Tag Archives: Kunó Klebelsberg

In Orbán’s opinion Miklós Horthy was an exceptional statesman

Another day, another speech. Yes, Viktor Orbán delivered another speech which, with the exception of one short passage, was nothing more than his usual collection of clichés about “those people whose aim is the transformation of Europe’s cultural subsoil, which will lead to the atrophy of its root system.”

The occasion was the opening of the newly renovated, sumptuous house of Kuno Klebelsberg, minister of education between 1922 and 1931, in Pesthidegkút, today part of District XII of Budapest. Along with István Bethlen, prime minister between 1921 and 1931, Klebelsberg was his favorite politician of the interwar period. Neither of them was a champion of democracy, but they stood far above the average Hungarian politicians of the period. I devoted a post to Klebelsberg in 2011 when the government decided that the new centralized public school system would be overseen by a monstrous organization called Klebelsberg Intézményfenntartó Központ (KLIK).

As I said, there was only one passage in the whole speech that will not easily be forgotten. After describing the 1920s and 1930s as “a grave touchstone” of Hungarian history, Orbán said that the nation was able to survive thanks to “some exceptional statesmen like Governor Miklós Horthy, Prime Minister István Bethlen, and Kuno Klebelsberg.” Thanks to them, “history didn’t bury us under the weight of the lost war, the 133 days of red terror, and the Diktat of Trianon. Without the governor there is no prime minister, and without the prime minister there is no minister. Even Hungary’s dismal role in World War II cannot call into question this fact.” Jaws dropped even at the conservative Válasz, which called Horthy’s description as an exceptional statesman “a historical hornet’s nest” which will be followed by a long, far-reaching, and most likely acrimonious debate.

Source: Miniszterelnöki Kabinet / Károly Árvai

Maybe we could quibble over whether István Bethlen was a statesman, but that Miklós Horthy was not is certain, and not just because of his dismal political career. When we think of a statesman we think of a highly respected, influential politician who exhibits great ability, wisdom, and integrity. None of these fits Miklós Horthy. He was a narrow-minded man without any political experience. Why did Orbán feel it necessary to join Horthy to Bethlen and Klebelsberg as great statesmen of the interwar period, especially by employing such twisted logic? One cannot think of anything else but that he has some political reason for his “re-evaluation” of Horthy.

This interpretation is new because it wasn’t a terribly long time ago when, in the wake of the Bálint Hóman statue controversy in Székesfehérvár in December 2015, Orbán said in parliament that he couldn’t support the erection of the Hóman statue because the constitution doesn’t allow anyone to be honored who held political office after March 19, 1944, because any political activity after that date meant collaboration with the oppressors, i.e. the Germans. For that reason, he wouldn’t support a statue for Governor Miklós Horthy either. So, this is quite a leap, which may have even international consequences. Although Horthy was not officially declared to be a war criminal, historical memory has not been kind to him. I am certain that the news that Viktor Orbán embraced Miklós Horthy as one of the great Hungarian statesmen of the twentieth century will be all over the international media.

The Hungarian reaction in anti-Fidesz circles was that Orbán’s change of heart as far as Horthy is concerned has something to do with his desire to weaken Jobbik, a party which has been most fervent in its rehabilitation efforts on behalf of Miklós Horthy. Orbán has been waging a war against Jobbik for some time, and Jobbik’s very effective billboards infuriated him. He wants to destroy Vona and his party. He is vying for Jobbik votes by courting far-right Jobbik supporters who might be dissatisfied with Vona’s new, more moderate policies. Perhaps Horthy will do the trick.

As far as Horthy’s political abilities are concerned, his best years were the first ten years of his governorship when he had the good sense to let Bethlen run the affairs of state. Every time he was active in politics he made grievous mistakes or worse, be it in the years 1919 and 1920 or in the second half of the 1930s and early 1940s.

You may have noticed that Orbán talked about the red terror but didn’t mention the white terror that was conducted by Horthy’s so-called officer detachments (különítmények). They roamed the countryside and exercised summary justice against people they suspected of support for or participation in the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Horthy knew about their activities and most likely even encouraged them. The number of victims of white terror was about three times the number of those who were killed by the so-called Lenin Boys.

Horthy’s election to the position of governor was mostly due to the fact that the only military force that existed in the country in late 1919 and early 1920 was his detachments. Politicians were worried about the possibility of a military coup. Horthy expressed his impatience with the politicians several times as they tried to hammer out a coalition government the allies would accept. And his officers made it clear that it is Horthy or else. His political views at that time were identical to those of his far-right officers who later claimed that they were the first national socialists in Europe.

Horthy’s real inability as a politician came to light when the world was edging toward a new world war. Perhaps his greatest sin was Hungary’s declaration of war against the Soviet Union. He volunteered Hungary’s military assistance when Germany didn’t even press for it. He also bears an immense responsibility for the Hungarian Holocaust when, after the German occupation on March 19, 1944, the government he appointed sent half a million Hungarian Jewish citizens to their death while he himself did nothing. And we know that he could have prevented it, as he was able to stop the transports later, mind you only after 450,000 Jewish citizens had already been sent to die in Auschwitz and other extermination camps.

Orbán’s decision to declare Horthy a national hero shows the true nature of his regime.

June 21, 2017

Viktor Orbán, the man responsible for the statue honoring the anti-Semitic Bálint Hóman

After several false starts, perhaps today I will finally be able to write the real story behind the ill-fated Hóman statue intended to adorn a relatively small square in downtown Székesfehérvár. I wrote at least three times about the controversy over erecting a statue of a politician who had a major role to play in drafting the anti-Jewish laws of the late 1930s even if, in another capacity, he was a well-respected historian. But I didn’t have a full cast of characters, and I didn’t know who was really responsible for coming up with the idea for the statue.

Why do I only now have the opportunity to set the record straight? Because Prime Minister Viktor Orbán did his very best to keep the real story hidden. While foreign papers are reporting the Hungarian prime minister’s categorical stand against erecting a statue honoring a man who collaborated with “Hungary’s oppressors,” the Germans, it was actually Viktor Orbán who masterminded the grandiose plan of erecting three statues in Székesfehérvár, where he went to high school, one of which would depict the anti-Semitic Bálint Hóman. Once the scandal over the statue spread, Orbán tried to cover his tracks. He passed the buck to the locals, who in fact had nothing to do with the project except, at the behest of the central government, lending their names to it.

How did all this come to light? Of course, someone spilled the beans. Gyula Fülöp, the retired director of Fehérvár’s Saint Stephen Museum, was incensed when he read an article in Népszabadság from which he learned that the government was denying any connection to the Hóman statue. It was all a local initiative, János Lázár claimed last Thursday. So, Fülöp decided to speak up. First, he talked to Gábor Czene of Népszabadság and today to György Bolgár of Klubrádió. His revelations are critical in piecing together the story of the Hóman statue.

When did Viktor Orbán decide that he wanted to see a group of three statues on one small square in front of the Cistercian Gymnasium? We don’t know exactly, but the first statue, of Kunó Klebelsberg, the legendary minister of education in the 1920s, was unveiled on November 13, 2013. At that point László L. Simon, undersecretary in charge of cultural affairs in the prime minister’s office, approached Fülöp with the idea of adding two more statues, one of Gyula Kornis, a priest who was a close associate of Klebelsberg, and the second of Bálint Hóman. Fülöp, who is an archaeologist, was unaware of Hóman’s political activities and therefore agreed to “sponsor” the project under the aegis of the Arnold Marosi Alapítvány, named after the first director of the St. Stephen Museum. L. Simon assured Fülöp that there was money for the project. Indeed, soon enough he received a letter from the ministry of justice assuring him of the financing necessary for the two statues. Fülöp still has the letter, but in his conversation with Bolgár he couldn’t recall who signed the letter, although he was pretty certain that it was not Tibor Navracsics, the minister. “Maybe an undersecretary or perhaps a department head,” he said.

A year later, on August 22, 2014, Gyula Kornis’s statue was erected, but Hóman’s had to wait until a Hungarian court decided on his rehabilitation as a war criminal. On March 7, 2015, the court found Hóman not guilty, and the road was thereby open to erect the last statue.

Viktor Orbán immediately moved into action. He had been touring Hungary’s 23 largest cities where he signed “documents of cooperation” in which he pledged all sorts of infrastructure improvements, naturally on EU money. On May 26, 2015 he appeared in Székesfehérvár. Following the signing of the precious document, Orbán delivered a speech in which he said:

The first thing we must remember is that Bálint Hóman, who represented this city in Parliament, was recently fully rehabilitated in legal terms. This also means the rehabilitation of our city, and therefore we hail this decision. I’m glad that Bálint Hóman’s memory will not disappear in the city of Székesfehérvár, and we hope that his scientific as well as his public rehabilitation will also take place.

Indeed, Hóman’s legacy in Fehérvár would be especially vivid if he had a statue to memorialize it.

By that time, the statue was most likely ready, waiting for the day when it could be unveiled. But then came a snag. Gyula Fülöp learned about Hóman’s past and decided that he didn’t want to get involved in this project. He therefore withdrew the Arnold Marosi Alapítvány’s sponsorship. It was at that point that L. Simon, the middleman between Viktor Orbán and the locals, approached the Bálint Hóman Alapítvány to act as a sponsor.

Orban pinocchio

It was most likely during Orbán’s visit to Székesfehérvár that the mayor, András Cser-Palkovics, was told to get the permission of the city council to erect the statue. Cser-Palkovics dutifully delivered.

However, mostly because of pressure coming from the United States, the strategy had to be changed. Again, it was Cser-Palkovics who had to bear the burden and deliver a carefully drafted speech in which he passed responsibility for the project to the Bálint Hóman Alapítvány, with the proviso that if this foundation insists on erecting the statue they are free to do so. This is democracy, he claimed.

This response didn’t satisfy the U.S. officials who had gathered in the Hungarian capital. Robert Berschinski (deputy assistant undersecretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor), Ira Forman (special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism), and Nicholas Dean (special envoy for Holocaust issues) asked the Hungarian government to block the erection of the Hóman statue. These big guns from the U.S. State Department were not satisfied with Cser-Palkovics’s ambiguous statements. They wanted a straight answer from Viktor Orbán himself.

Yesterday Orbán had to say something because he received a question on the Hóman statue from Ágnes Kunhalmi (MSZP) in parliament. She wanted to know whether, if the civic foundation in Székesfehérvár decides to go through with the project, he would support it or not. Initially he refused to answer the question, but a few minutes later he decided to respond. He said that he couldn’t support the erection of the Hóman statue because the constitution doesn’t allow anyone to be honored who held political office after March 19, 1944, because any political activity after that date meant collaboration with the oppressors, i.e. the Germans. For that reason, he wouldn’t support a statue for Governor Miklós Horthy either. For those who know Hungarian, a video of the exchange is provided.

Just to clarify the historical record, Hóman didn’t really collaborate with the Germans. In fact, he was apparently the only Hungarian politician who paid a visit to Edmund Veesenmayer, the Reich’s plenipotentiary in Hungary, to express his outrage at the occupation. Admittedly, he remained a member of parliament after Ferenc Szálasi became the leader of the country and left Hungary with the retreating German army. His real crime, however, was the role he played in drafting the anti-Jewish laws and his discriminatory legislative activities against Jewish-Hungarians in educational facilities under his care.

As for Viktor Orbán’s role in this affair, foreign papers may hail the fact that at last Viktor Orbán spoke out and distanced himself from the project. Alas, not too many people outside of Hungary will ever know that the real culprit of this sickening story was Viktor Orbán himself.

From the Don River to the proclamation of western artists and scientists

I have a very long list of possible topics but I know that I will never get to the end of it because in the meantime newer topics keep emerging. So I decided to deal with several themes today.

Let’s start with the older ones. For a few days in January, the newspapers were full of historical reminiscences and debates about the role and fate of the Hungary’s Second Army in 1943. I myself wrote a post on January 15 which engendered a lively debate among the readers of Hungarian Spectrum. As usual, after a flurry of articles interest in the subject waned until two months later when a book of Soviet documents was published that revealed that some of the occupying Hungarian soldiers behaved abominably. One of the editors of the volume is Tamás Krausz, who for a while was also active in MSZP’s left wing.

The documents are based on eyewitness accounts that were collected immediately following the withdrawal of the German, Finnish, Latvian, Romanian, and Hungarian forces. According to Krausz, German historians consider these documents authentic. He emphasized that the Hungarians were no better or worse than the other occupying forces but that members of the Second Army committed “war crimes and genocide” alongside the others. Why didn’t these documents emerge earlier? According to Krausz, because during the socialist period neither side wanted to talk about the other side’s crimes. As long as the Hungarians didn’t mention the behavior of the Soviet troops in Hungary, the Soviets decided to be quiet about Hungarian atrocities. But now that former satellite countries are bringing up the sins of the Soviets, the Russians decided to release these documents. There are a couple of good summaries of an interview with Krausz and of a conversation between him and a couple of Russian historians on ATV.

It was inevitable that historians whose ideological views are at odds with those of Tamás Krausz would raise their voices. And indeed, there was a round-table discussion between the two sides that turned into a shouting match. The right-leaning historians doubted the very authenticity of the documents. The final word came from Krisztián Ungváry, who admitted that Hungarian soldiers, like all the others, were responsible for mass murders. But he added that this is “a sensitive topic” and therefore it is not surprising that there was deadly silence in historical circles after the documentary volume appeared. All this came as a shock in Hungary because it has long been accepted that the Hungarian soldiers, unlike the Soviets, behaved admirably in the occupied territories.

Another older story is also connected to history and historians. László Karsai, a historian of the Holocaust, in an interview on ATV called Jobbik a neo-Nazi party back in December. Jobbik sued because Karsai, by referring to them as a neo-Nazi party, damaged Jobbik’s good name. The trial was scheduled for January 10. As usual, no decision was rendered and the verdict was postponed until March. At last the verdict was announced on March 22. The judges decided that Jobbik is not a neo-Nazi party. In my opinion, the courts simply shouldn’t accept such cases because the ideological nature of a party cannot be decided by a court decision. Such historical debates have no place in a courtroom. In any case, Karsai was fined 66,000 forints and he must in a private letter apologize for his “mistake.” Jobbik can make the letter public. Karsai is appealing the verdict.

Benjamin FranklinAnd finally, there was a fascinating interview a few days ago with Iván Sándor, a writer. The interview was conducted by Vera Lánczos, one of my favorite members of the Galamus Group. Although Lánczos was interested in the cultural and educational “reforms” introduced by the Orbán government, Sándor went back to the Horthy regime with the example of the Klebelsberg reforms and their consequences. In his opinion the new structures of the present government “will force the spirit of tyranny on the new generations.” After all, there is a return to the program of Kuno Klebelsberg. Yes, says Sándor, Klebelsberg did a lot of good things but “not much is said about the content of these educational reforms.” Even during Klebelsberg’s life one could feel the results, but after his death, especially during the premiership of Gyula Gömbös, the negative results of this educational program came to full bloom. The Hungarian youth were not taught to think, and therefore they could easily be manipulated. Many of them willingly served a regime that led the country into the abyss.

Klebelsberg’s cultural policies can also be criticized. Although he sent talented Christian youth to western countries to study, at the same time he tried to promote a kind of culture that turned against western European literature because that kind of literature “doesn’t serve” the spirit of the country and its culture; it is not patriotic enough. Present-day Kulturkampf in Hungary bears a strong resemblance to its 1920s variety.

And that leads me to one of today’s news items: Western artists called on Hungarians to rebel against Orbán’s regime. They claim that with the usual kinds of protests one cannot achieve anything in Hungary anymore and therefore they call on the intelligentsia of Europe to intervene. Everybody must work together–writers, scientists, philosophers, film and theater directors, musicians, poets, Greenpeace activists. Everybody who wants a democratic Hungary. “Hungary must be liberated.”

That’s all for today.

A Hungarian high school textbook on the numerus clausus of 1920

A few days ago we had a new visitor to Hungarian Spectrum who called himself “Éljen Fidesz” (Long Live Fidesz). He had a peculiar notion about the meaning of numerus clausus as it was applied in a law enacted by the Hungarian parliament in 1920. He turned to Wikipedia and found that “Numerus clausus (‘closed number’  in Latin) is one of many methods used to limit the number of students who may study at a university. In many cases, the goal of the numerus clausus is simply to limit the number of students to the maximum feasible in some particularly sought-after areas of studies.” The Wikipedia article adds that “the numerus clausus is currently used in countries and universities where the number of applicants greatly exceeds the number of available places for students.”

This is a grave misunderstanding of the Hungarian version of the numerus clausus that aimed at restricting the number of Jewish students in all Hungarian universities.

Of course, I don’t know the age of our Fidesz fan, but if he is in his 30s he most likely used Konrád Salamon’s textbook, which is the most popular choice of high school teachers. Not necessarily because it is the best but because in the days when students had to pass a test to be admitted to college or university the test questions were based on this textbook. Salamon’s text is for grade 12 when the history of the twentieth century is taught. The cover is decorated with modern and folk art and perhaps not by accident at least two of the pictures contain religious motifs. It is published in a large-size format (28 x 20 cm) and is 300 pages long. So, as one can imagine, it is packed with facts.

One could write pages and pages about the shortcomings of the book. László Karsai, historian of the Holocaust, wrote a lengthy critique of the way in which several high school and college textbooks deal with Jewish themes and the Holocaust, including Salamon’s text, which I have in manuscript form. Page 57 of Salamon’s book has three sentences about the numerus clausus. The first sentence states that the “members of the right and the extreme right forced through the acceptance of the law that was devised to decrease the overproduction of university graduates.” He adds that this meant quotas for “races [népfajok] and nationalities” according to their proportion in the population as a whole. And finally, Salamon writes that this law “placed Hungarians of Jewish origin in a  disadvantageous position.”

Anyone who is familiar with the Hungarian political situation in 1920 and knows anything about the numerus clausus understands that the law had nothing to do with the overproduction of  university graduates. In fact, at the two new universities in Pécs and Szeged there was a shortage of students. The two new universities, by the way, weren’t really new. They existed before, one in Kolozsvár (Cluj) and the other in Pozsony (Bratislava), but after Trianon they were moved to Szeged and Pécs respectively.

It is also wrong to say, as Salamon does, that it was only the extreme right that insisted on the introduction of a law that restricted enrollment of students of Jewish origin. The greatest supporters of the bill came from the ranks of the Party of National Unity, and even people who were considered to be moderate, like Kunó Klebelsberg and István Bethlen, were in favor of it.

Mária M. Kovács, Afflicted by Law: The Numerous Clausus in Hungary, 1920-1945 / IPon.hu

Mária M. Kovács, Afflicted by Law: The Numerus Clausus in Hungary, 1920-1945 / IPon.hu

Currently I’m reading a book on the numerus clausus  (Törvénytől sújtva: A numerus clausus Magyarországon, 1920-1945 / Afflicted by Law: The Numerus Clausus in Hungary, 1920-1945) by Mária M. Kovács, a professor at the Central European University in Budapest. In it Kovács shows that if the removal of Jewish students was intended to encourage children of the Christian middle class to enter university in greater numbers it was clearly a failure. But this wasn’t the aim of the bill. The leading politicians of the period were trying to restrict the number of Jews in the professions and the arts. In order to achieve their goal they reinterpreted the meaning of “izraelita.” Until then the word simply meant someone who considered himself to be a member of a religious community. With the adoption of the numerus clausus suddenly Hungarian Jews were considered to be an ethnic minority. According to Kovács, the law was unconstitutional both formally and substantively.

And finally a few words about Jewish overrepresentation in higher education. Yes, on the surface that seems to have been the case. During the academic year of 1918-1919 there were 18,449 students enrolled; of this number 6,719 were Jewish. One reason for these lopsided figures was that very few students came from villages and  small towns. Most of them were city dwellers, and Hungary’s Jewish population was concentrated in larger cities. In Budapest 25% of the inhabitants were Jewish. The other reason for this overrepresentation was that a greater number of Jewish youngsters finished gymnasium and took matriculation exams than did their non-Jewish contemporaries. In 1910 among Jewish men over the age of eighteen 18.2% took matriculation exams, among Catholics only 4.2% and among Protestants only 3.9%. And since you needed to matriculate in order to enter university one mustn’t be terribly surprised at the lopsided statistics. Kovács quotes the antisemitic Alajos Kovács, head of the Central Statistical Office, who found the situation “terrifying.”

Other figures often cited are the very high percentages of Jews in the medical and legal profession: 49.4% of lawyers and 46.3% of physicians were Jewish. One must keep in mind, however, that these professions attracted only 20% of all people with higher education. It is practically never mentioned that among the 30,000 college-educated civil servants one could find very few Jews–4.9% to be precise.

All in all, Kovács argues, the numerus clausus of 1920 can be considered the first anti-Jewish discriminatory law in Europe. According to some of the creators of the law it was a form of punishment of the Jews for Trianon. István Haller, minister of education in 1920, wrote an autobiography in 1926 which included a chapter entitled “As long as there is Trianon there will be numerus clausus.” The Jews must use their influence in the world to restore the old borders of historical Hungary. This opinion was shared by the entire political elite. Klebelsberg, for instance, announced in one of his speeches in parliament: “Give us back the old Greater Hungary, then we will abrogate the numerus clausus.”

And finally, on a different topic, a real gem from Konrád Salamon’s book (p. 8). The author of this high school textbook lists six reasons for the sorry state of the civilized world in the twentieth century. One of the reasons is that “the media became a significant factor in politics … and could easily influence the uninformed masses with the promise of creating material wealth quickly.” Should we wonder why Hungarian youngsters have so little knowledge of or attraction to democratic institutions? Unfortunately, the new textbooks that are being planned by Rózsa Hoffmann’s ministry will most likely be even more slanted than Konrád Salamon’s opus.

The Orbán regime’s search for historical antecedents

During the weekends I usually find time to read articles and books that have nothing to do with the present political situation in Hungary. But somehow it always turns out that even a book review about  the Rákosi period can have relevance to what’s going on today. The book in question is György Gyarmati’s Rákosi-korszak: Rendszerváltó fordulatok évtizede Magyarországon (The Rákosi period: A decade of regime changes in Hungary).

Gyarmati’s thesis is that the Rákosi regime failed not because of the natural aversion of society and its passive resistance against totalitarianism but because “those who were in charge of the regime couldn’t make the regime work.”  Changes were introduced at a rapid pace to which neither society nor the economy could adjust. Rákosi believed that the Moscow inspired changes couldn’t be accompanied by similarly rapid changes in the economic and social sphere. It was the regime’s “voluntarism that destined Rákosi to fail twice.” First in 1952-53 when he was forced to relinquish some of his posts and a new “gentler” transformation of society and the economy was introduced and then in 1956 when a full-fledged revolution broke out against his rule.

What made the Soviet imposed changes especially difficult in Hungary–and even more so in Czechoslovakia and East Germany–was that in comparison to Soviet Russia these countries had already experienced a capitalist development before and had a more sizable middle class than Russia had in 1917 or even later. Thus, more developed societies were forced to adapt to a regime originally introduced in a less developed state.

So, one could ask, what is it here that reminded me of the present situation? First, the rapid and unpredictable changes introduced by Mátyás Rákosi’s regime. Somewhat similarly to the Muscovites of 1946-48 Orbán and his enablers have been waiting for a long time to put their ideas into practice and therefore they feel that everything must change as soon as possible. Their revolutionary zeal is akin to that of the Hungarian communists who returned home from Moscow or who joined the illegal communist party during the interwar years. It is clear from the practices of the Orbán government in the last three years that the time between 2002 and 2010 was spent drawing a road map of action to introduce a “revolutionary change.” Admittedly, not all the details were worked out ahead of time, but the final goal was certainly outlined.

We often speak of Viktor Orbán’s “voluntarism,” which is a doctrine that views the will as the driving force of both the individual and the universe. Indeed, Orbán operates on this principle: he has a goal and to reach it is merely a question of will regardless of any outside forces.

But, as the Rákosi regime’s fate illustrates, society and its accompanying economy are simply not flexible enough to be bent by Viktor Orbán’s will. Moreover, the regime Viktor Orbán wants to introduce would be a step backward for a society that bears no resemblance to the one to which Orbán and his fellow politicians want to return: the Horthy regime. Because, let’s not kid ourselves, Orbán’s goal is to develop a political system in Hungary that greatly resembles the pseudo-democracy of  that era. And this would be a step backward just like the Soviet-imposed dictatorship on countries that were more developed than Russia was at the time of the Bolshevik takeover.

Recently I also read a number of articles on Kunó Klebelsberg, minister of education in the 1920s and the idol of the Orbán regime. Klebelsberg is pictured as the founder of progressive education who symbolized the best of Hungarian conservatism. Klebelsberg certainly was right that after the lost war Hungary’s route to success was not through military might but through educational attainment. And since in the 1920s Hungary was forbidden to maintain a large army, Klebelsberg’s ministry received a sizable portion of the budget.

Looking back, but not moving forward

Looking back, but not moving forward

Klebelsberg’s ideas are, however, no longer applicable in today’s world. Klebelsberg was an elitist whose aim was to offer educational opportunities to the Christian middle classes. The emphasis was on “Christian,” and by “middle class” he more or less understood the sons of civil servants. He was a nationalist who at one point even entertained moving Hungarian speaking citizens to dilute the large pockets of Slovaks, Romanians, and Serbs. Klebelsberg also shared the antisemitism of his contemporaries and, although he knew that the numerus clausus that restricted university enrollment of Jewish students was unconstitutional and unfair, he defended it by claiming that the law was “misunderstood” by foreigners. Sounds familiar,  doesn’t it? How often we hear nowadays that this or that law is misunderstood, wrongly translated, purposely misinterpreted by the outside world. How often the government spokesmen blame the liberals for anti-patriotic acts. Oh, yes, the liberals! Klebelsberg hated the liberals. He was certain liberalism opened the door to left-wing radicalism and from there the revolution was only a few steps away.

So, turning to Klebelsberg for inspiration on designing public education in the 21st century seems not only a retrograde step but completely inappropriate to the needs of a modern society. The kind of elitist educational philosophy Klebelsberg adhered to is no longer applicable today. Yet, an incredible number of Hungarian educators would like to return to an elitist higher educational system when a very small percentage of the adult population entered college or university. Certainly, there is a need for reform of education in Hungary, but naming that “reform'”after a man who formulated his educational ideas around the turn of the twentieth century is not exactly forward looking.

But I think there is a silver lining in Fidesz’s mad search for right-wing antecedents. It will most likely fail for the same reason that Mátyás Rákosi failed in the 1950s. What Orbán is building is a retrograde system foisted on a modern society. Such a regime cannot be maintained for long.