Tag Archives: ELTE

The rule book of ELTE’s Rector Magnificus

Yesterday I tackled some aspects of Hungarian graduate education that I find distasteful, unnecessary, and possibly illegal. One of the readers of Hungarian Spectrum called my attention to ELTE’s latest rule book, a staggering 175 pages, governing all aspects of the academic careers of doctoral candidates.

Reading this rule book, I got the distinct impression that the relationship between a student and the university  is quasi-contractual, with possible legal consequences. Among the rules, in this case relating to conditions that would disqualify a faculty member from being a student’s adviser, are passages from the civil code regulating family relationships. There are well over 100 paragraphs that may affect students’ academic careers. In addition to the main body of the document, there are eight appendices (each with several more paragraphs) and six supplements.

One cannot accuse the “Rector Magnificus” of the university of not being a thorough man. Everything is minutely spelled out. For example, the rule book explains that the academic performance of a doctoral candidate can be judged to be “insufficienter,” “rite,” “cum laude,” or “summa cum laude.” A student will pass his preliminary examinations only if none of the evaluations of his performance is “insufficienter.” This rule might seem too obvious to bother with, but at the same time it might just discriminate against truly original students. Let’s say a student gets two “summas” and one “insufficienter.” Goodbye, student.

This booklet is a perfect example of the mindset that, I fear, is an integral part of the whole culture. And if I am right, it doesn’t bode well for Hungary. With such an overly bureaucratic system, an organization–and even the state as a whole–becomes dysfunctional. In fact, János Lázár only recently pretty much admitted that this is the case.

Dr. Barna Mezey, Rector Magnificus of ELTE

Dr. Barna Mezey, Rector Magnificus of ELTE

Oh yes, the “Rector Magnificus.” This is not a joke either. In the oath that is indeed compulsory, students must swear that they will always respect the Rector Magnificus and the Senate of the university. Hungarian students must swear that they will be “faithful to the Hungarian people” and will do their best to use their “knowledge to further the glory of their people and country.” But what about the student who actually thinks that the Rector Magnificus is a spineless character who doesn’t deserve respect and that in the Senate there are a number of people who really shouldn’t be there? Or what about the new Ph.D. who packs up and becomes a faculty member at a foreign university, where he presumably furthers the glory not of ELTE or the Hungarian people but the university at which he is teaching? Is he then not being faithful to the Hungarian people?

In any case, respect cannot be demanded, as the Rector Magnificus and the Senate insist. One either has respect for the university one attended or one doesn’t. No one demanded that I swear allegiance to the universities from which I graduated.  Graduation might have had a lot of pomp and circumstance, but the essence of the ceremony was the simple handing out of academic degrees. And this is how it should be.

By way of comparison I suggest you take a look at Yale University’s “Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Programs and Policies 2015-2016.” I am sure Hungarians who did graduate work in Hungary will be surprised by its tone, especially if they compare it to the Rector Magnificus’s rule book.

The other day we bemoaned the low ranking of Hungarian universities among the world’s institutions of higher learning. The most important consideration is “academic reputation.” Academics are asked to identify the institutions where they believe the best work is taking place within their field of expertise. The student-faculty ratio is also very important. These two considerations make up about 60% of the overall assessment. Another important component (20%) is based on the number of citations per faculty member. Thus, it should be quite clear why Hungarian universities are low on the scale.

One problem is that there are practically no English-language periodicals published in Hungary that a fellow researcher could cite. In 2012, I learned about an attempt to launch a new journal, the Hungarian Historical Review. I got so excited that I even sent them an e-mail lauding their decision to have an English-language historical periodical. But one publication is not enough. There should be many in all fields. I suspect that a lack of money had something to do with it.

The Orbán government is much more concerned with fences along the Serbian-Hungarian border, football stadiums, and lobbyists in the United States and in Germany than it is with higher education. In fact, Orbán thinks there are too many university students, and his government is making sure that there will be even fewer in the future. Therefore, I’m almost certain that the reputation of Hungarian universities will be further diminished.

But that is not the only problem. There is an appearance of rigor, manifest in the 175-page rule book, but in fact academic standards are low. More about that later.

 

The price of a Ph.D.: One has to swear to Fidesz’s Basic Law

On June 26 Judit Kende, a young social psychologist who just finished her Ph.D. at ELTE, wrote the following on her Facebook page:

This is what happened yesterday: I’m not a Ph.D. after all. It turned out that in order to get it I would have to swear to Hungary’s Basic Law, and this in my opinion was too high a price…. For example, the discriminatory sections of the Basic Laws limit the rights of LGBT people and the disabled and allow the criminalization of homelessness. So, by law I didn’t become a Ph.D.

She added that her situation allows her to be heroic because in two years’ time she will have a Ph.D. from the University of Leuven.

Reading this note, I had a very different reaction from hers. I wasn’t concerned with particular passages of the new Hungarian Constitution, however egregious they may be. I would have been equally outraged if I had learned that Ph.D. candidates had to swear to any constitution. “What on earth does the Hungarian constitution have to do with an academic title?” In a normal country, of course, nothing. Outrageous, I thought.

Of course, nothing of this sort can happen in Hungary without a huge public debate where people dissect the legal and political ins and outs of the case. In addition, a long article appeared by a certain Eszter Sebestyén with the title “A hysterical Judit Kende is lying,” in which the author went on and on about Judit Kende’s political motivations. Sebestyén accused Kende of being a member of a group that “ruined the left-wing prime minister Gordon Bajnai and demonized his predecessor, Ferenc Gyurcsány.” So, the attack on her came from the left, not the right. It was alleged that she is not a social psychologist but an ordinary social worker. It’s a shame, in Sebestyén’s opinion, that this course of study is awarded a Ph.D. degree, which of course is not Kende’s fault. Other anti-Kende articles followed that were, in my opinion, utterly beside the point. It matters not how many publications she has under her belt or the quality of her dissertation. What is important is that she received a degree which she cannot officially use because of a most likely illegal action on the part of the university. The inability to use the Ph.D. title on official documents wouldn’t by itself be a problem, but without the title she cannot apply for jobs that demand it.

alkotmany2

And that brings me to another topic that raises my blood pressure every time I hear about it. What kind of an idiocy is it that dictates that people consider an academic title part of their legal name. In this country your official name is what is on your birth certificate unless, of course, you decide to change your name or you take your spouse’s name. If you want your friends and acquaintances to know that you received a doctorate (Ph.D., M.D.) it is up to you, but the official world is not interested in your academic title. Or, your students might want to call you “Professor So and So,” but since when do we consider that title part of one’s name?

Anyway, after all the useless chatter, TASZ (Hungarian Civil Liberties Union) came to Kende’s aid. Máté Dániel Szabó has taken up her case. Szabó finds it important that this “illegality at ELTE come to an end.” He added that they might be satisfied with a change in the regulation to make swearing on the constitution optional. Well, I take a more radical view of the matter. I would demand the cessation of the practice altogether.

Of course, I am no lawyer and I understand that TASZ will have to approach the case on the basis of existing law. It is not enough to say that the practice is indefensible. TASZ will argue that demanding a loyalty oath is illegal because it is contrary to the law on higher education. Their second argument is that it unduly interferes with one’s freedom of conscience. After all, there are religions that forbid their members to swear any kind of oath. Third, a sizable portion of Hungarian society has serious problems with some of the passages of the Basic Laws of 2011 since it reflects the beliefs of people with certain political and moral views. These last two arguments gain importance if the Orbán government thinks that a change in the law on higher education might solve the problem at hand.

I might add that this practice is not new. During the Kádár period doctoral students had to swear on the 1949 Stalinist constitution. At least before 1945 students couldn’t swear on the constitution because, like Great Britain, Hungary didn’t have a written constitution. During the socialist period no one could question the practice but today, when citizens have the opportunity, the issue should be pursued. It doesn’t matter whether it is the 1949, the 1989, or the 2011 constitution. Such an act simply has no place in a ceremony where doctoral degrees are awarded.

I wish Judit Kende the best of luck. And if I were her, I wouldn’t care about all the negative voices, this time from the left. I’m glad that she decided to be “hysterical.”

A compulsory course on the Holocaust at the Hungarian Catholic University

While the world is preoccupied with Greece and Viktor Orbán’s preparations to erect a fence along the Hungarian border with Serbia, I decided to focus today on the debate over Péter Pázmány Catholic University’s decision to introduce a compulsory course on the Holocaust. Until now there was only one compulsory course, “Introduction to the Catholic Faith,” which I understand, to put it mildly, is not taken seriously by the students. According to someone who is most likely a student at PPKE, as the university is known, “it is a joke,” a course in which everybody cheats.

President Szabolcs Szuromi and Ilan Mor at the press conference

President Szabolcs Szuromi and Ilan Mor at the press conference

On May 26 Szabolcs Szuromi, the president of PPKE, in the presence of Ilan Mor, Israeli ambassador to Hungary, held a press conference, which was disrupted by two “journalists” from Alfahír and Kurucinfo. The former is the semi-official internet site of Jobbik. Kurucinfo, the virulent anti-Semitic media outlet, needs no introduction. Both men fired all sorts of provocative questions at the president and the ambassador.

The reaction of the far right didn’t surprise anyone. They especially objected to the presence and role of Ambassador Mor and to the fact that two Israeli historians, Dina Porat and Raphael Vago, had been asked to prepare the syllabus for the course. Jobbegyenes (Straight Right) accused the Hungarian government of taking orders from the Israeli ambassador when it agreed to the removal of a sign referring to “the victims of Gaza” behind the Hungarian entrant at the Eurovision competition. Moreover, according to the author, it is not PPKE’s job to teach students about the Holocaust. They should have learned that in high school.

Zsolt Bayer’s reaction was also expected. In his opinion, there is just too much talk about the Holocaust. Practically every day there is a new book, a movie, or a theater performance. A few years ago he “thought that one couldn’t sink lower” when he read in Népszabadság that grandchildren of German war criminals, with the financial help of the European Union, had arrived in Budapest asking for forgiveness from elderly survivors. In Bayer’s opinion it was a perverse idea. The souls of these youngsters are “infected with guilt.” What is going on at PPKE is also a perversion. In fact, Bayer thinks PPKE’s decision was even worse than the grandchildren’s apology.

But there were critical remarks on the left as well. The most serious criticism came from Sándor Révész. He objected to the compulsory nature of the course and predicted that “within seconds” someone will suggest “a compulsory course on Trianon, on the communist dictatorship, on religious persecution,” and so on and so forth. In fact, Gábor Vona and Dóra Duró of Jobbik already sent a letter to the president of PPKE asking for the introduction of a course on the tragedy of Trianon.

Révész also found PPKE’s decision to introduce such a course problematic because it is a well-known fact that the Catholic Church still venerates Ottokár Prohászka (1858-1927), bishop of Székesfehérvár, who was a rabid anti-Semite and the ideological precursor of Hungarism, the Hungarian version of Nazism. Révész called attention to the fact that the Hungarian Catholic Church published a collection of Prohászka’s most savage anti-Semitic writings titled My anti-Semitism in 1942. “Is PPKE ready to reevaluate the opus of Ottokár Prohászka in connection with the Holocaust?” asked Révész.

There is criticism coming from historians as well. László Karsai, a historian who has written extensively on the Holocaust, finds it strange that two Israeli scholars were invited to prepare the syllabus when there are many Hungarians qualified to do the job. Moreover, Karsai finds the syllabus as well as the readings wanting. Some books on the reading list are of inferior quality. If he had children at PPKE, he wouldn’t advise them to take the course–not that they would have a choice. He added, however, that “it is an interesting experiment that might generate some lively discussions.”

Péter György, professor at ELTE, just announced that they themselves have been thinking about creating three one-semester courses that all students of the Faculty of Arts would have to take: the cultural history of racism, social theory, and the philosophy of science.  In the course on the cultural history of racism students would also study about the Holocaust. The members of the faculty realize, I think, that something went very wrong at the university since a large portion of the Jobbik leadership graduated from ELTE with a degree in history. Although they don’t want to meddle in the worldview of students, they believe that they should be able to fend off blind prejudice and racism. György admitted that “radicalism” is a very serious problem at ELTE and “the university has no other antidote than arming the students with the necessary knowledge.” He was very pleased when he heard about PPKE’s decision and he, unlike Révész, trusts the faculty of the university to face the past honestly.

It was Elek Tokfalvi, one of my favorite publicists, who was truly enthusiastic about the course. In his opinion, what happened in Hungary was unique in the history of the Holocaust because the Hungarian Jewish community’s destruction began after all the others’ had already ended. Therefore, studying the Hungarian Holocaust is warranted. Tokfalvi looks upon PPKE’s decision to introduce a course on the Holocaust as a “moral redemption” after decades of the undisturbed spread of anti-liberalism, anti-capitalism, ethnic superiority. “Therefore, it deserves praise.” In his opinion, other universities should follow PPKE’s example.” Perhaps it would also be beneficial to teach basic values that would “counterbalance the anti-Semitism of university graduates.” The same idea that Péter György is advocating.

One thing is certain. It s not enough to introduce a course on the Holocaust. As long as people like the economist Katalin Botos give lectures like the one available in part on YouTube, no change in attitudes can be expected.

It might also be a good idea if György Fodor, dean of the Divinity School, and others would take a more critical look at Ottokár Prohászka and the Catholic Church’s attitudes past and present concerning anti-Semitism and racism because, for the most part, the church leaders did very little, or nothing.

Hungarian students demand autonomy of universities

The Orbán government wants to reform higher education so that it will advance the material well-being of the Hungarian nation. Its primary purpose should be to contribute to areas such as manufacturing and agriculture, to the production of physical products.

Last November I wrote about László Palkovics, the latest undersecretary in charge of higher education, who announced early in his career as a member of the government that “the state will not finance useless diplomas.” After reading a long interview with the man, I came to the conclusion that Palkovics was planning to transform Hungarian higher education into one “huge engineering school.”

It seems that the presidents of Hungarian universities had the same misgivings about Palkovics’s “reforms” as I did. The Hungarian Conference of University Presidents (Magyar Rektori Konferencia) pointed out “the flaws of a concept that concentrates exclusively on economic matters.” As usual, the presidents’ objections were ignored. By mid-April rumors circulated that a large number of subjects taught at the bachelor’s level would be eliminated from the course offerings. “Communication” and “international studies” were prime targets; the government wanted to get rid of them as undergraduate majors. Vh.hu seemed to know that the ministry of foreign affairs and trade wasn’t happy about the proposed elimination of the study of international relations, which usually attracts very bright students. After all, some of these young people contemplate a diplomatic career.

On the afternoon of April 17 the government at last made its new plans for higher education public. Isn’t it interesting that momentous decisions that the government suspects will meet with resistance are usually released late on Friday afternoon? The hope, I assume, is that by Monday the outrage will subside. Well, it didn’t work out that way this time, especially since the document indicated that not only would certain social science fields, like international relations, no longer be available for B.A. students but that the very survival of the faculty of social sciences was at stake.

Today students and faculty members of several universities met in “forums” to discuss the government document. First I heard about the forum held by Eötvös Lóránd Tudományegyetem (ELTE) students and professors of the Faculty of Social Sciences. A few minutes later I learned that other universities were joining the “revolt.” The revolt continued on to the Budapest Műszaki Egyetem (MBE/Budapest Engineering School), where László Palkovics was holding the fort against irate students who accused him of not knowing what he was talking about.

Given the centralized nature of Hungarian higher education, I suspect that this decision would affect all universities and colleges, although at the moment the talk is only about ELTE, Corvinus, and the Catholic University. The government’s plans, by the way, are not based on financial considerations. As it now stands, students who want to major in international relations must pay their own way, so the government saves no money whatsoever by getting rid of the discipline. The reason for the decision is most likely political. The Orbán government doesn’t like the way ELTE and other universities teach the subject. Fidesz has no problem with offering a major in international relations at the undergraduate level at the new Nemzeti Közszolgálati Egyetem (NKE/National Civil Service University), where the regime educates its own elite. By the way, some people call NKE “the university for future janissaries.”

Not that I’m keeping fingers crossed for Viktor Orbán and his government, but I thought that perhaps in the last few months they had learned a thing or two, that they would tamp down their zeal for reform and stop annoying people at every turn. I can assure Mr. Orbán that it is dangerous to push students too far. Look at what happened in 1956 when forums were held at ELTE, BME, and Szeged and a few days later Mátyás Rákosi was gone. Orbán’s government is teetering at the moment. In his place I wouldn’t tempt God.

The protest at ELTE’s faculty of social sciences began on Facebook, and thousands signed up to attend a meeting today at 6 p.m. A list of five demands was ready by mid-morning.

1. We demand the autonomy of universities. We demand free choice of university and majors.

2. There is a need for specialists with a knowledge of the social sciences, of the European Union and international relations.

3. In the 21st century it is not the state that decides the future professions of people. It is not the state that decides what specialty exists and what doesn’t. The state cannot forbid any specialty or monopolize it for the university of the government.

4. The impact studies behind the decisions should be made public. We demand transparency, discussion, and professionalism.

5. With the elimination of these majors the government goes against international and European trends, undermines our future, and completely ruins the possibility of Hungary’s success in the world.

At this point the Ministry of Human Resources tried to calm the situation and claimed that nothing has been decided yet, that it was the opposition parties who were responsible for whipping up emotions against the government. The ministry insisted that “before the May introduction of the decisions there will be an opportunity for all affected by the new system to express their opinions.” Unfortunately past experience teaches us that such promises are not worth the paper they are written on. The ministry explained that the changes to be introduced “serve the interest of the students” and “strengthen the effectiveness of teaching.” The students not surprisingly don’t seem to agree.

This morning at ELTE the professors, instead of giving their scheduled lectures, used class time for a discussion of the planned changes. It was during these student-teacher discussions that they came up with their five demands. Moreover, the university administration is on their side. Both the president and the dean of the social science faculty were present and made speeches at the “forum” held this afternoon.

The engineering students also gathered for a discussion, and again they seem to be backed by the faculty and the administration. The government, though generally pro-engineering, wants to abolish the teaching of design engineering. László Palkovics, who is an engineer and who actually taught at BME, was present and the students gave him a hard time. One student point blank asked him whether he has any idea what design engineering is all about. The students wanted to know why he thinks that the work of design engineers is superfluous. The best he could come up with was that design engineers earn 100,000 a month less than other engineers. As usual, the claim is not true, or at least a company manager who was present said that in fact on average they are more highly paid than their colleagues.

MTI / Photo: Zsolt Szigetvári

MTI / Photo: Zsolt Szigetvári

After the forums were over the ELTE students marched to BME, and from there a fairly large crowd proceeded to the building of the ministry of human resources with the promise of returning if the ministry doesn’t withdraw the plans by Wednesday. I have the feeling that in the interim other universities will join the ELTE and BME crowd, but I doubt that a complete withdrawal of the “concept” is in the offing. In his speech at the forum the president of ELTE expressed a modest expectation. He said that he is hopeful that the international relations major might be saved. But, let’s face it, this is not enough. Indeed, the autonomy of the universities should be restored. That will not happen as long as the Orbán regime is in power, but I very much hope that a total overhaul of Hungarian higher education will take place after the fall of Viktor Orbán.

Yesterday there was an interview with Péter Tölgyessy, a jurist and political scientist who with László Solyóm, former chief justice of the constitutional court and president of the republic, crafted the constitution that functioned well until in 2012 the second Orbán government replaced it with its own. In the interview Tölgyessy said something that caught my imagination. The Hungarian people are rarely aroused to revolt. They are fine with practically any regime so long as it leaves their private spheres alone. But when the government forces itself upon them by wanting to change their lives, then Hungarians stand up and say no to their overlords. János Kádár knew that. Viktor Orbán, on the other hand, wants to change everything, including his subjects. Tölgyessy is sure that in the long run Orbán’s plans will fail.

Rape at a freshman camp in Hungary

On August 30 an incoming freshman was raped at one of the many weekend camps organized by the student associations of ELTE. I have written several times about these students associations, or Hallgatói Önkormányzatok (HÖK). They were organized right after the regime change when they received powers unheard of at universities west of Hungary. In many ways they resemble the former KISZ, the communist youth organization, since they have a very large budget and some of their leaders are paid employees of the university. These associations can spend money with little supervision. They can also decide on such important matters as the allocation of dormitory rooms. Most important, they have a say in faculty appointments since they have a 25% representation on the university senates. Corruption is apparently rampant in these HÖKs. In addition, they are breeding grounds for future leaders of Jobbik. Unfortunately, university administrators either don’t have the guts, the power, or the will to reform and curtail these associations.

Among other things, these student associations are responsible for the organization of “freshmen camps” prior to the opening of the fall term. I guess the original idea was to give freshmen an opportunity to get to know each other as well as to meet savvy upperclassmen. A recent headline, however, described these camps as “szesz és szex” (alcohol and sex).

The scene of the crime was Fonyódliget at Lake Balaton where the freshmen of ELTE’s teachers’ college were supposed to get acquainted. It turned out that the organizers, leaders of the school’s HÖK, hired a 38-year-old photographer who they knew had raped someone else earlier and had in fact spent five years behind bars. The rapist first beat the freshman and then tried to strangle her, all the while taking at least 100 pictures of the act.

The picture was taken in 2012 on the same camp site where the rape occurred

This picture was taken in 2012 on the same camp site where the rape occurred

This time at least the university administrators acted immediately. They suspended the responsible HÖK leaders and promised a full investigation.

And this wasn’t the only problem the ELTE administration had to deal with, although it was by far the most serious. Reports also poured in about the law school’s freshman bash, although the activities there seemed to have been nothing new. For years the organizers have made the freshmen sing a particularly obscene ditty. Index found the text of the obscene song and published it. If you swear that you are over 18, you can have the pleasure of reading it.

It seems that a tragedy had to occur to prompt ELTE’s administration to act. They decided that from here on these freshman camps will be organized centrally and will take place under the university’s supervision. This should have been done much earlier.

While the news was full of the rape case, the three guys who shoot the breeze on Class FM’s Morning Show, a popular program, talked about the freshman camps in a rather light-hearted manner. They called the rape of the freshman “an unfortunate event,” chatted at length about the general licentious atmosphere of these camps, adding “let’s not be hypocritical, we know what’s going on there.” There was even some inappropriate reference to gay people. The media’s reaction was outrage and apologies followed. However, these three guys’ reaction at Class FM is not at all unique, even in media circles. There is a new television reporter at ATV who did not think that his fellow radio journalists said anything particularly objectionable. And a few days later when he was interviewing a representative of an association involved with sexual abuse and domestic violence, he first skirted the issue and, when he had to say something, he brought up violence against men as also being a problem. He added that the trouble is that “women don’t talk about the assaults.” Perhaps if they just talked more, these assaults could somehow be prevented.

Even the director of communications at ELTE, György Fábry, seemed ambivalent to me. Of course, he admitted that it was a terrible tragedy and there will be serious consequences. But he tried to minimize the atmosphere that prevails in these camps. In his conversation with Olga Kálmán he kept repeating that no one forced the participants to sing the obscene song and that, in fact, this year the song was not included in the repertoire. He kept saying that some of the stories are exaggerated. From an earlier conversation on Egyenes beszéd I gained the impression that he is a great defender of HÖK. Indeed, it turned out that he, as a student at ELTE’s faculty of arts, was one of the first HÖK leaders in the early 1990s. The faculty of arts’ HÖK has been solidly in the hands of Jobbik, whose leaders use these freshman camps to recruit members for the party. When probed about the Jobbik connection, Fábry defended the group and said that the problem was not as serious as the media made it out.

Although the commissioner in charge of education who works under the general ombudsman will be investigating freshman camps nationwide, the problem is not with the camps per se. The problem lies with the almost exclusively male composition of the HÖKs. At ELTE women make up 75% of the student body, yet they are barely represented in HÖKs. Ninety-four percent of the student body at the teachers’ college are women, one man heads the college’s HÖK. These fellows often use their prominence as organizers to intimidate freshmen women. Details of what’s going on right under the noses of the university administration are well described by a recent article in Index.  Of course, the problem is not restricted to rowdy university students letting off steam. What happens at these freshman camps is part and parcel of the Hungarian male attitude toward women.

The failure of Hungarian democracy: The universities

Yesterday I indicated that the administration at ELTE must have known what was going on in HÖK (Hallgatói Önkormányzat). It has been an open secret inside and outside of the university for years.

Since I aired my suspicions yesterday afternoon, more and more facts have surfaced about the activities not only of the HÖK of the Faculty of Arts but also of the HÖK that represents the law students at ELTE.

Last night a website appeared written by an unnamed student of ELTE’s faculty of arts (BTK) who penetrated Ádám Garbai’s HÖK, allegedly in order to unveil their activities. Although some of the Fidesz politicians, like István Klinghammer, the new undersecretary in charge of higher education and former president of ELTE, expressed their suspicion that the list is a fake, or as Klinghammer put it, “a provocation,” our unnamed student swears that the lists are for real.  Our “secret agent” claims that “the reign of Jobbik in HÖK has been going on for years with the tacit consent of the administration.” I think that it is enough to look at the following interview of Olga Kálmán with György Fábri, vice president of ELTE, to believe what our “secret agent” alleges.

Fábri seems to be very satisfied with the work of HÖK, which he considers to be a vital part of Hungarian university life. He obviously wouldn’t like to curtail their wide financial and educational powers. As for the concern expressed by Olga Kálmán about the undue influence of Jobbik within HÖK, he defended their right to belong to the party of their choice. As it turned out at the end of the conversation, he as a student was one of the founders of the first HÖK at ELTE. I couldn’t help thinking that Fábri might be a supporter of Jobbik himself. If that is the case, HÖK will never be cleansed, at least not as long as Viktor Orbán is the prime minister of Hungary.

Mushroom farm

Mushroom farm

But it is not only the administration that seems to be tacitly supporting HÖK and through it Jobbik. There are several faculty members who are actively involved with this extremist party. For example, János Stummer, former BTK HÖK deputy chairman, who just started a student movement at ELTE called Magyar Tavasz Mozgalom (Hungarian Spring). A video that is available on kuruc.info.hu about this movement indicates that it subscribes to a far right irredentist ideology. Even the freshman picnics that BTK HÖK organizes regularly end with “Down with Trianon,” says our informer.

HÖK activists have been involved with Jobbik’s election campaigns, often being used to distribute Jobbik propaganda material. Their latest contribution was the distribution of 6,600 copies of a free Jobbik newspaper called Hazai Pálya (Domestic Course) in District VI in Budapest. Often the propaganda material was actually stored in the university’s building on Múzeum körút. Naturally, after the scandal hit the Internet the Jobbik leadership tried to distance itself from the official university student groups.

The semi-official government paper Magyar Nemzet was slow to respond to ATV’s publication of the list and the comments. Quite a few hours passed before they managed to find their voice. A few minutes after Antal Rogán warned people that one must carefully check the authenticity of the list, Magyar Nemzet decided to publish an article with the headline: “One must very carefully check whether the students really made lists at the university.” Almost as if the editors waited for a signal from the government on how to respond to this embarrassing event.

Naturally, HírTV was quick to interview Ádám Garbai. Garbai “admitted that they were negligent” because they were not careful enough when storing the lists and thus enemies of HÖK could get to them and alter their content. Because this is Garbai’s story. He also claims that he has not seen any lists since he became chairman in January 2011. Our informant predicts that they will deny the charges to the bitter end.

Yesterday right-wing students tried to break HaHa’s strike. However, they seem to have a manpower shortage. They managed to gather about 50 students, not all of whom were students at ELTE’s BTK. Their plan was to join the HaHa students and outvote them in order to end the strike. Once that plan failed, they were satisfied to conduct a shouting match in which they fiercely defended HÖK and claimed that the list is a fake.

So, here we are in a politically polarized situation at the universities. All this while no political activity is allowed in Hungarian universities. This decision was made back in 1990 when perhaps the restriction was more understandable than it is today. During the Rákosi and Kádár regimes both at the workplaces and at the schools and universities there used to be communist party cells.  Naturally, the opposition didn’t want parties to recruit or put pressure on students and employees and therefore fought to end the practice.

But in normal democratic societies it is in schools and universities that students learn the rudiments of democracy in theory and practice. In the United States already in elementary school students learn to campaign for class offices. By the time they reach college age they have a fair idea about political campaigning. Both in Canada and in the United States political parties have student organizations in the universities. I urge readers to take a look at the parties that exist at Yale University under the umbrella organization called the Political Union. To ban political discussion at universities is a crime against democracy.

Moreover, as we can see, the ban was good for only one thing: the underground–or not so underground–growth of a racist, irredentist, far right party. And this official student organization has the support of both the university and the government. It is a shame.

Demokratikus Koalíció was the first to respond with a suggestion that might remedy the current situation. Csaba Molnár, one of the deputy chairmen of DK, suggested that parties should be able to function under the supervision of the university authorities. This is the situation in Germany and in Austria. He might also have mentioned the United Kingdom, Canada, or the United States. I can only agree.

Jobbik breeding grounds: The student associations in Hungarian universities

Early yesterday morning an incredible news item appeared on ATV’s website. It reported that for years the Hallgatói Önkormányzat (HÖK) of ELTE’s faculty of arts (BTK) has been keeping tabs on incoming students’ alleged religious affiliation, ethnic background, sexual orientation, and political views. For good measure they also assessed the sexual potential of female students. What one ought to know about this particular HÖK is that it has been a breeding ground for Jobbik politicians and activists. But if for years no one got wind of this group’s illicit activities, why it is that someone, undoubtedly from the inner circle of BTK HÖK, decided to spill the beans?

I guess because someone decided that HÖK is supposed to represent the interests of the student body and not go to the president of the university and complain against student activists and those faculty members who are siding with them. Because this is what Ádám Garbai, the present chairman of BTK HÖK, did. By the following day ATV had access to a spreadsheet compiled by BTK HÖK on the salient qualities of incoming freshmen from 2009.

I must admit that I was unfamiliar with many of the descriptions. Although I could figure out what “cigó” and “libsi” could mean, when it came to “ratyi” I had to look it up on the Internet. Among the notations: “atheist, acquaintance of Demszky” (SZDSZ mayor of Budapest between 1990 and 2010), “stupid Lutheran girl, revisionist, Transylvanian picture,” “he has an ugly Jewish head,” “ugly broad who bicycles,” “little liberal fag,” and so on. I urge people who know the language to take a look at the original text. Some of the notes also described actions of the student association. For example, the almighty HÖK leaders who decide whether someone can have a room in the dormitory remarked that “we aren’t going to give him a place.”

Beside each name there was a hidden question whether the person is Jewish or not. Answer: I for igen and N nor nem. Party preferences were noted too: A = MSZP; B = LMP, C = Fidesz, D = Jobbik.

Every year the great minds of BTK HÖK created this kind of Excel spreadsheet on the incoming freshmen. In 2009 Ádám Garbai, the current chairman, was only a freshman. Máté Silhavy was in charge of the spreadsheet. Silhavy doesn’t deny that he compiled the list, but he claims that the obscene, degrading, and illegal comments on the personal habits of students were not his. They were added to the list later, he claims. Garbai yesterday still loudly proclaimed that he was going to sue ATV. I somehow doubt it.

Both the university and Attila Péterfalvy, the government official in charge of privacy issues, are taking the case very seriously because what these young student leaders did is a crime. The university this afternoon suspended HÖK activities at ELTE”s BTK.

I find it hard to imagine that the university’s administrators didn’t know what was going on in BTK’s HÖK. Moreover, they had to know that ever since 2005 the chairmen and all the important leaders of HÖK have been either Jobbik party members or activists. The current chairman, Ádám Garbai, is expecting to hear shortly whether he can be a full-fledged member of the party. His predecessor, László Nemes, was a member of Jobbik. So was his predecessor, István Szávay. According to an article that appeared in Magyar Narancs in May 2012, Garbai’s election in January 2012 was most likely fraudulent: his predecessor, Nemes, fired the top student leaders who were opposed to Garbai’s election. The election had to be repeated because the first one was a draw. Yet after this disgraceful election, the dean of the faculty, Tamás Dezső, delivered a laudatory speech and bestowed a commemorative medal on Nemes who organized the fraudulent election. Or at least this is what one could read on BTK’s HÖK web site before the section on Ádám Garbai was taken off .

ELTE BTK HOK

The illustrious members of HÖK at ELTE’s Faculty of Arts
In the middle of the first row in the dark blue shirt is Ádám Garbai / btkhok.elte

Here is a brief curriculum vitae of István Szávay who today is a Jobbik member of parliament. He finished high school in 1999 but graduated with his first degree in history only in 2008. So, it took this fellow nine years to receive a diploma. He was so attached to university life that he immediately pursued a second degree in political science which he received two years later in 2010. In 2012 he received another diploma in pedagogy and psychology. He is currently a PhD. candidate, but apparently he didn’t get there exactly fair and square. His credentials for entering graduate school were not in order, but one of his professors helped him out by changing a grade or two. Because of his great academic accomplishments he was the recipient of a “Republican Scholarship.” But he was not simply a perpetual student. In 2009 he was on the board of Duna Televízió!

Anyone who wants to learn more about some of these characters might want to look at a good article about them in Népszava from 2010.

Why didn’t the universities and the governments do something about the whole student self-government system a long time ago? The problems were known. HÖKs were captured by extremists who most likely used the organization for recruiting purposes. They misappropriated money given to them by the government. We are talking about millions which they could distribute as financial aid. Some of the money went for lurid parties where, for instance, Szávay was caught in a most embarrassing sexual pose. So, all this has been known for a very long time.

The whole system should have been reorganized. But it seems to me that the socialist-liberal governments were too timid while some of the right-leaning faculty sheltered the HÖOK-Jobbik students.

Will the Orbán government take this affair seriously? I doubt it. After all, as is clear by now, Viktor Orbán doesn’t want to alienate Jobbik. He might need them one day.