The other day someone called my attention to a note published on Facebook by Nóra L. Ritók, the legendary founder of the Igazgyöngy Alapítvány (Pearl Foundation). She is the former public school art teacher who became disillusioned with the way her school dealt with disadvantaged, mostly Gypsy children. In 1999 she struck out on her own, establishing art schools in six very poor villages in Hajdú-Bihar megye, close to the Romanian border. She started her work in a so-called cul-de-sac village, the last locality right next to the border, called Told, where in the majority of the houses there is neither running water nor electricity. A large proportion of the 360 inhabitants cannot read or write, and only seven of them had a job in 2013. It is hard to fathom that this village was once the home base of the famous Toldi family. By now she has about 650 children under her care from 23 villages in the region. Nóra Ritók and three of her students were in the news a few weeks ago when they met Pope Francis.
Nóra Ritók’s Facebook note was about an official e-mail she received from the ministry of human resources, informing school principals about the introduction of a Honvédelmi Intézkedési Terv (National Defense Action Plan), or HIT. Attached to the e-mail were instructions explaining what the schools will have to do by way of preparation before June 30, 2018. The document is 34 pages long. Nóra Ritók complained that half of the document, which is full of technical military terms, is pretty well incomprehensible to a layman, but she grasped the main point: that she, as the principal of the school, will be responsible for the organization and execution of the military aspects of the school’s defense in case of a terrorist attack.
The government-critical media looked upon this latest Fidesz idea as part and parcel of the scare tactics the Orbán government has employed ever since 2015. Since even nursery schools and kindergartens have to be military prepared, a lot of people complained that the government is including toddlers in its phony campaign against nonexistent terrorists.
The fact is that in the last few years several European countries have come up with action plans for schools in case of danger. In Great Britain, for example, Scotland Yard has been giving three-hour training sessions at schools and higher education facilities on how to improve security against possible attack. In France, the government announced in August, 2016 that 14-year-olds will receive training on how to survive a terrorist attack on their schools. Each school will hold three exercises per academic year, covering the “ability of schools to react and not be taken by surprise.” The French went so far as to teach three-year-olds how to play “silence reigns” if and when an attack is underway. And such precautionary measures are also being taken in the United States.
What is happening in Hungary, however, is an entirely different story. In order to understand the possibly sinister nature of this new piece of legislation, we have to go back to January 12, 2016, when István Simicskó, the minister of defense, called together all the parliamentary parties to discuss new security measures that would involve the use of the army in the event of a terror threat. At that time there were already three situations in which the government could take varying degrees of extraordinary measures: (1) “emergency conditions” (veszélyhelyzet); (2) “preventive defense conditions” (megelőző védelmi helyzet); and (3) a “full state of emergency” (rendkivüli állapot). The government added one more category: “state of terror threat” (terrorveszélyhelyzet). In the event of a terror threat, the army can be used if “the employment of police and the national security forces is insufficient.” It nowhere explains what “insufficient” means.
Now, the schools will have to be ready, and not just by taking precautionary measures against a possible attack. They will also have to be ready for “the possible introduction of a special legal order” as a result of the four above-mentioned “situations.” This may include following military orders, being ready for military service, and assisting the military in its work. The government’s document includes a number of absolutely impractical rules and regulations. Among them, my favorite is: “in case of a terror attack, the school principal may apply for individual defensive instruments.” Yes, while the school is under attack.
The ministry of human resources hasn’t yet given an explanation for this latest burden on overworked school officials, but on Sunday Csaba Dömötör, the political undersecretary in the prime minister’s office, explained to inquiring journalists that the action plan must be introduced because it is a NATO requirement. It is possible that NATO officials suggested short courses and some routine exercises, but I very much doubt that what they had in mind was a 34-page military handbook for school officials. I also doubt that French or British school principals are required to have a regularly updated list of all chemicals on the property, including gasoline for the lawnmower and cleaning supplies. Or that they have to know the exact location of all teachers at all times.
While it is a good idea to have some rudimentary plans in place against a possible attack, be it terrorism or just a crazed person’s individual action, I must agree with the critics that what the Orbán government is proposing goes beyond a rational response to the terrorist threat, which in Hungary is really minimal. It is difficult to escape the suspicion that this latest “defensive action plan” is just another ingredient in the government’s anti-migrant campaign, which, I’m afraid, is the heart and soul of Fidesz’s election program.