Tag Archives: István Pukli

Educational activist István Pukli’s encounter with the media

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.

István Pukli / Source: Magyar Idők

István Pukli / Source: Magyar Idők

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.”

September 3, 2016

Orbán and his ministers got their report cards: they all failed

In the last couple of months we didn’t hear much about the teachers’ rebellion against Viktor Orbán’s educational reforms, except that the dissatisfied teachers promised to do something after the matriculation exams ended but before the last day of the school year. Eventually, we learned that the leaders of the “Tanítanék” (I would like to teach) movement were organizing a rally at which they were planning to present the government with their own report cards.

I must admit that I was not at all optimistic that they could pull off another huge demonstration, the kind they staged on March 15. Past experience has taught us how easily enthusiasm wanes. After realizing that street demonstrations rarely have any tangible results, participants soon enough lose their appetite for these gatherings. So, I was very afraid that instead of a mass demonstration only a few hundred people would show up today on March 15 tér and that, with such a poor showing, the whole teachers’ revolt would fizzle out.

Source: Blikk / Photo: Ferenc Isza

Source: Blikk / Photo: Ferenc Isza

I was wrong. To sustain people’s interest protests don’t have to have positive results. On the contrary, a negative outcome might spur even more intensified resistance. If the government had granted some reasonable concessions, the teachers might have been appeased. But Viktor Orbán misjudged the situation and decided not just to ignore the teachers’ demands but to make the state’s stranglehold over the schools and thus over the teachers even tighter. For one thing, instead of a single KLIK, there will now be another layer of bureaucracy–57 little KLIKs.

In the last three years, since the introduction of the centralized system, at least the school buildings and their maintenance remained in the hands of the local communities. The Orbán government, however, in its eternal wisdom, came to the conclusion that they should also centralize the physical maintenance of the school buildings. So, for example, if a window gets broken, the school administration will have to apply to one of the little KLIKs, most likely miles away, for a replacement window.

Source: Blikk / Photo: Ferenc Isza

Source: Blikk / Photo: Ferenc Isza

The reaction in the community was fury. According to the union leaders, the number of people who are ready to actively participate in an anti-establishment movement has grown many times over since the government’s refusal to listen to the initial demands of the teachers. They feel cheated and have come to the conclusion that negotiating with Viktor Orbán’s minions is absolutely useless because the government representatives cannot be trusted. The trade union leaders also realized that the so-called “negotiators” on the government side don’t have a mandate to make decisions or to offer negotiating points. So, Piroska Galló, head of the Pedagógusok Szakszervezete (PSZ), announced that traditional methods of dealing with an employer, in this case the state, are useless in Orbán’s Hungary. From here on, more radical methods must be employed.

Apparently, the government decision makers were misled by the small number of teachers, only about 20%, who participated in the strike staged by the trade unions in April. Trade union leader Galló maintains that, although relatively few people took part in the strike, the trade unions’ demands were supported by a large majority of the teachers. Also, the government negotiators paid no attention to the protest of the parents who kept their children at home on the day of the strike. Their numbers were in the hundreds of thousands. They are ready to support their children’s teachers and are just as angered by the government’s reaction as are the teachers.

Mrs. Galló was right. Despite rain mixed with hail, thousands showed up in an impressive display of resolve. The government went very wrong here and still hasn’t learned its lesson. The education department, housed in the ministry of human resources, continues to think that the trade union leaders and the civic organizations of teachers will fall for the old line that “the majority of teachers believe in dialogue and not in street action and political provocation.” No, they don’t. If the teachers learned anything in the last few months, it was that negotiation with the Orbán government–alleged dialogue–is a dead end. I also believe that the charge, repeated time and again, that the “teachers are being used by anti-government forces” will only add fuel to the fire. The result is that both the trade unions and the civic “Tanítanék” group are determined to continue the fight, and with even greater force come fall.

The two leaders of the Tanítanék group are born leaders. I’m amazed at their organizational and oratorical skills. If anyone can organize a real mass movement around the teachers it will be István Pukli and Kata Törley. They promise something spectacular once schools open in September. They are already working to establish a nationwide network of activists. They began their recruitment right on the spot

One of the highlights of the demonstration was the handing out of report cards to government officials.  Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources; László Palkovics, his undersecretary responsible for education; János Lázár, head of the prime minister’s office; Lajos Kósa, head of Fidesz’s parliamentary delegation; Antal Rogán, “propaganda minister”; Szilárd Németh, one of the deputy chairmen of Fidesz; and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán all received failing grades. As the grades were read out, the crowd jeered and shouted “mocskos Fidesz” (filthy Fidesz). Of course, the greatest booing came after Viktor Orbán’s report card was read.

We should keep in mind that the popularity of Fidesz today is not what it was a few months ago. According to the Republikon Intézet, Fidesz’s popularity has fallen 8% in just one month, between April and May, among committed voters. The beneficiaries of Fidesz’s losses seem to be the smaller parties, especially the Demokratikus Koalíció (+3%) and to a lesser extent LMP (+1%) and Együtt (+1%). These results were more or less seconded by Fidesz’s own Századvég. Some spectacular show of force by the teachers might further erode Fidesz’s popularity.

For those who didn’t see István Pukli and Kata Törley on ATV, they also appeared on Egyenes beszéd ráadás (Straight Talk Extra) yesterday.

June 11, 2016

Teachers’ revolt, Nazi speech, and Orbán’s “battle” in Brussels

Hungarian public discourse at the moment revolves around three topics. The first two, about which I’ve already written, require updates. The third topic is new: today’s summit in Brussels and Viktor Orbán’s latest stunt.

First, the aftermath of the large anti-government demonstration of teachers and sympathizers on March 15, at which the organizers demanded an apology from Viktor Orbán. The prime minister’s response was that he considered the demand nothing more than a joke. János Lázár couldn’t even comprehend what István Pukli and his colleagues had in mind. As for their demand for his presence at the negotiations, he invited them to one of the town meetings Hungarian politicians attend to answer questions from the local folks. Zoltán Balog didn’t react to the organizers’ demand for his resignation. László Palkovics did, and said that he will remain at the head of the round table discussion. The leaders of the teachers’ revolt can come and join him.

Pukli was not intimidated by the predictable response. He did what no ordinary subject of the almighty Viktor Orbán has dared to do. He spoke back. “Here is the opportunity, dear Viktor Orbán, to take the teachers seriously, and instead of condescension and disdainful jokes, to take the problem itself seriously.” And he added that members of the government “secretly hope that the whole thing was no more than a bad dream and once they wake up everything will be the same as before. But their real awakening will be painful.” Pukli seems very sure of himself, and I do hope the teachers are ready to follow him.

I might also add that the two trade unions are still in conversation with László Palkovics and Bence Rétvári, who made it clear that the declaration of a strike is restricted to unions and that Pukli’s call for a walk-out is considered to be illegal. There might, however, be a clever legal loophole, as indicated by László Mendrey, leader of the Pedagógusok Demokratikus Szövetsége (PDSZ), this afternoon.

The other event of March 15 that continues to resonate is Viktor Orbán’s speech. People from opposing political backgrounds, including a former Fidesz propagandist, came to the conclusion that Orbán’s oration was a “Nazi speech.” The epithet spread first on Facebook. Yesterday I cited a Facebook post that compared the crucial part of the speech about the host animal and its parasites to a similar passage from the 1942 edition of Mein Kampf. The speech reminded Gábor Kuncze, former chairman of SZDSZ and minister of interior in the Horn government, of Adolf Hitler’s speech delivered on November 10, 1933.

Zsolt Gréczy, spokesman of Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), wrote in his blog that “what Orbán said is a perfect copy of Adolf Hitler’s speeches.” As an example, he quoted the following sentence from Orbán’s speech: “It is written in the book of fate that hidden, faceless world powers will eliminate everything that is unique, autonomous, age-old, and national,” adding that only the mustache was missing from under his nose. Sándor Csintalan, who for the last ten years or maybe longer was a devoted supporter of Fidesz, finally broke with Orbán because the “parasites” metaphor was too much for him. Although he hates “drawing these kinds of historical comparisons, it was in the 1930s in Nazi Germany that political rivals were compared to animals who sponge off a host animal.”

The most thorough assessment came from historian Mária M. Kovács, who is well known among our readers from her articles that appeared in Hungarian Spectrum. Yesterday morning, in an interview on Klubrádió, she summarized the German historical and rhetorical heritage that began with Johann Gottfried Herder and Eugen Dühring and eventually blossomed during the Nazi period in the language of Adolf Hitler and other leading characters of the Third Reich. That tradition included labeling members of the political opposition as members of the animal world, especially its least attractive members. “Parasite” was one of the favorite words, as well as “pack,” i.e. a pack of wolves or wild dogs. She added that this is not really new in Orbán’s vocabulary. But it has taken quite a bit of time for people first to recognize the similarity and then to be courageous enough to compare Orbán to Hitler.

I may add here that László Bartus, editor-in-chief of Amerikai Népszava, who is usually considered to be too extreme in his criticism of Orbán, has been describing the prime minister’s speeches as “Nazi talk” for a long time. For example, after Orbán’s “illiberal speech” on July 28, 2014. But even earlier, Bartus wrote an article after Orbán’s October 23, 2013 speech, which he called “Orbán’s Nazi speech.”

Viktor Orbán arrives at the summit in Brussels

Viktor Orbán arrives at the summit in Brussels

Finally, a few words about the summit that began today and will continue tomorrow. János Lázár devoted a significant part of his weekly government.info to the subject. He announced that today Orbán will be part of a huge battle in Brussels where the debate will center on the quota issue. Will it be compulsory to take a certain number of refugees? If so, then the referendum the government is currently planning will have to be held.

Naturally, all Hungarian news sites picked up the story of Hungary’s battling prime minister. If these journalists had followed the news a little more closely, news that was reported even in the Hungarian media, they would have known that Viktor Orbán was fabricating a phony battle to show his people that the European Union is at his mercy and that all decisions are dependent on his image of the future of Europe. The fact is that yesterday at a press conference held in the Bundestag Angela Merkel already announced that the question of compulsory quotas would not be put on the table. So, like a fortuneteller who predicts the past, Orbán announced today in Brussels that “there is a good chance” that his views would be accepted at the summit. Csaba Molnár, one of DK’s two members of the European Parliament, declared today that “it is a shame that the Hungarian prime minister week after week tries to mislead the Hungarians with his lies.” There will be no fight “because during the negotiations there will be not a word about compulsory quotas.”

Unfortunately Orbán is doing a splendid job of misleading the Hungarian public. Indeed, week after week he returns from Brussels as the victorious defender of European and Hungarian freedom. Even the better informed public and members of the opposition media lap it up. Another thing that needs to change.

March 17, 2016