Archive: How not to protest

The Hungarian National Guard

The Hungarian National Guard

It seems that, somewhat sadly and certainly ironically, EU elections across Europe are being used to vent local frustrations. Individual national establishments are to be punished for their perceived corruption, lack of accountability, and culpability in the current economic collapse. Britain’s not above this. The trend is towards the extremes. Exit polls from the Netherlands suggest a coup for the right wing, with the far-right Party for Freedom taking second place. Hungary, too, looks certain to have extreme right representation.

Every spare inch of Budapest is plastered with posters of smiling shiny people looking boldly into the future. Some are already ripped or graffitied, some pasted afresh after the last late night assault. To judge from sheer numbers, by far the most enthusiastic glue-bucketers support the extreme-right Jobbik party’s distressingly sane-looking candidate, Dr Krisztina Morvai. I was heartened to see a fight-back yesterday – the artistic addition of glowing green eyes, and a big black swastika.

Jobbik’s website makes much of the ‘slanders’ against its name. Morvai refused The Sunday Telegraph an interview for its “peddling of outright lies and malicious fabrication”; fancy having the audacity to claim that “Jobbik has been linked by mainstream Hungarian politicians to anti-Semitism and a wave of anti-gipsy violence that has claimed the lives of seven Roma during attacks that involved grenades, petrol bombs and gunfire.” 

Like the modern-day British National Party, Jobbik goes out of its way to present itself merely the party that addresses those uncomfortable racial questions no-one else has the guts to address – cuddly, compassionate far-right conservatism with nary a cudgel to be seen. Except, of course, when Jobbik shows its other face – although it brushes off any claims that its uniformed, jackbooted militia, the Hungarian Guard, are anything more sinister than loyal patriots in national folk costume. Above is a picture of them marching with a banner saying “Down with the dogma of the Holocaust”. Hmm.

The party’s website has a useful page with maps detailing serious alleged attacks both by and against the Roma people in Hungary. Attacks on Roma are described in a detached, news-like tone. A large number turn out not be racially motivated at all – in fact, conveniently, the perpetrators themselves often turn out to be Roma, usually motivated by usury crime, and “as usury crime is widespread in Hungary, the racist theory is wearing thinner by the day”. In one arson case a swastika and threatening words were daubed on a wall, but “the painted (and not sprayed!) swastika was in opposite direction and the threatening words contained serious grammar mistakes. Tiszaroff is mainly populated by Romas and it would be hard to sneak there (even during night due to the dogs) for the alleged “racist” arzenist (sic).” 

I don’t know about you, but that sure puts my mind at rest. 

The second map sports different categories to the first – “Roma mob” and “Rape/ robbery”, but no sign of “Bogus/ minor”. There seem to be a lot more cases too. The “allegedly”s grow thinner and the strict recourse to such technicalities as evidence fades. Try this one for size: “An old couple were brutally beaten and robbed in their own house in Miskolc. Police later captured the Roma perpetrators. Miskolc Police Chief Albert Pasztor stated in a press conference later that “all serious robberies in Miskolc are committed by Romas”.”

Jobbik is a party that, for all its gloss, speaks of reuniting “Greater Hungary” after the stab in the back of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, boasts of its recent meeting with the BNP, and is fundamentally opposed to the supranationalist concept. I am far from a fervent cheerleader for the European project, but the presence of such neanderthals in the EU parliament can only render it a farce.

Edit 08/ 06/ 09: Jobbik received nearly 15% of votes cast.

From here on June 6th 2009.

Archive: CELTA at IH Budapest – acquiring a TEFL safety net

Szechenyi Baths, Budapest

An intense four-week course, with some compensations.

I taught English for two years in Japan, what seems like a very long time ago. I’ve also taught one-to-one, on and off, for four years. So it’s true what they say – you can teach without a qualification. But there came a time when I no longer wanted to. Was I doing the right thing? Could I be better? Was I charging my students money just to hear me talk? Could I take myself in any way seriously if I was?

Some years later (the exact number a closely guarded secret), I took the plunge and headed off to Budapest to take a Cambridge CELTA teaching course. These courses are heavily focused on the practical, with the meat of the day being observed teaching practice, but also provide a way in to pedagogical theory and language analysis through afternoon input sessions. The aim is to show, in our later lessons, that we have taken these sessions on board.

The course was certainly intense, but I can’t fault the content or delivery. Expecting a month-long course to create super-teachers is a sure recipe for disappointment, but it does give trainees all the basic tools, practice and confidence needed to start out as a reasonably competent teacher of English. It also, crucially, encourages them to see their abilities objectively, as the basis for continued professional development rather than as an excuse to never stand in front of a class of students ever again.

So. Budapest, January 2009. The course begins gently, all ‘getting to know you’ and giggles. They seem like a good group from the off, and it’s nice to be among people who don’t look askance at a desire to travel and learn obscure languages. But we’re swiftly into the meat of it, planning our first 20 minute lesson for the next day. Hands are held tightly at this stage, but it’s still daunting. Will I remember the students’ names? All of which are harder for being unfamiliar. What if I run out of material (honestly, unlikely in 20 minutes)? 

The first lesson goes off without too many hitches, the students are super co-operative and seem to relish the cheap and sometimes shambolic option of studying with trainees. My previous experience comes in some kind of handy as I have no trouble grading my language for our pre-intermediate group.

That out the way, we’re on to 40-minute lessons. Hands still clasped tightly, we’re sticking mostly to skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening) lessons, or revision of already-known grammar and vocabulary. The afternoons are spent being told how we’re supposed to do it, minus hand-holding, in the weeks to come.

Week 2, and our teaching group of 5 has formed a mutually supportive group of, er, 4. With feedback to teaching practice coming from other trainees as well as trainers, it’s a shame not everyone’s taking things seriously. Comparing people’s lessons to the sinking of the Titanic is about as far not on as it’s possible to be, but we rise above and overcome. Still, with essays, planning, and the growing feeling that I want to stay on and not lose my momentum, I rather shut myself away in the 2nd and 3rd weeks, choosing CVs and flat-hunting over beer and bonding.

In the 4th week, once teaching is over, I make a concerted effort to compensate for this, turning myself into a zombie-like creature whose head seeks out any flat surface – be it horizontal or vertical – for a bit of shut-eye. Still, I succeed in jumping across the wall into the teachers’ room for the subsequent week, allowing me to make the decision to stay on without too much food-on-the-table angst. And here I still am, still enjoying it immensely.

From here on April 10th 2009.

Archive: Budapest, baby!

Budapest Castle

My new home (sort of)

Fog nearly stops play as roughly half the flights leaving Bristol airport are either grounded or diverted. Get increasingly fidgety as the time approaches, but eventually we’re in the air and Blighty fades away below me. Arriving late at night gives me the chance to marvel at Budapest by night. It’s a beautiful sight, the chain bridge and the Parliament artfully lit. My nerves turn to excitement, at least a little.

A brief twinge as the driver seems neither to know where we’re going nor to speak English. Somehow we come to an agreement and I find myself outside my new home. It’s beautiful – all bare wood Parisian floors and high ceilings. I skip around taking pictures and email them off with glee, before making myself go to bed.

Woken early the next morning by grumbling stomach – nothing edible in sight. Head for the West End, a big gleaming altar of capitalism spotted late the night before. Wander around for some time managing to miss the vast food court, alighting on a Kaiser’s Szupermarket just in time to not pass out.

The next challenge is to buy a travel pass, which is made easier by the fact that the person behind the right glass window, when I finally find it, speaks English. Which is a relief, after being shouted at in Hungarian by three different people behind three different wrong windows.

Have wheels so travel. Head to the castle district to marvel at the views across the Danube, the imposing Royal Palace, and the ancient streets leading up to it. And the cold. It’s around -10, and even two fleeces, hat scarf coat can’t disguise that I’m not put together right for these colder climes. Still, it gives me an excuse to pop into anywhere that has heating.

The next day, I waste half the morning trying to figure out my washing machine, which is in German. Having established, thanks to the benevolent mother internet, that what I want is a Pflegeleicht mit Vorwasche, I’m out the door for a stroll down Andrássy út, a neo-Renaissance grand boulevard leading to Városliget, the City Park. It’s beautiful, grand yet rough around the edges, the houses proud but world-weary.

It’s also, by sheer happy ahem coincidence, home to the Lukács cafe, a sumptuous turn-of-the-century coffee-house and patisserie. Minus-god-knows-what outside, I need marching food, so buy a coffee and a slice of divine chocolate cake for slightly less than the UK national debt. Fed and caffeined, I wander down to the City Park, where I find that the ducks have cannily exploited Budapest’s thermal waters to keep toasty. Envious, I head home for a nice long soak of my own.

From here on February 22nd 2009.