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December 15 2013

New Website Collects Reports and Data About Bribes in Hungary

Hungary, like many other countries in the region, has an on-going corruption problem on almost every level of governance. A new project created by investigative website Átlátszó.hu and Transparency International, Fizettem.hu, has taken on the task of collecting reports from citizens about cases of bribery and corruption in the country.

How much cash do corrupt police officers in Hungary take to ignore a misdemeanour or traffic violation? What is the cost for doctors take better care of a pacient in hospital? How much does the average Hungarian pay to get something done faster in government agencies? The anti-corruption website that aims to answer these questions was launched in December 2013 and collected over one hundred stories from users in just days. The project's goal is not only to raise awareness and draw wider attention to cases of corruption on all levels, but also to collect enough specific data to generate a more concrete picture of corruption in Hungary, so that it can be used in fixing these issues. The website explains:

A Fizettem.hu oldalon megoszthatod a saját történetedet arról, hol, mikor, ki és mennyi kenőpénzt fizettetett veled, esetleg te önszántadból miért érezted úgy, hogy adnod kell. Sőt, azt is megírhatod, ha visszautasították, vagy te utasítottad vissza a felajánlott összeget. A beküldött történetek előzetes moderáció után kerülnek ki az oldalra és szükség esetén anonimizáljuk ezeket. A történetben bevallott összegek alapján folyamatosan nyomon követjük, hogy az egyes szektorokban mennyi kenőpénzt fizetnek az emberek. A történetedet a BEJELENTEM gomb alatt tudod megosztani.

The Fizettem.hu page lets you share your own story about where, when, who and how much in bribes you paid, or explain why you felt the need to give them. In fact, we accept reports if your bribe was rejected or you refused to pay the asked amount. The stories are set aside after moderation and, if necessary, some are posted anonymously. We monitor based on the amounts declared in the story, calculating on average how much people are paying bribes to each sector. The story of the notifier [user] can be shared using the button below.

November 05 2013

‘Women Should Be Submissive', and Other Google Autocomplete Suggestions

A series of ads by UN Women, revealed in late October, used the Google Autocomplete feature to uncover widespread negative attitudes toward women. Global Voices followed reactions to the UN Women campaign and conducted its own experiment in different languages. The results of searches conducted both within the UN Women campaign and Global Voices revealed popular attitudes not only about women’s social and professional roles, but also about their sexuality, appearance and relationships with men.

UN Women ad featuring Google autocomplete suggestions for the phrase

UN Women ad featuring Google autocomplete suggestions for the phrase “women shouldn't”

The creators of the UN Women ads used search phrases like “women cannot”, “women shouldn’t”, “women should” and “women need to” completed by genuine Google search terms to highlight overwhelmingly negative stereotypes, sexist and highly discriminatory views held about women by society globally. The ads quickly went viral and sparked a heated discussion online. Last week, creators have announced that they are planning to expand the campaign in response to the mass online reaction.

The auto-complete function for searches, according to Google, predicts users’ queries based on the search activity of all users of the web as well as the content of indexed pages. The predictions may also be influenced by past searches of the particular user if they are signed into their Google account.

Global Voices asked its contributors from around the world to carry out Google searches using the same or similar phrases as those used in the UN Women campaign, in their own languages. The searches done between October 19 and October 25, 2013, revealed attitudes about the roles women are expected to take in society, often demonstrating the same global prejudices, but sometimes showing contradictions in different countries. Below are searches in 12 languages from different countries and continents:

Spanish

Chile

“Women should not…”. A screenshot by Silvia Viñas. October 21, 2013.

Women should not…
Women should not preach
Women should not work
Women should not talk in the congregation
Women should not drive

Peru

“Women cannot…” A screenshot by Juan Arellano. October 21, 2013.

Women cannot…
Women cannot preach
Women cannot be pastors
Women cannot donate blood
Women cannot live without man

Puerto Rico

“Women should…”. A screenshot by Firuzeh Shokooh Valle. October 21, 2013.

Women should…
Women should be submissive
Women should use the veil
Women should preach
Women should work

French

France

“Women should…”. A screenshot by Suzanne Lehn. October 21, 2013.

Women should…
women should stay at home
women should work
should women preach
women should wear skirts
women should be submissive
women should know
women should vote
women should stay at home
should women work
women should do the cooking

“Women don't know…”. A screen shot by Rayna St. October 21, 2013.

Women don’t know…
women don't know how to drive
women don't know what they want
women don't know how to be in love
women don't know how to read cards

Arabic

Egypt (similar results in Jordan)

“Woman cannot…”. A screenshot by Tarek Amr. October 21, 2013.

Woman cannot…
Woman cannot live without marriage
Woman cannot live without a man
Woman cannot keep a secret
Woman cannot interpret man's silence

Chinese

“Women cannot…”. A screenshot by Gloria Wang. October 21, 2013.

Women cannot…
Women cannot be too smart
Women can't drive
Women cannot give birth
10 topics women cannot discuss with their husbands

Romanian

“Women should not…”. A screenshot by Diana Lungu. October 21, 2013.

women should not…
women should be loved not understood
women should not be understood
women should not wear pants
what women should not do in bed

 Italian

Italy

“Women should…”. A screenshot by Gaia Resta. October 22, 2013.

Women should…
Women should stay at home
should play hard to get
should stay in the kitchen
should be subdued

“Women should not…”. A screenshot by Gaia Resta. October 22, 2013.

Women should not…
Women should not be understood
should not work
should not be understood but loved
should not read

 German

Germany

“Woman should not…”. A screenshot by Katrin Zinoun. October 21, 2013.

Woman should not…
Woman should not teach
My wife should not work

“Woman can…”. A screenshot by Katrin Zinoun. October 21, 2013.

Woman can….
Woman cannot come
Woman cannot get pregnant
Woman cannot cook
Woman cannot get a baby

 Hebrew

“Women don't…”. A screenshot by
Gilad Lotan. October 21, 2013.

Women don't…
Women don't work
Women are not modest
Women don't know how to drive
Women don't want to have kids

 Hungarian

“A woman should be…”. A screenshot by Marietta Le.
October 21, 2013.

A woman should be…
a woman should be a chef in the kitchen
a woman should be pretty and ruthless

 Danish

“Women cannot…”. A screenshot by Solana Larsen. October 20, 2013.

Women cannot…
Women cannot drive
Women cannot control vagina
Women cannot be color blind
Women cannot barbecue

In Danish, the searches for “women cannot” and “women can” yielded the same results.

Russian
Russia

“Women should not…”. A screenshot by Veronica Khokhlova. October 19, 2013.

Women should not…
Women should not be believed
Women should not lift heavy things
Women should not drink
Women should not be trusted

 English

The UK

“Women should…”. A screenshot by Annie Zaman. October 25, 2013.

Women should…
Women should be seen and not heard
Women should stay at home
Women should know their place

 Not all searches carried out by members of Global Voices community turned up negative terms. Nevertheless, the results of the experiment largely confirm UN Women’s worrying conclusion that a great deal of work still remains to be done in order to advance women’s rights and empowerment around the world.

October 27 2013

Hungarian Student Bloggers Win Lawsuit Against University

Bloggers of Átlátszó Oktatás (Transparent Education) sued the largest Hungarian university ELTE's Law Faculty in spring 2013, in order to obtain documents on how state scholarships and bonus payments were distributed among the members of the faculty's student union. Because the university is entirely state-funded, the students demanded through a freedom of information request that the student union make its spending transparent.

The student union didn't reply to the request and the university rejected it. In response to this and with the help of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the student bloggers filed a lawsuit. In October 2013, a court of first instance in Hungary ruled in favor of the student bloggers.

There have never been before any freedom of information case against any student union in Hungary. [They] spend a considerable amount of public money every year, for example the student unions of the faculties of ELTE dispose of around 680 000 euro in a year, and this amount is millions of euros countrywide.

October 16 2013

Asylum-Seekers Continue Hunger Strike in Hungary

Sixty asylum-seekers went on hunger strike yesterday in a southeast Hungarian detention camp for asylum-seekers, atlatszo.hu investigative journalism site's blog reported in their Blog Action Day post [hu] on human rights. The Office of Immigration and Nationality confirmed that the strike was started by five Malian citizens who were joined by 55 others requesting their replacement in an open camp. As of July 2013, Hungary places the undocumented asylum-seekers in detention camps. The five initiators continue the hunger strike.

April 25 2013

Hungarian Students Blog on Freedom of Information Requests

Hungarian grassroots student union Hallgatói Hálózat (Student Network) started a blog that curates freedom of information requests related to higher education. The blog, titled Transparent Education [hu], is using the Hungarian public freedom of information request service KiMitTud [hu] to track down the allegations of misuse of funds by university student governments. The blog's author Dániel G. Szabó was the one who sued the Faculty of Law at ELTE University in order to publicize the information on the Faculty's student government spendings. The aim of the blog is to promote the use of freedom of information requests, and to make the spending of public funds transparent at Hungarian colleges and universities.

March 11 2013

Hungarian Bloggers Take Student Union To Court

Students from the Faculty of Law at ELTE University in Hungary sued the faculty's student union after they denied a freedom of information (FOIA) request. The students wanted to know who received bonus payments from the union's monthly budget of around $3,300. They wrote on their blog ÁJK HÖK Figyelő (Faculty of Law Student Union Monitor)[hu] that the student union head unilaterally decides on bonus payments. The initiative of the law bloggers gained support of the Hungarian National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information as well, and their first court hearing [hu] attracted some 30 members of the public.

March 07 2013

Hungarian Constitution is “Not a Toy”

According to a report [hu] on Facebook page “The Constitution is Not a Toy,” some 100 protesters have occupied the Hungarian governing party's headquarters; a pro-government crowd, however, has also showed up at the scene. The protesters voiced their opposition to the planned new amendment of the Hungarian constitution, a basic law that was enacted in 2011, after Fidesz Party won with a two thirds majority in 2010, and has been at the center of heated debates in and outside the country ever since. The latest review of the amendment by the Princeton University professor Kim Lane Scheppele was published here.

March 04 2013

What is “Hungarian Music”?

Hungarian musicians signed an online petition [hu] against the restrictive definition of “Hungarian music” included in Hungary's media law, which considers only Hungarian-language productions as “Hungarian music.” The petitioners argued that the definition is not only excluding many artists from being part of the Hungarian music and culture, but is discriminatory when it comes to the application of language quotas in radio broadcasts. Radio stations have to apply a 35-percent quota of “Hungarian music” in their music shows. The regulation came into effect in July 2012 [hu].

February 26 2013

“Liberal, Jewish, Sexy”: Keeping Tabs on Hungarian Students

Last week, Hungarian TV channel Atv reported [hu] that they had obtained a list created by the official student union at one of Hungary's most renowned universities. Allegedly, the student union members at ELTE University‘s Faculty of Humanities (BTK) added offensive comments to a list of applicants to the university's freshmen camping trip, using personal information available on once the largest Hungarian social network iWiW. The leaked [hu] list was created in 2009.

A screenshot of Atv's report.

A screenshot of Atv's report.

The list contains personal information of more than 600 students, including their date of birth, address, phone number and email. It also contains many extremely offensive comments: the authors voiced their opinions, among other things, on people who liked animals, football, had Greater Hungary on their profile photos, looked attractive or unattractive, were members of the Christian or liberal organizations, attended high school with Jewish teachers or were openly gay.

In a statement [hu] on the case, the Hungarian National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information emphasized that the existence of such a list may be regarded as illegal, because personal information such as race, ethnicity, political and religious views, sexual preferences and health are subject to special protection according to the Hungarian law.

The list brought to light another problematic issue at the university's Faculty of Humanities, namely that several members of the student union were members of the far-right Jobbik party. Dávid Lakner of Teadélután blog stated [hu] that it was no news that the BTK student union also served as a way to start careers with Jobbik. Although the student union members who talked to Atlatszo.hu news site [hu] anonymously complained that it didn't matter where they were in 2009, all of them had to face accusations of being supporters of the Hungarian far right. According to a recent research [hu], 33 percent of the Hungarian university students would vote for Jobbik these days.

Péter György, head of ELTE's Institute for Art Theory and Media Studies, wrote in an op-ed piece [hu] that the listing of students brought shame on the faculty and the university, and that the faculty shares the responsibility for Jobbik's recruitment being so successful among their students. In his self-deprecating text, the university professor concluded that the decision to run a strictly apolitical faculty after 1990 led to the correctly applied academic norms in the curriculum, but failed to protect students from neo-Nazi ideas.

The student union acknowledged [hu] the existence of a database containing contact information of about 1,000 students who participated in freshmen camping trips, but denied having any collection of other data.

A source told Atlatszo.hu that lists serving discriminatory purposes were created by certain student union members, without the knowledge of the majority of those working to support the university students’ lives. The BTK student union has its own powerful elite, which includes members of Jobbik as well. Even though the existence of the list resulted in a battle at the student union in 2011, it did not come to light until now.

Another student union member accidentally learned about the en masse checking of social media profiles, but assumed that the “profiling” served as a spare time activity to some people looking for girlfriends. A meme [hu] that was started after the appearance of the list was a comment also referring to this, it said “[She] will be good for Pista”, Pista being most probably the nickname of the former student union president István Szávay, who is currently an MP from Jobbik.

February 11 2013

Students to Protest Constitutional Amendment

The Hungarian Student Network and the Hungarian High School Network posted a declaration [en] “about the rule of law” in Hungary – and are planning yet another protest rally [hu] in Budapest on Monday, Feb. 11:

Today’s proposal for a constitutional amendment has made it obvious – even for those who so far doubted it – that the government is openly dismantling the system of checks and balances. According to Article 12 of the proposal, the Constitutional Court will not be allowed to scrutinize the content of any further amendments, which in effect means that the government and its two-thirds parliamentary majority will be able to pass any amendments they want. [...]

January 29 2013

Spain: Catalonia's “Declaration of Sovereignty” Translated into 36 Languages

On January 23, 2013, amid rising tensions with the Spanish government, the regional parliament of Catalonia approved by majority vote a Declaration of Sovereignty [ca] — seen widely as a prelude to a referendum on independence, expected to be held by 2014. Thanks to a diverse team of collaborators, the online Catalan-language publication Vilaweb [ca] has been able to publish the document in thirty-six languages.
(more…)

January 24 2013

Hungarian Student Protesters Face Punishment, Keep Fighting

In December 2012, Hungarian university and high school students united to protest against the significant cutbacks in higher education admission quotas. Their fight for tution-free slots continues. (GV coverage is here, here, and here.)

Atlatszo.hu wrote [hu] that many students were threatened with being expelled if they wanted to protest. Students dared to share their stories with the journalists only anonymously, as they feared being held back from taking their high school final exams.

HVG.hu reported [hu] that in December a principal of a high school in Balatonalmádi summoned students to her office and questioned them about their opinion on the protests, taking notes to prepare a report to the county government office.

Students of a high school in Szombathely attended a demonstration in the after-school hours, but their class attendance was recorded as an “unapproved absence.”

Students of a Budapest high school also wanted to hold a sit-in strike, as many others did in December, but their Facebook event was deleted by a member of the high school student union, who was rather loyal to the school's staff. The Facebook event had almost 300 “attending” people, and, as in the case of Balatonalmádi, the students of János Xántus Secondary School were also questioned by their principal.

According to the students' account [hu], after the protest held in front of the Hungarian Radio, they were told that they obstructed the education process with their activities, and since they were students they had no right to protest — which was not true, as the grassroots student union HaHa wrote in their legal FAQ [hu] for young protesters.

The rose is a reference to Rózsa Hoffmann, the state secretary for education, and the sign of this student protester says: “I don't have money for a normal banner.” Photo by Peter Nemeth, copyright © Demotix (10/19/2012).

Activists of HaHa also had to face the “adults” at a conference-exhibition on education on January 18, where they wanted to pose questions to Rózsa Hoffmann, the state secretary for education. Her policies are so hated among the students that a protest's title and posters featured puns on her name. On many occasions students took roses with them to the rallies. The demonstration which ended with three students getting arrested in December was titled “Winter Rose Student Revolution” (in Hungarian: Télirózsás Diákforradalom), referring to the state secretary's first name (rózsa = rose) and borrowing the expression from a Hungarian historical event, the Aster Revolution, since the aster flower is called “autumn rose” in Hungarian. On December 19, students threw roses in the Danube River (video at 3:10 [hu]) to reject Rózsa Hoffmann's policies symbolically as well.

And when the activists wanted to talk to her in real life, they weren't allowed to ask questions, so they started shouting their comments to the audience, and some people shouted back that the students should stop criticizing the government's efforts (a video is here [hu]). A woman, allegedly the principal of a Kecskemét city high school, became a meme [hu] with her comments; among other things, she said that the activists should have been attending a class at their college at that moment, and before criticizing anything they should first achieve something.

Magyar Narancs weekly's online edition learned [hu] that another participant of the conference, who told a HaHa activist to go home and slap his father because he hadn't educated him on correct behaviour, was the mayor of the village of Nógrádsáp.

Márton Hó, a Hungarian singer and songwriter, used the words of the “adults” defending the government as the lyrics of his song; his video has over 42,000 views so far. The title of the song is, “Listen, little brother!”:

January 15 2013

Interview with Szabolcs Panyi, Editor of Global Voices in Hungarian

Szabolcs Panyi, 26, is the author and editor of a popular Hungarian blog, Véleményvezér (”Opinion Leader”). He joined Global Voices in Hungarian in September 2011, and since March 2012 he has been the site's co-editor.

Global Voices: Junior Prima Award [hu] is handed to talented young Hungarians every year. Is it possible that in 2012 you were the first blogger to receive it [hu]?

Szabolcs Panyi: Yes, I'm the first one who received it as a blogger. It's extraordinary for sure, but it's not only about me, but about the blog [hu], and therefore it's about the other authors as well. On the other hand, with this [award] the importance of blogs is also recognized.

GV: Before you joined Global Voices, I often quoted Véleményvezér on our English site, because I believed its name reflected what it did: it's an opinion leader blog for Hungarian readers. What was the key to making a blog dealing with public affairs so popular?

SZP: I think mostly the fact that we are trying to write Anglo-Saxon style texts, brief and as even-tempered as possible. Blogs and Hungarian op-eds are usually quite passionate, partial and ironic in style. We wanted something different. Our aim is not to reach agreement, but to make people think. We drifted more towards critizing the government lately, though, but the whole Hungarian politics has changed.

Szabolcs Panyi

Szabolcs Panyi, blogger of Véleményvezér

The concept [of the blog] is that we highlight the most important event of the previous day, so we basically help those who are not following politics so closely to always find important stories, and they don't have to go through a bunch of things. In addition to this, we are cooperating with Index [a news site], and we owe a lot to Index and Blog.hu [a blog service of Index], because they promote us on their main page, among their own content, and this way they send a lot of readers to us.

GV: Do you know your readers, do you have an idea about who reads Véleményvezér?

SZP: According to the statistics of our Facebook page, it is mostly people between 25 and 45, male, residents of Budapest [the capital]. I often meet people who tell me that they read it, and it's always good to hear that. Recently, mainly middle-of-the-road, disillusioned, disappointed right-wingers, and long-time critics of the governing party have started reading us. But those who we'd rather like to address are a little bit like us, under 45, [people in their] 20s and 30s, who want to see Hungary following Western norms and maintaining good relations with its Western allies, rather than with the oppressive regimes, since we belong in the West. And, of course, [those who want] the government to pursue a reasonable, pragmatic economic policy because that makes the country strong. That is to say, classic right-wing moderates who have been watching the events of the Hungarian politics with a long face for a while now.

Our name is Véleményvezér [“Opinion Leader”] because the aim is not only to reach out to a lot of people, but to reach those more important people who have influence and opinion-making powers, or are in decision-making positions. Capitalizing on this, we are trying to draw attention to issues we find important, that's why we deal more with certain things than the broader audience would find it important - for instance, with the country's communist secret service past.

GV: At some point you invited public figures, journalists and experts to comment on your posts. What was the procedure you followed?

SZP: We disabled commenting to the broader audience, everyone can comment on our articles on Facebook [hu] using their real names, there we usually receive 50-200 comments to each text. On the blog, 20-30 invited commenters can reply, they are mainly economists, journalists, political commentators, university professors, experts from different backgrounds, who are all under 45 and have produced something valuable in their fields. They would be our ideal readers, and they are the ones we would like to present to our readers as figures who are more noteworthy than those run-down, old columnists who grew up during socialism and have been repeating the same things since then.

GV: Was there any other reason for directing commenters to Facebook?

SZP: The level of the Hungarian commenting culture is pretty low, and we wanted quality comments on our site, and to develop quality debate culture there. We received plenty of comments on the posts, let's say more than a thousand, and to find something meaningful, you had to scroll through the whole thing, thus it was totally worthless content, or rather the valuable content was lost among the worthless [comments]. But by taking this step we were able to make sure that comments were adding value in every case.

The latest example was a comment by Lászó Varró of the International Energy Agency [Head of the Gas, Coal and Power Division], and when Index highlighted the comment on their main page, that directed an additional 20,000 readers to us. Only by having that comment featured.

GV: In your article [hu] published on the occasion of the Blog Action Day you wrote that the Hungarian bloggers were free, they could publish anything. Do you still believe that?

SZP: Yes, they can publish virtually anything. Of course, there are bloggers leaning to political parties, whose blogs are financed by parties in one way or another, or they themselves work close to politics. Obviously, they don't write about certain things or are not framing so harshly even when criticizing their own people, while they are promoting certain topics popular on their political side.

GV: If bloggers can write freely, can we say that they have taken over the role of journalists to some extent?

SZP: We bloggers can react faster and can work on our stories almost without any restraint, while poor journalists have to sit in newsrooms and [publish news wires] around the clock, and they often remain with an almost total lack of creativity and no time to write opinion. It's in the genre of op-eds where bloggers have to a large extent taken over the role of journalists. There are not many traditional, well-known, respected columnists left in Hungary, those who are around are outdated, they publish in dailies, so the people we are addressing are not really reading them.

From left to right: Emőke Kilin, Szabolcs Panyi, Tamás Novák, Kata Molnár, Nóra Netoleczky, Andrea Buzás, Andrea Höll, Diána Dobsinszki – volunteers of Global Voices in Hungarian.

GV: Why was it important for you to volunteer on Global Voices?

SZP: I'm very interested in the situation in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Third World semi-dictatorships and dictatorships. During the spring of 2011, on a blogger trip to Germany, I met bloggers from Tunisia, Indonesia, Mongolia and other places, and I was very moved by the fact that we had the same occupation, we were members of the same generation, and how different were the consequences of blogging in Hungary and in those countries. I was looking for opportunities to advocate their causes in my country, or at least to draw attention to them. Global Voices is a very good opportunity to do this.

GV: What are the biggest challenges that GV's Hungarian team is facing?

SZP: The most challenging aspect is that topics from outside our borders that are not directly related to Hungary are less interesting to Hungarian readers, except for tabloid topics. For example, the sexual assault case in India was one of our most popular posts and was re-published by other sites as tabloid news. But many have also read the post on the death of the Iranian blogger Sattar Beheshti, which was a bit surprising to me, but I was happy that people at least heard about this terrible story in Hungary. Unfortunately, it's very hard to find readers interested in issues such as net freedom and free speech online.

GV: What was the most popular post or issue that Global Voices translated into Hungarian?

SZP: In addition to the ones mentioned above, the most popular were our translations on the Safarov case - because those were related to Hungary, since it was the Hungarian government that for economic advantages set free the Azeri Ramil Safarov who had killed an Armenian fellow student in Budapest. The axe murderer received amnesty from the Azeris right after being released, and he was celebrated as a hero - even the Azeri president's unofficial Facebook page cover was swapped for Safarov's photo. The translations told this story, and it was then circulated in the Hungarian online media.

December 22 2012

Hungarian Radio Employee Defends Government on Hidden Camera Video

Atlatszo.hu published [hu] a hidden camera video of Fruzsina Tóth, a protester representing the students (she is also a first-year sociology student), talking to a woman who claimed to be a journalist of the Hungarian Radio. At the Dec. 17 protest, students demanded the Hungarian Radio to read their 5 + 1 points live. The hidden camera video was recorded when Ms. Tóth entered the building to hand the students' petition to the radio's presenters. The woman on the video was defending the Hungarian government's decisions. (more…)

December 21 2012

Hungarian Protesters Occupy Bridge, Three Students Arrested

Three protesters were arrested Wednesday night when students occupied a Budapest bridge. The grassroots student union HaHa confirmed [hu] they were students moderating a forum held on the Chain Bridge. Dozens of protesters waited at a Budapest police department for their release until 2 AM on Thursday. The students were released after a civil infraction proceeding, receiving a formal warning.

On Wednesday, high school and university students protested in Hungary against the cut-backs in higher education admission quotas; at many high schools, students held sit-in strikes, observed minutes of silence and protested for their future. X Communications Centre (XKK) published [hu] a map and list of the events; below is a screenshot:

The day of the protests in Budapest ended with two student events' participants marching to the Chain Bridge, where they held a forum, inviting [hu] the Minister of Human Resources and the Prime Minister to guarantee that the students' demands are met. When the protesters started to leave the bridge the police accompanying the march arrested [hu] three students who had earlier moderated the conversations with megaphones.

A student using a megaphone while shouting slogans at a protest in Budapest on Wednesday. Photo by Peter Nemeth, copyright © Demotix (19/12/2012).

Although they were released a few hours later many netizens pointed at the ‘fun fact’ that the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had once also been arrested for fighting for democratic rights at the time of Hungary's transition to democracy. One Million for the Freedom of Press in Hungary, also known as Milla, shared [hu] this meme using a photo of Orbán being arrested in 1988 and the photo of one the students arrested now:

The Hungarian government seemed to be willing to comply with the students' demands, as on Wednesday at noon it was announced that the 2013 undergraduate admission quota for tuition-free higher education would be set back to 55,000 students [hu] instead of the 10,480 published before the protests. Students made clear on many platforms that they were aware of the need to roll out tuition fees in the Hungarian higher education, but they stressed that the fast-pace decision-making was not professional and the restructuring of Hungarian higher education needed a thorough preparation.

HaHa demanded [hu] that the government make decisions with the involvement of all stakeholders and come up with a better financial plan to ensure the sustainability of universities after the quotas are set back to a higher level. 

A government spokesman said on Wednesday that the admission points, calculated for each high school student on the basis of their grades, final exams and other obtained qualifications, would be published before Christmas [hu]. On Thursday afternoon, however, the Ministry of Human Resources announced [hu] they wouldn't publish the requirements this year. Adult education, applied economic studies, communication and media studies, human resources studies, international economics and law are still not the government's favorites; there would be no tuition-free slots [hu] allocated for them.

December 18 2012

Hungarian Students Call for Nationwide Strike

Last week, Hungarian high school and college students protested from Monday to Friday. This week, the young people are still demanding that the government set university admission quotas to a reasonable level and help those from lower income households to access higher education.

On Monday, thousands of students marched again on the streets of the Hungarian capital. After protesting in front of the Parliament [hu], they went to the Hungarian Radio's headquarters to demand an announcement of the 5 + 1 points, which they had decided on during one of the last week's forums. Kettős Mérce blog reported [hu] that eventually the Radio's presenters talked about the students' demands at 9 PM, but did not read the list on air.

Student protests continue in Budapest. Photo by David Ferenczy, copyright © Demotix (12/12/2012).

The march ended with a forum at the University of Theatre and Film Arts, where the following video was recorded. The video calls everyone affected by the cuts in higher education quotas, etc., to join the “nationwide higher education strike” [hu] on Wednesday.

From 1:28 on the video, the students are shouting “We call every sympathizer and the affected ones to join. [We demand] a general strike. Nothing about us without us.” And the last sentence is repeated many times until 2:36.

The students, among other things, are demanding a more professional decision-making process in solving the problems of the Hungarian higher education. One of the reasons for this particular demand is PM Viktor Orbán's appearance in a downtown pub on Saturday with a group of allegedly unknown students - those who are definitely not members of any currently protesting student unions; afterwards, he said there wouldn't be any admission quotas. This statement was later clarified by the Minister of Human Resources, who said that students would have to meet “quality requirements” [hu].

December 16 2012

Hungarian Blogger Leaks Secret Video on Illegal Voter Database

Gery Greyhound published a documentary [hu] on his Tumblr blog, about the ‘making of’ an illegal voter database in Pécs in 2009, when the city held a mid-term mayoral election. A similar leak took place in 2010, when a voice recording of Fidesz party director Gábor Kubatov was published online, revealing that the party had a registry of voting preferences of tens of thousands of voters. The case was referred to as the “Kubatov list.” Mr. Kubatov also appears in the current documentary, which was allegedly published by a person who participated in the production of the video meant for internal circulation.

December 13 2012

Students Rally All Over Hungary to Save Tuition-Free Education

In Hungary, the once free-for-all education system has always been a subject of heated debates. This week, the debates have grown into student protests that are taking place all over the country.

The protests began on Monday, Dec. 10, and have so far continued through Thursday, following the government's announcement [hu] that in 2013 it would provide state-financed education to only 10,480 undergraduate students. Those who cannot afford to pay tuition are offered to take student loans, while the “lucky” ones have to sign contracts promising to stay and work in Hungary upon graduation for several years in exchange for their state-financed studies.

Hundreds of Hungarian students have taken to the streets to protest against these ‘student contracts’ (an English-language sample [.pdf] is here) - as well as against the significant cutbacks in higher education admission quotas (in 2011, the undergraduate quota was 40,610 students; in 2012 - 33,927 students).

The new figures also demonstrate the government's stance on students majoring in humanities, social sciences, law, and economics: their numbers are to decrease. The government seems to believe that the humanities and social studies are of a less productive value for the country, while degrees in law and economics normally lead to well-paid jobs and these students can, therefore, afford to finance their education [hu]. In June 2012, the Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán talked [hu] about the “humanities students [spending their time in the pubs].” The quota of state-financed informatics, engineering and natural science students, on the other hand, was increased in 2011, according to the student news site Eduline [hu].

Students rally in Budapest to save tuition-free higher education. Photo by David Ferenczy, copyright © Demotix (10/12/2012).

The current protests [hu] in Budapest and other big cities were organized by the grassroots student union called Hallgatói Hálózat (”Network of Students”) or HaHa, the National Union of Students (HÖOK), the Network of Academics (Oktatói Hálózat, OHA), the Network for the Freedom of Curriculum (Hálózat a Tanszabadságért, HAT) and the Network of Parents (Szülői Hálózat).

Up until now, the official student unions have kept a distance from the grassroots student union and its initiatives. Members of the latter occupied a university in Budapest [hu] in February, but their actions were condemned [hu] by the university's official student union. Now all student unions seem united in their support for self-organized protests.

The protests started on Monday in the southern Hungarian city of Szeged, where students held a sit-in at a government office:

Later on, HaHa and the other organizations held a forum at one of the ELTE University's campuses, where students decided on the five-plus-one [hu] core issues to promote:

1. We demand a sweeping reform in the public and higher education!

2. Admission quotas are to be set back to at least the 2011 levels!

3. Stop the decrease of funding, compensate the withdrawals!

4. Eliminate the student contract!

5. Don't limit the universities' autonomy!

+1: The sweeping reform should provide a chance for students from low-income families to receive higher education.

Student protesters marching down the Petőfi Bridge over the Danube River in Budapest. Photo by David Ferenczy, copyright © Demotix (10/12/2012).

On Monday, the protesters blocked a bridge over the Danube River, then marched to the Parliament, where the “five-plus-one points” were announced, and then they finished the rally by blocking another bridge. According to Eduline [hu], the rally in Budapest started at around 3PM and ended at around 8:30PM at Adam Clark Square.

Kettős Mérce blog summarized the outcome of the Monday protests in a post titled “The future has started” [hu]. They pointed out that the rally wasn't only a sign of a strong democratic attitude present among the young citizens, but the “five-plus-one points” symbolized solidarity with the poor:

[…] The victory of yesterday wasn't only the thing that will be printed on every daily's front page, but two other things as well. Yesterday's protest came off in the democracy running at its fullest; always choosing the most democratic solutions, even if the organizers didn't want exactly the [same] thing that happened. Because the organizers wanted to occupy a university. But the majority of the people wanted [to occupy] a bridge. And the majority of the organizers argued in vain; democracy made the decision after a debate, after arguments, and was not led by the words of one person, but followed the decision of the really autonomous people who weren't influenced by anything.

But the victory of yesterday, in addition to this, was when the extra point came up next to HaHa's five points that had been drafted in advance. Someone came up with the idea that students shouldn't only talk about themselves, but also about the whole society. About social mobility, that if someone is poor, he/she isn't worth the same, that the education system today, yesterday and ten years ago has been confined and is becoming more and more confined, favoring the people who live in better conditions. Yesterday, this point was up against the point that said that competition was to be the basic principle of public education. And this young crowd articulated its opinion and unanimously agreed on social solidarity, and unanimously said that competition should not be the first standpoint in obtaining knowledge. […]

The strange position that the official student unions had taken was demonstrated by the reaction of the president of Szeged University's student union, Márk Török, who tried to convince the students gathering to join the sit-in that their act was illegal. HaHa reported this on their Facebook page and demanded [hu] real representation of the students' interests. To help the young citizens, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee posted on their blog the FAQ [hu] on the right of assembly.

On Tuesday, high school students also started to organize themselves, starting Facebook pages [hu] and protesting. HaHa reported that high school students went to the streets in the south-western Hungarian city of Pécs and in the south-eastern city of Békéscsaba as well. HaHa promised to continue to protest on Facebook [hu] in response to the press release of the Ministry of Human Resources:

[…] According to the government, what they are doing now is an “investment in the future.” No. What they are doing now is an infallible investment in a disastrous future. They are building a country where only the wealthiest children can receive higher education, a country from which the talented youth are escaping en masse, where the proportion of those holding a diploma is a snippet compared to that in the developed countries, and where there will never be a boom.

We admonish the government to stop lying and to start conceiving that what they are doing to the education, they are doing it not only against themselves but against the homeland as well. We won't allow them to take away our future!

December 04 2012

Anti-Fascism Unites Hungary

On Sunday, Dec. 2, thousands of Hungarians stood united against anti-Semitism at a protest rally in Budapest. Politicians from the ruling and opposition parties were there, too, speaking up against the controversial remarks by MP Márton Gyöngyösi, a member of the far-right party Jobbik, which has nearly 17 percent of the seats in the Hungarian Parliament. Gyöngyösi, on Nov.26, called “for Jews to be registered on lists as threats to national security.”

This was the second such rally. The first one took place on Nov. 27, but was nowhere near as numerous, with just a few hundred people attending.

A foundation called All Together For Jerusalem had organized the Dec. 2 protest [hu], which, according to Reuters, drew around 10,000 people. (For the sake of comparison, according to the Hungarian police's estimates [hu], on the National Holiday in October, ca. 150,000 attended the government-organized event, 20,000 showed up for the citizen movement's protest, and a couple of thousand people came to the far-right party's rally.)

Gyöngyösi later apologized for his remarks, but the public debate on the far right gaining more and more support in Hungary has been re-opened - and, to some extent, it has united the Hungarian nation.

Kopó of Koppány mondja blog wrote [hu] that this was the end of Jobbik playing it nice in the Parliament:

[…] If he [Gyöngyösi] wasn't a Nazi, he wouldn't say anything like this. If Jobbik wasn't a Nazi party, they would hoot him, or at least distance themselves from him, and disqualify him from the party. But this didn't happen. Because Márton Gyöngyösi is a Nazi, and Jobbik is a Nazi party. […]

Balázs Böcskei of the Institute for a Democratic Alternative (IDEA) wondered in a post on his blog [hu] why none of the 386 MPs left the room when “the darkness drenched them” (i.e., when Gyöngyösi was making his notorious statements).

Hungarian Spectrum wrote that on Nov. 27, one day after the incident, four MPs, including the presiding speaker, protested in the Parliament by wearing yellow Stars of David on their clothes - and so did some of the protesters outside, at the rally that took place that same day, as well as during the Dec. 2 rally.

A yellow Star of David on a protester's coat. Dec. 2, 2012. Photo by Redjade, used with permission.

At the Dec. 2 rally, the following politicians addressed the crowd: the current faction leader of the governing conservative Fidesz Party, Antal Rogán; the former ‘acting PM' Gordon Bajnai; and the Socialist Party's chairman, Attila Mesterházy. The largest Hungarian online citizen movement, ‘One Million for the Freedom of Press in Hungary' [huen], noted on their blog [hu] that the time had come for Hungarians to think over the situation in the country:

[…] The joint protest is a good opportunity to express not only our indignation and the deep denouncement of the Nazi speech revoking the darkest times, but also a chance to ask ourselves this question: why and how has Hungary got so far that today the educated world is a shocked observer of what's going on in the Parliament in Budapest. […]

Protesters at the Dec. 2 rally. Photo by Redjade, used with permission.

The bloggers of Kettős Mérce pointed out [hu] that the speakers hardly talked about the issues concerning Roma or LGBTQ people in Hungary. The bloggers also suggested to put the blame for the current situation in the country on all political parties:

[…] And though many sentences have been said about what kind of mistakes committed by the Hungarian right wing and the conservatives resulted in Hungary getting this far; it was sad that the mistakes of the Hungarian left wing and the liberals have hardly been mentioned. Yet they share the responsibility!

If next time someone is protesting against discrimination and fascism, we hope these things will come to their minds, so then we will have a chance to attend an even better protest.

November 29 2012

Hundreds Rally Against Anti-Semitism in Hungary

Budapest, Hungary: the protest against anti-Semitism. Photo by David Ferenczy, copyright © Demotix (27/11/2012).

On Nov. 27, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Parliament in Budapest (photos) to protest a Hungarian far-right MP's call “for Jews to be registered on lists as threats to national security.” Some of the protesters wore yellow Stars of David. The rally took place despite the removal of the Facebook event page for it by Facebook admins.

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