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Teachers’ protest movement may run out of steam

April 18th, 2016

Ahead of next Wednesday’s (20 April) national teacher’s strike, Népszabadság worries that ordinary people are increasingly baffled by the protests which follow one another in rapid succession. Magyar Nemzet agrees, while Magyar Idők claims people are fed up with the movement.

There is no will from the government to address the main problems in education, and its main goal is to wear down the protest movement, Népszabadság declares in an opinion piece a day after Friday’s warning strike in schools. The author, Judit N. Kósa, suggests that the government is skilfully exploiting the fact that many of the protest organizations called strikes in a rather awkward way. As a result, those who do not carefully follow the news are left totally baffled about both the demands and the program points, she suggests. Moreover, Hungarian society refuses to grow up, and displays a sort of permanent anxiety when teachers talk about schools. In this turmoil the toughening government line may well appeal to a significant number of people, the author concludes.

The current wave of teachers’ protests started with an open letter written by the teachers of a Miskolc grammar school (See BudaPost February 4th, 2016). The grassroots protest movement quickly escalated into nationwide demonstrations and strikes. The PDSZ teachers union organized a two-hour warning strike last Friday in state-run schools. This was joined by István Pukli’s teacher movement (see BudaPost March 23rd, 2016), which had already held a one-hour wildcat strike in schools on March 30th. However, Friday’s warning strike, just the latest in a series of similar demonstrations in the past weeks, attracted a low number of participants. A bigger, national, full day warning strike, which is supported by several teachers’ unions, is being organized in schools for next Wednesday. The PSZ, another teachers’ union is also asking Hungarians to show solidarity and stop working for 5 minutes at noon nationwide.

Wednesday’s national strike is crucial Judit Kósa asserts, because it cannot be contained within the walls of the schools, and will affect families and parents too. Thus the most critical part will probably be the 5 minutes of solidarity, the author thinks.

‘Two hours’ and ‘five minutes’ that follow each other in rapid succession will not help make clear what teachers want, György Pápay writes in Magyar Nemzet. The government can realistically expect that most people will soon get tired of all this, the author predicts. Thus the administration’s best strategy would be just to sit still and do nothing, Pápay remarks – yet the government is still active. Its actions appear to attempt to take the wind out of the teachers’ sails, but it is trying to achieve this goal in the wrong way, the author suggests. Instead of plotting and scheming, György Pápay advises the government to start and systematically think over what would make Hungarian public education really competitive, and start channeling more money into it, if it is really true that the economy is faring better. What is more, it should do this not only to discredit and silence teachers, but because any country doing otherwise will jeopardise its children’s future.

If they listened to the real voice of the people, they would hear that the general public is fed up with alternative round tables and obscure action groups, Magyar Idők claims. Dávid Megyeri attacks the organizers, who he suggests have socialist ties, because they are not interested in the opinion of parents and children. The fight is underway in fact, the author proclaims, over who will be in control of ideological influence on future generations.

Tamás Lánczi, a leading analyst at Századvég think tank, writes about the ‘fall’ of the protest movement after the Friday warning strike. On Mozgástér, a blog run on Hirado.hu, a public media news site, Lánczi puts forward two reasons why he thinks Pukli’s movement has failed. One is the government’s willingness to negotiate. The other is what he sees as the apparent liberal and left-wing overtones of the protest movement, which deter many from supporting it.

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