Like Riding a Bike: Government Plays with Old Reflexes

Hungary, 12 Apr - 09 May 2015
“I bike Budapest” – the Critical Mass is back in town ++ Does “Free education” prepare for the job market? Hungary discusses large-scale educational reform ++ Death Penalty again? ++ Government announces “National consultation” on immigration and terrorism. by Christian-Zsolt Varga, Nóra Szabó, Silvia Petzoldt
“I bike Budapest” – the Critical Mass is back in town

Good news first: tens of thousands of cyclists participated at the event “I bike Budapest” to enjoy a car-free ride through the Hungarian capital. During the 15 kilometre ride through the city, the participants crossed the Danube twice to end up on the Margareth Island, where they were greeted by the Dutch ambassador to Hungary, and together held up their bikes into the sky.

Two years ago, after setting a new world record with over 100.000 participants, the organisers of the traditional “critical mass” – a protest form used by cyclists world-wide to demonstrate for more bike-friendliness by reclaiming the streets – announced to pause the event, because of the success the movement had achieved for better cyclist circumstances in the past years. The recent “I bike Budapest” event therefore was not primarily a political demonstration but a fun festival event.

Does “Free education” prepare for the job market? Hungary discusses large-scale educational reform

Hungary’s university system is on the verge of undergoing a large-scale reform. Since the beginning of March the aim of the national-conservative Hungarian government of Fidesz party and Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP) to establish a new structure within the university system triggered many controversies among politicians, students and scientists alike. According to the Ministry of National Resources (Nemzeti Erőforrás Miniszterium), the current expenses of the universities and the development of the job market in Hungary require an educational reform.

Student protests in Budapest heated up in the middle of April as it became clear that the government is planning to reduce the range of available studies by 15 per cent until 2020, including undergraduate professional degrees such as Communication Studies and International Relations. In the future a new type of institution – universities of applied sciences – is to guarantee that higher education prepares students for the job market and not only for life itself.

Additionally, the government has announced that it is aiming to increase the available resources of university professors to focus on research by reducing the workload of professors by 20 percent. Further, the government plans to establish a council of university rectors, chancellors and representatives of the Ministry of National Resources. Critics claim that such a council may jeopardize the scientific autonomy of universities if it consists primarily of political representatives from the Ministry.

Meanwhile, Péter Niedermüller, member of the European Parliament, turned to the European Commission to verify, whether or not the planned reform is consistent with European standards. Representatives of the Commission stated that the educational reform would undermine central values of the EU, such as the diversity of university degrees.

Death Penalty again?

“The death penalty question should be put on the agenda”, Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (Fidesz) said on the 28th of April. He added that “Hungary will stop at nothing when it comes to protecting its citizens.” His statement followed a cold-blooded killing of a young shop assistant at a tobacconist’s in the city of Kaposvár. According to the investigators the robber killed the female shop assistant, because he was afraid of being recognized. Orbán considers the life imprisonment measure in the Hungarian penal code too lenient considering the severity of the crime.

His statement met international criticism. Jean-Claude Juncker, European Union chief executive, said: “Mr Orbán must immediately make clear that the reestablishment of death penalty measures is not his real intention. However, if he is serious about it, there is going to be a fight over this issue”. He noted that the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights “forbids the death penalty”. The death penalty was abolished in Hungary following the collapse of communism in 1989. In a way, however, Orbán has achieved his aim — the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee will discuss "the possible effects'' of an EU member reintroducing the death penalty.

After a phone call with the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz Orbán said that he would "never agree'' with the EU about not being allowed to even discuss capital punishment, but stressed that Hungary is not planning to reintroduce the death penalty. Nevertheless, a few days later in an interview with the Hungarian Kossuth radio Orbán said: “If we can protect our citizens without re-establishing capital punishment, that is fine, if not, we should reintroduce death penalty.”

Government announces “national consultation” on immigration and terrorism

Yet another controversial move by the government of PM Viktor Orbán (Fidesz) caused a wave of criticism in Hungary and abroad. The so called “national consultation”, a questionnaire on “immigration and terrorism”, contains twelve questions. Eight million Hungarian voters are called upon to give their opinion on the issues at hand.

Critics condemn the questionnaire as biased with extreme right-wing nationalistic ideology and as a populist move to gain support for the planned government anti-immigration policies. Among the the questions are:

  • “Do you agree that mistaken immigration policies contribute to the spread of terrorism?”

  • “Do you agree that economic immigrants endanger the jobs and livelihoods of the Hungarian people?”

  • “Are you in favour of the government sending illegal immigrants to internment camps?

  • “Do you agree with the government that instead of allocating funds to immigration we should support Hungarian families and those children yet to be born?”

In addition to the political bias of the poll critics also highlight that it fails to comply with methodological surveying standards by pushing the respondents in a certain direction with suggestive questioning. Furthermore, the answer categories favour a answers of approval with the government policies. Polling experts have condemned the questionnaire as a propaganda tool.

In an open letter more than fifty migration sociologists and experts appealed to the government to stop its plans because of the risks of such political message “lacking any professional or moral basis”.

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Source: Soós Bertalan / Magyar Kerékpárosklub | | Copyright © by (all rights reserved)

Thousands of cyclists on Margareth Island at the „I bike Budapest” event

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