student associations

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 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.

Jobbik breeding grounds: The student associations in Hungarian universities

Early yesterday morning an incredible news item appeared on ATV’s website. It reported that for years the Hallgatói Önkormányzat (HÖK) of ELTE’s faculty of arts (BTK) has been keeping tabs on incoming students’ alleged religious affiliation, ethnic background, sexual orientation, and political views. For good measure they also assessed the sexual potential of female students. What one ought to know about this particular HÖK is that it has been a breeding ground for Jobbik politicians and activists. But if for years no one got wind of this group’s illicit activities, why it is that someone, undoubtedly from the inner circle of BTK HÖK, decided to spill the beans?

I guess because someone decided that HÖK is supposed to represent the interests of the student body and not go to the president of the university and complain against student activists and those faculty members who are siding with them. Because this is what Ádám Garbai, the present chairman of BTK HÖK, did. By the following day ATV had access to a spreadsheet compiled by BTK HÖK on the salient qualities of incoming freshmen from 2009.

I must admit that I was unfamiliar with many of the descriptions. Although I could figure out what “cigó” and “libsi” could mean, when it came to “ratyi” I had to look it up on the Internet. Among the notations: “atheist, acquaintance of Demszky” (SZDSZ mayor of Budapest between 1990 and 2010), “stupid Lutheran girl, revisionist, Transylvanian picture,” “he has an ugly Jewish head,” “ugly broad who bicycles,” “little liberal fag,” and so on. I urge people who know the language to take a look at the original text. Some of the notes also described actions of the student association. For example, the almighty HÖK leaders who decide whether someone can have a room in the dormitory remarked that “we aren’t going to give him a place.”

Beside each name there was a hidden question whether the person is Jewish or not. Answer: I for igen and N nor nem. Party preferences were noted too: A = MSZP; B = LMP, C = Fidesz, D = Jobbik.

Every year the great minds of BTK HÖK created this kind of Excel spreadsheet on the incoming freshmen. In 2009 Ádám Garbai, the current chairman, was only a freshman. Máté Silhavy was in charge of the spreadsheet. Silhavy doesn’t deny that he compiled the list, but he claims that the obscene, degrading, and illegal comments on the personal habits of students were not his. They were added to the list later, he claims. Garbai yesterday still loudly proclaimed that he was going to sue ATV. I somehow doubt it.

Both the university and Attila Péterfalvy, the government official in charge of privacy issues, are taking the case very seriously because what these young student leaders did is a crime. The university this afternoon suspended HÖK activities at ELTE”s BTK.

I find it hard to imagine that the university’s administrators didn’t know what was going on in BTK’s HÖK. Moreover, they had to know that ever since 2005 the chairmen and all the important leaders of HÖK have been either Jobbik party members or activists. The current chairman, Ádám Garbai, is expecting to hear shortly whether he can be a full-fledged member of the party. His predecessor, László Nemes, was a member of Jobbik. So was his predecessor, István Szávay. According to an article that appeared in Magyar Narancs in May 2012, Garbai’s election in January 2012 was most likely fraudulent: his predecessor, Nemes, fired the top student leaders who were opposed to Garbai’s election. The election had to be repeated because the first one was a draw. Yet after this disgraceful election, the dean of the faculty, Tamás Dezső, delivered a laudatory speech and bestowed a commemorative medal on Nemes who organized the fraudulent election. Or at least this is what one could read on BTK’s HÖK web site before the section on Ádám Garbai was taken off .


The illustrious members of HÖK at ELTE’s Faculty of Arts
In the middle of the first row in the dark blue shirt is Ádám Garbai / btkhok.elte

Here is a brief curriculum vitae of István Szávay who today is a Jobbik member of parliament. He finished high school in 1999 but graduated with his first degree in history only in 2008. So, it took this fellow nine years to receive a diploma. He was so attached to university life that he immediately pursued a second degree in political science which he received two years later in 2010. In 2012 he received another diploma in pedagogy and psychology. He is currently a PhD. candidate, but apparently he didn’t get there exactly fair and square. His credentials for entering graduate school were not in order, but one of his professors helped him out by changing a grade or two. Because of his great academic accomplishments he was the recipient of a “Republican Scholarship.” But he was not simply a perpetual student. In 2009 he was on the board of Duna Televízió!

Anyone who wants to learn more about some of these characters might want to look at a good article about them in Népszava from 2010.

Why didn’t the universities and the governments do something about the whole student self-government system a long time ago? The problems were known. HÖKs were captured by extremists who most likely used the organization for recruiting purposes. They misappropriated money given to them by the government. We are talking about millions which they could distribute as financial aid. Some of the money went for lurid parties where, for instance, Szávay was caught in a most embarrassing sexual pose. So, all this has been known for a very long time.

The whole system should have been reorganized. But it seems to me that the socialist-liberal governments were too timid while some of the right-leaning faculty sheltered the HÖOK-Jobbik students.

Will the Orbán government take this affair seriously? I doubt it. After all, as is clear by now, Viktor Orbán doesn’t want to alienate Jobbik. He might need them one day.