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A day of protests

by DoDo Fri Mar 16th, 2012 at 02:28:07 AM EST

As foretold in the diary One hundred years of protests, in the past month and a half Hungary saw several protests by the democratic opposition, supporters of the right-populist government, and the far-right; all in preparation for a final showdown of street politics today. Today, that is on 15 March, the day of the 1848 Revolution (which is the most fondly remembered in Hungary).

The event of the democratic opposition was the one organised by the Facebook group "One Million For Press Freedom", or Milla for short. Most of this diary will be my photo report of this event, held in the centre of Budapest on the central avenue where it leads up onto a bridge over the Danube.

As told in One hundred years of protests, the government tried to prevent this protest by reserving all areas suitable for mass rallies for one week around 15 March, and that for three successive years (until the next election), and Milla fought back every way it could, including an official declaration to police about holding protests every year for the next hundred years. Milla prevailed in the end, but this battle was fought until a week before the event, and included a raid by the tax authority and a questioning of Milla leaders about all sort of things unrelated to taxes. (Another dirty trick will be mentioned towards the end.)

In the same time, unfortunately, the democratic opposition was a mess.

  • LMP (the local greens) first killed an NGO-initiated attempt at a cooperation of opposition parties, then had a short leadership crisis, then angered the student movement, only then came a decent idea in the form of a referendum initiative over social issues (though that triggered counter-propaganda from pro-opposition neolibs).
  • DK, the new party of former Socialist former PM Ferenc Gyurcsány, thought it can gain credibility by calling for austerity measures while in opposition... but then made the tactical decision to support LMP's initiative.
  • Szolidaritás, the umbrella group for the union-based wing of the NGO opposition movement, engaged in internal battles and angered Milla by going it alone in staging a separate protest on 10 March. Milla in turn was too openly piqued about this.
  • After Hungary's figurehead President of the Republic was exposed as a plagiarist (he still didn't lose his doctoral title or job!), Milla launched an on-line competition in which anyone could apply for the job of "Alternative President of the Republic" with a video. This was meant seriously and was thus an extremely naive idea, and the predictable victory of a gangsta rapper with a joke platform was not what they wanted (but perfect for the government propagandists).

Also on 15 March and at the same hour, at Parliament (1.5 kilometres from the Milla protest), government party Fidesz held another mass rally. They chose to repeat the format of the last one, that is, the crowds were officially following an NGO but in truth Fidesz's GOTV networks were activated, with lots of undisclosed funding, and foreign 'guests' (including a large delegation from Poland). The difference is that this time, PM Viktor Orbán will address the crowd, so presumably even more of his fans turned out. About 1 km away from the Milla protest but in another direction, Hungary's present main far-right party Jobbik held its rally.

On the train and getting off, I again saw droves of pensioners with flags en route to the Fidesz mass rally, this time they also brought some grandchildren (see the comments in One hundred years of protests for the pensioner phenomenon at their previous events).

At the Milla event, I arrived around half an hour early. People arrived in droves here, too, walking in perfect sunny weather (first day of temperatures just under 20°C) with birds in the sunny sky.

LMP was again out gathering signatures for its referendum initiative.

Flags – not being Eurosceptic like Fidesz in its doublespeak and the far-right in its not-at-all-doublespeak is a main theme here.

I could walk up to the stage, which was actually on the bridge, with Gellért mountain in the back.

A Milla organiser speaks, next to him the sign language interpreter for the deaf.

The gangsta rapper elected Alternative President of the Republic was next. This time he went serious and held a fiery speech, although he stayed true to himself in including some expletives. (He is actually a long-time supporter of the opposition, but in his previous contributions expletives and jokes took the prime.)

By this time the main road was pretty much filled up, even way beyond the loudspeaker hung from a crane for people further away. (I tried to estimate the crowd by dividing it into 50-by-50-people blocks and arrived at at least 25,000.) You also see that Milla and Szolidaritás can at least contain conflict enough to attend each others' events.

After some other speakers, a young woman from a Roma NGO spoke, denouncing the across-the-board government policy of social contempt.

She spoke in loud voices so that people in the back hear it, too.

Then came the new student movement that sprung to life when the government let loose  a Catholic zealot state secretary on education, with her reforms including a re-introduction of tuition fees (under a different name) and radically reduced access to education.

The Sun was getting lower in the sky, shining right into our eyes, but just perfect for photography.

Several other speakers for NGOs followed, including a homeless man, but I got the best shot of the representatives of new teachers' groups.

Also in One hundred years of protests, I mentioned that for whatever reason Budapest's Fidesz major gave the leadership of a theatre to a Jobbik-close man (overruling the expert group and ignoring the mistakes and open political agenda in the application). Most actors were cowards fearing for their jobs and only two of the more well-known left, one of them recited a poem towards the end. Behind him, in the red shirt, the LGBT representative; and the bearded guy to the right with the giant cockade, one of the public TV journalists who launched a hunger strike against the doctoring of news but was fired.

Milla said in January that opposing Fidesz is not enough and standing for something is needed, too, and set out to draft a "national minimum" which they would want all opposition parties to sign off. (On this front Milla and Szolidaritás go their separate ways, too: at the 10 March protest, Szolidaritás presented their recommendations for a new Constitution. Predictably, Szolidaritás's sets of demands are more social while Milla's are more liberal.) Milla's points were presented by an Arab Hungarian.

The crowd then began to dissolve.

Ever since the similarly big 2 January protest (see Protest in a one-party state), the far-right tried to spoil protests of the democratic opposition with counter-protests, and the government apparently let them. (They had most success at the 1 February protest against that theatre director, where democratic opposition turnout was low.)

This time a group right of Jobbik (which includes actual neo-Nazis) got permission for a protest just next to ours on short notice (while Milla had to battle for over a month), even though they were explicit about looking for trouble. Milla reacted by moving its stage further up the bridge than originally planned, but our crowd still filled the street where the c. one thousand neo-Nazis were in the side street. This time though police at least did what it failed to do on 2 January and 1 February and totally cordoned off the idiots. But they did nothing (though they would have the legal basis) about chants like "Filthy Jews!" (which they chanted when I passed).

(BTW the flag right and below the clock is a Polish flag; I have another blurred photo onn which it can be seen well – so it wasn't just Fidesz who got support from there.)

Lack of tussles is one thing, but what the neo-Nazis themselves and the government who gave them the approval obviously wanted was to scare Milla supporters away. Even though turnout was great, I know of people who were scared away.

In the grater scheme of things, this event of grouplets separate from Jobbik has another significance: Jobbik is losing control of the far-right grass-roots. The veterans of the riots of 2006-2007 (as well as their new recruits and fans) want action, they are fed up with Jobbik's parliamentary posturing and the paramilitaries organised by Jobbbik are too tame for them. This could result in a decline of Jobbik, but it also means (already means) a further radicalisation.

On the way home, I again shared a train with old and under-age flag-wavers returning from the Fidesz protest. However, both on my way there and the way back, I was surprised to see that there are still a lot of people on the streets who care about neither any of the protest or even the national holiday (as indicated by the lack of the traditional cockade), mainly party youth and older working-class people.

:: :: :: :: ::

As before, I wrote my eyewitness account after returning home and before checking the news; I will write about the other protests and about media observations of my protest later in the comments. Still later I may also post some photos of the 10 March and 1 February protests.

With this the mass protest season seems to be coming to an end for the time being. Milla will call people on the street next on the day of the 1956 Revolution (that's 23 October) and I haven't seen any major plans of Szolidaritás.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Mar 15th, 2012 at 05:08:45 PM EST
Apparently, there was more than what I saw in front: earlier the right-of-Jobbik far-right circled around the police cordon via alleys and into the Milla protest, and there have been arrests. Then, after the protests, part of these guys joined part of the (according to press reports) "few thousand" Jobbik protesters in a storming of the bank center where the IMF's Hungarian representative has his office. They blew up a few petards but left without much of a fight when police turned up in strength.

The right-of-Jobbik guys then moved on to the old public TV headquarters (place of the first 2006 riot).

Earlier in the day, the Polish hard-right delegation that came for the Fidesz rally toured Budapest, passing the same spot where Milla would hold its protest.

As for the Fidesz rally itself. The place was in front of the parliament building, where Szolidaritás held its rally ten days ago, too. The government played a dirty trick on them, too: just after the announcement, they had to tear up the pavement on half the place. But miraculously, the place was accessible again today:

Orbán echoed the slogan of the first pro-Fidesz rally back in January: "We will not become a colony". How do you counter-act the impression of a pensioner army if you'r Fidesz's spinmeister? By putting a bunch of young people behind Orbán...

As for the numbers game. Milla organisers claimed 130,000 people, the (Fidesz-controlled) national wire service claimed "tens of thousands" at the Milla event and 250,000 at the Fidesz rally.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Mar 15th, 2012 at 06:40:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
While the Fidesz mass rally had a contingent of 'guest protesters' from Poland (with the added irony that they were supporters of the party of the Kaczyński Twins, that is the Eurosceptic opposition to the government of Fidesz's sister party), the Milla protest was attended by individual guests from France. Among them, the deputy of the French PS, who was spot-on with a negation of Orbán's international-leftist-conspiracy rhetoric:

Népszabadság - ,,Az Orbán-kormányt kell megbüntetni, nem a magyarokat" Népszabadság -"The Orbán government should be punished, not the Hungarians"
Rossz célpontot választott az Európai Bizottság és a többségében konzervatív politikusokból álló pénzügyminiszterek tanácsa (Ecofin) ugyanis a magyar néppel fizettetné meg az Orbán-kormány bűneit, ha tényleg felfüggesztenék a kohéziós alapok folyósítását - erről Harlem Désir, a Francia Szocialista Párt (PS) főtitkárhelyettese beszélt lapunknak."The European Commission and the Council of Economic and Finance Ministers (Ecofin), the majority of which consists of conservative politicians, selected the wrong target, because they would make the Hungarian people pay for the sinsof the Orbán government , would they really suspend the disbursement of cohesion funds" Harlem Désir, the vice secretary of the French Socialist Party (PS) told to our paper.
A francia szocialisták második embere szerint Európának - egyik fő alapértékéhez híven - szolidárisnak kell maradnia a fejlettségben még lemaradó tagországokkal szemben. Az Európai Bizottságnak ugyanakkor késlekedés nélkül az Európai Bírósághoz kellene fordulnia, amiért az Orbán-kormány megsérti a bírák függetlenségét és a sajtószabadságot. - Magyarország kapcsán ma nem csak a költségvetési hiány vagy a Magyar Nemzeti Bank státusza jelent problémát. Aggasztónak tartjuk Orbán Viktor és a Fidesz politikáját, azt a törekvést, hogy a hatalmon lévő politikai párt teljes ellenőrzése alá vonják az államigazgatást...According to the second-in-command of the French Socialists, Europe - in accordance with one of its core values - should maintain solidarity with member countries still lagging behind in development. At the same time, the European Commission should, without delay, turn to the European Court of Justice regarding the violation of the judiciary's independence and the freedom of the press by the Orbán government. "The budget deficit or the status of the central bank aren't the only problems in relation to Hungary. We are concerned about the policy of Viktor Orbán and Fidesz, their aspiration to put public administration under the complete control of the political party in power..."
Désir csütörtökön délelőtt ellátogatott Gyöngyöspatára is, hogy a helyszínen tájékozódjon az ottani roma kisebbséget ért atrocitásokról. Szintén aggasztónak nevezte, hogy Orbán elnéző a szélsőjobboldallal szemben, fut a Jobbik után és elhibázott gazdaságpolitikáját próbálja autoriter-nacionalista ígérgetés-dömpinggel maszkírozni. On Thursday morning, Désir also visited Gyöngyöspata, to inform himself about the atrocities suffered by the local Roma minority on site. He also expressed concern over Orbán's indulgence of the extreme right, his running after Jobbik, and his attempt to mask his misguided economic policy with an authoritarian-nationalist dumping of promises.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Mar 17th, 2012 at 04:20:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As foreshadowed at the end of the diary, here is a photo report on the 10 March rally.

I have argued before on ET that a successful revolution needs an alliance of middle-class and working-class elements (specifically students who can be the voice and union or other activists who can be the fist). I think a serious challenge to Orbán's 'democratorship' needs something similar. So I saw Szolidaritás's bad moves mentioned in the diary in that light. Even at a tactical level: if you hold a separate event, hold it on the same day and nearby so that people can walk from one to the other (in fact that's what they did last time in October).

Now a reason Szolidaritás was keen to hold a rally on a different day was that their traditional main rally site is in front of Parliament Building, which Fidesz occupied for this 15 March.

As told upthread, the government played a dirty trick on this protest: out of the blue, most of the place as closed down for works in February, only to be cleared for Fidesz's mass protest. So on 10 March, Szolidaritás placed its stage facing the main road leading up to parliament. Most of the crowd, however (whom I estimated at 10-15,000 at its peak), having arrived from the metro station on one side of the square, massed on the not closed part of the square, facing the side of the stage.

Some placards. The first one needs no explanation:

A pair of placards showed Terence Hill and Bud Spencer with slogans quoting an Orbán speech last year, in which he claimed to have "handed out a few bops for the impetuous quarrelers of the European Parliament, a few slaps fell, we handed out a few friendly rabbit-punches" (derided in opposition circles ever since the bops and slaps obvously go the other way).

The next placard shows three government politicians with the question, "Could you live from 47 thousand [Forints a month]?". This one was a recurring theme in speeches and needs an explanation.

While faking the pose of a freedom fighter against the IMF, the Fidesz government is implementing labour market and social 'reforms' which are usually extorted from governments by the IMF under the mantle of austerity, but they do so on their own volition, accompanied by a rhetoric of base social contempt. The flagship 'policy' is forcing people on long-term unemployment or social benefits to take part in a public works programme, which gives no hope of gaining real employment, looks like slave labour, is implicitly aimed primarily at the Roma, and brings up ugly WWII-time associations (see Salon thread back from August).

This 'public works' pays only 47,000 Forints a month, that's €161 at current prices. Economic minister György Matolcsy (top right) earned wide outrage by claiming that you can live pretty well on that sum. He actually said that this is the case because it's more than the 28,000 Forints (€98) people previously got as social benefit – but (as the lead column in this week's issue of liberal literature magazine Élet és Irodalom pointed out) he was comparing apples and oranges and forgot to mention that he cut both the public works pay and the social benefits by c. 20%. Meanwhile, other ministers gave support, including interior minister Lajos Pintér, who told 'yes you can live off 47,000 well if you keep a goat' (left top on placard).

I will show only one of the speakers: one of the leaders of Szolidaritás, Péter Kónya, who was forced to resign from his job and thus his position as head of a police union with the help of the new labour laws. He presented Szolidaritás's proposals on what a new, referendum-approved constitution to replace Fidesz's patchwork constitution should include. He also talked about the cockade: this symbol of the 1848 revolution was misused by Fidesz in the 2002 election campaign as a means of division, when they called on supporters to keep wearing it until the election (which they lost narrowly to a silent majority). Kónya told that he put his cockade into a box then, but now is the time to re-gain these symbols. (I am an anti-nationalist, but after thinking of the propaganda angle of images of the Milla protest on 15 March, I bought a cockade from a Roma street vendor when I got off the train.)

There have been several speakers speaking about the plight of students, teachers, the homeless, small churches, the disabled, pensioners, the jobless, Roma, artists and so on. But it wasn't either of them who earned the greatest response, but Orbán: they played a tape of a 2010 campaign speech in which Orbán warned of a bleak future should the pro-austerity Socialists win another election – foretelling lots of measures and ill developments which then his government brought upon the country.

With so many speakers the event ended up being rather long (too long). I had to leave after two hours as the Sun set behind Parliament Building, so I missed when the organiser of the Hunger March came on stage.

:: :: :: :: ::

As told in the diary, Szolidaritás's sets of demands are more social while Milla's are more liberal, but at least Milla included "Solidarity" among its 12 points and there were Solidarity guys with placards also seen five days earlier. For a time I stood in the shadow of the placard below, which asks (in rhyme) "Old judges are geezer judges! But the disabled are fit for work?" The first part refers to the Orbán government's attempt to get rid of independent judges by temporarily lowering the retirement age, which the European Commission rightly challenged. I don't expect them to challenge the policy to re-evaluate disabled people's fitness for work, however, as going after disabled people is another austerity hit across the EU (also see In Wales's In time, wrong time).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Mar 17th, 2012 at 05:29:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A final addition promised at the end of the diary: on the way the government appears to use the far-right to scare the democratic opposition. On 1 February, there was an anti-fascist protest against the takeover of a theatre by a Jobbik-supporting former actor, and a counter-protest organised by the extremists right of Jobbik (but also attended by squads of the Jobbik-close paramilitaries). Although the latter wasn't declared to police, nothing was done about it. Police only closed off the protest area with metal fences – but that didn't achieve much in terms of protection, as those wanting in at the main entrance had to pass the extremists, and police didn't keep provocators from entering. The latter were led outside only once verbal scuffles turned into physical scuffles.

Here is the protest (with my back to the entrance of the theatre); the main contingent of the extremists was shouting on block away along the street in front.

Here is one of the provocators when police came to lead him outside. Previously, he and his three companions kept clasping when no one did (and not clasping when everyone else did) and shouted towards police to detain anyone who came up to him; police only acted when there was a little pushing-around, and there was no detainment.

In a leaked speech in 2008, Orbán told political science students that, once in government, he will follow the example of between-world-wars head of state József Horthy and send the far-right home from the streets after giving them two slaps on the face. Well we are still waiting for that. (And back during WWII, Horthy released the local fascist Arrowcrossers from prison after a year, then, after the Nazis got wind of his intention to change sides, he saw his country come under Nazi occupation, and when he tried to change sides in the war again, the Nazis chose to blackmail Horthy to hand power to the Arrowcrossers by kidnapping his son. Not the historical example a wannabe strongman should cite...)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Mar 17th, 2012 at 05:52:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have a bit of concern that whilst you list the problems facing the opposition here, your focus on the opposition demonstrations - welcome as they are - are failing to reflect the dismal social, political and economic realities, which are... as the speaker from the NGO said, rapidly worsening.

One important development is that there is no doubting the proximity between Jobbik and Fidesz these days and much of the core rhetoric is not being clearly challenged by a crippled Parliamentary left-wing. The cognitive dissonance on the Right - declaring national pride whilst reducing many Hungarians to penury and neo-serfdom - largely goes unchallenged. Jobbik+Fidesz have a combined 70% of the electorate and this reflects not just turnout but the real balance of Hungarian opinion in 2012. And they both know that this majority exists, and are beginning a dance of political expediency, anticipating a smaller Fidesz turnout in 2014.

Then there is the 'new' opposition. I suggest Milla is probably the best-organised part of this. The Szolidaritas demonstration last week was a huge failure. Anyway, at least the opposition can hold a rally. But does it really go further than this? If we look at the groups comprising the opposition, we don't need to go far before we see monied interests, or more often, a kind of gooey unformed mess of different groups, many of whom are contradictory.

Hungary has a failing health system, a failing system of social support, an education system designed in the early 20th century which is simultaneously elitist and dumbed-down and which perpetuates social division at almost every stage after 7 years old. The growth of the far-right and the actual stupidity of both the Left and the Right which has contributed to the agonies of Hungarian democracy are at least partially attributable to the selective nature of the education system, where so many children receive a poor general education.

I hear no answers to these problems from most of the opposition. The only party I hear beginning to address these problems - in an incomplete and often rather naive way, is the LMP, who remain the most coherent, if barely left-wing, political grouping.

Even the name 'Szolidaritas' reflects a lack of self-confidence and assertiveness. I don't expect the opposition to do much more than holding some kind of democratic line on paper, while the day-to-day realities increasingly reflect a country dominated by a combination of social Darwinism and authoritarianism. Of course, it's better than nothing.

by car05 on Fri Mar 16th, 2012 at 02:31:25 AM EST
I believe you've aptly described the USA's educational dilemma, too, except that the separation of students into social groups at age 7 isn't so pronounced. The neighborhood school concept and the private schools for the wealthy are what separate things socially in america.  

I've noticed children of relatively wealthy, intelligent, well-educated parents who've come only slightly smarter than dirt out of the educational system in several places in the USA. I also noticed, as I did research all over the USA as part of my earlier employment, that schools simply do not teach those things that once were taken for granted in schools during the first half of the twentieth century. Then one could choose among Latin, Spanish, German and French for foreign language studies, and most schools in your average-sized cities had extensive programs for art, music and theatre. Many had their own swimming pools.  

For all the money spent, kids today are sorely short-changed by the educational offerings, and consequently, society is, too.

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher

by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Fri Mar 16th, 2012 at 05:12:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
your focus on the opposition demonstrations - welcome as they are - are failing to reflect the dismal social, political and economic realities, which are... as the speaker from the NGO said, rapidly worsening.

I focus on the demonstrations because they represent some action to change these trends. Just describing them will only depress my audience here.

I suggest Milla is probably the best-organised part of this.

I think Milla is actually less organised, but has a wider pull and is more professional. What I mean is that liking someone on Facebook doesn't amount to much grassroots organisation, or activity apart from attending a protest. (In fact calls on people to organise and do more echoed from the mouth of several speakers.) Szolidaritás in contrast seems to have an actual grass-roots, as do some of the smaller groups like the HaHa students.

The Szolidaritas demonstration last week was a huge failure.

In what sense? If you mean that numbers didn't match Orbán's or even Milla's, then it was, though with the precedents, I feared even less people will turn out. If you mean that there was dissatisfaction with the length and quality of speeches (a sentence in the intro of the Milla protest, "speeches will be short and sharp and voluble", may have been in reaction to that), I wouldn't call it a huge failure.

a kind of gooey unformed mess of different groups, many of whom are contradictory.

Any new mass movement is by necessity a gooey unformed mess of different groups, uniting people who previously only knew the mental frame of reference of a narrower environment. But indeed the question is whether someone manages to get the people to overlook differences and get an idea of unity (even if illusionary), the same way Orbán achieved this. This seems to be the central message of blogger Varánusz, who is also dissatisfied and wants opposition organised in a party. (Then again, he is an LMP partisan, and I'm not sure that we need a single party as conduit of organisation.)

an education system designed in the early 20th century

Actually no. While there are elements that go back that far, the 'communists' implemented significant vertical mobility in their first decade or two (though later their new middle class began to protect their position the same way the prewar ones did) and extended elemental school to eight years, which was then undone in successive reforms after 1990 which made social selection much worse, while also eliminating quality where it existed.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Mar 17th, 2012 at 06:16:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't blame you for focusing on the positives, but I would have hoped to have seen quicker and more coherent development of opposition perspectives across a range of different issues.

Take for example HAT - Hálózat a Tanszabadságért. I'm a supporter - I've dedicated time and effort to help them. Yet it is only the Órban-Hoffmann reforms which unites me with a representative of, say, the Waldorf School Network, or the Hungarian Association of Private Schools. The debate is many miles away from a discussion about access to quality of education for all - which would contract any private school agenda, and would effectively mean the end for the elite grammar schools as they are. HAT and other opposition groups are not just apolitical, it is almost as though they are in isolation from shark-infested political waters. It means that the chance of a profoundly radical agenda is truly unlikely - or if it does happen, it might be something like educational vouchers for all - after all, that would be the most 'free' system, right? And maybe there would be a few members of HAT, who like the sound of that ultra-liberal solution?

Gyurcsány's Demokratikus Koalicio groupings are really prominent at all of these events, certainly were at the Szolidaritas demo. Now this group is quite open - it really, really does want to privatise healthcare... I think the LMP is right to engage with Szolidaritas, I've always thought self-organisation was a way to oppose this government, but there has to be coherence... if there is no coherence, if there is no opening up of some fundamental thinking about a new model of citizenship and economy, then it might be better in the long-term if political organisations were more directly involved, whether new or old.

At the risk of sounding a total killjoy, I think reclaiming the language of Hungarianness by wearing a tricolor is a start, but it's also the easiest bit. The hardest bit is confronting the Hungarian middle class with their Dorian Gray-type image, an image which is well-buried in the attic of the bourgeois psyche. For me the Hungarian opposition are often too cute and cool by half - damn, we want to be liked. And sure, we do like ourselves, as we consider ourselves nice, but this can be at the expense of responsibility, at the expense of the hard graft of making it really, really uncool to be a fan of Adolf Hitler or even Miklos Horthy, and identifying the way, as you say, class interests have reestablished themselves in the most bitter and toxic forms imaginable.

by car05 on Sat Mar 17th, 2012 at 09:09:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Gyurcsány's Demokratikus Koalicio groupings are really prominent at all of these events, certainly were at the Szolidaritas demo.

They were the only ones carrying party symbols (based on the Hunger March, I suspect Socialists outnumbered them but were less intent on campaigning here). It would indeed be fatal if Varánusz1s wish would be fulfilled by DK rather than any other party. Interestingly, in the media (that is he non-right-wing media), the LMP presence was noted, due to the signature collection; some news even accused them of hijacking the protest, ignoring that Szolidaritás gave full support and collected signatures itself (at the southern end of the square).

BTW a note on LMP. Back when they obsessed about the 2006 dishonesty of Gyurcsány, I saw that as a naive liberal/bourgeoise attitude that completely misses the point of the "lies" speech (namely that he wanted to scare his fellow Socialists into supporting neolib reforms), the point that should be attacked in 2012 to prevent another run of the Shock Doctrine. So it came as a surprise that after the internal troubles, the kicking of the opposition roundtable, and the strategic declarations about aiming for the votes of disgruntled Fidesz voters, it came as a surprise that they went full-throttle about the social referendums.

I think reclaiming the language of Hungarianness by wearing a tricolor is a start

(IMHO it's an aside and I hope for another generation in a few years that rebels against the obligatory display of patriotism. This is not a region of Europe where an exclusive "we have been wronged/we have had heroes" view of history won't overlook horrible wrongs by ancestors and martyrs on the other side and thus won't lead to serious conflict.)

The hardest bit is confronting the Hungarian middle class with their Dorian Gray-type image

I only know that Dorian Gray is an Oscar Wilde figure who had eternal youth, so I'm not sure I get the association. If I guess right, then you mean the self-image of the liberal part of the middle class, in particular that of liberal intellectuals. If so I can relate to that very much: that's my family, with me between the stools: I mean, I am like them (speech, tastes, interests), but my political views and job environment have made me aware of how they always ritually demarcate themselves against the "uneducated" or even the 'parvenu' and seldom move in circles not part of their own (my) social class. (As I don't tire to say just travelling on public transport rather than by private car will give one a better perspective on the social consequences of economic 'reform'.)

On the other hand, being relatively young, I don't think the middle class in Hungary (or the rest of the former East Bloc) is uniform, and this has some reflection on the party landscape: though I wouldn't draw clear lines, I would distinguish at least the conservative heirs of the really old bourgeois and the gentry (like the inhabitants of Buda), then the more liberal heirs of those who were 'parvenu' a century or so ago, then the new middle class of the Kádár era, finally those who rose and had success in the small enterprise wave from the late seventies and now fiercely stick to their economic independence (resenting taxes, regulations and solidarity).

These segments of the middle class have different self-images, though all have negative views about other classes (and other sub-classes). This is sharply reflected in my company (MÁV) where employees are strongly differentiated according to education level and those with higher levels traditionally boss around those with lower levels even if not subordinates (with a few exceptions, predominantly younger ones).

And sure, we do like ourselves, as we consider ourselves nice, but this can be at the expense of responsibility

That's true and the low interest in (or fear from) participating in anti-fascist actions is a particularly sore point for me. (I wish I could join actions like this.) But is it enough or even meaningful to expect for the middle class to reform themselves? In Marxist terms, the middle class are the have-somes who want to protect the little they have. They will never act in ways like the have-nothings (like the organiser of the Hunger March or indeed like the youth joining the Hungarian Guard or the riots).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Mar 17th, 2012 at 02:21:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you understand the Dorian Gray reference - I'm trying to account for the dislocation between the flash and opulence of the Allee or Arena shopping plazas, with those early morning services full of people from Győr and the surrounding countryside heading to Budapest to do manual or semi-skilled labour for terribly low wages. Somewhere in this is a middle class which is strident and determined, and sees itself as somehow omnipotent.

the conservative heirs of the really old bourgeois and the gentry (like the inhabitants of Buda

These would be upper class, I expect... we maybe should leave these out of it as they're relatively small in number?

the more liberal heirs of those who were 'parvenu' a century or so ago,

Can't quite place these... are there really many around?

then the new middle class of the Kádár era,

let's say the state sector intelligentsia (and offspring) upon which the left in Hungary almost entirely draws its leaders

finally those who rose and had success in the small enterprise wave from the late seventies and now fiercely stick to their economic independence (resenting taxes, regulations and solidarity).

undoubtably, this is an important section. However, I'd also add a subsequent group, consisting of those who came of age around the time of the transition and, despite qualifications, may be less than financially secure, despite possibly being able to rely on parental resources for help. For me it is this group, now just hitting middle age, which has become politicised by the repetition of right-wing themes and which has the feeling of entitlement combined with resentment. It is possibly the first genuinely consumerist generation in Hungary. Dorian Gray doesn't get older; he looks great and carries on looking great, but his sins are depicted in the picture stored in the attic, just as the lifestyle, social irresponsibility and modus operandi of this part of the middle class are imprinted onto an inequal and troubled Hungarian society. Hope i'm not stretching the metaphor, but I think it carries some truth.

by car05 on Sat Mar 17th, 2012 at 03:15:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
These would be upper class, I expect...

Part of them may be the poorer heirs of a onetime upper class (who became not-so-upper-class when losing wealth in Austria-Hungary times or in the Rákosi era), but I mean the culture and heritage that goes back to the really old bourgoise, the urban population preceing the big urbanisation waves.

Can't quite place these... are there really many around?

Yes. Hungary had a major wave of urbanisation from the first half of the 19th century to WWI, especially after the Compromise of 1867. In Budapest resp. its predecessors, the population grew from c. 50,000 at the end of Emperor Joseph II's reign to c. 250,000 at the time of the Compromise and then to 1 million by 1930. Most of the new urban population (former peasants, servants and bankrupted lower noblemen) became working-class, but part of it became middle-class bourgeois (the new bureaucrats, artists, engineers). The assimilated Jewish middle-class dates to this era, too (as does the parallel anti-Semitic 'tradition'). The children and grandchildren of these people would then look down upon and exclude those who entered higher education during the communist era from a peasant or working-class background.

let's say the state sector intelligentsia (and offspring) upon which the left in Hungary almost entirely draws its leaders

The Kádár-era educated state sector was a combination of those who rose socially in the Kádár era, and those from the previous urbanisation wave who could maintain or restore their middle-class status after the Stalinist era. I'm not sure BTW if "intelligentsia" covers all or most of the middle-class: it would appear to me that intelligentsia assumes some participation in public life, dealing with ideas (something even the upper-class can do); whereas you can be middle-class and spend all your professional and free time on issues not touching any of that. If so, I claim that the pre-WII middle-class maintained its domination of intelligentsia through the Kádár era, but the communist-era new middle class had more clue about the economy outside the ivory towers of the intelligentsia. These differences don't matter that much nowadays, though earlier there was some mapping to SzDSz vs. MSzP.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Mar 18th, 2012 at 03:38:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe it helps if I say that most of the literature and film popular in the West that portrays East Bloc life in a negative light focuses on the experience of the intelligentsia with roots in the pre-WII middle class. For example the recent film The Lives of Others on the Stasi.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Mar 18th, 2012 at 04:12:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, when I have a bit of time, I'm going to do some reading up on the exact history of what happened and when in the Hungarian educational system. The elements that for me are most notable, seem to be pretty old.

I think one of the most damaging aspects is the way top grammar schools spoon off a certain crop of students at around 11 years old. I know this was going on in the late 1980s, and probably much earlier too.

One of the things foreigners note about Hungarian society is the way that bonds developed in school are kept and nurtured in a very intense manner. Many people make friends for life at school, but this seems to be far more rigid bonding... not just friends for life, but perhaps work colleagues for life! So these patterns formed at school seem to determine many social realities.

Among my acquaintances there are mainly ex-grammar school people, but I have also come across people who were consigned to the technical specialist schools, and these were bright people who for whatever reason, didn't match the teachers' expectations, or even had family members who embarrassed the powers-that-were at one point or another. Despite being intelligent, these graduates of the 'loser schools' - for that is what they were - have no expectation of degree level studies, whether in technical or non-technical subjects, and indeed operate on the assumption that they would be summararily rejected by Hungarian universities or even further education.

Many people therefore fail to be provided with basic study skills, but perhaps more importantly, they are conditioned to believe they are not capable of learning. I understand adult learning levels in Hungary are the lowest in Europe, and for this I blame the sink schools, and I also blame the premature funnelling of able students. The brutally selective and underfunded Hungarian education system dishes out ignorance and ineffective knowledge in equal measures. The fact that some people do OK eventually is something to marvel at, and may reflect parental intervention more than anything else.

It's amazing that Hungary has had three 'social-liberal' governments since 1990, that have done nothing to reduce selection, and the social inequalities resulting from this.

by car05 on Sun Mar 18th, 2012 at 11:28:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A question: which schools do you equate with "grammar schools"? Gimnázium?

One of the things foreigners note about Hungarian society is the way that bonds developed in school are kept and nurtured in a very intense manner.

Hm? As intense as the bonds of Old Etonites? Do you have specific kinds of professions in mind? I would think that there is a more broader phenomenon of people relying on "connections", with an emphasis on connections based on family relations.

that have done nothing to reduce selection

As I indicated, they (in particular the liberals who controlled the education ministry) have actually done a lot to increase selection, even if higher education was expanded greatly (at least for first years, but then selection came during the first year). Add to this the spread of private schools, which was pursued mainly by right-wing governments.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Mar 18th, 2012 at 04:00:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On the level of elementary school education, I can't much comment on the situation in the last two decades as I don't have any experience, but on the mid-eighties situation I can: in 7th-8th grade I went to school in West Germany, and they were behind compared to the curriculum in Hungary in maths, physics, geography, biology and history; and I think only geography was taught on a higher quality.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Mar 18th, 2012 at 04:59:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I've heard apparently contradictory things regarding this. Some people have said that the maths at 16 years in the UK is like the maths at 14 years in Hungary. I've also heard of people starting school in Hungary, transferring to the UK, and then going back into the system in Hungary. I'm sure this a wrenching experience, and in this particular case, they complained bitterly at the rigidity and monotony of the Hungarian teaching methodology, by comparison to the project-based, student-centred approach of much primary education in the UK (which has incidentally incorporated certain aspects of the Wardorf-Steiner approach).

What we do know in terms of comparison is from the OECD's PISA ratings at 14 and 16 years, crude as they are. These show Hungary as generally average or below-average on all subjects, with no great advantage in either maths or science. I had a memorable conversation with someone once who was adamant that this was due to the inclusion of Roma children... there goes Greater Hungary...

I can well believe that Hungarian education starts off as excellent at kindergarten, is actually quite good at primary level up to 10, and then rapidly tails off for many (most?) students afterwards, in a sea of repetition, lack of depth, autodidact teaching and absence of genuine rigour. By the time they are 15 or 16 many students are disillusioned and unchallenged. As an ex-teacher I would have to concede that the introduction of school inspectors by the Hoffmann-Orban act is not something I find intrinsically offensive, as long as it is used to help the teacher develop. Oh, and fraud is absolutely endemic, with a thriving black market in false exams and third-party essays.

by car05 on Mon Mar 19th, 2012 at 10:40:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe we can agree that education is universally crap across borders?

Daily Mail [UK]: Maths 'too hard for students and dons': Universities drop subject from science courses

Universities are dropping maths from degree courses because students - and their lecturers -  cannot cope with it, a report warns today.


Universities are being forced to dumb down degree courses requiring the use of maths, including sciences, economics, psychology and social sciences.

Students are unable to tackle complex problems and their lecturers struggle to teach them anyway, it is claimed.

Unfortunately google searches for this stuff turn um the Mail and the Telegraph, and only the Daily Mail includes the bit about the university teachers not being able to cope either.

Here is the same story on EducationNews.org.

In any case, how can it be that every country is below average in the quality of its education?

There are three stories about the euro crisis: the Republican story, the German story, and the truth. -- Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 19th, 2012 at 10:54:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is a recent article about Finland, which is supposed to be above average. Of course, they'd have to be way about average for everybody else to be below....
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Mon Mar 19th, 2012 at 11:32:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, I missed this article. Pasi Sahlberg has been busy with his missionary work.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Mar 19th, 2012 at 12:38:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It shows the need for ReformTM?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Mon Mar 19th, 2012 at 11:39:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I've heard apparently contradictory things regarding this.

I emphasize again that I was speaking about the situation 25 years ago, and don't know much about the present one first-hand. All I know that the curriculum did change, if only because politicians wanted all the communist-era school books replaced. (I was aware of the rankings in PISA studies, but I can't compare that to anything 25 years ago.) Teachers also count, and even if the old Prussian model of strict teachers doing instruction (that rigidity you describe) was not good and there were attempts to change that, I know at least that much that teacher quality decreased, too.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Mar 19th, 2012 at 11:23:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW when I came back from West Germany, to start my highschool education, my main experience was that of being behind in some fields, in particular maths and physics, in spite of my parents' extra-school effort. On the other hand, I was ahead on languages, not to mention stuff not taught at all at home like civic life. I may have been lucky that I had some teachers at my highschool in Hungary, too, who encouraged discussions where students were encouraged to make analysis and express opinion like in some classes back in Germany.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Mar 19th, 2012 at 11:36:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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