The Orbán government’s sigh of relief was too hasty: the teachers are not appeased

I must say that last night, after reading some of the early reports on the results of the “negotiations” at the roundtable discussion convened by the ministry of human resources, I was certain that the Orbán government had again managed to quell the widespread dissatisfaction of teachers, parents, and students over the dismal state of Hungarian education.

A few days before the planned mass demonstration of teachers, bus drivers, and railroad workers Zoltán Balog, the minister in charge of education, hastily called together the representatives of diverse organizations. In addition to those with skin in the game, like representatives of the teachers’ unions and the organizers of the current protest, members of civic groups that either have nothing to do with education, like the Hungarian Academy of Artists, or are unknown entities, like the Nemzeti Iskolai Tanács (National School Council), which doesn’t even have a website, also attended. Representatives of organizations that are known to be staunch supporters of the present government, like the parents’ association representing large families, got invitations. But no one from the Diákparlament (Student Parliament), which stands by the teachers in the present conflict, was invited. In brief, Balog made sure that supporters of the government’s position were in the majority around the table.

Those familiar with the Hungarian educational scene were surprised to learn that László Mendrey of the Pedagógusok Demokratikus Szakszervezete, which is normally highly critical of the government, decided to attend. By contrast, Piroska Galló of the Pedagógusok Szakszervezete (PSZ) announced her union’s boycott of the first meeting of the roundtable. A last minute invitee was Péter Madarász, principal of the Ottó Herman Gymnasium in Miskolc, where the movement to change the current educational system had its roots.

After the meeting Balog tried to give the impression that the representatives invited to the roundtable discussion could actually make decisions. But, as Piroska Galló of PSZ pointed out, she received an invitation to “a talk” and not to “negotiations.” The government’s plan is to listen to the complaints and then change as little as possible in the current flawed system. Balog also wants to avoid dealing with scholars whose field is education because he knows that most of them are against the educational philosophy espoused by the Orbán government. So, he made sure that only those experts would be welcome “who have something worthwhile to add to the topic.” That in Fidesz parlance means: only those who agree with us.

László Mendrey made a huge mistake by attending the conversations initiated by the government. Members of his union are now demanding his resignation, and some of them have already quit. Their dissatisfaction stemmed from his comments after the meeting that “the conversations were encouraging” because the government officials were ready to discuss even the most sensitive issues, which means that in the next round they will be able to talk about the role of the state, the autonomy of the institutions, and their economic independence. After the upheaval on Facebook and elsewhere by PDSZ members and teachers in general, the other leader of PDSZ who was present tried to explain what went wrong. The union’s original idea was to leave the meeting immediately after the first negative answer to one of their key demands. The government, however, outfoxed them and was ready to talk about anything. Therefore, they had no occasion to get up and leave. Well, talk is cheap, and it should have been clear to Mendrey that convening the roundtable a few days before the planned demonstration had only one purpose: to prevent the demonstration and a possible strike. With the passage of time and the promise of a few bones perhaps the teachers will calm down.

Another clever move was to invite Péter Madarász, principal of the Ottó Herman Gymnasium. The ministry officials must have known that he doesn’t fully share the opinions of his teachers and that, after a little sweet talk, he would support the government’s position of very limited changes to the current system. (The principal of the Blanka Teleki Gymnasium in Budapest, who appeared in several television discussions and who stands squarely behind the teachers’ demands, was not invited.) Madarász got the royal treatment. He sat at the head table alongside Zoltán Balog, Péter Horváth of the National Teachers’ Corps, and László Palkovics, the new undersecretary. Balog had a little tête-à-tête with the principal, and the rest is history. He expressed his total satisfaction with what transpired at the meeting. Balog asked Madarász to convince the teachers in and around Miskolc to participate in the forthcoming negotiations. Afterward, in an interview with Olga Kálmán, he expressed his ambivalence about attending the demonstration after such a successful conversation with Balog and Palkovics.

Zoltán Balog is charming Tamás Madarász, principal of Ottó Herman Gymnasium

Zoltán Balog is charming Tamás Madarász, principal of the Ottó Herman Gymnasium

So, although last night it seemed that the government had won this round, then came today. The original organizers of the movement in the name of the 737 schools which supported them published a statement in which they succinctly presented their demands. At the same time they disavowed the principal of Ottó Herman Gymnasium who, they claimed, spoke only in his own name.

  1. The government should declare that it considers the present law on education temporary and immediately should begin talks with the proper representatives of public education to create a new law on education.
  1. We demand that the discussions on the new law on public education should deal with the professional basics.
  1. We demand that the government spends 6% of the GDP on education.
  1. We demand immediate changes in the rules and regulations that make the situation of students and teachers unbearable.

It was signed by Katalin Törley, Ferenc Kölcsey Gymnasium, Budapest; Olivér Pilz, Ottó Herman Gymnasium, Miskolc; and István Pukli, principal, Blanka Teleki Gymnasium.

Meanwhile Piroska Galló explained why her union decided not to attend the meeting called together by Zoltán Balog. At the moment there exists a strike committee in which both PSZ and PDSZ participate. It is Zoltán Balog who represents the government in these negotiations, but during many meetings the minister’s position has been entirely negative with regard to the teachers’ demands. Therefore she can’t imagine what use such a roundtable discussion could be unless it is to pacify the teachers and pull the wool over their eyes. On Friday the strike committee is scheduled to meet Balog, and Galló is curious whether Balog’s “rigid position” changed or not as a result of his conversations with the invited representatives. In my opinion, there will be a change in the government’s position only if the demonstration turns out to be a real show of force.

February 10, 2016
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Guest

London Calling!

Well it didn’t peter out fully.

Just nearly.

Regards

Charlie

Istvan
Guest

I could see Fidesz agreeing to points 1, 2, and 4 they are sufficiently open to interpretation. But point 3 is pretty hard and fast. One way around this would be to shift the burden, meaning Fidesz asks where would the teachers purpose to we get the money, what should be cut? That is a common response of all governments to demands like point 3.

I am curious Eva what constitutes a real show of force in relationship to the upcoming rally? The scale of the Budapest Internet tax protests in October 2014, or something of another scale like the Orange Revolution protests of 2004 held in Independence Square in Kiev. Or at least the size of the pro-Fidesz demonstration in January 2012 maybe.

webber
Guest

Istvan
This is a trade dispute. It’s not aimed at overthrowing government. It’s aimed at correcting horrible working conditions that are the result of misguided policies and regulations. If a sufficient number of those most affected (teachers) express outrage, that is more than enough – more power to them.
There is no reason to try to compare this to the Orange Revolution, or pro-Fidesz demonstrations. This is about specific grievances.
In this form of protest against concrete policies, even pro-Fidesz Hungarians can see that government policies have had a disastrous effect on education.

Istvan
Guest

Webber you may be right, but at our host sees this teachers protest as the possible harbinger of something much more significant. I remain skeptical as do obviously some others on this blog.

The estimates I have seen of the Internet protests were 40,000. My cousin from Hungary who is now at the Univ of Chicago graduate school says it was far more massive and more importantly was what she now calls the “buzz” among young people, being in my 60s she seems young to me at age 26. My own youngest daughter, the US Army Reserve capitan and grad student, completely grasped what her cousin was communicating to me and explained it almost in a cultural sense.

I guess what I can’t digest from this side of the big pond is does the upcoming demonstration have the mass spark that the Internet demonstration had? Webber you are in Budapest does it have “buzz.”

Guest

Re: ‘Having buzz’

That would be a healthy ‘bee-hive’, eh?
I know this all has been called a ‘negotiation’. But to negotiate implies parties that are able and willing to move toward a solution. I don’t know. In my opinion, I’d suggest a party has been doing the ‘stall’ for awhile. The teachers may have to keep experiencing that technique and work on some of their own to counteract it.

webber
Guest
In Budapest everyone seems to support the teachers, regardless of their political leanings. Parents know what’s going on, because they have to buy chalk, marking pens, paper, toilet paper, and all other supplies for schools now – and they sometimes get some of the administrative BS that is laid on teachers, too (various forms for parents to sign that never existed before – and which have no apparent purpose). The strong point of this anger is that it is NOT directed at overturning government, and accusations that the teachers are actually for this or that opposition party, or are financed by Soros fall flat – they are just laughable. These are just ordinary people – people on the brink of poverty, many of them. A Kindergarten teacher’s avg. pre-tax monthly wage: 149,500 forints (about half is taken in taxes of various sorts – incl. health care) A school teacher’s avg. pre-tax monthly wage: 162,200 ft. Translated into dollars – pre-tax, @$6,480 per year, or after tax deductions about $3,240 per year, for Kindergarten teachers. For regular teachers, it’s about $7,000 per year before tax, or about $3,500 a year after tax. That’s $3,240-3500 PER YEAR, not per month I am… Read more »
webber
Guest
P.S. There is already grass-roots resistance to current policies in the form of teachers not teaching precisely what or precisely how they are supposed to, and simply not carrying out some meaningless tasks. After a time, you notice what KLIK demands, and what it can’t enforce (if you don’t sign certain forms – what will happen to you? Nothing.). This is visible elsewhere, too – a minor example: smoking is now banned at bus stops. In Budapest, when bus drivers take their breaks they regularly smoke at the bus stop (as do passengers – incl. off-duty cops, naturally). All sorts of new regulations are just unenforceable because NOBODY in Budapest is honoring them (in different places that’s different – each area has its own way) Sunday shop closing – small shop owners just went and made all their staff 0.1% owners of the shop, because the regulation says owners (only) may work on Sunday if they choose to. So, small shops are open – everyone working is an owner on paper. Cigarettes – the black market is THRIVING (thanks to Hungarian customs officials, and cops who look the other way). Officially, consumption of cigarettes has fallen since the new tobacco… Read more »
Istvan
Guest
So some salary concession on the part of Fidesz would go a long way to reducing the tension in the education sector. Eva seems to see it in much more comprehensive terms as relating to the Fidesz education reforms and local educational autonomy based on some of the demands coming from teachers. Those are largely more political demands. What I find curious in all of this is how organizationally weak teachers unions appear to be in Hungary, inclusive of all the teacher unions. It is my understanding that membership of the PSZ has been declining since before Fidesz rule going back to 2008. That membership dues are only 1% of the weak salary of teachers. Under Hungarian Strike Law teachers are not formally banned from striking from the commentary I have seen but are effectively banned due to provisions of the Act. Specifically it is possible to exercise the right to strike only in a way that will not impede the performance of the services at a minimum level of sufficiency. (Sec. 4, Subsec. 2 of the Act on Strike). There is no clear definition and specific levels of essential service are not specified either. Moreover, political strikes are illegal… Read more »
webber
Guest

Salary “concessions”???
Look at wages again. They haven’t even kept up with inflation over the past 6 years.

webber
Guest

Istvan – it’s a lot more than just wages.
The curriculum is a disaster. The compulsory books are awful. The compulsory lessons are boring and useless – they’ve increased the amount of rote learning needed, and decreased teaching of critical thinking to almost nil.
It’s boring for students, and boring for teachers.
Teachers are expected to fill out self-evaluation forms twice a year – 100 pages of self-evaluation, two times a year. Önkritika.

Observer
Guest

@webber

Wages are subject to approx. 18.5% levies (10+7+1.5) + 15% income tax = 34%. It is the employers contributions of 28.5% than makes the net wages half of what it costs the employer.

Some family/child allowances diminish the overall tax burden.
http://www.nettober.com/index.php?p=berkalk20160101

webber
Guest

Observer –
what is this nonsense?
The withholdings for health care (TB) and pensions count as tax.
Add them in and what do you get?
About 50%
You don’t imagine people can pay bills with that money?

webber
Guest

35%-50%, what does it really matter? The base salary is awful, no matter how much is withdrawn.

webber
Guest

Istvan – after looking at the wages paid to teachers in Hungary which I posted, and if you extrapolate from that the money actually spent on education (only about 4.1% of GDP in 2014) I guess you will understand why I said that there is no way any sane person could ever argue that investment in education in Hungary has reached the point of diminishing returns (which I think is a bogus argument anyway).
For comparison, S. Korea (hardly a failure) spends more than 7% of GDP on education, Iceland (also strong) spends about 7% as does the US – and the OECD avg. is a little under 6%.
And “only nine of the 36 countries for which data is available spend 5% of GDP or less.” All nine are poorer countries with foundering economies, or economies based on foreign aid (Hungary – EU support funds account for ALL economic growth now. Without EU funding, Hungary’s GDP would shrink).
The indications are clear – wealthy, developed countries with strong economies spend more on education, and have done so for a very long time.
Data going back some years here:
http://www.oecd.org/edu/skills-beyond-school/48630884.pdf
And for Hungary alone, here: http://www.piackutatasok.hu/2014/05/ksh-az-oktatasra-forditott-allami.html

Istvan
Guest

But very few societies that devote a higher percentage of their GDP have an immigration rate comparable to that of Hungary for highly educated individuals. We can certainly argue that rate in Hungary is based on the failed policies of Fidesz, possibly even the prior polices since transition, or even the relationship to the EU as I am inclined to do. But it’s a measureable thing that impacts the rate of return on education in Hungary.

Mexico faces a similar problem, Mexico has 30,000 citizens with a PhD. One-third of them live in the US. Which also explains the investment rate in education.

webber
Guest

Istvan, you definitely don’t understand the problems.
I am beginning to think there’s something the matter here, because it seems incredible that you still don’t get it (not even close).
Emigration would go down a little if higher wages were paid in education across the board. A lot more PhDs would stay in Hungary if higher wages were paid in higher education.

webber
Guest

Istvan, you are wrong. Look at the data (posted above).
Where do you get this nonsense “very few societies…” blahblahblah.
You just do not get it – successful societies are those that have invested heavily, in GDP terms, in education. In many cases they started doing that before they became extremely prosperous – Japan and Korea are two examples. Study after study shows that a sure way to improve a country’s standing long-term is investment in education. It takes a generation or two, but the improvement in human capital pays off like nothing else.
Study after study demonstrates this.
Why are you defending Orban’s awful choices in education?
He has CUT funding – from an already comparatively underfunded sector.

Guest

The medical profession and the teachers are probably the only groups which have the power to force the Fidesz govenment to improve the situation here.

I fervently hope that they have the courage of their convicitions and come out on strike to demand changes. The govenment could not fire them all, since there would be no one left to replace them.

tappanch
Guest

Orban does not care about the plight of public health care or public education: he goes to private clinics inside and outside Hungary, sends his daughter to a private Swiss school.

Guest

Re: ‘private clinics…private schools’

Probably not only him but the entire Magyar
‘nomenklatura’. And that’s a kicker to the population paying off everybody to get some vestige of ‘service’ to live life fully in their own country. It is painful to see them getting stiffed so bad.

Observer
Guest

Unfortunately the regime can ignore a demo, even a 200 000 one. The large demonstrations are very valuable, I often attend, but the effect is limited, this is why the labor movements adopted the strike in the 19th century.

Note that one the Orban’s first acts in 2010 was to practically ban strikes in Hungary – e.g. railways – the minimum service to be maintained as required by law is something like 90% rendering a strike meaningless. There hasn’t been a single one since.

The only effective move would be an “illegal” national strike or close; but the reality of organizing such is nil yet. This may change though, looking at the stock markets and the China bubble.

webber
Guest

The bursting of the Chinese bubble could, perversely, have a positive effect on the real economy elsewhere. There seems to be a serious disconnect between the stock market and the real economy in various places. Funny money comes and goes – it all looks like a pyramid game – while goods and services continue to be produced and purchased in real time (an extreme example: the collapse of gold “certificates” vs. trading in physical gold – a total disconnect, and subsequent lower prices for physical gold did not stop sales; far from it.).
Certainly Hungary is benefiting already from the low oil prices. The balance of trade should look very nice indeed if oil continues to be this cheap (not to mention other imported raw materials used in manufacturing in Hu.)

webber
Guest

The police and fire department people could really stir things up if they decided to start demonstrating – but these would have to be “wild” demonstrations (like wildcat strikes).

petofi
Guest

re: show of force

The only real show of force a Hungarian ever makes is to lift his big seat off the chair to let out air…

Member

If I were Eva, I would bar @Petofi: He cheapens this list with remarks like the above, and reduces its credibility and influence. It\’s one thing for the Fidik trolls and borderline personalities to act out in public, showing their true colours (under the cloak of anonymity), but when (ostensible) proponents of decency and democracy act the same way, it is the cause that loses. Shame. There are toilet-wall forums for sentiments like @petofi\’s…

(People with impulse-control problems need outside help to inhibit their tics and shield others from them. Serious discussion lists need to be protected by their moderators from getting turned into graffiti boards. @Petofi is a repeat offender, and he gets worse and worse across the years as he keeps getting away with it, as whatever restraint he exercises proves unnecessary.)

petofi
Guest
Dear Professor Harnad, It must be difficult to clime to the great hight of your ivory tower daily and to ponticate therefrom. We little characters below must seem ant-like to you. I’m sorry that you can’t face the gruesome nature of Hungarianism. !944–herding 300,000 more jews than the nazis asked for…and then passing laws for the neighbours of jews to ransack their abandoned homes–is now topped off by the back-tracking of civil society and government to a time never before experienced by a once civilized society. YOU might think that all this is fodder for a great brain to work its way to a solution–I see it as the tragic flaw of a society that has always taken the short and easy and unethical road to overcome its problems. I find it not funny. I find it–the situation–without parallel; and impervious to solution because in the first instance what is required is the overhaul of the norms and ethics of a whole society, and the marginalization of its morality-challenged churches. I am not at all pleased that I must uproot myself and return to Canada. I, who had formerly answered my Canadian friends’ objections to returning to Hungary will (the… Read more »
petofi
Guest

Oh, and Professor, you’ll be unhappy to learn that I’ll be soiling the pristine grounds of Montreal. But we shan’t be meeting: I’ll be making a beeline to Schwartz’s for a corned beef sandwich as soon as I arrive.

Observer
Guest

@Stevan H

Give @petofi some leeway. He maybe dancing on the line, but compared to most blogs/comments one reads in Hungarian he is still a gentlemen.

I find disagreeable the “Hungary is a despicable country, with a despicable society, and a nasty people.” bit and exaggerated too, try the Balkans, Russia, or even Naples.
Overall, however, I would rather leave Hungary now, if I could. But I’m working on this project.

webber
Guest

Stevan: I don’t get it. Why did the above offend you? It seems inconsistent. You weren’t offended by the “kurva ország” (etc.) from Gyurcsány (you’ve made that abundantly clear).
You’ll recall that I’ve argued with Petofi from time to time, and have objected to some things he has said, but I never thought he deserved to be cut off just because of that.
Perhaps you might take the good advice you’ve given me from time to time and just ignore his posts if you don’t like the style?

Jani
Guest

Agree. Petofi, you are my hero. Ignore our Stevan.

Guest

Many of us give petofi latitude – who wouldn’t after what he and his forebears have been through and the betrayal by fellow countrymen?

He does it with wit and intelligence – and I can understand it being a catharsis – if it is.

Blog on petofi!

tappanch
Guest

The details of the “70,000 euro home purchasing grant & loan in return for 3 children within 10 years” are here.

pp. 786 to 812,
Feb 10, 2016
http://www.magyarkozlony.hu/

Hungarians working abroad are entitled for the support, “fostered workers” are not.

tappanch
Guest
tappanch
Guest

The path of Orban’s toy railroad is extended to Etyek.

comment image?w=1051&h=730

tappanch
Guest
Guest

£23 million for a choo choo train!

And of course substantial running costs – I bet they have special rolling stock and uniforms. All for non-existent passengers to attend sparsely attended football matches.

The man’s mad.

With Matolcsy’s toy soldiers and castles I think they’re trying to outdo one another.

They’re both mad.

Observer
Guest

If they don’t have bread, their hungry children can ride the choo chooo train.

A’la Marie Antoinette Regina

Guest

Yes!

That’s it! The Marie Antoinette Line!

(Of course cakes and tea available – if only for tourists and Orban.)

Guest
London Calling! It’s like the game of ‘Sorry’! I had a weekend cottage next to a rather large country pile where the wealthy owners had two children who went to the best private schools in England. The two – Francis and Suzie would come over to the conservatory during holidays and beg to play ‘Sorry’. ‘Sorry’ is a dice game where you have a choice as to who you dish the grief out to. F&S would always dish the grief on each other – never the others – as much as possible leaving the other players a clear route to victory. The ‘contained’ aggression and anger underneath extremely polite veneer – as polite and confident as the expensive school fees could produce – was just so funny to see. The would have murdered each other if the required behaviour hadn’t suppressed the urges – and yet they were absolutely hooked on the game. In the Commocracy of Hungary – where it seems that the teachers and administrators are birds of a feather – it seems that the conflict can only lead to pressure – and more pressure and even more pressure. The teachers can’t and won’t threaten the existence of… Read more »
Guest

Or put it another way, as did DK…

Just changing the furniture in the brothel

Istvan
Guest
This article http://nol.hu/belfold/orban-nem-eletszeru-hogy-pilz-oliver-felkel-es-elkezd-tiltakozni-1601023 in Népszabadság today discusses a meeting of Fidesz leaders held in a conference room at the Zenit Budapest Palace Hotel. Not surprisingly PM Orban who spoke believed the Miskolc teachers and Olivér Pliz, a mathematics/physics/biology teacher, Herman Ottó were put up to this protest by “külső erők” (outside forces). Apparently Orban is also going to blow up the Klebelsberg Institution Maintenance Center (KLIK) and reorganize it. By the way I don’t agree with kicking Petofi off of this list, even though I have often disagreed with him and he has in the past labeled me a KGB agent. My attitude is not based on some liberal perspective relating to free speech, but rather his deep cynicism about life in Hungary and politics reflects the perspectives of a good number of my own family members still in Hungary. Although Petofi is more articulate than they are. His self-deprecation of our nationality reflects one of our greatest national characteristics. One author said the type of comments our friend Petofi posts; “Self-deprecating humor is the ultimate sign of emotional and political maturity, just as a rabid prickliness is typically a sign of unresolved complexes about superiority, inferiority, and lack of… Read more »
Member

Petőfi is a cool breeze in the hungarian air. Don’t exclude him. He might have his reasons for his wording. I like his ironi.

petofi
Guest

Thanks, A.N.

It shouldn’t take great wit to realize that if I didn’t care…I wouldn’t be so angry.

Observer
Guest

Petofi,

Honest, if I succeed in relocating, I would rather try to forget my whole experience with Hungary.
I am often uncomfortable with my bursting with hate at the next bout of robbery, arrogance, ignorance or destruction of civil values by this bunch of criminals. And I have no good feelings for my middle class fascist friends foolishly living our their complexes in the Trianon/Hungarian genius/past glories (that never were) triangle while this mafia keeps skinning them strip by strip.

They made me a misanthrope.

petofi
Guest

Well, Observer, if you’re going to Montreal, we’ll have to get together and drink to our luck in escaping ‘Kafka’s nightmare’!

Observer
Guest

Next time I go to Boston I’ll try a side trip. Bien que je parle français, je ne suis jamais allé à Montréal. Would be nice to see it, and cry drunken on each others shoulders.

petofi
Guest

Observer,

I’m still in Budapest until late April…after in Montreal. Ask Eva for my e-mail. If you’re in Budapest, I live in the 13th, drop a line and come by for a drink-

webber
Guest

Petofi – we’ve disagreed fairly strongly about this and that, but I’m sorry to read that you’ll be leaving Hungary. It’s a shame – a loss.
I hope you will register to vote in Hungarian elections. That should be possible in Montreal. Enjoy yourself there. I hear it’s a nice town.

petofi
Guest

webber–thank you for the kind words.

I used to vote but I don’t anymore: I can’t see how my lone vote could combat the surreal 800,000 of Erdei; nor do I trust the Fideszniks not to err in the counting.

My wife and I and our pug are going to great expense to make this move but I can no longer live among people who can discard the benefits of civilization for the psychic pleasures of nationalism and anti-semitism.

This headlong rush into the worst of bygone times is stomach-churning.

Member

The teachers are basically kind hearted and human, and hoping for a human and rational dialog.

They have no idea who or what they are really dealing with. They keep telegraphing their plans in advance, and so no wonder they are “out foxed”.

My advise: The teachers and their union reps need to read “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Art_of_War

The people in the government surly have read it.

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