on this topic.
    In our house (20 flats) 4 lawyers and 3 accountants live. Great stuff for when I need to do my tax returns or for when the 7th District takes me to court for daring to breathe without a license. But have you ever tried to find a half-decent electrician, plumber or carpenter in Budapest? It is next to impossible.

    Hungarian parents have incredibly unrealistic opinions regarding their Little Darlings’ (particularly their masculine Little Darlings’) intellectual ability. Of course, they are the brightest child ever to inhabit the earth and it is the deepest insult to suggest that with sufficient finance and state-support they will not become the best lawyer/accountant/*financial consultant* in Budapest.

    Obviously Orban’s plan to close down schools is an attempt at social engineering- the middle-class is quite big enough and by golly we don’t need any more lefty/liberal intellectuals diluting its ideological purity. But that doesn’t disguise the fact that realistic career advice is non-existent in Hungarian schools and it would actually benefit society as a whole if the vocational sector was properly developed.

    But the fact that the term “long-term strategical planning” has no Hungarian equivalent and rampant parental snobbery is not going to allow that to happen.

  26. Are there any statistics available about the number of elected Fidesz members who enroll their children in private (non-parochial) and international schools? I suspect that the number is very high. Yes, they want to restrict access to Gymnasia and yes, they want to narrow the curriculum in state-funded schools, but no, they’re smart enough to know not to put their own kids in them.

  27. DN: Yes, Eva interpreted me correctly. “Liberal” is very often these days just a coded term for jews (like the term “welfare” in the 1980’s was a code for blacks). Foreign readers may not know this.

  28. And one more thing: by “the Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists”, I meant the churches, the church leaderships.

  29. “But the Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists all support Orban…
    – You mean, all the religions he’s passed trough in recent years?

    When I knew him he was a straight – say “black belt” – atheist, as I am.
    I am still “keep the faith” – or faithlessness, as is more appropriate – while he changed every too often to my taste.
    Well, obviously there is a price…

    Please, people, do we really have to accept religious bullshit at face value, just because Viktor Orbán is preaching?

    Just what stopping us to watch and see critically our surroundings and act accordingly?
    Would it be “belief”?

    In Orbán?

    After all these years?

    Oh, come on!

  30. I think it’s about time to us to establish/clear up core values to stick to – there is way too many interpretations floating around in my opinion – what we could accept as base to our conversation here (if no other place even, say, real World…)

    To one – and very important, to me, at least: “liberalism”!
    Next”: ”democracy”
    Then: “liberal democracy”

    My version of “idea fixa”: there is no democracy without liberalism.
    Or:
    I s anyone aware/know any kind of democracy without liberalism?

    I am not joking/teasing this time (yeah, i’m getting older, mind you),, honestly, I am curious, what you think!

    Thank you in advance!

  31. A new article about Hungary in NYT. Unfortunately, I could not find a “comments” section.

    For instance, the authors write about Orban’s “altering” the Constitution. In fact, Orban cancelled the Constitution, and his friend Szajer boasted about writing the new “Basic Law” on his iPad single-handedly on a train.

    The article did not mention the completely new and unfair election law either.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/08/world/europe/viktor-orban-steers-hungary-toward-russia-25-years-after-fall-of-the-berlin-wall.html

  32. Have I told you lately – no, not the song – that I think, that the next change in the Hungarian politics will have precious little to do with parties?

    That “little” may amount up to nothing!

    Really,

    In my opinion there is no party strong enough – or determined enough, take your pick – to make any changes.
    The people the only who one can, the people the only one who will – one can always hope – if anyone ever.
    In short, there is no party in sight which can make any difference.
    No, not even if some of them manages to climb from 13% to 25, or whatever.

    Hungary has only chance if they unite for an Orbánfree Hungary – there is no other way to change.

    The alternative is already given – you may be a humble servant of the newly (self)appointed rulers and be happy to catch the crumbles while watching the latest sitcom… Nice, isn’t it?

    People, there is no other way!

  33. @tappanch – people can be bough, for one, but even worst, they have no idea, how is it really.

    Recently when I meet with acquaintances they’re usually asking me, just how it is really in Hungary, because the’ve heard this phantasy-ridden rumour, that the government want to introduce “internet tax” – what a far fetched exaggeration could that really be..?
    As in “ who in his/her right mind would consider such outrageously stupid notion, but really?”

    – There are indeed times, when I feel deeply ashamed being Hungarian – as long as Viktor Orbán considered as Hungarian too…

  34. tappanch:”A new article about Hungary in NYT. Unfortunately, I could not find a “comments” section.”

    My guess was, when I observed the same, that The New York Times did not add comments to this particular article because of the large number of trolls that usually appear in response to this topic.

  35. @beacon

    When you take the results of the Pisa assessment, Hungary’s ranking has continuously fallen since 2000 (with, true, the most dramatic fall being between 2009 and 2012). That’s not a theory, it’s a fact. Moreover, during all these years, Hungary has been among those countries where the educational system has been the least successful in compensating the inequalities among children resulting from famlial backgrounds, social origins, territorial inequalities etc, and while there have been some really good secondary schools in the capital (and note that the same have been the best schools since the sixties), the average, especially outside of Budapest, remained very far from excellent. In fact, the educational system has lived in a state of permanent reorganizations with repeated reforms (one of them being that promoted by Bálint Magyar mentioned by Eva and that was indeed not a bad one, although it didn’t last long enough), alternating between decentralized functioning and and recentralization, be it for its organization, conception and educational programs. Education is a field that needs constancy and stable perspectives and the continuous changes and resulting uncertainties obviously haven’t helped to stabilize the system and elevate its level.

    That said, this was not a central argument of my comments, I only wished to comment on the views behind the present orientations for education of Orbán and their catastrophic consequences on the one hand, on your theories concerning the supposed survival of Stalinist legacy on the other hand. I’m sorry that you’ve picked the half sentence that was not the most important to comment.

  36. Quickly summarizing, the current Hungarians have been still the victims of the post WWII era.

    Orban and the other leaders are the products of the Kadar system.

    Since, no improvement can be detected, the society will remain shallow and handicapped for the foreseeable future.

  37. D7 Democrat,

    I have found some reasonably skilled, honest electricians, plumbers (though the really good ones seem to have all left the country), and carpenters in Budapest, but they are very busy and relatively expensive. First, though, I had to get through many of the dishonest and unskilled ones.

  38. Beacon,

    I know this comment is late, and you’re probably just a troll, but what difference, really, does it make when the schools started failing? Let’s agree that the governments did a bad job regarding the schools from 2002 to 2010, though I honestly don’t know if that’s true. Now that you’ve exposed the shocking fact that MSZP is and was inept, let’s talk about the real problem: Fidesz is trying to change the Hungarian education system into something that weakens Hungary and shortchanges Hungarian students. Unfortunately, Fidesz is not inept when it comes to destroying things, which is worse than accidentally destroying them – therefore, Fidesz is worse than MSZP. Furthermore, complaining about how MSZP governed is pretty useless and cynical, since Fidesz has shown in the last four years that they are far, far worse than anyone except Jobbik.

    Your point about taking a generation or more to affect the Hungarian people by changing the schools is either misleading or badly illogical. If the schools are changed now in the way Fidesz seems to want to change them, any student who is about to reach the point where he or she is going to enter gymnasium will be affected, and those people will be entering the workforce in as little as 2 years (assuming there is a student who would have entered gymnasium, but will now be forced to take on a trade, and that student chooses to leave school at the age of 16, which is now legal, and find a job somewhere, possibly in a Burger King in Germany). Do we as Hungarians want to see our children and the next generation deprived of a decent education and forced to work as unskilled laborers in foreign countries? Granted, this is an extreme example and is unlikely to happen much, if at all, but it embodies the sad, unhealthy possibilities.

  39. @An

    When I wrote that Hungary is rigged… I talk about teacher issues as my wife and mother in law are teachers. When I wrote about fear, there is many legal issues that affect teachers. When my wife breaks the school law by teaching to 30 students, she is the one who is breaking the law. KLIK who is suppose to hire enough teachers, is not breaking the law. Headmaster who ok’s the class size is not breaking the law. But my wife is breaking the law. This is the idea of LAW in Hungary today.

    And law besides, this situation is affecting my wife’s future as this 30 students group will be in her portifolio. The test results and ”advancement of the students” will be part of her work history, no matter that she is facing impossible task when it comes to teaching. It doesn’t really help either that the study program is coming from Budapest and apparently crafted by someone has never teached a single day. Also KLIK databases for exam results are ridiculous. You can’t import any excel data, but you need to type all up. In 2014 – who you are kidding here?

    From my mother in law, her school has had 3 headmasters during the last 4 years, all Fidesz appointments. Apparently the joy of being boss is not so glorious as these people have thought. The main problem is the when new headmaster comes, he or she has to show off that who is the boss, so usually secretaries get fired, even thou most often they keep the places running logistic wise.

    From their experience, the Hungrian school reforms have always been too little, too late and half hearted at best. What the Fidesz is doing, well, it’s just the return of Kadarista era. Not a reform in that sense.

  40. @wohveli: I understand how dire your wife’s situation is. My point was that there will be no solution coming from the outside… this regime has to be resisted, and everybody should do whatever little they can. I do not think everybody needs to be a hero or should risk their livelihood, some people just really cannot afford open confrontation. But there are indirect and passive forms of resistance… we need to think in terms of resistance, even if only in very very small ways. We should do as little as we can and still get away with, without risking jobs and livelihood, we should be creative in defying the system.

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