I think it is time to talk a little about “the art of communication” or rather the lack thereof in Hungarian political life. It was only a couple of days ago that Gyula Molnár, the newly elected MSZP chairman, mangled his party’s message on the forthcoming referendum to such an extent that Népszabadság gave the following title to an opinion piece: “If you want to get completely confused on the issue of the referendum, listen to Gyula Molnár.”
These verbal mishaps are far too common. Two days after the Molnár affair, István Pukli, the brave principal of the Blanka Teleki High School in the Zugló section of Budapest, gave two interviews a day apart in which he made contradictory statements that were turned against him by the pro-government media.
For months now I have been listening four times a week to György Bolgár’s call-in show on Klubrádió on which one can hear invited guests’ ideas about the best ways to advance the departure of the Fidesz regime. When the person begins with “in order to answer this question we have to go back a bit in time” I already know that he/she will never return to the question.
Confusion, contradiction, rambling: not exactly the stuff of good communication. And yet the funny thing is that communication as a college major is extremely popular in Hungary, and every organization or business has a spokesman, sometimes more than one, like the Tom Lantos Institute I wrote about yesterday. In the Hungarian school system it is almost a mantra that students’ verbal participation in the classroom will make them good public speakers. Teachers as well as parents complain about the growing number of written tests, which they consider to be detrimental to verbal proficiency. But it is doubtful that the regurgitation of a few pages from a textbook does much to promote either logical reasoning or verbal fluency.
Here is István Pukli who, before he became a school principal, had taught literature and history. You’d assume he would know how to think on his feet. But no, he wound up in a tangle of contradictions. Pukli gave two interviews, one to The Budapest Beacon, which appeared in English on September 1, and the other to Magyar Idők, which was published on September 2.
In the Budapest Beacon interview, he was asked the following question. “Can you really imagine genuine education reforms taking place within NER [System of National Cooperation]? Or is the failure of the current government minimally required.” To which Pukli answered: “We have to say that the answer is no. But this is not our primary goal. We resolved to lobby educational matters and fight to achieve our objectives until they are realized. If a side effect of that is that Viktor Orbán falls from power, then so be it.” He was categorical in rejecting the proposition that a change of prime minister might solve the problem. “No, it is necessary to defeat the Fidesz system,” he answered.
So far so good, but then a few minutes later he said that he “would not like to see a left-wing turn” because he is “not sure that solidarity among the left-wing parties and their coming to power is the solution.” Yet he liked György Magyar’s call for “the opposition to cooperate, win, create a proportionate electoral law, dissolve the new parliament and hold an election under a respectable electoral law” although “as a teacher of Hungarian and history, what would I have to do with that?” Well, does he want solidarity among the opposition parties on the left or doesn’t he? As for the meaning of the last sentence, I am not even trying to decipher it.
As the leader of a movement that has achieved considerable success so far, Pukli sadly lacks civic responsibility. He doesn’t even know whether he will vote in 2018 because he doesn’t know for whom he would vote. He considers Gyurcsány and the rest on the left as bad as Orbán on the right. He believes that there will be no change of government in 2018 because “a lot of people lap up Fidesz’s stupidity.” Or, I would add, because of apathy. His own political apathy is difficult to reconcile with his activities as a leader of those who want a complete turnabout in the educational policy of the government, which he knows can be achieved only after the fall of the present political system.
So, let’s move on to the Magyar Idők interview. Keep in mind that Magyar Idők is the most loyal pro-government organ in the country. Still, Pukli bravely announced his disappointment in Fidesz. He told the less than sympathetic journalist that “the party in which [he] believed doesn’t represent conservative values. It is being guided by political and economic interests and has ruined the educational system. There is party loyalty and there are principles.” But then, without any qualification, he stated that “The goal is not the removal of the Orbán regime, only that they should realize and correct their mistakes.” As the journalist reminded him, his movement’s school-opening message this year contains Pukli’s slogan used at the spring demonstrations he helped to organize: “They have no power over us.” Pukli clarified the source of the message, saying that it was borrowed from the film Labyrinth where “it refers to the demons within us.” So, it’s no wonder that Magyar Idők gave the following title to the interview: “The current political left cannot be an alternative. István Pukli: We have no enemies, we struggle with our own demons.” Because of his confused thinking and poor verbal literacy the right-wing paper managed to make a liar and an opportunist out of Pukli. The other right-wing organ, Magyar Hírlap, reinforced this assessment in an article titled “Pukli’s public schizophrenia: “If the press writes about us, they cannot not reappoint me.” Unfortunately, Pukli did utter this unfortunate sentence in the Magyar Idők interview, so he could also be viewed as someone who is involved in the protest movement to save his job.
After such a blunder come the usual attempts to explain the inexplicable and to distance oneself from the person who got himself into the mess. Yesterday afternoon both Olivér Pilz, the other leader of the “We Want To Teach” movement, and István Pukli were interviewed on Klubrádió’s “Esti gyors” (Evening express) program. Pilz suggested that Pukli in his interviews was talking only about his own political views, which got mixed up with the program of the movement. As for Pukli, he repeated what he told The Budapest Beacon. It looks as if the Orbán government has no intention of changing course in its educational policy and therefore, although their original aim was certainly not the overthrow of the government, “if this is the only way, so be it.”