If Zoltán Balog, minister in charge of education, thought that the teachers, who have had enough of Viktor Orbán’s educational experiments, would be appeased by promises to lift some of the administrative burdens that make the lives of both teachers and students a living hell, he was sorely mistaken. The government is now groping in the dark for some kind of solution. I have the feeling that they still haven’t realized that the government will have to offer substantial concessions to avoid a major confrontation.
The administration is promising to call together representatives of teachers and students to find a common solution to the problems. But how can they trust Balog and his undersecretary, Mrs. Czunyi, when the meeting is supposed to take place at the same time as the demonstration organized by the teachers’ unions? Or when the ministry instructed schools to hold parent-teacher conferences today, when demonstrations were scheduled in several cities? Surely, under these circumstances the good faith of the government can be seriously questioned. Or, adding to their sins, when Pesti Srácok, which 444.hu calls “the revolver newspaper of the Fidesz caucus,” suspects that it is György Soros and Ferenc Gyurcsány who are behind the “teachers’ revolt.” How? One of the organizers was once a member of a group that in 2012 received a grant from the Open Society Foundation. Gyurcsány is implicated, according Pesti Srácok, because one of the members of Oktatói Hálózat (Faculty Net) of university professors that supports the teachers is Zsuzsa Ferge, the “favorite sociologist” of Ferenc Gyurcsány. Incredible, isn’t it?
And if that weren’t enough, András Bencsik, editor of the far-right weekly Demokrata and one of the chief organizers of the Peace Marches that allegedly saved Viktor Orbán from being ousted by foreign powers, accused Piroska Galló, head of the Pedagógusok Szakszervezete (PSZ), of being the daughter of the notorious security chief of the Rákosi era, Gábor Péter (1906-1993). Bencsik didn’t bother to check the most basic facts before he spread this lie all over the Facebook. In reality, Ms Galló’s father was Ferenc Péter, a university professor, and not Gábor Péter, who together with his wife was serving a life sentence at the time of Galló’s birth.
While I was focusing on the brewing teachers’ revolt and the government’s attack on the judiciary, I neglected to talk about another rash announcement by János Lázár. For the sake of efficiency and economy he wants to eliminate thirteen and amalgamate another sixty ancillary institutions. These institutions are a mixed bag, but many of them are important independent organizations supporting the various ministries. The researchers of these institutes are supposed to give objective, honest, professional advice to the civil servants and politicians working in the ministries. If most of these institutions are placed under the direct supervision of the ministries, their independence will no longer be assured.
Let’s take the Oktatáskutató és Fejlesztő Intézet (Educational Research and Development Institute / OFI), which is one of the think tanks destined to be shut down. One wonders whether the decision has anything to do with a report OFI released last year, which can be read in its entirety here. In early January Undersecretary Czunyi talked only about reorganizing OFI. On January 5 she announced that great changes will take place in the ancillary institutions dealing with educational matters. For example, OFI’s role will be limited to the development of textbooks. A month later Lázár was already talking about the elimination of the entire institute.
What prompted this decision? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the criticism that can be read on practically every page of the study. The researchers wanted to assess the results of the nationalization of schools and the creation of the Klebelsberg Intézményfenntartó Központ (KLIK), which is supposed to run 4,000 some schools across the country. The authors’ conclusion is devastating. Those who know the language should take a look at the whole report. Here I don’t want to go into the details, which are pretty similar to the complaints of the teachers and students, but I will call attention to one warning: “The passive-aggressive overcentralized system carries serious political risks.” The researchers of this ancillary institution seemed to have the well-being of the government in mind. They warned the ministry of the political dangers inherent in the system Viktor Orbán and Rózsa Hoffmann created in the last five or six years. What was the government’s answer? Let’s just close the whole institute.
As I said at the beginning, we don’t know how the government will handle this problem. Of course, a lot will depend on the strength of the movement, which local Fidesz authorities are trying to dampen. For example, where Fidesz is very strong, like in Debrecen, the teachers either don’t want or don’t dare to join their colleagues elsewhere.
Piroska Galló, the leader of PSZ who was severely criticized in Magyar Narancs for being far too malleable, is showing her radical side at the moment. PSZ prepared a list of 25 demands, which basically call for dismantling the entire edifice built in accord with Viktor Orbán’s educational vision. Right now she insists that the government accept the package in toto, a demand that most likely will have to be trimmed down. The question is by how much? Given Viktor Orbán’s personality, I suspect that his first reaction will be to reject most of these demands because he finds it very difficult to admit his mistakes. But if I were in his shoes, I would keep in mind what the researchers of OFI predicted already last year–that his educational system carries huge political risks. And after all, for him, staying in power is priority number one.