Hungarian students, teachers, civil activists protest school closures, poverty

April 26, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 1.20.59 AM

Around 300 teachers and students protested against the closure of public schools, in Budapest’s József nádor square this afternoon.  The protest, which was organized by the “Free Education” Facebook group, resulted in the temporary closure by civil activists of the intersection of the Andrássy and Bajcsy Zsilinszky streets.

Although more than 3,000 people had indicated they would attend the protest scheduled for 4pm, as of 4.30pm only around 300 had shown up, including a group of students from the Budapest 15th district’s Neptun primary school, where students and parents were informed on April 15 that the school would close at the end of the school year.  Nicknamed “the red school”, the Neptun students attended the protest in red T-shirts.

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 1.21.45 AM

Addressing a crowd of around 300 protesters, Neptun teacher Szilveszter Horváth pointed out that, while the Klebelsberg Institutional Maintenance Center (KLIK, Klebelsberg Intézményfenntartóról), the national agency responsible for administering public schools since their nationalization in 2012, may bear the name of the founder of some 600 schools, these days it only closes schools, despite the fact that there are “more and more problem children”.  He said crowded classrooms made it impossible to perform worthwhile work, and the only goal these days was “survival” in the wake of wholesale reforms that have proven unpopular with teachers and parents alike. According to Horváth, Neptun was the school that accepted the children of Chilean political refugees in the 1970s.  The slogan of the refugees was “we do not turn our backs”.  Nor did Neptun, said Horváth.

Network of the Uninvited activist Judit Szántó told the crowd that the government is currently “shooting” at both nurses and immigrants.  The activist asked “when will all of us dress in black?”.  She called the national consultation on the issue of immigrants “total fascism” and said that whoever fills in the accompanying questionnaire “contributes to Hungary turning fascist.”

Slam poet Péter Molnár condemned Wednesday’s decision on the part of Hungary’s highest court, the Curia, to allow Roma children receiving religious education to be segregated from other, non-Roma students.

In addition to the speakers, a number of organizers took the stage to briefly explain why they had decided to attend the protest.  Not taking the stage, however, were the two students from the Raoul Wallenberg school who were forbidden by the school director from speaking at the protest because allegedly she had agreed with the decision makers that the school could stay in its current location.  Activist Bertram Marek did not speak either, allegedly for personal reasons.  However, 1956 revolutionary hero and former SZDSZ politician Imre Mécs did speak, as did Gábor “Tuareg” Szabó, leader of the Country Assembly Movement (OGYM) whose followers until recently maintained a protest camp in the Kossuth square in front of parliament.

An hour into the demonstration, only about a hundred protesters remained, a number having already left in disappointment.  At that point the organizers announced that the protest was cancelled for security reasons because someone had blocked the intersection of the Andrassy and Bajcsy-Zsilinszky streets.

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 1.20.22 AM

It turned out that a truck equipped with speakers carrying some 15 protesters had parked in the middle of the intersection. The demonstration had been reported to authorities shortly after 5 pm.  The protesters erected a banner saying “Never again should there be 4 million poor people”.  Among the protesters was the very same Imre Mécs (second from left) who had briefly spoken at the protest in József nádor square, accompanied by his wife.

Mécs announced that the regime of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán “must be held to account” and it was “terrible what they are doing to the country.”  The protesters repeatedly chanted “constitution, democracy, rule of law.”

The protest organizers had brought a generator and a public address system.  At first it seemed as though the police would close off the intersection.  But after they diverted the traffic, two groups of police peacefully observed the flashmob-like event.  At the invitation of the protesters, a number of pedestrians and protesters from the earlier event joined the demonstration.  Some pedestrians and motorists applauded from the side of the road, but a number shouted insults and accused the protesters of being “communists”.

The protesters demanded that the members of the Hungarian government be forced to resign and appear in court.  A number of them said they do not understand what else must happen in order for the people to “awaken.”  They held signs proclaiming: “No more mafia state”,  “No more demeaning public work”,  “No more dictatorship”,  “No more lying governments”,  “No more four million poor”.

Officially, they had intended to occupy the intersection until midnight.  However, the demonstration only ended up lasting an hour.  One of the protesters told the Beacon that “there is no other way; means employed to date haven’t worked.”

The Ministry for Human Resources reacted to the protests by saying that the place for dialogue was “not in the street but at professional forums”.  In a statement released to MTI state news agency, the ministry cited “demographic trends” and the fact that fewer children meant fewer teachers and schools where teachers train were required, and it was for this reason the disputed institutions were to be transferred to KLIK from the universities.