A political initiative of college students–Will it succeed?

Yesterday I was elated when I read an article about the founding of an organization of college and university students. The organizers named it "Hallgatói Hálózat" (Student Network). I was glad for at least three reasons. First and foremost because I consider the current apolitical attitude of Hungarian students a dangerous development with far-reaching consequences for the future. Second, because from the description it became clear that this is a left-liberal initiative which is a welcome development in university circles where the students, to the extent that they care about politics at all, seem to be attracted to Fidesz and Jobbik. And third, I consider the decision made about twenty years ago that forbade political activities within the colleges and universities harmful.

Although I disapprove of the Antall government's decision to ban political activities within the institutes of higher learning, I understand the thinking behind it at the time. MSZMP and its youth organization, KISZ (Kommunista Ifjúsági Szövetség), were seemingly omnipresent. All work places had local party cells that played a somewhat sinister role: they were the political watchdogs on the local level. In high schools and colleges it was KISZ that had a similar role. The new democratic government very rightly wanted to get rid of these party cells from offices, factories, and schools. Where, in my opinion, the government went wrong was that it banished all political activities from the universities.

I am not familiar with the situation in this respect in Europe, but in North America and Great Britain it is customary to have "parties," political groups represented on campuses. These "parties" are student-led groups where people who are attracted to a national party or an ideology can gather. I'm most familiar with the Yale Political Union that was founded in 1934 and modelled on the Cambridge Union Society and the Oxford Union. It was established in order to foster political culture. The Union is an umbrella organization that currently includes several parties: the Liberal Party, the Party of the Left, the Independent Party, the Federalist Party, the Conservative Party, and the Tory Party. As you can see, they don't correspond to the party structure of the United States. These parties are actually independent debating societies where students learn the art of civilized and intelligent political discourse.

The decision of the Antall government twenty years ago, although understandable, was a serious mistake. Politics naturally couldn't be completely banished from the universities, but what was missing was the transparency of the students' political activities.

Moved by democratic impulses, a new student organization was created that allegedly represented student interests and in this respect resembled a trade union. The leaders of these student unions get paid and they have a fairly large budget. Among other things, they hand out stipends to the needy. I've heard horror stories about these student unions and their questionable financial dealings. Moreover, according to people who are familiar with the situation, these student unions were the breeding ground for budding Jobbik leaders, and it was here that young Fidesz politicians learned the art of politicking, mostly against the university's administration.

The slogan of the new Student Network is "It's not enough to 'like', you must organize." And they were organizing against Rózsa Hoffmann's ideas on higher education. It was no coincidence that the group was founded at Corvinus University which at one point was supposed to be divided up among several lesser known universities. The Network was organizing a whole night of activities that was open to college and university students. They planned the all-night bash for tomorrow to coincide with the "revolution of the clowns," but the students were also mindful that it was twenty-two years ago, on June 16, 1989, that Viktor Orbán made his famous speech about the Hungarian youth at the reburial of Imre Nagy.

Between eight and midnight the organizers were planning to have lectures on three topics: the problems of higher education, the connection between politics and ideology, and the responsibility of the younger generation. After midnight the participants would have had a free discussion on the topics heard earlier and anything else that was on their minds.

But it is very possible that there will be no Student Network and all-night bash at Corvinus. The university's president announced that "the university is not allowing the gathering for technical and substantive reasons." Apparently, the authorities consider the gathering "too political" in nature. The e-mail that was sent to all Corvinus students today announced that the whole university will be shut tight.

Tamás Mészáros, president of the university, is a man of liberal convictions and surely in theory he is not against the students' initiative. Rather, I think he is afraid that after such a gathering of students the government's rather negative feelings about Corvinus as the "hotbed of liberal economics" will only intensify. He is hoping to save his university and he thinks that the students' activities might make his negotiations more difficult. Most likely Mészáros is right.

But students in general cannot easily be persuaded by such arguments. They are continuing their efforts to hold the planned program. On Facebook the organizers noted that forbidding the meeting "amply demonstrates the need to do something."

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Sandor
Guest

Here is the students’ and the University’s opportunity to refuse to be intimidated.
If it is not kopasetic to hold the rally inside the university, they should hold it outside, or at an other venue.
Similarly, as the government called to duty all police personnel for the day of the protest, they should show up and work to rule, tying up the whole country.
Unfortunately, the lack of training in democracy is sorely showing at times like this. There is no tradition of civilized resistance and everybody is susceptible to the bullying. But this won’t last forever. The people are getting mad and in a few months there will be no segment left in this society that were not antagonized in some fashion.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Sandor: “If it is not kopasetic to hold the rally inside the university, they should hold it outside, or at an other venue.”
Since I wrote the piece this is exactly what happened. They will meet in front of the main building of the university and will hold the meeting at another, still undisclosed venue.

Paul
Guest

“He is hoping to save his university and he thinks that the students’ activities might make his negotiations more difficult. Most likely Mészáros is right.”
This is how it begins. You don’t need laws and secret police if fear alone will do the job for you.
By chance, I was reading about Goebbels (Hitler’s propaganda minister) yesterday, and reading this today really struck a chord. In his infamous diaries, Goebbels notes that in the early days of Hitler’s takeover, his job was make easy by people’s self-censorship and caution. By the time they realised that Hitler wasn’t going away and they should have made a stand earlier, it was too late.
Mészáros is NOT right. Now, whilst the coming dictatorship is still relatively weak, is precisely the time to make a stand. OV isn’t going to go away either, especially if no one stands up to him now (how else is he going to be removed, or even resisted, otherwise?).
By the time people like Mészáros realise just how serious things are, it will be far too late.

peter litvanyi
Guest

I agree with Paul.

Member

Regarding fear and not standing up to the government. Those of us in Western Europe and North America are fortunate because we live in states where the economy is a pluralist collection of different interests, some of the business interests are bigger than the state and people have enough surplus income to ensure that charitable or NGO sectors can still be funded to some degree even if the state withdraws its support.
In a smaller lower income country the state has a much bigger stranglehold on the economy and jobs through regulation and procurement. Communism hasn’t fully gone away. In Britain or the US if you want to be rich you try to get into business, in Hungary you try to get your relatives into politics to divert state spending your way.
In other words it takes a lot more courage to stand up and be counted in Hungary.

kis fiu
Guest

David is absolutely correct. Even if you dont necessarily want to get rich but just want to hold onto your job … in academia (which is what I am familiar with) there is MTA and state universities and one private university (CEU.) So if you are a Hungarian academic, chances are very good that you are employed by the state.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Strange that our beloved students feel the need to demonstrate despite nobody from the government has ever said anything that would hint that Corvinus would be disbanded or anything.
It is probably 100% politically motivated.

Paul
Guest
Agreed. Although it is relative – not much chance of being shot or tortured, for instance. Or at least not yet. But, yes, it does take a lot of courage, even in relatively ‘soft’ countries to stand up and risk reputation, job, etc. I know from my own experience how different it is between being a young man with no responsibilities and being married with kids and a mortgage. Making a stand now, over even minor issues is a completely different cup of tea to what it was just 10 years ago. So those who do stand up to be counted, even here in the UK, have my utmost respect. However, that wasn’t my point. The key to resistance is to do it at the right time and that is invariably at the beginning, before the new regime is fully established. By then it is too late. Stand up and say ‘no’ at the beginning and maybe that will achieve something. Wait and see if it’s going to get worse, and you’ve missed your one opportunity to change things for the better. Imagine if the German people had reacted in the same way to the Nazis as ‘we’ did in… Read more »
Johnny Boy
Guest

“‘reasonableness’ of the left.”
Such a pure paradox is a very rare sight.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
The students can parade, demonstrate and “Hallgatói Hálózat” (Student Network) until they are blue in the face. Orban Viktor will still be there, but their universities and grants may not be. The people can stamp their feet in the streets until the Gunpowder runs from the heels of their boots, but Orban Viktor will still be there. The president of the university Tamás Mészáros, can ban all he likes, jump through hoops and balance a live eel on the end of his nose. Orban Viktor will still be there. Mészáros’s university may well not be. Is it not written by Orban Viktor himself that all MUST co-operate with his, (Orban’s), wishes and will. It is therefore, according to this proclamation, Mészáros, duty to do so. He will not be rewarded in any way, shape or form for doing his duty. If his university to close (and) or him to go that is it! The Electorate voted to open ‘Pandora’s Box’ and out has trotted Orban Viktor and Fidesz. The people must remember that once you open a can of worms you need a very large can to re-can them. Something else also sneaked out ‘hope’ (in the form of European… Read more »
Johnny Boy
Guest

“The people can stamp their feet in the streets until the Gunpowder runs from the heels of their boots, but Orban Viktor will still be there.”
I see frustration can become very severe when you are voted out of power.
But that’s life.

deakLIBERAL
Guest

Posted by Sandor “Unfortunately, the lack of training in democracy is sorely showing at times like this. There is no tradition of civilized resistance and everybody is susceptible to the bullying. But this won’t last forever. The people are getting mad and in a few months there will be no segment left in this society that were not antagonized in some fashion.”
Ferenc Deak was one of the most progressive and ethical politicians of the world history.
He cultivated the policies of nonViolence with 100% success.
It is strange that he is not a prophet in his own country. A little lesson in Deak, would lift all Hungarians to the highest level of democracy.
Will we ever see the end of the fooling of the citizens?

Pete H.
Guest

Eva, I was at today’s protest. I can send you pictures. I took many pictures of protest placards and I have a copy of the “ballot” slip. I assume you have access to my email address. Please, contact me there if you are interested. If you do a post on the rally I will make an extended comment on my observations.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Proof that these protests are far from protest against pension changes only, but rather general political protests of the “elkúró” political side.

Kirsten
Guest
kis fiu: “So if you are a Hungarian academic, chances are very good that you are employed by the state.” But there are many countries in Europe where universities are publicly funded and not private institutions and it is still expected that the reaserchers are independent in their work. Which includes criticism of the government or current policies. The Hungarian state has been captured by a group of people (not only since last year, but Fidesz is now optimising the system), and the mechanism how this is being validated every day by many people needs to be found out. Although it sounds easy, it is not, because it can be in the small gestures (such as not allowing students to hold their meeting in the university) that show how powerful the ruling “elite” is. Obedience in communism was demonstrated in a similar way. But that also shows that actions of individuals although brave cannot change too much. It needs the organised protest and an idea of what the current system should be replaced with. For me it is also in the unfortunate combination of people distrusting the state (cheating in taxes etc.) while expecting benefits from it, but still refraining… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest

Paul (I do not know whether you go back to the Kossuth thread), thank you for the answer on my Kossuth question.

Pete H.
Guest
I should make it clear that I was at the “clown” protest. It was hardly a protest of the left. If that was your meaning Kis Janos. The majority present were union members (firefighters, police, border guards, armed forces) and working class people. There were a fair number of white collar participants and college-aged people. As far as party representation, there were a few people that could be identified as from the Communist Party and Jobbik. Most people did not wear anything that would directly identify them with a particular party. Lots of placards and t-shirts that stated they had supported Fidesz but lost faith in them. Here is the URL for my photo album from the protest: http://photobucket.com/clownprotest Please feel free to use these images for non-commercial use. There are lots of pictures of placards in the photoset. For those of you who read Hungarian, you can see that these folks are fed-up with the ruling party. It’s not only those on the left that are calling OV a dictator, but those on the right as well. Things are not well in Hungary Kis Janos. Last night a conversation with a lawyer (30 yrs old), an entrepreneur (45 yrs),… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Pete H: I should make it clear that I was at the “clown” protest. It was hardly a protest of the left. If that was your meaning Kis Janos. The majority present were union members (firefighters, police, border guards, armed forces) and working class people.”
I don’t know whether you heard or not but the government announced that the demonstration was “political.” I think that in a way the government is right. This wasn’t simply a demonstration for higher wages or better and earlier pensions. Although most of the people were trade union members they wanted more than financial benefits. They demonstrated against the undemocratic regime of Viktor Orbán. And there is nothing wrong with it. In fact, I consider it a plus and somewhat unique. Compare that demonstration with some of the Greek demonstrations and here I’m not talking about the differences in quality: violent versus peaceful. The Greeks protest only against the austerity measures. The Hungarian trade unions beside their own financial interest seem to be worried about the state of democracy.

Kirsten
Guest

Eva: “And there is nothing wrong with it.”
That should be very much emphasised. (I would not even know how such a protest could be “apolitical” if it is the politicians that decided about this specific form of austerity measures and who call protesting people “clowns”.)

Paul
Guest

My earlier post was a reply to David’s, just in case that wasn’t clear.
At the time of posting (and for some time afterwards!) it followed on immediately after David’s post. That it no longer does is one of those wonders of Typepad that we have all come to love so much.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Pete H: nice crowd of people. Don’t you think they’re a bit too young to be pensioners?

Johnny Boy
Guest

“politicians that decided about this specific form of austerity measures and who call protesting people “clowns”.”
And that’s how lies are spread.
Please quote who called the protesting people clowns.

Paul
Guest

“I see frustration can become very severe when you are voted out of power.
But that’s life.”
So true, JB. I trust you and OV will take things so philosophically when it next happens to you.
Strangely, I don’t remember OV being quite this calm in 2002 or 2006.

Paul
Guest

Pete H – many thanks for the photos, much appreciated.
I’ve always pooh-poohed the phrase ‘citizen journalism’, thinking it to be hype made up by media people trying to fill space on a quiet day. But I was wrong – and I’m very glad I was.
I’m not sure I understand the Smith Pál banner though – I think it translates as “is that a promise?”. Is that right? If so, what was the “promise”?

Kirsten
Guest

Johnny, I admit I could not find this quoted in Magyar Nemzet or Magyar Hirlap, so might be that in papers that inform you this was not covered. I am sorry to convey this sad news but it was your superstar who did that. (And perhaps you did come across why today was bohocforradalom celebrating the first anniversary of fülkeforradalom.)

Paul
Guest

Thanks for your ‘thanks’, Kirsten.
After I posted my comments re Kossuth I had a terrible moment of doubt, wondering if I had misinterpreted your post in my enthusiasm for the ‘Kossuth question’ and that my reply might have seemed horribly patronising.
I was very relieved to read your reply!

Kirsten
Guest

Paul, not at all, my impression is that certain political ideas have been presented in a rather odd combination in Hungary. “Freedom” was the main issue of the aristocracy (which interpreted it as freedom from paying taxes and freedom from having to extend political rights to the entire (male or not) population), broad suffrage and freedom of the press were demanded by people who at the same time fought for national homogeneity and so forth. And now Orban who swears by the Holy Crown being related to Kossuth the hero of 1848 made me think how this came about. From what you wrote I learned Kossuth was varied enough that many people can find inspiration in his work.

Member

Johnny “Don’t you think they’re a bit too young to be pensioners?”
I don’t want to be dinged by you for misinterpreting what you’re saying, so I’m offering 2 versions. What did you mean?
1. They deserve to loose their pensions, because they are too young? Well, a contarct is contract. Without law and order we are toast.
2. There were young people who hate the Orban regime. Duh.
Pete H: Awsome picts. I shared you on Facebook. We all should do the same.

Paul
Guest

Kirsten – like so many famous figures of history, the ‘real’ Kossuth is far more interesting than the one of myth (our own Winston Churchill must be the supreme example of this).
Kossuth was a flawed and complex character, both an idealist and a pragmatist. At the same time a failure, at least partly as a result of personal flaws, but also very nearly a success at just about the most difficult task in history, the organisation and completion of a revolution.
He is a very ‘Hungarian’ (one might equally say ‘English’) hero, in that he is revered for attempting something great, but ultimately failing to achieve it. He embodies the classic Hungarian self-image: heroic, but doomed to failure through no fault of his own.
It tells you a lot about both Fidesz and Hungarians in general, that the triumvirate of national symbols on which so much supposed national, political and even personal character is based are Kossuth, the Holy Crown and Trianon – the three things from Hungarian history (along with the ‘conquest’) which are probably least accurately understood by most Hungarians.

Paul
Guest

Mutt makes a crucial point about this crazy pensions legislation – whatever people might think of the rights and wrongs of the situation, these people took what was rightfully theirs by the terms of their contracts and the law of the day.
It is one of the most basic aspects of law and justice that laws cannot be imposed retrospectively, so that what was lawful suddenly becomes unlawful.
If you break that basic logic of law and order, what follows can only be disorder and anarchy. How can a society operate when no one is sure that what is right and lawful today won’t become criminal tomorrow?
I would genuinely like to see how JB defends this. Not on the basis of his personal or political feelings about early retirement, but on the simple point of the basic injustice of changing laws retrospectively.

wpDiscuz