Gáspár Károli Hungarian Reformed University

I am sorry that I always have to start way back. First, a few words about the Hungarian Reformed Church. It is a Protestant denomination whose teachings go back to Calvin. It became well established in Hungary during the time that parts of the country were under Turkish rule. On the whole the Turkish overlords didn't interfere in church affairs, so Protestant preachers were free to wander around and "convert" the village folks. According to some estimates by the end of the sixteenth century 80-90% of the population had turned to the teachings of either Luther (especially the German-speaking and to some extent the Slovak population) or Calvin.

Gáspár Károli (or as we would write it today Károlyi) was the Calvinist minister of Gönc, a small town about 60 kilometers from Miskolc. In typical Hungarian fashion, his original name was either Radics or Radisics and he was baptized as an Eastern Orthodox. Therefore it is likely that his family was of Serbian origin. Because he was born in Nagykároly (Carei in Romanian) he changed his name to Károli. He was the man who translated the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, into Hungarian. He began this monumental work in 1586 and he must have worked rapidly because by 1589 the printing of the Bible began and by 1591 it was finished. Soon thereafter Károli died. Financial support to print the Bible came from Transylvanian Prince Sigismund Rákóczi.

The Hungarian Reformed Church is perhaps the largest Calvinist community in the world. The leaders of the church like to point out all the sufferings their followers had to endure during the Counter Reformation when for a good one hundred years Hungarian Calvinists had a very rough time. Catholicism in their eyes meant Habsburg, foreign rule and oppression, while they looked upon themselves as the standard bearers of Hungarian national traditions. Even non-religious people were proud that their ancestors stuck it out. It didn't matter how much pressure was brought to bear upon them, they endured. After a century of brutal oppression came the Edictum Tolerantiae, the Toleration Act of 1781, that made the lives of Hungarian Calvinists more tolerable. Because of their stubborn adherence to the faith they are called "stiff-necked Calvinists" in Hungary.

It was certainly more comfortable to be a Catholic in Hungary, even in the twentieth century. Although on paper the so-called "accepted churches," including the Hungarian Reformed Church, were equal, the Catholic Church had a privileged position if for no other reason than its vast land holdings and incredible wealth  acquired over the centuries. The Hungarian Calvinist churches were practically penniless. While the Catholic Church ran hundreds of schools, the Protestants had only a handful.

In 1948 practically all parochial schools were nationalized. After 1989, however, the churches could reclaim the schools they once ran. It was a fantastic deal for the churches. The government pays for the education of the children while the churches have jurisdiction over them. Not bad. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more evident that some of these parochial schools are nurturing right extremism.

There were no religiously affiliated universities in Hungary before the 1990s. Of course, the churches had seminaries where theology was taught to future priests and ministers, but all universities were secular. Since that time both the Catholics and the Protestants have established their own universities. The Protestant Gáspár Károli Hungarian Reformed University is developing a rather bad reputation because of low standards and its identification with extreme right-wing views. Practically the whole leadership of Jobbik studied at Károli.

Bishop Lóránt Hegedűs who today gives fiery speeches while flanked by uniformed members of the Hungarian Guard was instrumental in the establishment of the university. His son, also called Lóránt, is a loud-mouthed anti-Semite. Gábor Vona, head of Jobbik, was a student at Károli. So was Csanád Szegedi, currently a member of the three-person Jobbik delegation to the European Parliament in Brussels. Dávid Kovács, the first chairman of Jobbik, teaches "intellectual history between the two world wars" at Károli. Zsolt Attila Borbély from Romania is a political scientist who also teaches at Károli; he was on the Jobbik European parliamentary list.

When Mária Vásárhelyi and her team published a study about students of history and their attitude toward Jews and Gypsies and found that Károli's students were especially anti-Semitic and racist, Dávid Kovács responded that "Mária Vásárhelyi and her team mix up rascism and anti-Semitism with national feeling that is indeed strong at universities especially among those who study history." I'm sure his courses go a long way toward instilling this "national feeling." By the way, in 2004 a young guy burned an Israeli flag. He turned out to be a student from Károli.

Something is very wrong at Károli and it's not just ideology. The university seems to be run as a family business. Apparently many of those who hold important posts in the administration and head departments are related to each other. The list of "relatives" is very long.

But most disturbing is the fact that these universities are financed with public money. Public money is being used to inculcate a new generation with the ideas of the Hungarian extreme right.

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John T
Guest

Eva – This ties in with what I suggested in my comments on your previous article. But as I said there, both the left and right are guilty of or have been guilty of this – the students are the pawns / sheep / fodder in the wider political game, which is all rather distasteful. I guess the right will argue that after 40 years of communism, it is their turn.
And if the administrators of these institutions can also make a cosy living on the backs of the students, all the better. The poor souls don’t even realise they are being used / screwed by their fellow Hungarians – but then no doubt they’ve been taught that it is only nasty foreigners that will screw them.

Hank
Guest
Let me add here that Éva is making a caracature of the University. There are also many decent, moderate and respected professors teaching there (including the head of the history department, a former ambassador to Holland and South Africa) and the head of the Kremlinology department who is the grandson of Béla Kun). Also, I’m sure the majority of students wouldn’t recognize themselves in this picture. So suggesting that we are dealing here with an extremist right-wing bullwork which should be denied state funding for education is way over the top. It is – again I’m afraid – leftish innuendo and scaremongering. And what is next: vetting all teachers to see what their political opinions are and throw out all those who vote Jobbik? I agree it is interesting to investigate (so maybe I will) where this radical right-wing sentiment among young people comes from (Hungarian calvinism and the Kuruc), how this developed at this university, and how this peer group evolved to become a Jobbik nucleus. But I also wouldn’t take Maria Vasarhely’s word for it that radical right wing sentiment is significantly stronger at this university than elsewhere. In my opinion, MV’s work doesn’t stand out by being… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Hank: “and the head of the Kremlinology department who is the grandson of Béla Kun).”
Well, I wouldn’t be so proud of Miklós Kun. It’s worth looking at his activities during the Kádár regime and now. I have very low opinion of these people.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Karoli is such a fine university that out of 9,000 universities it ranks 5789! (http://www.4icu.org/reviews/1952.htm)Moreover, it doesn’t matter how you try to explain it away it cannot be a coincidence that the whole Jobbik top crew attended this particular university.

Hank
Guest

Eva: “Well, I wouldn’t be so proud of Miklós Kun. It’s worth looking at his activities during the Kádár regime and now.”
First of all, this means what? It suggests something very bad, but doesn’t spell it out. That’s what I call innuendo.
Secondly, it is totally beside the points I’m making.

Hank
Guest

Eva: “It cannot be a coincidence that the whole Jobbik top crew attended this particular university.”
Sure, but might it not be the other way around; that there is this peer group of young people which, under the influence of one or two professors and political developments (September-October 2006), develop radical right wing ideas and become the core of Jobbik? Very well possible, but that doesn’t make the entire university a bullwork of right wing extremism.
And as far as its ranking is concerned: we were not talking about the quality of education, but about the perceived political leaning of the university, whether state funding should be granted or not, etc.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Hank: “It suggests something very bad, but doesn’t spell it out. That’s what I call innuendo.”
I thought I would be nicer if I don’t go into the details. But if you insist. In 1979 György Borsányi wrote a surprisingly balanced book about Béla Kun. Miklós immediately went to Kádár and complained. As a result a few days after its appearance, the book was withdrawn and the copies destroyed.
As late as 1986 Miklós Kun wrote another letter to Kádár demanding proper celebration of the centennial of his grandfather’s birth. And today he and his wife belong to the far right. That is too much for me.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Hank: “And as far as its ranking is concerned: we were not talking about the quality of education, but about the perceived political leaning of the university, whether state funding should be granted or not, etc.”
Oh, I wouldn’t single out Károli. I wouldn’t give a penny to any of the parochial schools. I do believe in the separation of church and state. If people want to send their children to parochial school, they should pay for it.

John T
Guest

Hank – I think you are probably right in saying that a lot of decent work goes on there. But like everywhere else in the world, campuses will often have a tradition of being conservative, liberal etc. in certain departments. And of course what you learn / how you learn influences your outlook on the world. So if a group of professors are particularly conservative / religious / nationalist, it would be perfectly understandable if that rubbed of on the students. It may also be that they do have a wider political agenda – who knows.
But clearly, a number of former students seem to have moved on (or graduated) into key roles in Jobbik. Is this co-incidence or part of a wider game? – again who knows. But for those in Hungary who have a religious / conservative / nationalist outlook on life, and feel threatened by the increasing secularisation of societies elsewhere in Europe, I would have thought that trying to “stem the tide” by exerting influence within the education system makes perfect sense.

Mark
Guest

Eva: “I thought I would be nicer if I don’t go into the details”
Magyar Narancs already did this time four years ago: http://www.mancs.hu/index.php?gcPage=/public/hirek/hir.php&id=12616
Everbody has a right to change their mind about things, but it is quite a transition.
On the general point, I have often thought that within the Humanities the line between rigorous academic study and political propaganda is often blurred in Hungary, rather too much. And I can think of at least one person on the staff pages of this university with whom I’ve had academic discussions (no names, subjects, or areas of specialism mentioned), where the said person was prepared pretty openly to deny matters of fact because they contradicted that persons ideological world view. I don’t want to single out this institution, or even the right – I’ve have similar conversations with those on the left over the years. Then you create separate universities that are organized around these worldviews – so the various denominational ones, CEU for fans of the Soros Foundation etc. And, we wonder why strange things happen with the ex-students of these institutions, or why a culture of academic debate is not as well developed as it ought to be.

Hank
Guest
John T.: “I would have thought that trying to “stem the tide” by exerting influence within the education system makes perfect sense.” It depends on what “excerting influence” means. Does it mean not allowing teachers who vote for Jobbik? Or for MSzMP? Or MSzP? I wouldn’t think so. Does it mean withdrawing funding for those universities that are not to the liking of the government of the day? I hope not. Of course these Jobbik ‘intellectuals’ come from a “conservative” university. That is stating the obvious. It would be quite surprising if they came from a university where the overall climate is leftish. But my point – once again – is that that doesn’t mean that GK University can simply be labelled as radical right wing. And it makes perfect sense to have the state take care of the basic funding of different types of schools, including religious schools: – as long as they abide by the curriculum which is the same everywhere in the country – as long as the catholic/calvinist/non-religious/jewish/ islamic character is an extra (for which the parents also pay extra in most schools) – and as long as there are always several types of schools for… Read more »
John T
Guest

It depends on what “excerting influence” means. Does it mean not allowing teachers who vote for Jobbik? Or for MSzMP? Or MSzP? I wouldn’t think so. Does it mean withdrawing funding for those universities that are not to the liking of the government of the day? I hope not.
Hank – Of course it doesn’t and I’m not saying that they shouldn’t put forward a particular point of view if they wish.
But my point is that teachers and professors have more of a chance to influence and inspire groups of people then most of us. And in the classroom at least, they have a reasonably captive audience and the chance to shape / narrow the debate. At the end of the day, we’ve all had our views shaped by our personal experiences, family members, the media etc. But education is a key shaper and if a political, social or religious grouping uses it to push their agenda, it is of course a very effective tool.

Leeflang
Guest
Before you write something, you actually should get your facts straight. To start with the fact that Jobbik-leader Gábor Vona didn’t study at Karoli, but at ELTE-University. And Morvai Krisztina studied at Elte. Tamás Gaudi-Nagy studied at Elte. Jobbik-cofounder-Dávid Kovács studied at Elte. Does that mean there is something completely wrong with Elte University? Doing some research, I actually find two leading Jobbik-people who have studied at Karoli: Szegedi Csanad and Szabó Gabor. Apart from that, Jobbik founders Dávid Kovács and Márton Fári (who both left Jobbik because they didn’t agree with the establishment of the Magyar Garda) both teach at Karoli, as did Zsolt Attila Borbély until 2007. That’s worrisome, yes, but is it enough to condemn a whole university? I won’t exclude I missed someone, but your assertion that “practically the whole leadership of Jobbik studied at Károli” is based on very thin ice. By the way, Vásárhelyi’s study was not limited to Karoli University, and it also pointed out that anti-Semitism and racism are even higher at the university of Szeged and at the catholic Pazmány university. Much higher, in the case of racism: some 73% of the Pazmány university didn’t like gypsies, and some 54% of… Read more »
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