What a boring day in Hungary

This doesn’t happen too often these days, but there was no great political upheaval today. Only a demonstration by university students, and even they announced that this is the last one this year. Perhaps because it was a really small demonstration: about 1,000 students appeared in Budapest. Or, to be more precise, the figures that appeared in the media vary. It can happen within the same article–as actually happened in the Index today. The article began with the lead sentence: "Many thousands demonstrated tonight….." and followed: "One thousand students demonstrated…" (Mind you, we all know how we can be sloppy self-editors as we readjust our facts based on new information.) Népszava estimated the number to be 1,500 because, according to the organizers, they had 1,000 torches ready but they ran out.

Whether it was 1,000 or 1,500 doesn’t matter. The fact is that the demonstration was very small given the number of students in different institutions of higher learning. Their number is over 150,000. The organizers originally claimed that students would be coming to Budapest from universities and colleges in other parts of the country. Today, they changed their story and emphasized that the demonstration was limited to students studying in the capital. But, even with the geographical shrinkage, the number of students in Budapest is well over 50,000.

I mentioned yesterday that the HÖOK (Hallgatói Önkormányzatok Országos Konferenciája), an umbrella organization of different "student government associations" (I can’t find a better way to describe them), had the brilliant idea to hold the demonstration whether or not the ministry was willing to give in on the issue of tuition. It didn’t take a mental giant to figure out that the ministry would not accept their counterproposal–that the only financial burdens students would have to bear would be penalties meted out to those who enrolled in a course that they failed to complete. Either because they actually flunked the course or because they didn’t complete the course requirements. (Hungarian students don’t like the word "failure" and used a more genteel expression: "lower grade than D." I really love it!)

I heard today that on average a Hungarian student enrolled at a four-year institution actually finishes the requirements in six years, and for all that he or his parents pay nothing. This lax attitude must lower academic standards. Moreover, this whatever/whenever attitude can’t instill a strong work ethic. And yes, however long they try to postpone it, they will have to work.

In any case, the HÖOK’s suggestion was that students who enrolled in a course that they didn’t complete should pay a fine, ranging between $22 and $34. So no tuition but possibly one pair of jeans down the tubes!

The HÖOK’s student president came up with the fantastic idea that tuition is actually a form of taxation and "a very unfair one because everybody has to pay it." Perhaps economics should be a required course for every university student.

Well, continuing the referendum saga, the Fidesz decided to use only three of its referendum questions, one of which is the tuition question. They will start collecting signatures on Friday, and Orbán promised that he would have all the necessary signatures in 48 hours. The man who is actually in charge of the signature gathering today was less sanguine and cautiously announced that "time is not important." He, of course, is right.