István Pukli: Don’t expect me to change the world

September 1, 2016

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The director of Zuglo’s Teleki Blanka Academic High School (Gimnázium), one of the most outspoken of the leaders of the “I would teach” movement, says the movement needs to continue its activities using unconventional methods.   He believes that more determined and radical steps are needed, and that “we need to struggle until the system is changed.”  With regard to the October 2nd referendum, the civil activist, who says he is deeply disappointed in Hungary’s political parties, told the Beacon that either he will stay at home or he will cast an invalid vote.

Budapest Beacon:  In an interview you gave to Klubrádio you said that you voted for Fidesz in 2014 . . .

István Pukli:  In 2010 as well.

BB:  If you approved of the Fundamental and public education laws of 2011, then how did you become one of the spiritual rectors of the checkered shirt movement?  Fidesz’s campaign promise in 2014 was to continue what it did between 2010 and 2014.

PI:  I have two answers to this.  First, on several occasions, including 2006 and 2014, I believed in appearances.  In 1998, 2002 and 2006 I voted for MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party).  In 2006 I believed those who were in power when they said that everything was fine and that things are going well.  I believed the same in 2014.  In 2011, I thought the education law and the centralization it prescribed would work.  Of course, drawing away from competence-based education was suspicious, but I got over it.  Second, I received a rather conservative education during my years at university, so from this point of view my voting for Fidesz is more understandable than for MSZP.

BB:  When did you come to see the light after 2014?

PI:  A couple of years passed and it was apparent that the generation coming of age is not being endowed with useful knowledge.  They are leaving school without getting the training that enables them to adapt and learn new things regardless of what life has in store for them.  We are simply just stuffing the curriculum into them. Teachers teach 26 lessons a week.  A method of evaluating and overseeing teachers was introduced in a manner that was not credible.  People came to evaluate my colleagues who had not reached the average level of the teachers they were evaluating.  The system is slow and sluggish.  By the autumn of 2015, I was already in conflict with the district director.  Last April they modified the law so that only those could be evaluated whose names appeared on the list prepared by the Educational Authority of the teachers to be evaluated the following academic year.  This never happened.  They informed us in August that they were coming in September.  That was what really got my goat.  My colleagues and the students are being shot down. They are forcing unlawful things on us.  I was also fed up with having to do things systematically that are not part of my job.  For example, calculating over a long period of time travel reimbursement because our school does not have an financial director.  They waited last year until the middle of August to inform us of the curriculum, which is dangerous because the labor markets only started up after that, so we could not even start properly at the beginning of September.   I was so stupid as to put my work before my family and to send the children off to their grandparents, who were not ready to receive them, as a result of which one of my children took a relaxant and had to go to hospital.  My organizational loyalty ended there.  It’s just not worth it.

BB: Discounting your person, is it not strange that Fidesz undermines the rule of law, of which the education law was a part, and the teachers only get upset when a former undersecretary criticizes them for wearing checkered shirts?   Wasn’t the latter trite in comparison to the new Fundamental Law, the new electoral law, the new media law, the new church law, and I could go on listing them?

PI: (Former education undersecretary) István Klinghammer committed a communications mistakes that could be used very well.

BB:  Was that the casus belli?

PI:  Yes. Let’s go back a bit in time.  My deputy, who is a very kind person, exposed himself last summer during the time of the refugee crisis by helping the refugees at the train stations.  I received continuous impulses from him that something here was not very kosher.

BB:  That’s not even an educational issue.

PI:  No, it’s not.  But it perfectly reveals the nature of the governing power.  It unequivocally shows just how bad of a direction the country is going.  My world view was opposed to the politics that the government represents.

BB:  Speaking of politics, at the February 3 demonstration in Miskolc, which took place in spite of the rain, you and Olivér Pilz spoke.  You said you were not politicizing even as you were doing just that.  Why?

PI:  That’s true.  The situation is that, thanks to the government, the word “political” became swearword.  We primarily would have liked to achieve our goals in public policy, but it is important to see that this by itself is not enough.

BB: So you engaged in politicizing.

PI:  We politicized.

BB: And you also politicized on February 3rd?

PI: Yes, but we tried not to politicize but rather to bring about changes in public policy.  But we have to see that this doesn’t work.  At the June 11th demonstration we heard that our goal must be to engage in politics as well.  In fact, we also heard it on March 15th.  It occurred to us that the traditional methods of promoting our interests cannot achieve any results.  The government always shrugs it off.

BB:  On March 15th in the pouring rain you persuaded a sizable crowd to take to the streets.  If you can repeat this on October 23rd . . .

PI:  But what do we accomplish by this?

BB:  You took the words out of my mouth.

PI:  We need to employ methods which are not entirely conventional.

BB:  Strike?  Of course that is traditional.

PI:  Absolutely traditional.  Moreover, we are not a labor union.  We are not permitted to organize strikes.  We need to formulate methods that change the power’s thinking more effectively than those employed.  More determined, radical steps are required than those employed to date.

BB: Can you be more specific?  On Tuesday “I would teach” posted a greeting on its Facebook page on the occasion of the new academic year, but that did not contain details of the storming of the Winter Palace either.

PI:  I cannot say.  The “I would teach” leadership agreed not to speak about this.

BB:  Is this just the “I would teach” project or a joint one with the labor unions?

PI:  Only “I would teach.”

BB:  After the two large demonstrations against the internet tax in October 2014, the  National System of Cooperation (NER) quickly retreated.  At the same time, the internet tax does not affect the point of the system.  However, in an autocratic system education polices are a key question.  Can you really imagine genuine education reforms taking place within the NER?   Or is the failure of the current government minimally required?

PI:  We have to see that the answer is no.  But this is not our primary goal.  We resolved to lobby educational matters and fight to achieve our objectives until they are realized.  If a side effect of that is that Vikor Orbán falls from power, then so be it.

BB:  Which would be better János Lázár or Anal Rogán?

PI: No, it is necessary to defeat the Fidesz system.  The goal is not that if it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work.

BB:  You are capable of dreaming big.  Around 25,000 teachers participated in the April 20th strike, or one-fifth of all teachers.  Can your movement reach more people?

PI:  Our task is to prepare the ground so that the labor union can negotiate.

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BB:  So the “I would teach” movement is going to carpet bomb so that the labor unions can achieve results in the field of battle?

PI:  Yes. By the way, had it not been for the March 15th demonstration, there would have been no strike on April 20th.

BB:  And the thing about that on which you are not willing to speak, as that educational policy carpet bombing or something wider?

PI:  I cannot say more about that.

BB:  Are you launching a party?

PI:  That is not among my plans.

BB:  Will the railways and the hospitals shut down? The police go over to your side?  Are you cutting the telegraph wires? Are you storming Hungarian Television?

PI:  Let’s just say that the organization- and team-building is going on.  Let’s move on.  The element of surprise would be lost if I were to betray the details.

BB:  I am unconsoled.  Whatever, let’s move on.   I won’t ask about the visit paid to (Jobbik MP) Dóra Dúró in Teleki in 2014 . .

PI: You are free to ask.

BB:  Not for the world.  Others have already asked.  But what was (radical right-wing rock band) Kárpátia doing in Teleki?

PI:  That was a mistake.  Dóra Dúró invited them.  More precisely, they showed up and weren’t sent away.  I am the school director, so I am responsible for this.  I have to carry this burden.

BB:  Are you being self-critical?

PI:  Self-criticism is practiced.  If I could do it again, I wouldn’t invite them.  The matter of Dúró inviting them goes directly against Klik.

BB:  On March 24th you stated that you like (former educational undersecretary) Rózsa Hoffmann.   To quote a classic, how was that?

PI:  The school she created at that time was sympathetic.

BB:  The László Német Academic High School?

PI:  Yes.  It worked perfectly. Rózsa Hoffmann was the birth mother of the eight year academic high school, and she created a rather good working teachers’ codex.  Thanks to these I was very happy when she became the undersecretary, except politics carried her away.  If you look deeply into her soul, you would say that what exists now is very much not what they originally planned.

BB:  So at one point you approved of Rózsa Hoffmann?

PI: Yes. Yes she strongly protects her own.

BB:  On the subject of Rózsa Hoffman.  In another interview you mentioned your AVH (communist secret police) grandfather.  If we start from the point of view that nobody is responsible for the deeds of their ancestors, then why did you announce this on Klubrádio?

PI:  Because it would have come out anyway on March 13th and a number of people could have been dissuaded from participating in the March 15th demonstration.  I got ahead of the issue.

BB:  Previously you mentioned that your plans do not include founding a party.  Have you no ambitions to become a politician?

PI:  None

BB:  Do you intend to remain a school director?

PI: My mandate expires next year.  I will once again apply for the job.  The news is that they would not like to continue working with me.  Incomprehensible.  Obviously, if they just look at my professional work, they will not find many mistakes.  We modified the training structure at the school as much as the system would allow and introduced a competence-based education.  I don’t want my work to date to be lost, so I have to apply.

BB:  What will you do if you don’t succeed?

PI:  If the “I would teach” movement still exists, and social support is great and the media writes about us, then they cannot fail to appoint me director again.

BB:  Are you joking?  How many times have they deployed political soldiers in the field of culture and education and everything else?  In the middle of August, Népszabadság wrote that checkered shirt teachers have about as much chance being named school directors as a rocking horse does winning the Epsom Derby.

PI:  Often. I am prepared for the eventuality that I will not be the Teleki director after August 1st, 2017.  But party politics still makes my back crawl.  I cannot find a single credible party.  On the other hand, if I establish a party, it would only be worthwhile doing without opportunism.  But in that case, it would fail within two weeks.

BB:  If in 2018 there is some kind of anti-Fidesz cooperation, naturally without the involvement of Jobbik, then it is easily possible that the candidate for prime minister will come from outside of party politics.  Can you imagine yourself at the head of a broad anti-Fidesz coalition?

PI:  No.  I do not consider the current parties to be suitable to govern, let alone govern credibly.  This summer I participated in a gathering organized by Tivadar Farkasházy where I spoke about educational policy questions.  Civil activist Márton Gulyás, who was also invited, said that a left-wing turn of events is only possible with solidarity.  I responded with something to the effect that I would not like for there to be a left-wing turn.  I am not sure that solidarity among the left-wing parties and their coming to power is the solution.  In what way is Ferenc Gyurcsány more credible than Viktor Orbán?   I think not in any way.

BB:  Ferenc Gyurcsány did not carve apart and destroy the rule of law.  Viktor Orbán did.

PI: That is true, but what Gyurcsány did was also unacceptable.  I don’t know how much better he would be.  I would like to see the government removed from power, but not a left-wing turn.  Nor will there be clean public life here if LMP, DK or any other party would form the government.  György Magyar called on the opposition to cooperate, win, create a proportionate electoral law, then dissolve the new parliament and hold an election under the respectable electoral law.  This is sympathetic to me, but as a teacher of Hungarian and history, what would I have to do with that?

BB:  Nothing more than hang yourself, emigrate to the moon, or maybe a combination of the two?

PI: I am very bitter about things from this perspective. Don’t expect me to change the world.  If there would be a parliamentary election today, I don’t know if I would go to the polls, let alone who I would vote for.  We have to induce people to start something new.  Otherwise the entire country will die.  If there was a force in which liberal, conservative and socialist values were credibly present, that could count on my support.  However, I don’t see anything like that.

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BB:  What do you make of the fact that every public opinion poll shows Fidesz enjoying a large advantage?

PI: I don’t believe that there will be a change in 2018.  Perhaps in the region of 2020 when the European Union subsidies abate.  A lot of people lap up Fidesz’s stupidity.  I did so myself.  I hope that in the long run more more people open their eyes—for example in the manner of the “I would teach” movement.  It may be possible to defeat Fidesz in 2022.

BB:  Does it really matter what person occupies which position?  Despite changing them, the system is still the same.

PI:  The educational district system could have been done credibly if experts rather than party soldiers had been appointed directors.  But it is absolutely not expertise but loyalty to NER (the so-called National Cooperation System-trans.) that is the deciding viewpoint.

BB:  Previously you said that you don’t hope for anything.  Then why are you standing at the head of the checkered shirt movement?

PI:  Mine is just one of the three faces of “I would teach.”

BB:  You are the best known representative.  Wikipedia cites you as the spokesman.  It makes no mention of Katalin Törley or Olivér Pilz.

PI:  We have to struggle until the system changes.  We have to achieve what we would like.

BB: Are you planning on voting in the October 2nd referendum?  If so, how will yo vote?

PI: Probably I won’t go to the polls, and if I do, I will cast an invalid vote.

István Pukli was born in Szekszárd on October 1st, 1979.  He graduated János Garay Academic High School in 1998.  He received a degree from the Teacher Training College of Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) in 2003.  He got his BA in Hungarian and history in 2006.  He completed advanced studies in education and education management at the Technical University.  He has taught at numerous schools.  In 2012 he was appointed director of Teleki Banka Academic High School in Zuglo.

He is one of the “I would teach” movement`s best known representatives.  He joined the youth chapter of the Hungarian Socialist Party in 1997.  He ran for parliament in 1998 on the Tolna county list but did not get in.  He eventually left the party because of Ferenc Gyurcsány.

He is married with a three-year-old son and a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter.  The family lives in  Rákoskeresztúr.

He speaks English and Esperanto.