The new ethics textbook for Hungarian fifth graders

What can one say about the newly introduced ethics textbook for Hungarian fifth graders? For starters, it is not, strictly speaking, an ethics text.  Ethics is not a branch of religion, and being ethical is not the same as following the law or adhering to societal norms. So a textbook that lauds religious virtues and advocates unquestioning civil obedience doesn’t belong in an ethics class.

The authors of this non-ethics textbook are Ferenc Bánhegyi and Mrs. Olajos Ilona Kádár. Bánhegyi seems to be a favorite of the Orbán government because he is also the sole author of the history book intended for fifth graders. Perhaps the best introduction to Ferenc Bánhegyi’s worldview is his outline for a forthcoming history textbook. The dominant theme of the book is the unjust attacks on Hungary and Hungarians through the ages. His goal is to refute these charges and to blame foreigners for Hungary’s misfortunes. Pity the poor student who has to give the “right” answer to such questions as why Mihály Károlyi was viewed favorably in the West and given a villa in France. Or, in a similar vein (and with, I presume, a similar answer expected) why Ferenc Gyurcsány is more acceptable in Western Europe than Viktor Orbán.

Surely, the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Human Resources, in particular Rózsa Hoffmann and her crew, knew about this man’s predilection for both historical falsification and anti-Semitism and racism. One of Bánhegyi’s history textbooks already had to be withdrawn in 2000. It seems that the first Orbán government was less forgiving than the second one.

Admittedly, there was some serious editing of the new ethics textbook. Here’s one notable passage. The original read: “The Hungarians are one of the most welcoming people in Europe. They are hospitable and friendly. This was the case from the time of Saint Stephen until the beginning of the twentieth century when the lost war and the many different people whom Hungarians welcomed helped to break up the country. Our people even after that remained welcoming and hospitable, but the deep wound Trianon caused still hasn’t healed.” That’s how the text read in May when reporters of got hold of it. In the final product the text was changed to: “The Hungarians are one of Europe’s hospitable nations. We know that King Saint Stephen urged our ancestors to welcome strangers and honor other people.” Quite a difference. Of course, today’s Hungarians are among the most xenophobic people in Europe; just lately whole villages were in an uproar over plans to build shelters for political refugees in their vicinity.

The parents who didn’t want their children to receive religious education and who opted for ethics as the lesser evil are not better off. Perhaps worse. The whole book sounds like a guidebook to Christian-national conservative ideology. The book is full of religious references and praise for Christian communities. Thus virtue figures large in the textbook. Among the virtues the Bánhegyi-Olajos textbook lists are patriotism, religiosity, pride, heroism, and strength. Moreover, we learn from this book that “the greatest act of a brave man is martyrdom.” I hope that none of the children take that too seriously.

The line between religion and ethics is blurred: “religious communities provide values, order, security.” The authors bemoan the fact that relatively few young people seek the help of the clergy in solving their problems. I might add here that the only religious communities the textbook refers to are Catholic and Hungarian Reformed. The textbook claims that religious people are more caring than others and that “religious communities can greatly assist in the development of deep and close friendships.” It blames the media and the free market economy for the deterioration of public morality.

Michelangelo's Seven Virtues, Uffizi Gallery

Michelangelo’s Seven Virtues, Uffizi Gallery

However objectionable all this may be, it is a marked improvement over Bánhegyi’s earlier ethics textbook that caused quite an upheaval in 2004 when it came out. That book contained such sentences as “the communist leading members of the Hungarian Soviet Republic came from the Jewry who were responsible for many people’s death.” Or, “the Roma came from India and spread all over the world. Because of prejudice and of their own attitude they were forced to the neglected far ends of the villages where they just manage to subsist. Many Roma children finish school without sufficient knowledge and thus unfortunately the mass of unschooled and uneducated children will get reproduced.”

Bánhegyi’s troubles with at least two of his earlier textooks may actually have been a plus as far as Rózsa Hoffmann was concerned. Religiosity and nationalism are the two pillars of the current Orbán government.  The Bánhegyi-Olajos textbook serves this purpose perfectly. After all, “the goal of morality is to make our nation strong.” Read that sentence again and weep. The present government surely must be satisfied with the book’s emphasis on law and order and its claim that all laws must be obeyed. Laws presumably are never immoral. Or at least the laws enacted by the Orbán government aren’t.

The authors don’t hide their prejudices. Just like Rózsa Hoffmann they complain about the widespread use of the English language; they don’t understand why the American dollar is used worldwide as a reserve currency; they find it objectionable that American films are popular. They don’t like computer games and contend that older games were better. They expect youngsters always to ask the advice of adults, and they insist that today’s youngsters are not as moral as their predecessors. They hold old-fashioned views on the family and consider modernity the source of many evils in this world.

In brief, the book doesn’t pose questions about ethical issues but tells the children what, according to currently dominant Hungarian ideology, is right and what is wrong. It reminds me of books written for teenage Catholic boys in the 1930s that gave advice on how to become an ideal Catholic youth. To mangle Tennyson, theirs not to reason why, theirs just to accept and comply.

Football and its fans: The Romanian-Hungarian game

Today I will talk about two related topics: the Romanian-Hungarian football match in Bucharest and the group of Hungarian fans who on the way to the Romanian capital just happened to stop in a village close to the Romanian-Hungarian border. The fans paid an unwelcome visit to the elementary school in Konyár (pop. 2,000).

As for the game itself, I don’t want to dwell on it. The Hungarian national team suffered a humiliating defeat that more or less precludes it from advancing in the preliminary rounds for next year’s World Cup game. Prior to the match, one of the players, Zsolt Korcsmár, who plays full time for the German Greuther Fürth, predicted that the Hungarian team would come back with three goals. Well, they did but not exactly in the manner Korcsmár imagined. They lost by three goals.

The right-wing fans who were already pretty drunk at the beginning of their journey explained to the reporters on hand that they were looking forward to the game because “for ninety minutes Transylvania will be ours.”The pre-game hype was extraordinary. Even the coach described the match as “historic.” (The original Hungarian that belies translation is something like “an event that will greatly influence our fate.”) It became practically an answer to Trianon. It was also intended to put an end to the extreme frustration of the Hungarian football fans. The last time that the Hungarian national team won against the Romanians in Bucharest was 55 years ago!

That the fans thought that by winning at soccer the Hungarian national team could somehow avenge the loss of Transylvania was one thing. But what was most likely truly injurious to the psyche of the players was that the coach himself fed this notion of a war by other means, a war of football. Sándor Egervári, the coach, kept calling the team’s attention to the “history of these two countries.” I guess he was trying to inspire a mediocre team by making the players feel as if their actions on the field would shape the destiny of the country.

Article after article assured football fans that the players were feeling optimistic and were not overwhelmed by the task. But the media also reinforced the game’s extreme importance. Almost as if Hungary’s national honor had to be defended in this one game. One of the Internet sport sites claimed that it was the most important game ever for the Hungarian national team. Egervári called the Romanians “the Hungarian team’s greatest rivals” not because of the prowess of the Romanian team but because of factors that have nothing whatsoever to do with football. Rather, they stem from the enmity that has existed between these two nations for at least a hundred years. On the Romanian side, I’m almost certain, there were similar feelings. Some Romanian fans held up signs reading “1918,” the year the Romanian National Council declared Transylvania to be part of Romania.

Although most Hungarian football fans admit that Hungarian football is lousy and refuse to attend the games, this time they watched the match intently. More than two million people were glued to MTV’s live broadcast. Normally, serious Hungarian aficionados watch foreign matches, but this game was different. And when the devastating 3-0 loss was reported by, an Internet site devoted to football, the article began with a reference to “the 15 million Hungarians who have been waiting for months for this very important game.” The nation is getting bigger and bigger, it seems. Apparently this 15 million also includes the non-existent two million Hungarian-Americans.

And now a few words about the most ardent fans. All told, about 2,800 Hungarian fans traveled to Bucharest. Eleven hundred of them went by chartered train. The trip by train was organized by a group that calls itself the Carpathian Brigade. Eight hundred eighty left Budapest and 250 joined them in Brasov/Brassó in Romania. (Apparently they trashed the train’s fourteen cars on the return trip.) Others went by chartered buses. We will follow one of these that made a side trip to Konyár.

The bus whose passengers stopped in Konyár originated in Debrecen. The superhighway to the border from Debrecen is still not finished on either side, so vehicles have to travel southward on a secondary road through Sáránd, Derecske, Berettyóújfalu, and from there to Oradea/Nagyvárad in Romania. However, at Derecske, the bus left the highway and turned left onto a  small road leading to this heavily Roma inhabited village and parked in front of the local elementary school.

According to Jenő Gyöngyös, the head of the Roma community in Konyár, the twenty or so rowdy and already slightly drunk “fans” began to yell obscenities and threatened to enter the school. Some of them for good measure urinated on the wall of the building. The teachers locked the doors and the frightened staff ordered the first-graders to hide under their desks. Some of the older pupils hid in the toilets. Eventually someone called the police. The police arrived and simply asked the guys to get back on the bus and depart.

And how do the police now describe the incident? They claim there was no incident. The rowdies just stopped to relieve themselves and to have a cigarette. The only thing they did was to sing the Szekler national anthem.


If you look at the Google map you will immediately realize that this stop in Konyár was not happenstance.  It was planned. But why? Because in January a young history teacher at the school, Szilárd Vígh, was caught talking disparagingly about his Gypsy students and boasting about how he disciplines them by beating them. By that time it was the Klebelsberg Center that was the “employer” of the school’s teachers, and after an internal investigation Vígh was fired, in spite of a demonstration organized by Jobbik in defense of the history teacher. The fired teacher was one of the passengers on that bus. Simple enough! The police and the principal can deny the facts till doomsday.

I think one day I should spend some time on the changing behavior of the police. They seem to have recognized that they can do practically anything in pursuit of their vision of law and order. The minister of the interior, the former police chief, will defend them to the very end. And the population is defenseless against their excesses.

Coming to an understanding with Viktor Orbán and his followers?

Yesterday’s post didn’t excite too many people. But how can one compete with Trianon? Who cares about the LIBE Commission’s report and the 500 some proposed “amendments,” mostly from Fidesz MPs and their Hungarian friends from Slovakia and Romania? On top of it all some people didn’t even get the details although I gave a link to the amendments that are available on the Internet.

But isn’t it the case that these amendments are a hundred times more relevant to the fate of the Hungarian people than absolutely useless discussions of a treaty, however just or unjust it was, that cannot be altered? Revisionism was the cornerstone of Hungary’s interwar foreign policy and some people were convinced, as was John F. Montgomery, U.S. ambassador in Budapest in the 1930s, that “the Hungarian people were not quite sane on that subject.” Well, it seems that some Hungarians are returning to the very same insanity that led Hungary nowhere except to another lost war, the loss of millions of its people, and a series of absolutely tragic events. But there are always people who are incapable of learning from past mistakes. Just like the Bourbons.

So, discussing Trianon endlessly and crying over Hungary’s misfortunes are dead ends. The Venice Commission’s opinion and the LIBE Commission recommendations, on the other hand, are of the utmost importance. The outcome of the investigations of the Hungarian government’s reshaping of Hungarian democracy into an authoritarian or even worse regime affects the very future of Hungarian democracy.

Let’s talk a little bit about the fate of Hungarian democracy. Some people are convinced that true democracy no longer exists in Hungary due to Viktor Orbán’s “renewal” of the country. I know that a lot of the readers of Hungarian Spectrum are certain that Viktor Orbán and his ilk will be running Hungary for the next twenty years. They are certain that Fidesz is unbeatable because the party communicates better, because all the state institutions are in party hands, and because the new electoral system is designed to keep them in power. By contrast, the opposition is fractured and lacks a charismatic leader. So why bother to do anything?

This defeatist attitude may be misplaced, especially since almost half of the electorate at the moment either doesn’t know or doesn’t divulge its political preferences. The various social groups that have been injured in one way or the other by the “renewal” measures of the Orbán government are numerous: civil servants, teachers, doctors, judges, university professors, artists, writers, and people receiving the minimum wage. One could go on and on. At the moment all these people are shaking in their boots, fearing for their jobs. They are afraid to go out to demonstrate. Surely, hidden cameras will reveal their identity. Fear has returned to the country.

But there might be a tipping point when all the grievances converge and serious opposition to the government breaks out. Who could have said on October 21, 1956 that in two days there would be an open rebellion against the Rákosi regime in Budapest? Or two weeks ago who would have thought that there would be street fights between young Turks and the police? Most likely nothing that drastic will happen in Hungary, but the possibility of a broad common front cannot be ruled out. Therefore, the opposition must be ready for such an occurrence. Moreover, the democratic parties have to come to some kind of an agreement concerning their attitudes toward “the accomplishments” of the Orbán government. Of course, I’m using the word “accomplishments” ironically.

What I mean is: can there be some kind of compromise between Fidesz and its democratic opposition? Because if not, says one school of thought on the subject, the present political division will only be perpetuated. Others are convinced that there is no way any kind of compromise is possible: Orbán’s autocratic rule cannot be “balanced” by those who believe in liberal democracy. Oil and water don’t mix.

Let me go back a bit to history and linguistics. I use the word “compromise” for “kiegyezés.” Indeed, when we talk about the historical “kiegyezés” of 1867 between Austria and Hungary in English we use the word “compromise.” The Compromise of 1867. However, the German word for the same event is “Ausgleich,” which means not so much compromise as “settlement.” Austria and Hungary settled their differences. So, according to a number of politicians, including Gordon Bajnai, the opposition must sit down with the politicians of Fidesz and settle their differences.

A settlement in the offing? /

A settlement in the offing? 

Bajnai, in an interview with Die Zeitenvisages an electoral outcome in 2014 in which the united opposition achieves a modest victory which “would be an opportunity for a kind of national agreement for fair negotiations.” He wants “to cross party lines to reach a consensus” and has no intention of turning everything back to the pre-Orbán period. After watching Viktor Orbán up close and personal ever since 1998, I would like to see just one occasion when he was ready to come to a “national agreement.” We all remember when in 2002 Péter Medgyessy, then apparently on the advice of Ferenc Gyurcsány, tried to extend a hand to Viktor Orbán. He called this approach “filling the trenches” or “burying the hatchet” in English. He got nowhere. He was only rebuffed.

The latest attempt at “appeasement” (at least this is what I call it) on the part of Gordon Bajnai is asking for forgiveness for the referendum of 2004 when the Fidesz-supported idea of giving citizenship to Hungarian nationals living in the neighboring countries was rejected with the active support of the government parties. Since then the Orbán government’s super-majority voted for citizenship, which includes voting rights. Bajnai feels that this right cannot be revoked. Thus, the citizens of Hungary must live with perhaps a million extra votes of people who have no real stake in the outcome of the election and don’t have to bear its consequences. That is a very large number when only about four million people vote at national elections.

Bajnai, in the hope of extra votes from the other side, is giving in on many other issues as well. For example, he made special mention of the Day of Unity (in other words, the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Trianon) where he talked about three-fourths of the territories and two-thirds of its population Hungary lost. Of course, these numbers are correct, but failing to point out that the majority of this two-thirds were not Hungarians was a mistake. Talking about Trianon as a “tragedy” is again only adding oil to fire. He is hoping to come to an understanding on “the trauma of the Soviet occupation” and “the trauma of the Holocaust.” No wonder that the headline in HVG declared: “Bajnai compared Trianon to the Holocaust.” I don’t think that the loss of territories and the loss of lives can cause the same trauma. The last sentence of Bajnai’s communiqué stated that “we will have to close the period that meant the silence and abuse of Trianon.” That to me means that he promises the Hungarian nationalists that Trianon will remain a topic of debate. Keeping Trianon alive will also stoke the self-pity that is so injurious to the Hungarian psyche and that should be discouraged.

But that’s not all. Gordon Bajnai said the following about anti-Semitism and the Orbán government in Berlin the other day. “There are many problems with the government but one cannot claim that it has anything to do with antisemitism and racism.” One doesn’t have to go that far in seeking “national consensus” or “settlement” with Viktor Orbán and his followers. After all, Orbán’s attitude towards both is far from unequivocal.

That is the Bajnai approach, which in my opinion is utterly mistaken. Devoted Orbán followers will not vote for the democratic opposition because Bajnai supports the voting rights of Hungarians in the neighboring countries. It is also unlikely that a devoted supporter of Fidesz will be terribly impressed with  all that mea culpa on the issue of Trianon. But the voters of the democratic opposition may lose trust in him.

In the next few days I will outline some other ideas about what the opposition should do concerning the Orbán government and its supporters.

Public opinion research in the Kádár regime

While Viktor Orbán is showing his compassionate side to the participants of the World Jewish Congress in Budapest I’m moving back for a day to the Kádár regime and its anomalies. One of the oddities not normally associated with one-party dictatorships was a center where sociologists studied public opinion. The work they produced wasn’t made public. Some of it was done at the behest of Magyar Rádió and Television (audience preferences). Other studies were commissioned by the Agitation and Propaganda Department (Agit-Prop) of MSZMP.

The Mass Communication Research Center (Tömegkommunkációs Kutatóközpont) was established in 1969 under the aegis of the Hungarian Radio. They wanted to know what the Hungarian public wanted. Considering that radio and television were a vital part of the everyday life of Hungarians in those days, it was essential that the authorities produce programs that met demands. Eventually, however, the competence of the research center was widened when the party realized that it might be to the advantage of the leadership to have a sense of the mood of the country. However, according to Mária Vásárhelyi, who is largely responsible for the fact that the material the Center produced didn’t perish, the people who worked in the Agit-Prop Department didn’t realize either the work’s value or its possible dangers. She has the feeling that few people ever bothered to look at the highly technical studies the Center produced.

The Center was closed in 1991 and part of its material eventually ended up in the Open Society Archives attached to the Central European University founded by financier George Soros. Currently 500 sociological studies and public opinion polls from the 1969-1991 period are available for study.

The first question we must ask is whether one can take subject responses at all seriously; after all, Hungarians were living in a dictatorship and might not have been forthcoming. Sociologists who either worked there or who are familiar with the sociological methods used then claim that the results can be considered scientifically sound. Surely, there were taboo topics, like the Soviet troops in Hungary, multi-party political systems, and the nature of dictatorship, but the sociologists simply avoided such questions until the second half of the 1980s. At that point they even inquired about a possible political change in Hungary. By 1989, 70% of the population considered the rule of Mátyás Rákosi deleterious for Hungary while only 40% thought the same about the Horthy regime.

Here are a few interesting findings. First, as to Hungarians’ self-image. It is known that most ethnic groups have a favorable opinion of themselves. But, given all the talk about Hungarian pessimism, it might come as a surprise that “there was no sign of pessimism anywhere” in the 1970s. When asked to describe Hungarians they answered in positive terms: jovial people who like to drink and eat; they like parties; they are friendly and hospitable. They also like to work and are diligent. The respondents admitted that Hungarians tend to be jealous of one another and that they are selfish. The overwhelming majority of them didn’t want anything to do with politics.

In 1971 91% of those questioned were proud of being Hungarian. What were they proud of? That Hungary became a “beautiful industrial country from a formerly agrarian one.” That Hungary can boast “a world famous cuisine, musicians, and animal husbandry.” “Because no other country has such a beautiful history.” “We struggled for centuries until we reached this height. We even have a role in world politics.”

What were they not proud of? Hungary’s role in World War II (32%), the human failings of Hungarians (21%), those who left Hungary illegally (15%), 1956 (11.5%), the reactionary regimes of the past (8.1%), the mistakes after the liberation (7.5%), and finally, the territorial losses (5.0%).

It is somewhat surprising that the MSZMP’s Agit-Prop Department was interested in people’s views of Trianon. The question had to be formulated very carefully. Eventually it read: “The defeat suffered at the end of World War I in its way ended the crisis that pried open the framework of the multinational Hungarian state. Do you know about the Peace of Trianon and if yes what do you see as its cause?” It turned out that 61% of the adult population didn’t know what the Peace of Trianon was all about. Mind you, 44% of them didn’t know what the Warsaw Pact was while 21% had wrong information about it; 40% had no idea about the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance or Comecon either. 64% didn’t know what the words “nationalist/nationalism” were all about and 76% didn’t know the meaning of antisemitism. Oh, those were the days!

It is not true, despite Fidesz propaganda to the contrary, that during the Kádár period people didn’t even know that there were Hungarians living in the neighboring countries. An overwhelming majority did know. However, they didn’t consider them to be part of the nation. Many, especially people in their twenties, felt no kinship with them.

By 1985 the research center cut its ties to Magyar Rádió and changed its name to Magyar Közvéleménykutató Intézet (Hungarian Public Opinion Institute). Why did the Antall government decide to close it in 1991 and disperse its archives? According to Mária Vásárhelyi, there were at least two reasons. One was that the Antall government (1990-1993) was rapidly losing popularity and the Institute’s results reflected this uncomfortable political reality. The government might also have thought that its researchers were just a bunch of communists whose findings were influenced by their political views. In fact, if anything, the opposite was true. Because these people were in the forefront of sociological research, which itself was a taboo discipline in the socialist countries, most of them were close to the opposition forces of the late Kádár regime. The second reason was practical. The Institute occupied a very valuable building in downtown Pest which the state sold to a German bank. It was at this point that Mária Vásárhelyi rushed to Domokos Kosáry, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, who being a historian immediately realized the value of the material gathered by the sociologists between 1969 and 1991. He was the one who rescued the material which otherwise would (at best) have ended up in a cellar.

By now all the material is digitized and researchers can study the dominant opinions of Hungarians during the last two decades of the Kádár regime. Historians claim that it is an invaluable collection that will help us understand not only the Kádár period but, perhaps even more, the present.

A Hungarian high school textbook on the numerus clausus of 1920

A few days ago we had a new visitor to Hungarian Spectrum who called himself “Éljen Fidesz” (Long Live Fidesz). He had a peculiar notion about the meaning of numerus clausus as it was applied in a law enacted by the Hungarian parliament in 1920. He turned to Wikipedia and found that “Numerus clausus (‘closed number’  in Latin) is one of many methods used to limit the number of students who may study at a university. In many cases, the goal of the numerus clausus is simply to limit the number of students to the maximum feasible in some particularly sought-after areas of studies.” The Wikipedia article adds that “the numerus clausus is currently used in countries and universities where the number of applicants greatly exceeds the number of available places for students.”

This is a grave misunderstanding of the Hungarian version of the numerus clausus that aimed at restricting the number of Jewish students in all Hungarian universities.

Of course, I don’t know the age of our Fidesz fan, but if he is in his 30s he most likely used Konrád Salamon’s textbook, which is the most popular choice of high school teachers. Not necessarily because it is the best but because in the days when students had to pass a test to be admitted to college or university the test questions were based on this textbook. Salamon’s text is for grade 12 when the history of the twentieth century is taught. The cover is decorated with modern and folk art and perhaps not by accident at least two of the pictures contain religious motifs. It is published in a large-size format (28 x 20 cm) and is 300 pages long. So, as one can imagine, it is packed with facts.

One could write pages and pages about the shortcomings of the book. László Karsai, historian of the Holocaust, wrote a lengthy critique of the way in which several high school and college textbooks deal with Jewish themes and the Holocaust, including Salamon’s text, which I have in manuscript form. Page 57 of Salamon’s book has three sentences about the numerus clausus. The first sentence states that the “members of the right and the extreme right forced through the acceptance of the law that was devised to decrease the overproduction of university graduates.” He adds that this meant quotas for “races [népfajok] and nationalities” according to their proportion in the population as a whole. And finally, Salamon writes that this law “placed Hungarians of Jewish origin in a  disadvantageous position.”

Anyone who is familiar with the Hungarian political situation in 1920 and knows anything about the numerus clausus understands that the law had nothing to do with the overproduction of  university graduates. In fact, at the two new universities in Pécs and Szeged there was a shortage of students. The two new universities, by the way, weren’t really new. They existed before, one in Kolozsvár (Cluj) and the other in Pozsony (Bratislava), but after Trianon they were moved to Szeged and Pécs respectively.

It is also wrong to say, as Salamon does, that it was only the extreme right that insisted on the introduction of a law that restricted enrollment of students of Jewish origin. The greatest supporters of the bill came from the ranks of the Party of National Unity, and even people who were considered to be moderate, like Kunó Klebelsberg and István Bethlen, were in favor of it.

Mária M. Kovács, Afflicted by Law: The Numerous Clausus in Hungary, 1920-1945 /

Mária M. Kovács, Afflicted by Law: The Numerus Clausus in Hungary, 1920-1945 /

Currently I’m reading a book on the numerus clausus  (Törvénytől sújtva: A numerus clausus Magyarországon, 1920-1945 / Afflicted by Law: The Numerus Clausus in Hungary, 1920-1945) by Mária M. Kovács, a professor at the Central European University in Budapest. In it Kovács shows that if the removal of Jewish students was intended to encourage children of the Christian middle class to enter university in greater numbers it was clearly a failure. But this wasn’t the aim of the bill. The leading politicians of the period were trying to restrict the number of Jews in the professions and the arts. In order to achieve their goal they reinterpreted the meaning of “izraelita.” Until then the word simply meant someone who considered himself to be a member of a religious community. With the adoption of the numerus clausus suddenly Hungarian Jews were considered to be an ethnic minority. According to Kovács, the law was unconstitutional both formally and substantively.

And finally a few words about Jewish overrepresentation in higher education. Yes, on the surface that seems to have been the case. During the academic year of 1918-1919 there were 18,449 students enrolled; of this number 6,719 were Jewish. One reason for these lopsided figures was that very few students came from villages and  small towns. Most of them were city dwellers, and Hungary’s Jewish population was concentrated in larger cities. In Budapest 25% of the inhabitants were Jewish. The other reason for this overrepresentation was that a greater number of Jewish youngsters finished gymnasium and took matriculation exams than did their non-Jewish contemporaries. In 1910 among Jewish men over the age of eighteen 18.2% took matriculation exams, among Catholics only 4.2% and among Protestants only 3.9%. And since you needed to matriculate in order to enter university one mustn’t be terribly surprised at the lopsided statistics. Kovács quotes the antisemitic Alajos Kovács, head of the Central Statistical Office, who found the situation “terrifying.”

Other figures often cited are the very high percentages of Jews in the medical and legal profession: 49.4% of lawyers and 46.3% of physicians were Jewish. One must keep in mind, however, that these professions attracted only 20% of all people with higher education. It is practically never mentioned that among the 30,000 college-educated civil servants one could find very few Jews–4.9% to be precise.

All in all, Kovács argues, the numerus clausus of 1920 can be considered the first anti-Jewish discriminatory law in Europe. According to some of the creators of the law it was a form of punishment of the Jews for Trianon. István Haller, minister of education in 1920, wrote an autobiography in 1926 which included a chapter entitled “As long as there is Trianon there will be numerus clausus.” The Jews must use their influence in the world to restore the old borders of historical Hungary. This opinion was shared by the entire political elite. Klebelsberg, for instance, announced in one of his speeches in parliament: “Give us back the old Greater Hungary, then we will abrogate the numerus clausus.”

And finally, on a different topic, a real gem from Konrád Salamon’s book (p. 8). The author of this high school textbook lists six reasons for the sorry state of the civilized world in the twentieth century. One of the reasons is that “the media became a significant factor in politics … and could easily influence the uninformed masses with the promise of creating material wealth quickly.” Should we wonder why Hungarian youngsters have so little knowledge of or attraction to democratic institutions? Unfortunately, the new textbooks that are being planned by Rózsa Hoffmann’s ministry will most likely be even more slanted than Konrád Salamon’s opus.