“We reject the government’s lies and reject those petty and dastardly attacks on those who raise their voices so that something can finally take place in Hungarian education.” – Katalin Törley
Thousands of students and parents gathered in front of the Teleki Blanka Academic Gimnázium (High School) on Friday to express their solidarity with school director István Pukli, who has come under attack for the role he has played in recent teachers’ demonstrations. The outpouring of support was in response to a formal investigation launched on Tuesday by educational district head Attila Mogyorósi.
Mogyorósi has demanded Pukli explain why afternoon classes were cancelled earlier this month so Teleki Blanka teachers could join demonstrations in Miskolc, and has called on him to account for what he told teachers about the open letter sent by the teaching faculty of Miskolc’s Herman Ottó Gimnázium earlier this year. Mogyorósi reportedly gave Pukli an unrealistically short deadline by which to compile a huge quantity of documents.
Friday’s demonstration was organized by Independent Student Parliament (FDP) representative Enikő Kálovics via Facebook. The event lasted nearly the entire day, with thousands of people expressing their solidarity by placing flowers along the school fence as well as notes bearing messages such as
Leave the teachers alone!
Many members of the crowd could be seen wearing checkered shirts and carrying checkered banners in reference to a comment made last Saturday by István Klinghammer, former undersecretary for higher education, that
“We need teachers who are clever, ethical and who give this over to their students. For this reason it makes me angry to see unshaved teachers in checkered shirts.”
Since then, checkered shirts have become a symbol of opposition. On Friday thousands of students and teachers went to school wearing checkered shirts, and stood for group photographs such as this one:
The first to address the crowd was Katalin Törley, the president of the Budapest District 7 Kölcsey Ferenc Gimnázium public employees council. Thanking the teachers and students alike for their support, Törley said “I’ve seen very few examples of this in my lifetime.”
Arrogance and condescension
She said the teachers have had enough of the government’s arrogance and condescension. “We are adult citizens aware of our rights,” she said. “We reject the government’s lies and reject those petty and dastardly attacks on those who raise their voices so that something can finally take place in Hungarian education.” Törley proceeded to read aloud a letter from Olivér Pilz, a teacher at Miskolc’s Herman Ottó Gimnázium. Pilz called Pukli a modern Don Quijote for believing that “together we can repair the future of the children and the teachers.” He said the attack on Pukli also caused his Miskolc colleagues pain, and that regardless of the outcome of their struggle, “the moral victory will belong to the Teleki director.” Törley closed her speech by saying “We’re not afraid”, to which the crowd responded by chanting “We’re not afraid.”
Bence Balogh, a student, was the next to speak. He said the student body gave its full support to the teaching faculty and called on the Ministry of Human Resources to invite students to attend discussions regarding educational reforms, since the entire system is about them. He said the Teleki students would send a letter to the ministry on Monday, to which it would have one week to respond. Otherwise, he said, they would continue “with more serious means”.
“We’re with you!”
cried various members of the crowd.
“We are really capable of anything, as this affects our lives,” added the student, who closed by calling on the country’s students to rise up.
Event organizer Enikő Kálovics was the last to speak. She said the many white flowers symbolized that they were struggling for one goal — to make education better.
“The powers-that-be will not accomplish anything through intimidation but rather stoke social antipathy,” Kálovics said. She told those who were afraid for their jobs not to fear “because the power is in the people, and together they are capable of winning.” She called on the parents to demonstrate their solidarity with the teachers by refusing to send their children to school on February 29th.
The demonstration was concluded with a minute of silence.
A number of well-known people appeared in the crowd, including Dialogue for Hungary co-chairs Gergely Karácsony and Tímea Szabó, the Budapest District 14 mayor and member of parliament, respectively.
“Stand up for what is right”
On Wednesday, Pukli posted a video message daring students and teachers to “stand up for what is right”.
David Bowie had a wonderful comedy in the 1980s entitled Labyrinth. I grew up on that film. There’s a statement that stuck with me, and I think you should keep this in mind. And the statement is, “There is no power over me.” This symbolizes the entire system. We are struggling against demons, and nothing else.
Keep your heads up. Be brave. Keep your energy level up, since we need every one of you and you need us as well. We have to see through to its completion what we have started. We have to do it together, as there is nowhere for us to retreat. We are the ones who must solve the public education situation, and we have to build its foundations. We need everyone. Don’t be afraid.”