Entries RSS Feed Share Send to Facebook Tweet This Accessible version

Two weeks of student unrest: a political turning point?

December 24th, 2012

Left-wing analysts suggest that the student demonstrations of the last two weeks have signalled the beginning of the end for the governing right wing. A conservative pundit suspects that left wing forces are trying to manipulate the student movement.

In his usual unsigned weekly editorial, the editor of Magyar Narancs (print version) suggests that the events of the past few days have heralded the demise of the Fidesz led government. People angered by the mismanaged higher education reform must number several hundreds of thousands. The editor adds that number to the already discontented sectors of society – teachers in public education (elementary and high schools); farmers who believe that low fee land lease programmes have only been accessible to people linked to ruling circles; law enforcement staff and army officers whose early retirement schemes have been cancelled as well as underpaid health workers. The editor is certain that PM Orbán will lose the next elections. His only question is whether the Prime Minister will peacefully relinquish his post or will follow former Yugoslav president Milosevic’s example. Milosevic tried to rig the elections in 2000 and suppress the demonstrations against his fraudulent practices, until his own armed forces decided to turn against him.

In Élet és Irodalom, political scientist Zoltán Lakner does not take a left-wing victory at the 2014 elections for granted, but thinks it is time to ponder how, in case it wins, the Left should dismantle the system built by Fidesz since it was voted into power in 2010. In case the opposition wins a two thirds parliamentary majority, Lakner argues, it can easily roll back the constitutional novelties introduced by its predecessors. If the opposition only wins a simple majority, he continues, it could nevertheless put through a new constitution and have it legitimised by a referendum. He raises the possibility of right-wing demonstrations in case certain officials appointed for 9 years, like the Prosecutor General, the Head of the Judiciary Office and the President of the Media Authority were to be dismissed. All three are meant to represent checks and balances to the executive, but stand accused by the opposition of bowing to government intentions. Lakner does not ask why they should be dismissed if a left-wing government were to be set up, as in that case they would be likely to actually play the role of checks and balances.

In a guest column in the Bratislava Hungarian daily Új Szó, László Seres (otherwise a HVG columnist) claims that the government , even if it does stay in office at least for another year and a half. “The bad news is, he continues, that its successor will not be able or willing to do anything different on any of the important issues, for it will also want to please the public mood.” Seres thinks the student movement that originally expressed “intelligent and reform-minded ideas”’, has been influenced by left-leaning NGOs into yielding “to the stupid populism of ‘we don’t want to pay for tuition.’” Student demonstrators called upon all political parties to stay away from their events, but did not object to “Human Platform”, an umbrella organisation of various NGOs active in health care, education and welfare joining their rallies and “lead them into a dream world of free services for everyone”. The libertarian columnist mentions as his only hope those few students who express “reasonable views” about a system of tuition fees, coupled with scholarships for the needy and the best performers.

On Mandiner, Beáta Bakó criticises the government for its hasty reform project and the several contradictory and improvised steps it has announced to withdraw it. Nor does she believe that tuition fees will make the machine of higher education run smoother. „Higher education is not the kind of service were you must pay if you want good quality”. On the contrary, she continues, if we leave it to the market, then scientific considerations will be submerged by financial constraints. She does not reject the idea of tuition fees for those who don’t perform well, and suggests that the good old system of entrance exams should be reintroduced, instead of judging all students according to the points accumulated in their high schools and in their standardised final exams. Those written exams do not tell much about the candidates’ human side, which may be decisive in many fields – and not just the humanities.

On Polgárportál, a new pro-government website, Gergely Huth (otherwise deputy editor of Magyar Hírlap) sees “Bajnai and the Milla people behind the NGOs instigating the students”. He warns the students that they have been misled by people who want to grab power taking advantage “of your sincere emotions and clean faces”. In fact, he continues, “Network for the Freedom of Education” one of the NGOs of “Human Platform”, has just signed a co-operation agreement with Together 2014, the Bajnai-led electoral alliance. Huth also shares information about HÖOK-leader Dávid Nagy, who started his career in the student movement years ago in Győr, where Ferenc Gyurcsány (before becoming Prime Minister in September 2004) was the regional Socialist party chairman, and the two “are reported to have been great friends at the time”. Huth does not question the students’ good intentions, but remarks that the government has retreated in the face of their demands. He believes the continued unrest only serves the career interests of the student leaders, some of whom may be “mercenaries of left-lib elements financed from abroad”.

In a separate skirmish in the battle over tuition, Mandiner’s editor Ákos Gergely Balogh fiercely condemns veteran left-wing columnist Endre Aczél who accuses the government of having acted against the students just like the Communist police did 26 years ago.

On March 15 1986, the anniversary of the 1848 revolution, the police pushed the participants of an unauthorised student march onto Chain Bridge and trapped them there. (The arch of the bridge prevented the students from seeing that police were already waiting for them at the other end). They let them go home one by one after having confiscated their identity cards. Some of them were taken into custody on the spot, others were to be summoned to the police station a few days later. 26 years later, on Thursday, December 20, a few hundred students continued their march after the main demonstration – several thousand strong – ended, and held a rally on Chain Bridge. Three participants, believed to be the organisers, were taken into custody for a few hours and admonished for “abuse of the right of assembly”.

In a short sarcastic remark on that incident on Galamus, Aczél reproaches the leaders of Fidesz, who used to be a rebellious student group themselves, for having turned their back on their original ideals. He says “the last time high school students have been taken away by police was in the Chain Bridge Battle in 1986… You are (late Communist party chief) János Kádár’s children, whether you want it or not. You can be proud of yourselves”.

Gergely Ákos Balogh retorts fiercely on Mandiner that in 1985 the police acted violently, while this time the three people taken into custody themselves described the police attitude towards them as polite and friendly. But what enrages him  most, is that at the time of the „Chain Bridge Battle” of 1986, Endre Aczél happened to be editor in chief of MTV News, the only television news programme in Hungary. And that news service did not inform its viewers about what had happened on Chain Bridge. „Unbelievable. And what is also unbelievable is that 22 years after the fall of Communism, Aczél has just been awarded the Pulitzer Memorial Prize”.

In a Facebook post, Endre Aczél replies that in 1986 it was severely forbidden to report events like the unauthorised student march. Not one media outlet dared to carry that story. “Anyone who holds me responsible as editor in chief does not understand the first thing about those times.”

Tags: , , ,