Rape at a freshman camp in Hungary

On August 30 an incoming freshman was raped at one of the many weekend camps organized by the student associations of ELTE. I have written several times about these students associations, or Hallgatói Önkormányzatok (HÖK). They were organized right after the regime change when they received powers unheard of at universities west of Hungary. In many ways they resemble the former KISZ, the communist youth organization, since they have a very large budget and some of their leaders are paid employees of the university. These associations can spend money with little supervision. They can also decide on such important matters as the allocation of dormitory rooms. Most important, they have a say in faculty appointments since they have a 25% representation on the university senates. Corruption is apparently rampant in these HÖKs. In addition, they are breeding grounds for future leaders of Jobbik. Unfortunately, university administrators either don’t have the guts, the power, or the will to reform and curtail these associations.

Among other things, these student associations are responsible for the organization of “freshmen camps” prior to the opening of the fall term. I guess the original idea was to give freshmen an opportunity to get to know each other as well as to meet savvy upperclassmen. A recent headline, however, described these camps as “szesz és szex” (alcohol and sex).

The scene of the crime was Fonyódliget at Lake Balaton where the freshmen of ELTE’s teachers’ college were supposed to get acquainted. It turned out that the organizers, leaders of the school’s HÖK, hired a 38-year-old photographer who they knew had raped someone else earlier and had in fact spent five years behind bars. The rapist first beat the freshman and then tried to strangle her, all the while taking at least 100 pictures of the act.

The picture was taken in 2012 on the same camp site where the rape occurred

This picture was taken in 2012 on the same camp site where the rape occurred

This time at least the university administrators acted immediately. They suspended the responsible HÖK leaders and promised a full investigation.

And this wasn’t the only problem the ELTE administration had to deal with, although it was by far the most serious. Reports also poured in about the law school’s freshman bash, although the activities there seemed to have been nothing new. For years the organizers have made the freshmen sing a particularly obscene ditty. Index found the text of the obscene song and published it. If you swear that you are over 18, you can have the pleasure of reading it.

It seems that a tragedy had to occur to prompt ELTE’s administration to act. They decided that from here on these freshman camps will be organized centrally and will take place under the university’s supervision. This should have been done much earlier.

While the news was full of the rape case, the three guys who shoot the breeze on Class FM’s Morning Show, a popular program, talked about the freshman camps in a rather light-hearted manner. They called the rape of the freshman “an unfortunate event,” chatted at length about the general licentious atmosphere of these camps, adding “let’s not be hypocritical, we know what’s going on there.” There was even some inappropriate reference to gay people. The media’s reaction was outrage and apologies followed. However, these three guys’ reaction at Class FM is not at all unique, even in media circles. There is a new television reporter at ATV who did not think that his fellow radio journalists said anything particularly objectionable. And a few days later when he was interviewing a representative of an association involved with sexual abuse and domestic violence, he first skirted the issue and, when he had to say something, he brought up violence against men as also being a problem. He added that the trouble is that “women don’t talk about the assaults.” Perhaps if they just talked more, these assaults could somehow be prevented.

Even the director of communications at ELTE, György Fábry, seemed ambivalent to me. Of course, he admitted that it was a terrible tragedy and there will be serious consequences. But he tried to minimize the atmosphere that prevails in these camps. In his conversation with Olga Kálmán he kept repeating that no one forced the participants to sing the obscene song and that, in fact, this year the song was not included in the repertoire. He kept saying that some of the stories are exaggerated. From an earlier conversation on Egyenes beszéd I gained the impression that he is a great defender of HÖK. Indeed, it turned out that he, as a student at ELTE’s faculty of arts, was one of the first HÖK leaders in the early 1990s. The faculty of arts’ HÖK has been solidly in the hands of Jobbik, whose leaders use these freshman camps to recruit members for the party. When probed about the Jobbik connection, Fábry defended the group and said that the problem was not as serious as the media made it out.

Although the commissioner in charge of education who works under the general ombudsman will be investigating freshman camps nationwide, the problem is not with the camps per se. The problem lies with the almost exclusively male composition of the HÖKs. At ELTE women make up 75% of the student body, yet they are barely represented in HÖKs. Ninety-four percent of the student body at the teachers’ college are women, one man heads the college’s HÖK. These fellows often use their prominence as organizers to intimidate freshmen women. Details of what’s going on right under the noses of the university administration are well described by a recent article in Index.  Of course, the problem is not restricted to rowdy university students letting off steam. What happens at these freshman camps is part and parcel of the Hungarian male attitude toward women.