President János Áder spoke to students of one of Hungary’s most prestigious high schools Tuesday and answered their questions about some of the most pressing issues facing Hungary today. After delivering a presentation on environmental issues, Áder gave the students of Budapest’s ELTE Trefort Ágoston High School the chance to pose thoughtful questions, and answered them in a manner befitting Fidesz politicians at a party press conference.
Not everyone was in favor of President Áder visiting the school: 40 of the school’s teachers issued a statement protesting Áder’s appearance at the school and published it on the school’s website. 170 students, or around one-third of the school’s student body, signed a petition protesting his visit, writing “Áder, by signing lex CEU, represents the kind of perspective that stands in opposition to the values and interests of our school.”
Only state media were allowed to cover the event but a recording was broadcast online. Technical problems resulted in the recording being without sound for around 40 minutes.
Rather than responding to each of the students’ questions in turn, Áder encouraged questions one after another, which he wrote down and answered later in a single monologue. During the question period Áder repeatedly warned students that his time was running out, but students weren’t dissuaded from asking about the Paks II nuclear project, the latest National Consultation, the rule of law and functioning of democracy in Hungary, and, especially, about Áder’s decision to sign into effect the controversial modification to the higher education law, also known as Lex CEU, and the merits of the legislation.
Many students asked a number of different questions about Lex CEU: whether its existence benefits Hungary and, if so, wouldn’t it better serve the country’s interests to not pass laws that prevent its operation? If tens of thousands protested on the streets against Lex CEU, and if Áder claims to represent the interests of all Hungarians, then why didn’t he consider their opinions and send the bill back to the National Assembly? What kinds of practical effects does the legislation have on other universities in Hungary? Was the university’s operation causing some harm to the country?
President Áder insisted that while 70,000 may have protested on the streets against Lex CEU, at least as many might have protested in favor of the law.
“So don’t think that these 70,000 people represent the opinion of all of society,” he warned the high schoolers.
Áder repeated the government’s assertion that 27 out of 28 foreign universities investigated by the Education Office had been out of compliance with regulations, and that the law does not directly target CEU, which he considers a valuable asset to Hungary. He then noted that in fact there are three CEUs, only one of which is affected by the legislation. (The existence of three CEUs is a new revelation, as undersecretary of education László Palkovics has insisted there are two, and Fidesz delegation leader Lajos Kósa suspects there may be as many as four.) Áder mimed earlier statements by Fidesz officials that CEU can easily come into compliance with the new law, a position at odds with the opinions of tens of thousands of the law’s opponents, most of whom have found the legislation effectively makes impossible the university’s continued existence in Hungary.
Áder lectured the students on the difference between popular and principled decisions.
“Do I want to be popular or principled?” he asked rhetorically, saying that had he sent Lex CEU back to the National Assembly for re-evaluation he would have been popular, but that his decision had been dictated by a principled upholding of the law and the constitution. “If the dilemma looks like this, which one would you choose?” he asked.
After giving an hour and a half lecture on environmental protection, Áder assured the students of Trefort Ágoston that the EUR 12 billion nuclear energy project at Paks was the best solution for Hungary’s energy needs. Solar, wind and hydro-energy solutions may be cheaper, he said, but the energy cannot be safely and efficiently stored. Áder responded to a student’s question by saying that if the National Election Committee were to accept a referendum question on the controversial Paks development (awarded to Russia’s state atomic energy firm and financed with a EUR 10 billion loan from a state-owned Russian bank), then a referendum could certainly be held on the issue. (Numerous such referendum questions have been submitted to the Fidesz-majority committee, and all have been rejected-ed.)
In the interests of environmental protection, Áder said perhaps it would be worth considering the extension of “e-governance” rather than printing and transporting millions of National Consultation questionnaires to every voting-age Hungarian.
When asked, “Wouldn’t it have been better to spend the money spent on the ‘Let’s Stop Brussels’ [National Consultation] campaign on a ‘Let’s Stop Global Warming!’ campaign?”, Áder responded that, because of his mandate as the head of state, he was not able to take a position on political issues.