Sunday, December 30, 2012

Student Protests in Budapest, December 2012



Starting from December 10, 2012 thousands of university and high school students went into the cold streets of Budapest with spontaneous protests against governmental budget cuts in education. The government of Hungary decided to cut the number of budget (free of charge) places from 50.000 to 10.000 from the next year on. This means that the next generations of students are deprived of free education in this country.


Student Self-governance Groups
There is an official student union everywhere, which has monopoly by law at universities to represent student's interests. This is called 'HÖK' on faculty level, 'EHÖK' on university level, and 'HÖOK' on national level. HÖKs are different between faculties, but at most of the places they are loyal to the power, and their aim is only to steal the state money. HÖOK is connected strictly to the FIDESZ (the ruling central-right party) government, but during the first week of December they did a complete turnaround, and since then they protest against the cuts in subsidies and state quotas. This behaviour is not sincere, but they cannot be judged unless they how their real faces. HÖK is also a sort of the politician kindergarten, for example, Jobbik (right-wing party) grew up at arts faculty HÖK of ELTE university, and they still govern this HÖK. Due to this, some nazis and Jobbik parlament delegates were visible at the student demonstration on December 10. When the majority of students saw the nazis at the demo, they started shouting 'nácik haza' (nazis go home).

There is an alternative student movement, called 'Hallgatói Hálózat' (HaHa, student network), which started in 2011 from the social sciences faculty of ELTE university. They want direct democracy, student forums with consensus decision making, etc. They made several actions in the last 2 years, but some people criticised them because they were not radical enough (e.g., they did not occupy any university for more that several hours). This is why a group called LÉK emerged within HaHa recently. This group comes from Lágymányos campus of ELTE, and first they were called Lágymányosi életmódjavító kör (life improvement circle of Lágymányos campus), after they changed the name to Lágymásnyosi érdekképviseleti közösség (community advocacy of lágymányos campus). Apart from a number of good programs (e.g., planting trees near the campus and making the area around it greener), their main goal is to occupy the university. That is why they can be considered a more radical anarchist subgroup of HaHa. Originally, LÉK planned to occupy a university and to start a student strike in January-February 2013, but due to the recent policies of the government they went into teh streets much earlier. Interestingly, during the recent protests the distinction between HaHa and LÉK disappeared as both were going together to demonstrate against the educational policy of the government.

Government Policy or Why Do the Students Protest
On December 6, 2012, the government announced radical cuts in the subsidies and quotas, which is basically equal with total eradication of free
education. E.g., the government announced that from 2013 the number of state subsidized student places will be cut from 50.000 to 10.000. Still, students could get loans from the state, and they would not have to repay if they start work at a state organization, or at a company, which could then reduce it's tax by the loan repayement of the workers. This plan not only prevents poor from going to the university, but also chains the people to the Hungarian state.


Demonstration Chronicle
December 10.
Due to the governmental budgetary cuts in education, the students decided to gather on Monday, December 10, 2012, for a student forum. 
Several thousands of students gathered at the Lagymanyosi campus of ELTE university for a student forum that aimed at discussing the actions against budgetary cuts in higher education. This forum was organized by HaHa (while initially the Facebook event for the forum was created by LÉK), later on the national HÖK (HÖOK) interened into the organization of this event, and there was a contest between HaHa and HÖOK, but at the end the Forum was announced to be organized by HaHa, HÖOK, professor's network, trade union of pedagogists, and network for free education. In the media HaHa appeared as main organizer.
The outcome of the Forum itself was unpredictable, as everything was quite uncertain, e.g., one hour before the event the students had the information that the university will close the buildings to obstruct the event. There was a plan to occupy the university, but the participants of the Forum decided otherwise. Based on direct democracy decision making, the students came up with an idea of a spontaneous demonstration, therefore two to three thousands of students went out to the streets, and more people joined them on the way. The march started at the Petöfi bridge where the ELTE campus is situated to the Corvinus (Economic) university, then to the Astoria campus of ELTE where the Samba drummers from Rhythms of Resistance joined the students. Then the protesters moved to the Parliament and to the Chain Bridge where it finished on the Buda side of the bridge. All the public transportation was frozen on the way of the demonstrators, so, the students occupied the streets!
There were some paralell actions with this demonstration and the Forum, e.g., hackers shut down the webpage of the minister of education, students occupied the government office in Szeged, and  there were student demonstrations in several other towns.

December 12.
The next demonstration happened one day after, on December 12, near the campus of BME, Budapest University of Technology. It was registered by HÖÖK, and HaHa had a speech there. After the demo the student moved with a march to Corvinus (Economic) university in order to occupy it. The occupation failed as the HÖÖK was afraid of the consequences, and informed the Corvinus administration about the occupation, so the university was closed and the occupation was not possible. The police was already inside of the university building, and after the protest civil clothed police caught all the people in the streets, who they believed to be organizers, and they wrote a list of names of the latter.

December 13.
High schools students started strikes in a number of schools, and in the afternoon they did a very cute demonstration, a march from Moszkva square across the Margit bridge, with few thousands of people.

Next days there were several spontaneous small demonstrations in Budapest and other cities of Hungary. Now students can see that the official student unions of the universities are against them. In every city these leaders tried to obstruct somehow the actions.


December 17.
On December 17 there was a big demonstration organized by Human Platform, a newly formed group of people who want better conditions and financing of health care, education, culture, arts and social projects and workers. Some students held speeches on the stage during the demo. After 1 hour when the official demonstration was finished, HaHa and otehr students moved together through Budapest with a march that started at the Parliament, went to the Margit bridge near teh Danube, moved to the main avenue (körut) until Blaha Lujza sq., and from there moved to Astoria sq. and further to the National Radio headquarters. The students wanted that their 6 points (demands) would be transmitted on the national radio, which did not happen that evening appropriately, and the radio did not even mention the students' protest in the evening news. After that the students went to the University of Theatre and Cinema and occupied it until the morning.

December 19.
On December 19 there was a high school student demonstration and march. The idea was to bring the roses and to throw them away into the Danube. The roses symbolize the name of the Minister of Education Rozsa Hoffmann.

December 21.
On December 21 there were two smaller demonstrations. At 4 p.m. there was a common demonstration near the Parliament by the homeless initiative A Varos Mindenkie (The City for All), NANE (feminist organization), Dzsaj Bhim Közösség (Buddhist Roma organization), Hiteles Mozgalom and HaHa. It was a smaller static demonstration with ca. 200 participants, and various groups having their speeches about the right to housing, social rights and education, as well as against domestic violence. 
At 5 p.m. there was a solidarity action with students organized by of social workers at Moszkva square.

Further information: 
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