Matriculation and politics: A couple of conspiracy theories

During the month of May people seem to be preoccupied with news about the Hungarian matriculation exams. All of the questions are thoroughly discussed in the media. Everybody has an opinion about the quality of the questions, their difficulty, and their political implications if any.

I find this national preoccupation odd. After all, how high school graduates perform on these examinations should really be the concern of the students and their parents. Moreover, matriculation means a great deal less than it did, let’s say, a hundred or even fifty years ago. Before World War II matriculation was the dividing line between the middle class and the rest of society. After the war the number of high school graduates grew significantly, and thus a matriculation certificate means a great deal less today than it did in the olden days.

Judging from past experience, this matriculation mania will last for weeks, but the first few days are the truly exciting ones as far as the Hungarian public is concerned because Hungarian language and literature and history are the first two subjects to be tested.

Commencement exercises

Commencement exercises

This morning students spent four hours writing answers to the questions on the Hungarian test, which had two parts. The first was a reading and comprehension test of a text on linguistics. The second required the students to write an essay on one of three possible topics.

As usual, this year’s Hungarian test has its critics. One possible topic was a short story by Sándor Márai (1900-1989); apparently, that was the most popular choice. The second was an essay by Leszek Kołakowski, the Polish philosopher, who is, as I found out, not well known in Hungary. Most likely the students had no idea who the man was. But it was the third that  raised the most eyebrows. Students were supposed to compare two epigrams: one by Dániel Berzsenyi (1776-1836) and the other by Mihály Vörösmarty (1800-1855). Both are about Napoleon Bonaparte.

Let me quote the Berzsenyi poem first:

Napóleonhoz

Nem te valál győző, hanem a kor lelke: szabadság,
Melynek zászlóit hordta dicső sereged.
A népek fényes csalatásba merülve imádtak,
S a szent emberiség sorsa kezedbe került.
Ámde te azt tündér kényednek alája vetetted,
S isteni pálmádat váltja töviskoszorú.
Amely kéz felemelt, az ver most porba viszontag;
Benned az emberiség ügye bosszulva vagyon.

(1814)

The soul of the age was Liberty whose flags your victorious armies carried. People worshiped you and the fate of mankind was in your hands. However, you surrendered it to your pleasure, and a crown of thorns replaced your laurels. The hand that raised you now throws you into the dust.

Then the Vörösmarty poem:

NAPOLEON

Nagy volt ő s nagysága miatt megdőlnie kellett;
Ég és föld egyaránt törtek elejteni őt:
Tűrni nagyobbat irígy lőn a sáralkatu ember,
S tűrni hasonlót nem bírtak az istenek is.

1833

He was great and because of his greatness he had to fall; Heaven and earth endeavored to make him descend: Man made of dust is jealous of the greater one and even gods could not tolerate his kind.

The president of the Association of Hungarian Teachers, I think rightly, claims that there is no way anyone can write a fairly long essay comparing these two epigrams. He also added that “the task borders on the embarrassing.” He is not alone in believing that the choice of Napoleon was not a coincidence.

Actually, I find this theory a bit of a stretch, but I agree that the Kołakowski essay “On travel”  was selected as part of an effort to dissuade Hungarian students from leaving the country and studying in some other European Union country. In the essay Kołakowski claims that people don’t travel in order to learn “because everything we can learn during a trip can be learned perhaps even better without travel.” The reason for travel is to escape  from everyday problems in addition to satisfying one’s curiosity.

It is unlikely that such a primitive little trick would deter some of those who are serious about leaving Hungary to study elsewhere. Here is a series of cartoons that appeared in Index, drawn by “grafitember.” A girl who is just graduating from high school stops at the corner store to buy a chocolate bar. She and the store owner are old acquaintances.

-Aunt Rose, kiss your hand! The usual chocolate bar, please!

-Oh, my dear Panni, you see this day arrived after all. Are you worried or did you study hard?

-I am not so great in Hungarian but I’m prepared.

-Where are you going from here?

-To Vienna, just as half of my class. Perhaps archaeology or management.

Indeed, it seems that the best and the brightest are planning to study abroad. Despite this exodus, Viktor Orbán today talked about how he is going to make Hungary the “land of knowledge.” Yes, from less and less money and fewer and fewer university graduates.

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Cakewalk
Guest

Sorry, this is Hungarian paranoia at its most tiresome. The Polish essay reflects on topical themes but to interpret it as “propaganda” is just silly.

Ben Leb (@yourlawstudent)
Guest

I am mightily impressed by the sheer idiocy of this assertion. The fantastic creativity and effort going into the creation of theories such as this may better be invested into meaningful policy making and proper political opposition.

cheshire cat
Guest

Eva, having read the original cartoon, this part

“- I am not so great in Hungarian but I’m prepared.

-Where are you going from here?”

would be a bit better translated as

“- I don’t particularly need Hungarian but I’m prepared.
– Where are you planning to go after secondary?”

adding that Hungarians refer to “Literacy” as “Hungarian”.

Member
The word “érettségi” (the matriculation) is derived from the verb “érik”, which is something like “to mature” in English. So when we had the “érettségi” (early 80’s) I had the impression the it was somehow a test for adulthood, maturity, that is the ability to survive in LIFE. The written exams by the way were followed by oral exams. So I had this theory that one of the three electable subjects was always something that gave you the chance to bullshit your way out of the exam, even if you had no clue about the whole thing. I mean two of them required serious studying and factual knowledge but the third was for the players. For instance in my case I got the play “Bánk Bán” on the oral exam. The question was “Why became the Bánk Bán a patriotic drama” or something like that. That crap is so boring I probably read the first 20 pages of it. But the questions was a chance for bullshit galore. Guess what? I got a 4 (out of 5). You did the oral in front of a five teacher committee. Only the “president” of the group came from another school, to insure… Read more »
Wondercat
Guest

To compare / contrast the poems on Napoleon should have been a doddle. Brief summary of Napoleon’s decision to grasp the imperium; anecdote of Beethoven withdrawing the dedication of the “Eroica”; hysteria that greets the new (Nobel Prize to Barack Obama) followed by disappointment as deep as elation was high (Guantanamo still not closed); in any event, great men and women in history never elicit unanimity of opinion, role of the poet to articulate sentiment rather than to provide “objective” assessment… Five minutes to outline it and the thing writes itself. The president of the Teachers’ Association needs to get out more.

tappanch
Guest

Tavares’s work document about Hungary dated May 2 is here:

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meetdocs/2009_2014/documents/libe/pr/935/935253/935253en.pdf

Joe Simon
Guest

What is really odd, almost ludicrous, is the highly centralized system of the ‘érettségi’ exams.
All questions in all subjects are formulated by the Ministry of Education in Budapest. No effort is made to reflect and nourish the regional differences of the country. Surley, Debrecen or Pécs are different from Budapest and questions in literature and history should reflect this fact.

Zakars
Guest

Spot on post.

But Fidesz has the nuclear missile with the utility price decrease. They already collected 1.5million signatures to support the Government’s efforts to decrease utility prices.

The opposition cannot counter Fidesz with any issue that sticks and the tobbacco swindle case was forgotten. If you tell Fidesz something, they counter it it that the real issue of the day is that utility prices decrease.

Fidesz will win with a landslide under the new election system.

http://www.origo.hu/itthon/20130506-nem-tud-mit-kezdeni-az-ellenzek-a-rezsicsokkentessel.html

oneill
Guest

Not completely OTT, 54,000 Hungarians migrate to Germany last year. Highest figure since 1995 and it would be interesting to see the figure for the UK:
http://www.portfolio.hu/gazdasag/munkaugy/54_ezer_magyar_koltozott_nemetorszagba_tavaly.183610.html

A Lajos
Guest

Oneill: Good riddance, they probably would have voted for the meeting. And only a tiny fraction will be able to vote at the embassies.

Export 500,000 voters most of which are unhappy with the Fidesza, but import circa 500,000 voters from Romania, Serbia and the Ukraine (with the ethnic Hugarian neutralisation program) most of which are supportive of Fidesz. Well done.

A Lajos
Guest

Meeting: I meant oppositon. Sorry.

Guest

Please correct me if I’m wrong:

“Matriculation” is the process of getting your “Matura” (Austria) or “Abitur” (Germany) ?
In Germany it’s also called “Reifeprüfung” – they used this word btw for the famous movie with Dustin Hofmann and “Mrs Robinson” (I’m sorry, I forgot the original title …)

It would be interesting to compare the numbers:

When I got my Abitur (more than 50 years ago) we were a minority of maybe 15 % in Germany – now about 50 % of the pupils visit the Gymnasium or equivalent and get their Abitur – which entitles them to go to university.

How high is the percentage in Hungary ?

Maybe a bit OT (but not too much):

In Germany you usually have 13 years of school until your Abitur – a few years ago a new system was introduced that takes one year less: 4 years primary school and 8 instead of 9 years Gymnasium – but parents, teachers and pupils complained “This is too hard” so you have the alternative now in many schools of 9 years Gymnasium again.

Member

Wondercat :
To compare / contrast the poems on Napoleon should have been a doddle.

Exactly! That’s what I’m talking about.

My choice would have been the Polish philos guy. I would have torn him into pieces explaining why it is a mindless stupid idea staying home that goes against the century old wisdom. By the way this is an interesting question on grading. Do you have to agree with the author? What was Orban Viktor’s “advice” (wink) to the teachers?

It probably took them a while to Google up somebody in a 500 km radius who writes something like this about travelling. What if they found one only in Mongolia …

Member

Landscape from tramway #6 along the main boulevard.

tall, big man,
camouflaged military sack on his back,
black shirt with map of greater Hungary, turul-like ugly animal and “rovas” script on it,
belt with a long knife openly dangling.

Member

tappanch :
Landscape from tramway #6 along the main boulevard.
tall, big man,
camouflaged military sack on his back,
black shirt with map of greater Hungary, turul-like ugly animal and “rovas” script on it,
belt with a long knife openly dangling.

Must be Orban’s new candidate for the position of undersecretary of education …

Tyrker
Guest

wolfi :
In Germany you usually have 13 years of school until your Abitur – a few years ago a new system was introduced that takes one year less: 4 years primary school and 8 instead of 9 years Gymnasium

During communism – well, socialism – in Hungary, the system was the opposite: 8 years of primary school + 4 years of gimnázium or szakközépiskola (Fachhochschule). Since the regime change of 1989-1990, we’ve got all sorts of split: 4+8, 6+6, 8+4… you name it. Those who go from a regular primary school to a bilingual secondary school often have one year inserted, which is dedicated to learning a foreign language, so they end up studying 13 years instead of 12 before taking the érettségi exams.

Tyrker
Guest

Tyrker :

szakközépiskola (Fachhochschule)

Eh, my bad… make that “Fachmittelschule” if you use that word in Germany (I know they do in Switzerland – not sure about Germany though).

Jano
Guest

Delighted to see that you choose the picture taken at my former high school:) Sad thing is that it’s closing down this year…

Member

Apropos bilingual secondary schools …

Do your remember the scandal at the English Bilingual High School in Balatonalmadi a few month back? When the kids were interrogated commie secret service style by Tunde Bacsi, the new Fidesz appointed principal? Yup. She’s still there. A real Fidesz trooper never resigns. She is a typical Fidesz commissar, member of the local presbyterium.

At the graduation ceremony one of the speeches was read by two students. One sentence was in English then the same was repeated in Hungarian. Well, almost the same … Like they said in English “We’ll have fond memories of drinking together …” then in Hungarian “We’ll have fond memories of the study groups …” or in English “we would like to thank almost everyone for the things they did for us.” then in Hungarian “we would like to thank everyone for the things they did for us”.

Everybody was laughing … except the Fidesz principal. She didn’t speak English …

Here is the transcript: http://bit.ly/YD7k75

Member

“Lauder apologized for some of the criticism he had leveled during the assembly at Orban. On Monday, he chastised Orban for not mentioning Jobbik, the country’s third-largest political movement, in the prime minister’s speech to the opening session and suggested Orban was being soft on Jobbik in order to win right-wing votes.

Lauder said he had not known about an interview Orban gave to the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot ahead of the WJC meeting in which Orban had called Jobbik “a real danger, an increasing danger.””

Weak hands.

Member

Simicska’s EU-money skimming Kozgep is highly profitable again.

http://most.444.hu/2013/05/07/jo-evet-zart-a-kozgep/

houswife77
Guest

Indeed, every country in the EU is today clearly competing on the labour market for the trained and able workers. With the demographic decline this might become the centerpiece of the state influence on the economy and politics. This game is today well under way.

Member

After some hesitation, then saying the opposite, now
Fidesz is not willing to give out any info about the tobacco license tender, claiming the info is not of public interest:

http://www.origo.hu/itthon/20130507-nem-adjak-ki-a-trafikos-palyazatokat.html

petofi
Guest

tappanch :
“Lauder apologized for some of the criticism he had leveled during the assembly at Orban. On Monday, he chastised Orban for not mentioning Jobbik, the country’s third-largest political movement, in the prime minister’s speech to the opening session and suggested Orban was being soft on Jobbik in order to win right-wing votes.
Lauder said he had not known about an interview Orban gave to the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot ahead of the WJC meeting in which Orban had called Jobbik “a real danger, an increasing danger.””
Weak hands.

Obviously Estee has not kept in mind that ground-breaking statement of the Viktator’s: “Watch what I do, not what I say.”

Jano
Guest

petofi: That’s Ronald Lauder…Estee has been dead for a while…

Jano
Guest

Eva: I was always wondering, I never knew if Estee was some particular ethnic spelling or what you just said, thanks!

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