Teachers, students hold hour-long act of “civil disobedience” around Hungary

March 30, 2016

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Students, parents and teachers around Hungary just finished their first one-hour act of civil disobedience. Why? Because Hungary’s centralized education system is a dismal failure and everyone wants a roll-back of sweeping reforms introduced by the 2nd Orbán government after Fidesz returned to power in 2010.

Various news websites and Facebook groups are posting pictures of the nationwide one-hour event:

All against a backdrop of fear

Fearing reprisals from the very government office they want disbanded, many teachers and students are apprehensive about going public with their concerns regarding the national education system.

The government last week promised to disband KLIK, the central state agency for managing schools, but it soon became evident the government simply intends to change the organization’s name.

Stakeholders in the public education system, that is, teachers, students and parents, are not buying into the government’s promises of change.  Public opinion polls have shown that the majority of Hungarians with school-age children agree that the public education system is a disaster and teachers should go on strike if there is no other way for them to achieve their objectives.

A full-on strike by educators would be difficult considering the changes to Hungary’s strike law introduced by Fidesz after the party took power in 2010. This is just one reason why civil-rights groups have taken to the airwaves to refer to the nationwide one-hour stoppage as an act of “civil disobedience.”

Civil-rights groups such as the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and the Eötvös Károly Intézet led by László Majtényi have released documents which make a compelling legal argument for calling the one-hour event an act of civil disobedience to express opinions about the state of public education rather than a strike.  Civil disobedience and freedom of expression are technically fundamental rights granted to all Hungarians and irrespective of their occupation.

By sidestepping the teachers’ unions’ discretion to announce a strike, teachers may have saved their jobs.

Despite government attempts to downplay the significance of this countrywide dissatisfaction with the education system, it is proving to be a public relations nightmare for the government.