Stand Up, Prisoners of Centralisation

The Hungarian educational system is a bloody farce, and it has been that way for decades now. It has long been suffering from the usual ills of the field: outdated and ever-expanding curricula that is subject to constant changes, low wages, excessive working hours and an aging workforce. These are the results of chronic underfunding, weak trade unions and the the Hungarian pathological fear of political action.

Hardly anyone wants to become a teacher and who can blame them? Who would want to work 32 hours (officially) and about a dozen more (at home) per week for ridiculous pay, in crumbling institutions that don’t even have money for toilet paper, surrounded by burnt-out colleagues who are considered dour even by Hungarian standards (the average Hungarian is about as cheerful as the death of Bambi’s mother), who can’t even be bothered to update their class outlines from 30 years ago.

The FIDESZ government, to their credit, has tried to change this situation. This is the most positive thing anyone could say about their attempts.

The grand idea was that all the problems would be solved by centralisation. By bringing the day-to-day operation of schools under the control of a bureaucratic monster called KLIK that would dwarf the kaijus of Pacific Rim, they could cut costs and exert the kind of manual control that gives Viktor Orban a hardon. Did the chalk run out? Call KLIK. Measuring the performance of teachers? Call KLIK. Paying the janitor? KLIK. Approving schoolbooks? KLIK. KLIK. KLIK. KLIK.

The reform had other bold ideas. Principals would have to be appointed by the Ministry (which led to some non-loyalists miraculously losing their jobs to more ideologically compatible candidates, even if the process was handled illegally. If the government does it it’s not illegal. If anyone insists, they’ll just change the law). Everyday PE classes were implemented, even though no schools had appropriate facilities The result? Theoretical PE classes with written tests. That’ll make the little fuckers move. Religious education was also made compulsory, and godless savages were given a choice to send their kids to Ethics classes, where they’d be taught the right kind of ethics (= conservative religious education with less overt references to God)

The implementation of this plan was handed over to a ministry run by a Calvinist pastor and a Secretary of State who was most famous for her unintentional but strikingly authentic Dolores Umbridge cosplay. They appointed a rural vice-principal as the director of KLIK and the dream team was complete. Three years later, none of this

Not surprisingly, this was an unmitigated disasters. Schools were not resupplied with chalk. Teachers had to add hours of self-evaluative paperwork to their already impossible and unbearable work schedule. Janitors got paid a few weeks late. Horrifyingly bad, often factually incorrect and sometimes overtly racist and propagandistic schoolbooks were approved, which didn’t even arrive to the schools in time. The already cracking educational system started to completely fall apart. The performance and knowledge of Hungarian students kept sliding down the drain and I predict that very soon even Taliban-run madrasas will provide better education, because at least they teach a foreign language and the students leave with a thorough understanding of at least one book.

The situation is now so dire that the teachers actually started organising. I know it sounds crazy in the country where the university teachers and managers gleefully worked against the student protests, but it is happening. It started from a secondary school in Miskolc, the fourth largest city in Hungary (this is almost miraculous, not only political action, but one that is not started in the capital) and has gained the approval of hundreds of schools and thousands, if not tens of thousands of teachers. They are planning a protest on Saturday, we shall see how it will go. I am not holding my breath, I have been disappointed too often.

The government’s response was the usual. At first, they ignored the requests and continued parroting that everything was perfectly fine. Then they called a roundtable discussion, but only included their own loyalists, even if they had nothing to do with the matter. Later, they declared that the current hollow shell occupying the Secretary of State for Education post will be replaced with another hollow shell. They even went so far as to saying that KLIK, which they were praising until the last moment, will be disbanded. We have currently reached the highest known stage of government reaction: Viktor Orban has declared that the teachers must be following orders ‘from the outside’, because it makes no sense for them to protest.

What happens now could be exciting. A miners’ group has already declared that they’ll join the protest and railway workers are also preparing for an unrelated strike. I will not make predictions, but this could be a hopeful moment.

And then on Saturday, there’ll be hours and hours of boring speeches under EU flags, after which everyone will peacefully go home…

I sincerely hope that this time, I won’t be right.

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A Brief Outline of Hungarian Political Parties

It can take quite a while to begin to understand how political parties work in Hungary. I can’t say that I have achieved this level of expertise, but I’ve seen them frolicking around for a long enough time that I can kinda guess what their game is. In this post, I will present a general description of the main parties so that you, kind reader, won’t be completely lost in the future.

But first, some terminology. Hungary has left- and right-wing parties, but the only way to actually split the parties into the two groups is to look at their attitudes towards nationalism: left-wing parties don’t know how to deal with it, so when it come sup, their only response is awkward silence, while their right-wing counterparts can’t shut up about it for five bleedin’ seconds. In any other way, the two sides both exhibit a chaotic mixture of political and economic ideas, where Anarcho-Stalinism and Occultist Nazism could easily go hand in hand in the same press release. As long as the pensioners are happy. Sidenote: pensioners are the largest and most active voting demographic. They are the ones at whom the campaigns are aimed, the ones at the protests and the ones hurling antisemitic abuse and eggs at Budapest Pride. 

So, here’s the list.

MSZMP: Let’s start with the basics. The Hungarian Socialist Workers Party came to power in 1956, during the post-revolution facelift that was aimed at making the Marxist-Leninist dictatorship cuddlier so that the people may not attempt to hang anyone associated with it on the nearest lamppost as soon as physically possible. Its emblematic General Secretary, János Kádár ruled the country until 1988 in a similar fashion, creating a semblance of wealth and trying not to seem too oppressive. I’m not saying he wasn’t a nasty fellow, but he was no ruthless ‘feed your uncle to the dogs’ crazyperson by any means. His longest-lasting achievement was levelling  every state-controllable aspect of life in Hungary, from cuisine to pop music, to the lowest tier of mediocrity. After the change of regime, the more cunning MSZMP members formed MSZP, the social democratic successor party (aka. Bozo the Kleptocratic Clown and his Merry Bunch of Pathetic Losers), the slower ones became christian democrats (aka. the Catholic Taliban). The party is now defunct and Kádár’s skull was dug up and stolen by some fellow.

MSZP: One of the dominant political parties of the post-dictatorship era. Founded by former state party members, but on democratic principles. It started out as a more or less social democratic formation and have been steadily moving towards populistic neoliberalism ever since. After a strong ten years, they have now managed to completely destroy themselves, mostly thanks to a cuckoolander Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány, who just did now know when to call it quits. The riots would have been a useful hint.  At the moment it is still the strongest faction on the left, no thanks to their PM candidate, who might  as well be a drawing that kinda resembles a person. They achieved this status simply on the merit that they are not FIDESZ. Not that they didn’t try to steal everything as well, but they were just too stupid and clumsy to succeed.

SZDSZ: The now defunct liberal party, famous for being socially liberal in word only and not even trying to pass any progressive legislation through during their two terms in power as MSZP’s lapdogs. Then, it became a proper neoliberal party led by a dude who had a helicopter (this was his only memorable trait) and promptly disappeared. Now some of its members are reappearing to take votes away from opposition formations.

FIDESZ: The other main player, or, to tell the truth, THE main player in Hungarian politics. Led by a ‘definitely not autocratic, just fond of having everyone do what he likes’ Prime Minister and a gang of lapdogs of different shapes and sizes, this nationalistic, theocratic bunch of grumpy men actually started as a progressive, democratic and anti-clerical party, but then they realised that it won’t get them elected. Plus, did I mention the leader Viktor Orbán really likes playing with giant, inflatable copies of Earth in his study? Well, that helped a lot. Since they were elected in 2010, in the “Ballot Revolution” (their terminology), they have aggressively reshaped the country so that it resembles an ultra-nationalistic version of the old Marxist-Leninist regime, invading every public institution and making us all look really bad in the process. Their name means Coalition of Young Democrats, but they are not a Coalition, definitely not Young and most certainly not Democrats. The sheer amount of certifiably insane characters surrounding this party is astounding.

KDNP: This Christian Democratic party, the previously mentioned Catholic Taliban, is the liver-eating twin conjoined brother of FIDESZ. The two have been in permanent alliance for many years now, which is good for the Taliban because they get into parliament (Hungary isn’t particularly religious and this bunch would get at best fifteen votes altogether) and even into juicy positions and FIDESZ can actually have someone else do the dirty work. This party is lead by an avid killer of defenceless animals and populated by the most zealous supporters of the old regime, who 25 years ago suddenly realised that they have been confusing Stalin and Jesus all along, and they actually meant to worship the latter. Their stars include Rózsa Hoffmann, the Umbridgesque Minister of Education who managed to transform the whole educational system of the country into something that is so backwards and inefficient that 19th century Caucasian mountain communities would have rejected it on principle, and those were the folks who thought that an escaped Sub-Saharan slave was Bigfoot.

Együtt 2014: After the crazy Prime Minister destroyed the political left with the drive and efficiency of a three year-old tearing up a roll of toilet paper, a quiet, neoliberal mini-oligarch called Gordon Bajnai became the Prime Minister for a year. Since he managed not the burn the whole gorram place to the ground, people, mostly him, think that he knows something and should be given a second chance. He formed the coalition on the ashes of a promising anti-establishment protest movement that he hijacked (effectively chasing away all its supporters). After he ran that ship onto the rocks, he gathered a few backstabbing career politicians from other parties and some old folks no-one wants to see ever again in order to form a grand coalition. This Robert Walpole then managed to get himself outmanoeuvred and outclassed in every way by the completely weightless and pathetic MSZP. He can be found standing quietly in the corner, artfully blending into the grey tapestry.

Jobbik: The nazis everyone loves to talk about. Just don’t call them nazis, because they get upset and might even cry. I have to give it to them, they are by far the smartest politicians of the whole bunch. They might be completely repulsive, but they know how to handle the media in the 21st century and they are the only ones who have been seriously campaigning and organising amongst young people. I still don’t get it why everyone is surprised that they are so popular with young folk, as they are the only ones talking to them. Too bad they are talking about the evil Joos and Roma and Slovaks and whatnot. Though they like Arabs as long as they are far away. Their supporters are like wee little jackbooted fairies, who can miraculously turn any online discussion into antisemitic hate speech with two well-placed comments. They are also notable for the sheer amount of party members who previously achieved worldwide fame thanks to the kosher bareback  scat porn movies they starred in. While the Taliban and FIDESZ are mostly Catholic, the nazis have significant support in the Reformed church.

LMP: Politics Can Be Different. A party that always sounded promising, but has a tendency of splitting up every five seconds. While they are really good at performance art, no-one know what they actually stand for. Difference, I suppose. Some of its members have been known to utter phrases that could resemble political thought.

DK: After the crazy Prime Minister managed to get himself chased out of MSZP, which is a great achievement for any politician, he formed this bunch. Despite their fanatical following of elderly pensioners who would probably die for their beloved leader if needed, the party only exists to troll other opposition political parties. Not even Gyurcsány can think that he could be re-elected. Or does he? DUN DUN DUN…

4K: These young folks are the closest Hungary has to a proper left-wing party. They are under-financed and under-manned, but within a few years, when all the other opposition parties managed to destroy each other, they could theoretically become an interesting faction. We shall wait and see.

This should be what I could whip up. Now that this is out of the way, we can have fun!