I would like to introduce to you a truly Christian gentleman. His name is József Michl, a member of the Christian Democratic parliamentary caucus and mayor of the city of Tata. He must be a man of compassion because after all he has a degree from a college specializing in teaching the mentally retarded. He also must be full of Christian love because he also enrolled as a student of theology. But then why was "Fabius," a well-known blogger, prompted to write in today's Varánusz "That's why I will become an atheist instead of a Christian"? What did József Michl do?
Well, he did something that a good Christian and an intelligent man shouldn't have done. He proposed an amendment to the new law on public education that would have deleted a sentence that read: "The child and student cannot be submitted to corporal punishment, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment or treatment." His reason was that the sentence immediately preceding this one stated that "one must respect the personality, the human dignity and the rights of a child and student and must shield him from physical and psychological assault." To Michl's mind the sentence he wanted to excise was redundant.
One can argue whether the passage about physical punishment is redundant or not, but Michl didn't stop there. In an interview he expanded on his educational philosophy. According to him for some children a "koki," a word that became infamous as a result of Viktor Orbán's use of it after his less than fortunate appearance before the European Parliament in June, is "actually praise." Of course, he added, there are some who would run to the ombudsman after getting slapped around a bit. Thus, a fairly long debate developed between Michl, who after all worked as a special education teacher, and the reporter who also started his career as a teacher. From the conversation it became clear, at least to me, that József Michl must have used force with some of the children under his care. Moreover, it also became clear that he used corporal punishment with his own five children. He admitted that he authorized the teachers of his children to feel free "to behave like a father." In plain language these teachers were supposed to slap Michl's children around as obviously their father did at home.
Quite aside from this manifestation of Christian love from a Christian Democrat with training in theology, Mr. Michl must be an ignorant legislator to think that corporal punishment can be allowed in Hungarian schools. After all, there are international agreements that prohibit such practices and Hungary is one of the signatories to these treaties. It seems that his fellow Christian Democrats called his attention to this rather obvious fact. Most likely they also explained to him that his move was damaging to the reputation of the Christian Democratic party.
So, in two days' time he changed his tune. But his 180-degree turnabout didn't make him look any better. As a matter of fact, by then he looked absolutely ridiculous. Why? Because although he withdrew his original proposal he came up with another. This time he suggested punishment of those who "make fun of a child's religious beliefs." So, if one child calls another "szentfazék," a colloquial word for a goody-goody, overly religious person, that child should be punished. Children say worse things to each other, let's face it. Can you imagine what would happen if every child who is called names ran to the teacher and asked that his fellow student be punished? But Michl was still not satisfied and added that "one cannot allow unjust accusation of a student and naturally can't allow a lack of love toward a child" (gyermekkel szembeni szeretetlenség). So, teachers, let your hearts be filled with love. It will be mandatory.
My only experience with corporal punishment in school was in first grade during religious studies, then a compulsory subject. In those days boys and girls were taught in separate classes but there were so few Protestants that our classes were held after the regular hours and the boys and girls were put into one classroom. I don't think that there were more than five or six of us. I sat in the first row and the minister who taught us religion used to beat the boys right in front of me. He had a cane and the poor boys had to bend down on my desk, lift their jackets, and wait for the good minister to beat their behinds with his cane. Somehow I don't think that these boys considered the beatings "actually a praise." By the way, this is the only thing I remember from four years of religious studies with this charitable fellow.
All this would be only slightly amusing if I hadn't read the following news item this morning. On Monday Viktor Orbán had a meeting with members of the Fidesz-KDNP caucus in order to discuss the details of the new law on public education. He was obviously a bit behind on the status of the hundreds of amendments to the bill and thought that Michl's amendment on corporal punishment was still in the law. Orbán announced that he very much liked the idea. At this point Michl said that he had withdrawn his suggestion. Orbán's answer was "What a pity!"
One ought to know that Viktor Orbán until he was seventeen years old received serious beatings from his father who was a very strong man. According to Orbán he was able to lift 160 kg weights. According to one of his biographies Orbán for a while hated his father for the way he treated him. But interestingly enough, years later he semed to have approved of this treatment. He considered himself to have been such a difficult child that he couldn't be handled without these beatings. As he said, he knew that what he was doing was wrong but he couldn't help himself.
It is widely believed that children who were physically abused become abusers as adults. I find it telling that corporal punishment in school appealed to Viktor Orbán. Moreover, I can forgive József Michl's ignorance about international treaties, but it is much more difficult to be so forgiving with the country's prime minister.