Today’s post will be about history, even if indirectly. Two pieces of news that I read in the last couple of days prompted me to recall the past.
The first was an HVG report about what happened in a Hungarian-English bilingual high school in Balatonalmádi. Almádi is a small resort town with a population of about 8,000; this school is attended by students from all over the country. The school maintains a dormitory that houses 200 students. The maximum size of the student body is 360. It is not easy to gain entrance to this very competitive school where the grade point average varies between 4.16 and 4.37 out of 5.0. Originally mathematics, physics, biology, geography, and world history were taught in English, but thanks to the nationalistic government edicts enacted lately only world history, mathematics, and biology can now be taught in English. The students have public speaking competitions and also organize events staged by the local English Speaking Union, the Euroatlantic Club, and the United Games.
These kids, in brief, are no dummies and they know the outside world because there are a lot of opportunities for them to travel abroad. So, it’s no wonder that they didn’t take it lying down that the new principal, Mrs. Gránás neé Tünde Bácsi, called in the seniors and some of their teachers and inquired about their views on the strike and the limits on tuition-free places in the universities. Notes were taken on the students’ responses. It turned out that these written reports had to be sent to the government office in charge of the affairs of Veszprém County.
First, the parents took the initiative and got in touch with HVG. The story naturally didn’t end there. Today’s students are not like those of a couple of decades ago. They are fully aware of their rights and savvy enough to advertise their cause on the Internet. Within hours after the interrogation their story appeared on Facebook. The alumni of the school also expressed their outrage that fourteen students and five teachers had been hauled into the principal’s office. The former students of the school inquired about the circumstances of the principal’s appointment. They accused her of being ignorant of the history of the school and added that they “are ashamed of the principal’s behavior.”
The parents in no time announced their intention to sue the principal if the reports prepared on the interrogation were not destroyed by noon. And the parents are not alone. LMP is also turning to the prosecutor’s office to investigate the case. MSZP demanded the principal’s resignation. Even Rózsa Hoffmann felt that she had to do something and “asked for information concerning the affair.” According to one report, the principal was called into her office for a chat.
What does this affair echo? It was about 60-65 years ago, during the worst years of the Rákosi regime, that similar events happened in schools all over the country. But there is one difference. Today the students, their parents, the parties, the lawyers of the Hungarian equivalent of ACLU can still complain and the principal and the government officials can still be stopped. But the very fact that people of such undemocratic views are put into leading positions in educational and cultural institutions is a frightening prospect.
I had a similar experience when I was twelve years old. Several of us were hauled into the principal’s office where beside the principal sat a local party secretary. We were supposed to reveal the sins of our Hungarian teacher. I think I handled this affair fairly well given my tender age, but in Hungary in those days children learned fast about the political facts of life. Eventually my father, showing no small courage, intervened. He told me to invite the accused teacher to visit us and promised her that he would talk to the woman who accused the teacher of pro-German leanings. The accuser happened to be the wife the new worker-CEO of a local factory. By that time the woman was sorry but it was too late to do anything. The teacher was fired.
About three years later, when I was already in high school, a friend of mine from the old school and I were called into the building of the school board. We couldn’t figure out why, but we knew that such mandated visits always meant trouble. Yes, there was trouble but this time not for us but for the principal and the party secretary who interrogated us. It was their turn to be kicked out and perhaps even to go to jail. Those were the days!
Another story also brought up the “good old days.” And that is the story of György Fekete, the newly appointed chairman of the right-wing Academy of Arts. I wrote about him briefly a couple of days ago. At that time I mentioned that Fekete made a few remarks that clearly indicated that art and literature will from here on serve the government’s ideological agenda. Today I’m looking into the veracity of the man.
Two days ago I read a fairly lengthy portrait of György Fekete in Origo. According to the article, Fekete in an interview on Hír TV said that, although he wasn’t a “real” revolutionary as some 56-ers claim, he was the leader of a 40-member national guard that was formed at the Academy of Applied Arts. As a result he ended up in jail for several months. But, he added, luckily no trace of his activities remained.
Fekete told another story about 1956. The reason that he never wears a necktie is his awful experience on October 23. He happened to be at a party on Sándor Bródy Street. While they were merrily dancing a bullet came through the window that ended up in the head of the girl he was dancing with. “The brain of the girl trickled down on my necktie.”
I don’t know whether Fekete’s fellow academicians believe this cock-eyed story or not, but I can safely say that this couldn’t have happened. I lived about 200 meters (2 minutes) from the radio building and people simply weren’t partying while bullets were flying outside. As for his being the head of a 40-member national guard unit at his university, that must also be the figment of Fekete’s imagination. The university simply didn’t have a national guard unit. There are also pretty good records on people who were arrested and there is no sign of Fekete on any of the lists. So, most likely his entire tale of 1956 is a pack of lies. Hungarian fine arts will be in great hands.