Private school in Budapest faces possible closure in wake of Turkish coup

August 11, 2016

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Orchidea International school in Budapest’s 10th district

Almost a month has passed since the failed coup in Turkey, following which 60,000 people in the country’s military, judiciary, civil service and education have been detained, suspended or placed under investigation. Now it seems an international private school in Budapest may fall victim to the wrath of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The second and third Orbán governments since 2010 have been supportive of Erdogan and this has not changed in light of recent events. At a press conference in July, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó emphasized Hungary’s close ties to Turkey and labelled the failed putsch “an act of terrorism”.

“Hungary’s government strongly condemns the attempted putsch which started last night in Turkey,” Szijjártó said. “Given the number of dead and manner of the putsch, it can be called an act of terror. We have solidarity with Turkey’s democratically elected government and with the Turkish president.”

Considering the request

It really seems Szijjártó is putting his own words into practice: a few days ago the government announced that it is considering a request from Turkey to shut local institutions Ankara suspects of having links to what it calls the terrorist group behind last month’s thwarted coup.

According to a statement of the Foreign Ministry: “Hungarian authorities will take measures against the institutions in question only in the event a connection between the institutions and terrorism is proved unequivocally.”

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Viktor Orbán and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Orbán government considers the coup attempt an act of terrorism.

The ministry statement did not identify the institutions involved but one of them is Budapest’s Orchidea International private school, whose teachers and parents cannot understand why they have become the objects of a witch-hunt.

Orchidea Assistant Principal Balázs Orosz told Reuters that the school, which has two units in Budapest, had not been approached by either the Hungarian or the Turkish governments. Orosz said the two units, which have about 500 pupils, were financed from Hungarian public funds and fees paid by parents.

“Our only link with Turkey is that there are Turkish colleagues on the board of trustees of the foundation managing the school, and there are a handful of Turkish pupils in our two units,” he said.

Politics never an issue

Parents at the school have no idea whether the school will reopen in September. A mother of three, Dóra, told Hungarian online news website hvg.hu her two daughters love studying in Orchidea and the family is already thinking about enrolling their youngest child as soon as possible. They say politics or religion has never been an issue in the school and that most teachers are Hungarian except for a native English tutor. If children wish, they can study Turkish but it is not compulsory, they added.

“I really hope the rule of law exists in Hungary and they won’t send our children out on the street,” Dóra said.

Other parents say they will do everything in their power to prevent the closure of the school.

Leaders of the institution held a press conference in Budapest claiming they have never received support from international organizations, and that neither teachers nor children are influenced politically, religiously or ideologically.

According to Hungarian tabloid newspaper Blikk, the headmaster, Efkan Ünlü, acknowledged knowing U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish President suspects to be the mastermind behind the failed coup.

“I know and respect Gülen who speaks of peace, love and dialogue,” the headmaster said.

Secular curriculum

Gülen’s movement runs some 2,000 educational establishments in about 160 countries, teaching a secular curriculum in English. Ankara suspects these schools and other Gülen-linked businesses help fund the anti-Erdogen movement.

Turkey expert Zoltán Egeresi told hvg.hu that Gülen-linked schools are famous for their quality education, especially in languages and sciences, and they are preferred by members of the local elite throughout the world. By closing the schools, Erdogan would be hoping members of the movement would lose their influence.

Hungary is not the only country under pressure from Turkey to close Gülen-linked institutions. Kazakhstan announced on Friday it would expel any Turkish teachers found to have links with Gülen. Somalia has closed two Gülen schools and a hospital. Turkish pressure to shut down such institutions has been reported from countries as diverse as Germany, Kenya and Indonesia.