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Divisions among protesters over agreements with the government

January 23rd, 2013

Commenting on the preliminary agreements between the Ministry of Human Resources and protesting teachers’ trade unions and student organisations, Népszabadság believes the government has managed to divide the protest movements which forced it to retreat before the Christmas holidays.

Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog signed agreements on the reform of public and higher education with three trade unions and the main student organisation, while one trade union and a radical student movement announced that they will continue to protest against the planned measures. University students held a series of demonstrations against the severe cuts in the number of free tuition places at university offered by the government from next September. (See BudaPost, through December, 2012). The government has made substantial concessions and the national board of student councils (HÖOK) said it signed the preliminary agreement in order to make it possible for final grade high school students to file their applications for university admission in February, while negotiations will continue on a series of issues. The Student Network (HaHa), a new radical movement said it would continue to protest against the cuts, for the agreement contained no guarantees. Similarly, three trade unions called off their strike alert, as the Minister promised that there would be no massive layoffs after the schools have been taken over from local councils by a government agency. A fourth union disagreed and announced that it would consider calling a teachers’ strike.

In its front page editorial, Népszabadság admits that Mr Balog, the Minister of Human Resources has proved to be a good tactician, as he has managed to divide both the teachers and the students. The left-wing paper suggests that the teachers laid down their weapons because they felt that it was better to accept the accomplished facts than to wage a hopeless battle of resistance. On the other hand, Népszabadság believes that the students have won important concessions, for instance the government has given up the idea of delegating commissioners to curb the financial autonomy of the universities, and free tuition will be offered in fields of study where PM Viktor Orbán planned to collect tuition fees from all students (e.g. law and economics). “It will be difficult to sell that as a triumph,” Népszabadság comments. The author ends on a sombre note, suspecting that the government might only be playing for time, and in that case, the students will have to decide later what means of protest to resort to.

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