Hungarian students disrupt deputy secretary of state during speech

What happened on Saturday morning to Deputy State Secretary for Higher Education at an exhibit in Budapest serves as another modest warning to the now inaccurately named ruling party, the Alliance of Young Democrats (Fidesz), that its previous hold on Hungarian youth has vanished. Zita Horváth was about to give a speech at the Educatio Exhibit in the Hungarian capital when a group of Hungarian students affiliated with the Student Union (Hallgatói Szakszervezet), working in a coordinated effort, disrupted her and the event. As the Union later explained: “Madam Deputy Secretary of State wanted to give a presentation on quality higher education. The tables were turned and we gave her a presentation on question pertaining to higher education.”

The students got up in chorus as Ms. Horváth was about to speak and declared:

“Good morning Madam Deputy Secretary of State. We are Hungarian youth and really we have had enough of the fact that you are constantly fucking with us. We have had enough that while Viktor Orbán is being fed in the Castle, there are hundreds of millions of forints in cutbacks in several ELTE departments.”

Hungarian Student Union.

The students then lambasted Ms. Horváth and her government for having “chased away” Central European University, as well as expressed outrage about how respected Hungarian educators are increasingly victims of regime-coordinated character assassinations on the pages of government propaganda rags. They also protested the shuttering of accredited gender studies in Hungary.

The organizers of the Educatio exhibit were at a loss in terms of what to do with the disruption so they ultimately tried to drown out the students by turning up the music.

Meanwhile, we also learned this weekend that the Democratic Union of Teachers (Pedagógusok Demokratikus Szakszervezete) has formed a strike committee. The national union is demanding that overtime hours be paid out and that required work hours and conditions around substitute teaching be in accordance with the public education law currently in force. The potential strike action is linked to the controversy surrounding the so-called “slave law,” passed by the two-thirds Fidesz majority in Parliament and signed into law by Hungary’s president and Fidesz loyalist János Áder. László Kordás, representing the union, indicated on Saturday that “pressure is building under the lid,” but that the desire to proceed with a strike is not yet strong enough. As such, the union has begun making preparations and has also submitted a petition to the regime with respect to the overtime or slave law, all in the hope of dialogue.

One of the significant changes in Hungarian politics over the past two or three years is how the right’s grip on university students and their presence on student campuses has weakened markedly. Fidesz and Jobbik were in competition over the “hearts and minds” of students on Hungarian university campuses and the older parties of the left really had almost no presence or support. I would often tell my Canadian colleagues about this reality on Hungarian campuses and most were quite surprised. What has changed over the years is that Fidesz’s presence and support within the student body has noticeably weakened and this is especially true with the arrival of some newer alternative players, such as Momentum or even Párbeszéd. None of this poses an immediate political risk to Viktor Orbán’s grip on power. It may, however, represent more of a medium-term or long-term concern to the ruling party as loyalty to Fidesz gradually recedes back to the oldest generations. That’s also how parties like the now defunct Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) and even the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) found themselves to be going on a date with irrelevance.

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