“They want to take away our freedom! Is that what we want?” – protestor Katalin Törley
Over one thousand teachers joined by students and members of civil society demonstrated in front of Parliament on Sunday. Originally scheduled for February 1, Sunday’s demonstration, organized by the Tanítanék (I Would Teach) Movement, was prompted by news that the government is planning to crack down on certain civil organizations.
At a similar demonstration in December, Tanítanék spokespeople demanded the resignation of Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog, and for the restoration of a separate ministry for education (as opposed to the current secretariat). Not surprisingly, nothing came of their demands.
Over 40 civil society organizations participated in Sunday’s demonstration. Among the crowd were students carrying banners proclaiming “Papists out of the schools!”
Among the civil leaders taking the stage was Ökotárs director Veronika Móra, pictured here, who told the crowd that “there may be those who become worn out and give up, but it is not possible to get rid of civil society in its entirety.”
Kálmán Szentesi, who sent a letter to the Hungarian tax authorities in October demanding a refund of all taxes paid to date on the grounds that the state was not using the money properly (for which he was fined HUF 408,000), told the crowd that “the future is a swamp that will swallow everyone except for the privileged few.”
Budapest lawyer Boglárka Szert told the crowd that she was there to defend the freedom of expression of her colleague who was fired from the Antall József Knowlege Center for liking the NOlimpia Facebook page. “Being a democrat simply means not being afraid,” she told the crowd, citing the great Hungarian literary scholar István Bibó who was murdered in 1944 by fascists.
The second half of the demonstration focused on issues relating to education and the Tanítanék Movement, which continues to demand the resignation of Zoltán Balog and the creation of an independent ministry.
Tanítanék co-founder Olivér Pilz reminded the crowd of the movement’s accomplishments to date, including numerous demonstrations and other displays of solidarity, as well as a day-long strike. He said the government had responded cynically to these actions by blaming Hungary’s poor Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results on the teachers and students.
Gáspár Békés, a member of the independent student parliament, told the protestors that vocational students had no time to prepare for technical exams set for May this year as they were only informed of the exam requirements at the end of December. Tanítanék believes the authorities may be actionable for this as they did not make expectations known to students at the time of enrollment. For this reason lawyer Dániel Deák offered to provide students free legal aid.
László Miklósi, president of the Union of History Teachers TTE, announced that several thousand had signed their petition to allow teachers to choose an atlas other than the experimental historical atlas developed by the state.