Hungarian Teachers Protest Against Controversial Education Reform

news 07-Jul-2023 Europe

In Hungary, teachers protest against a "revenge law"

A reform pushed by the ultra-conservative government of Viktor Orbán undermines the status of teachers and infringes on their rights.
Is this a tightening of the screws against academic freedom in Hungary? The law passed on Tuesday, July 4th in parliament has sparked anger among a portion of Hungarian teachers. With this legislation, teachers lose their civil servant status. They are now obliged to accept geographical mobility and overtime.

The influence of the far-right in Hungary and Germany

With less autonomy in their pedagogical choices, they will now be subject to an annual evaluation, which will partly determine their remuneration. Many teachers see this as a retaliation by the government. For months, many of them have been denouncing the educational policies of Viktor Orbán's ultra-conservative government.

The right to strike for teachers in Hungary had already been drastically reduced last year. Dozens of teachers were subsequently fired for protesting. They complain about their working conditions: a shortage of staff and salaries crushed by inflation, with a 25% increase in just one year. The salary of a teacher in Hungary is equivalent to 500 to 1,000 euros, barely better than a supermarket cashier. After the protests, this law therefore resonates as a means of control. Moreover, it is a symbol in Hungary that the ministry responsible for educational matters is none other than the Ministry of the Interior.

Diminished counter-powers

This law is also a symbol of an unchallenged political reign. Viktor Orbán, the nationalist Prime Minister, triumphed in last year's elections, even after more than ten years in power, and even against opponents who had formed an alliance. He managed to obtain over half of the votes and two-thirds of the seats in Parliament. This means that the counter-powers, which he relentlessly combats, are significantly diminished.

This national support also allows him to bring his fights to Brussels. He opposes any redistribution of asylum seekers in Europe - a project supported by a majority of the 27 member states. He also questions the effectiveness of European sanctions against Russia, which he has done everything to hinder in Brussels.

A showdown with the European Union

In the European classroom, Hungary under Orbán's leadership is closer to wearing the dunce cap than receiving congratulations. The European Union accuses Hungary of deficiencies in the rule of law: judges too subservient to the pressures of power, insufficient fight against corruption. A poor grade and therefore punishment: nearly 30 billion euros of European subsidies are frozen by Brussels, pending reforms. Although a source within French diplomacy indicates that Budapest has "made efforts" in recent months.

Viktor Orbán is unrivaled in making Brussels his scapegoat. In this law on education, the Prime Minister has promised significant salary increases for teachers, up to 75% on their paychecks. There is one condition, he says: that Europe unlocks the billions for Hungary. In the absence of satisfying math teachers, Viktor Orban could give lessons in political calculation.

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