“Hungarian public education is dead” – Thousands protested in Budapest, demanding better conditions for teachers

On 5 October, World Teachers’ Day, there were numerous demonstrations in Hungary organised to improve the situation of education and to express solidarity with teachers dismissed for civil disobedience. From 5 pm, thousands of people occupied the Margaret Bridge in a demonstration organised by students, before continuing the protest in front of the Parliament in Kossuth Square, where concerts were also held. The protesters agreed that change is needed, because if this continues, in a few years there will be no one to teach the children. Video report!

This week, a series of solidarity actions for teachers took place, purposedly cheduled for World Teachers’ Day which is held annually on 5 October to celebrate all teachers around the world. The Democratic Union of Hungarian Teachers (PDSZ) called a nationwide strike for the day, which was joined by several schools in Budapest and in the countryside. More than 450 institutions in total have protested, 119 of which have opted for civil disobedience.

In the morning, students, parents and teachers had organised a demonstration in Budapest, with more than 10,000 people forming a chain stretching for kilometers across Budapest.

Protesters on Margaret Bridge. Photo by Átlátszó/Dénes Balogh

The student-organised bridge occupation started at 5pm at Margaret Bridge. Within moments, the bridge was filled with demonstrators, estimated at tens of thousands. The occupation was organised by the Grund student movement.

The organisers told Átlátszó the day before the event that they organised the demonstration because they want change in education and hope that this demonstration can trigger it:

“We find it totally absurd that teachers’ work is rewarded with such low salaries by the state.”

Protesters carried posters saying “We are with our teachers” and “No teachers, no future.” Another banner said, “Do not fire our teachers”.

Protesters on Margaret Bridge. Photo by Átlátszó/Dénes Balogh

After the occupation of the bridge, the crowd marched to the Parliament, where the NoÁr Movement and the Teachers’ Movement announced a demonstration and a solidarity concert on Kossuth Square from 7 p.m. According to the organisers, more than 40,000 demonstrators gathered there. Speakers included Katalin Törley and Tamás Palya, two teachers who were dismissed from the Kölcsey Ferenc High School in Budapest last week for civil disobedience. The decision was followed by several protest in front of the school, one of them was organised on Monday this week.

In recent weeks, several school districts have sent letters to teachers involved in civil disobedience threatening them that if they continued, it could result in their dismissal. The deputy principal of a high school in Miskolc (Herman Ottó High School) was also dismissed on the same grounds at the beginning of September.

Olivér Pilz, a well-known face of the teacher protests that started in 2016, a teacher at the Herman Ottó High School in Miskolc, spoke on stage, saying that the country is “moving forward with requirements for students stuck in the last century.”

Protesters on Margaret Bridge. Photo by Átlátszó/Dénes Balogh

Atlatszo spoke to students and teachers about how they see the state of education and why they think it is important to stand up for teachers.

In addition to an immediate pay rise for teachers, the right to strike is also among the demands of the protesters. The government narrowed teachers’ right to strike in the spring of 2022 as part of COVID-19 emergency measures. The two biggest rade unions of teachers immediately declared the decree unconstitutional.

The Hungarian government has said it can only meet teachers’ demands once the European Commission releases European Union recovery funds, which has been withheld due to corruption concerns and rule-of-law disputes.

The teachers’ union has called another strike for 14 October.

Written and translated by Zita Szopkó. Photos and video: Dénes Balogh