Referendum tsunami in Hungary?

Well, where do we stand now? I really have to think hard. The MSZP turned in eight plus questions. The original seven points outlined by Ferenc Gyurcsány became eight by adopting one of the Fidesz’s eight points. Some of the questions were repeated in a different form "at the suggestion of constitutional lawyers." (This is what Ildikó Lendvai said in Napkelte this morning.) If I understand it properly, the MSZP turned in altogether twenty-two questions with the proviso that if the parties vote for them in parliament then, of course, there is no need to hold a referendum.

Of course, the Fidesz didn’t want to be left behind: they also turned in their eight points. If my higher math is right, that is already thirty. Ordinary citizens are eager too: they barrage the electoral committee with their questions. I heard that up to date the committee has received 300 suggestions! Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court approved three of the original Fidesz requests for holding a referendum on the questions of co-pay, a nominal fee for hospital stay, and tuition at the universities. The questions are formulated in such a way that only a fool would answer "yes." Like: "Do you want to pay 300 Ft. ($1.50) when visiting a doctor?" Of course, the answer is "no." All three questions are of this caliber and the Constitutional Court should be ashamed of itself for approving them.

The Fidesz is elated. Orbán announced that, although they have forty-five days to collect the necessary 200,000 signatures, they are ready to finish the whole business in forty-eight hours. However, even under the best of circumstances the referendum probably won’t be held before mid-March.

As for tuition. The nation-wide student organization negotiated with the ministry for months and  eventually agreed to the introduction of tuition. But just before Fidesz proposed holding a referendum on this question, the student leaders changed their minds. (I wonder at whose suggestion!) They are, however, ready to endorse an arrangement by which a certain fee would be collected in case of missed requirements. This whole concept is incomprehensible to me although I spent quite a few years of my life worrying about such matters as credits and distributional requirements, both on my own behalf and on behalf of my students. At least in better American universities, if you don’t have enough credits, you don’t return until you make those credits up somewhere else. You’re on a schedule–normally, four years to graduation. If you’re a fulltime student you can’t just enroll in courses at your leisure, take exams if you feel like it, and write papers if you’re inspired. (But then, of course, your parents are paying a fortune to send you to college, so they have a huge stake in your speedy graduation.) However, I gather from what the student leaders are saying that there are no such restrictions in Hungary. If you don’t pass an exam or don’t show up, you pay a few thousand forints and the whole thing is taken care of. I hope I’ve misunderstood, but if this is the case there is something very wrong with the system.

There is something else that I find amusing about these students. They announced that there will be a demonstration (at night, torches and all) if the ministry doesn’t accept their "generous" offer. But even if the ministry does accept it, they will still demonstrate–the "backup" cause: better education. Well, that doesn’t give much incentive to the ministry.

And this is where we stand today. Who knows what kind of surprise will await us tomorrow.