Dear religious and secular leaders, dear colleagues and students!
A new academic year for all teachers and students in educational institutions begins, affecting the whole of society, its macro- and micro-communities. The new school year brings new challenges and tasks not only for those directly involved – teachers and students – but also for parents, grandparents, decision-makers, and educational institutions. They all create new plans, dreams and bring fresh hope to our institutions in autumn.
The point of the celebration of the start of the school year is to stop for a moment in our rushing world, to plan the next school year, based on the experience of the previous year. This moment connects the past with the future. Let’s do this now through the eyes of the Transcarpathian Hungarian Pedagogical Association, according to the experience and work of the organization to make the next academic year better and more effective.
We are now beginning the third academic year in the shadow of the law on education, cunningly adopted after the holidays. We cannot emphasize loudly enough how deeply this law has damaged the faith in the Ukrainian democratic state and the consciousness of minorities, including the Hungarians of Transcarpathia. In fact, by violating the constitution of the Ukrainian state, the law deprived the Transcarpathian minorities of the rights they had acquired during the last century. It took away the rights that, even in the darkest decades of the twentieth century, existed in the field of education in the native language and the use of our own language. All this was done under circumstances that were unlawful, and in other cases the laws accepted in similar ways were later repealed by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine. Lawmakers did not respond so sensitively to minority rights, and the state apparatus did not respond to international criticism, did not even take into account the recommendations of the Venice Commission, despite the president’s promise to comply with them. We have one hope: that the new president and his party that can now vote without fail for any changes and amendments, will keep their promise to protect the rights of minorities and to uphold their right to use their native language.
We have a new government and a new minister of education: Hanna Novosad. She knows our problems, because in recent years she, along with her predecessor, has been present at all the meetings during which the Transcarpathian Hungarian Pedagogical Association made its proposals. The newly appointed minister received a written opinion from our society, supported by sound legal arguments, regarding the violation of rights in the Law on Education, as well as our constructive proposals to resolve these issues. But the summer has been long and politically hot, she may not remember it, so the management of our Association will summarize the problems raised last year and the constructive suggestions for solving them, and in September we will send them to the minister and all institutions that work on educational issues and issues of national minorities.
Unfortunately, despite dozens of our inquiries and numerous discussions, our proposals for the rational distribution of classes in the national, native and foreign languages in primary schools have not been taken into account. The intention behind ambiguous statements and bureaucratic official language was to classify the native language of national minorities as a foreign language, so that Hungarian students would not have the opportunity to learn another foreign language. The law places the responsibility on local departments of education, heads of schools, which in turn are pressured, and thus, many schools, despite the decision of the educational management, do not approve the distribution of hours, which is the basis for the wage calculation, while standard hours in the Ukrainian language are not included in this distribution. This, in turn, leads to a reduction in the number of Hungarian classes and the exclusion of a foreign language from the curriculum. I ask colleagues not to give up and defend their rights! Victories in small battles lead to victories in war. The Pedagogical Association supports you with professional, legal advice, a lawyer if you need it, and the Hungarian community is behind you, but you are directly involved in the battle; you have to fight for your truth, now it is up to you. Also, there is an example from the last academic year, which proves that the struggle can be successful.
The battle for the Hungarian-speaking class in Fanchykovo has been going on for more than two decades. Despite dozens of requests from parents to open a Hungarian class, the authorities either do not respond or resort to background propaganda: they visit the parents and persuade them to refuse to have their children be taught in their native language. It is argued that it is in the best interests of the child, as only having been educated in the state language will they succeed in Ukraine. In such cases, they never pay attention to the fact that the more languages one knows, the more times one is a human, and the more languages you know, the better is your career, the realization of your plans, dreams, ambitions. This year, propaganda and agitation failed to suppress the belief in themselves and the well-considered interests of the Hungarian community in Fanchykovo. 16 parents consistently defended their constitutional rights by asking to open a Hungarian-speaking class. They insisted on resolving the problem, despite the fact that the Vynohradiv District Department of Education and the school management applied a number of methods to prevent the Hungarian-speaking class from being opened. The headmaster’s initial response to the initiative was that he agreed, but a teacher with a qualification recognized in Ukraine should be found. When such a teacher was found, the district department of education was ready to agree only under social pressure. The principal’s next step was to open the class, as required, but the parents had to find a place for it in the village. So the search began: who will welcome the 16 orphans: the Catholic or the Reformed Church? Perhaps the Pedagogical Association will find a property that can be rented or purchased and where the children can start their studies? In parallel, our association appealed to the district department of education with official letters to resolve the issue, because in public schools, all children have the right to learn the language chosen by their parents. In a public school, the state is obliged to provide conditions, teachers, textbooks and facilities within the limits of the possibilities provided by the law. In Fanchykovo, they could not accept it, as if the parents of these 16 children were not Ukrainian taxpayers. Under the influence of the letters, there was finally a classroom for the children. It has occurred to me on several occasions in connection with these events that if the first graders are so „welcome”, and this attitude of the majority of the management and staff will continue throughout the educational process, it may be more efficient to purchase real estate for primary classes, which will be transferred to the use of the school. Thus, a welcoming atmosphere will ensure a calm, balanced development of the children.
In a similar case, we were approached by the staff of the elementary school of Nove Selo, where a small Hungarian section had already entered 5th grade, but the principal at the meeting stated that he could not provide them with a Hungarian language teacher, so they should either agree to study most subjects in Ukrainian or may transfer their children to schools in neighboring settlements. We also contacted the principal and head of the district department of education about this issue and invited them tp apply in writing to our association or the Ferenc Rakoczi II Transcarpathian Hungarian Institute to find a suitable teacher if they cannot resolve the issue at the state level. In the absence of a formal request, we cannot send a teacher there, our assistance will be rejected.
These two cases are strikingly similar to the events that took place in Solotvyno 30 years ago.
Until 1968 there was an independent Hungarian-speaking school in Solotvyno; in 1968 a Soviet monster building was built and Russian, Ukrainian and Hungarian schools were jointly placed there. The comfort of Hungarian children worsened, and in 1988 7-8 subjects were taught in Russian in the Hungarian section because they could not, or did not want to find, or did not want to hire Hungarian-speaking teachers. In 1989, some teachers from the Hungarian teaching staff, with the involvement of the parents, initiated the restoration of an independent Hungarian school in the village. Their statements had to be delivered to the ministry, where a cynical decision was made in May. The establishment of an independent Hungarian school was allowed, the building of a former kindergarten was provided for this purpose, but it was in a terrible condition at that time, and teaching could be started only if it could be restored by September. All this was happening in the Soviet Union, there was neither financial nor moral support for the community, but the situation inspired the incredible Transcarpathian Hungarian-Hungarian cooperation. Dozens of volunteers from all over the region worked for 3 months to open an independent Hungarian school in Solotvyno, which has since become one of our strongholds, our symbol and the third most prominent Hungarian institution in the area. Congratulations on their anniversary! Let us draw strength from the stubbornness and perseverance of the miners now, for, though the Soviet Union no longer exists, one feels as if one’s spirit had stuck there, and the methods of control and power are the same as in the past.
As a result of the struggles in the last academic year, we can also report on some successes. As a result of two decades of persistent correspondence with the Ministry, its employees have finally realized that teaching the Ukrainian language should be differentiated according to whether it is the native language or the second language of the student. Although no significant decisions or progress have been made to achieve this, for graduates of minorities the passing grade for compulsory independent tests in the Ukrainian language has been lowered.
This significantly increased the chances of Hungarian graduates to study in universities, although this mechanism also had its pitfalls. For the group of tests, the results of which are included in the certificate, the decrease in the minimum number of points does not apply. Faced with tests requiring deep knowledge of the Ukrainian language designed for future linguists, most graduates of minority schools did not score enough points. This caused another anomaly among students of specialized secondary education, as at the end of last academic year a decree was passed whereby students who do not score the required number of credits in Ukrainian language in the final exams may not receive a certificate of specialized secondary education, even if they have excellent grades in subjects directly related to their profession. That is, anyone who has not passed the independent assessment in the Ukrainian language will not become a nurse, accountant, system administrator, cook, hairdresser, etc. However, if the grade average reaches a passing grade, such a student may study at a higher education institution. This anomaly was partially overcome by the Institute’s Admissions Committee during the summer correspondence, and in August, students who successfully passed the independent assessment received a well-deserved diploma at the Lyceum of the Transcarpathian Hungarian Institute named after Ferenc Rakoczi II. Graduates of the Mukachevo University in the specialty “primary school teacher” failed to do so. The reason for this is that the Hungarian students’ group was not officially accredited by the Teacher Training Unit as a separate unit, that is, after the admission, they were registered by the Ministry and included in the system as a Ukrainian-speaking group. Thus, they do not fall within the scope of the article, according to which they can score lower on the final tests than their Ukrainian-speaking peers. It also means that 10 Hungarian teachers have failed to enter the labor market this year, although they are very much needed. We were asked what to do, but we cannot give them a wise answer at this time, as they will not be able to change anything within a year and, at most, have a chance to attend a Hungarian school, where they will pass the final exams again. The example above reminds us once again that everyone, both parents and teachers, should be vigilant every minute without leaving a chance for failure and to insist on respect of their legal rights.
The aforementioned case can be repeated next year at the secondary school No. 3 in Berehove. Last year, cities with several schools, including minority language schools, were allowed to open classes with at least 25 students to reduce the burden on the state budget. Therefore, if there are fewer than 25 students in one Hungarian-language school, they must be transferred to another Hungarian educational institution. This also applies to the upper classes, that is, high school classes, not just the elementary schools. This school year, there were less than 25 potential students in Berehove secondary school No. 3 in both the Ukrainian and Hungarian sections. In order not to lose the class, it was decided to open only a Ukrainian-speaking class where graduates of the Hungarian class can study, too. The parents probably agreed to this because they did not formally seek the advice of our association and did not think about the consequences or, perhaps, did not dare to raise their voice. I would like to draw their attention to the fact that this class will be registered at the Ministry of Education as a Ukrainian-speaking class, i.e. they will be given only Ukrainian books, they will study all subjects in Ukrainian, and in two years, all required final tests will be required to pass in the Ukrainian language, because after two years it will not be possible to register students’ application for the final tests in the central computer system as Hungarian-speaking.
Despite the sad examples and anomalies mentioned above, the Transcarpathian Hungarian community and population, after the two years of anti-national political decisions and pressure, stand for their identity, consciously and consistently choosing education in their native language. Despite the fact that most young people work abroad and raise their children abroad and we are experiencing a demographic decline, there are 150 more children enrolled in the first class of Hungarian schools than last year. In the 2019-2020 academic year, 2162 first-graders will be able to begin their education in Hungarian. The number of students choosing Hungarian as their second foreign language has also increased. This academic year, 1535 students will learn Hungarian as a foreign language, starting at 5th grade, 2 hours per week. There are many opportunities for education in the native language: there are many settlements where a large Hungarian community existed a hundred years ago, sometimes with more than a thousand people, but today there are no Hungarian schools and many have switched languages, but the people living there are looking for their roots, seek to learn the native language of their ancestors.
One of the achievements of last year is also that, on the initiative of the Pedagogical Association, first-grade and second-grade students can learn Hungarian and read from textbooks published in Hungary. For this we would like to thank the employees of the Berehove Branch of the Institute of Postgraduate Teacher Training who conducted the official procedure, as well as the department of the Ministry of Education of Ukraine, which adapted these textbooks. We also thank the Hungarian Ministry of Human Resources for providing financial support to bring these textbooks to our schools. According to the reviews, it brought joy to children, as well as teachers and parents.
The fact that Hungary provided us with alphabet books and workbooks lifted the burden of the Pedagogical Association, as this year we did not have to worry about editing, compiling textbooks, reading aids, which is actually a profession that we do not have. The Transcarpathian Hungarian Pedagogical Association, as a pillar of the Transcarpathian Hungarian education, continued its work, facilitated the survival and development of the Hungarian education. With the support of Hungarian funds, we continued to publish workbooks in all subjects and distributed them in schools, and also published our periodicals IRKA and Közoktatás (Public Education). We have organized trainings for kindergarten teachers, elementary school teachers and art school teachers, namely the Kölcsey Summer Pedagogical Academy. 363 teachers participated in these trainings last academic year. We organized a talent competition with 3545 children. We have organized summer camps for about 250 talented children interested in learning.
This year, we successfully hosted the Erzsebet Foundation for the Carpathian Children’s Camp, which took place in several tours in Zanka from July 14 to August 23, 2019. 880 children from 4 Hungarian schools and 120 accompanying teachers participated in the camp. There were also 440 children from Ukrainian schools studying Hungarian as a foreign language and 60 accompanying teachers in 2 tours. So, on the shore of Lake Balaton, 1500 people spent their holidays in 6 tours.
We are grateful for the support of the Hungarian Ministry of Human Resources and the National Policy Secretariat, because without it we would not be able to implement these programs. I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to the staff of our association’s office, to all its employees, for the successful accomplishment of the work that is usually done by a much larger group of employees in government institutions.
The second phase of the Carpathian Basin kindergarten program began in January 2018. During this phase, 15 institutions have already been repaired and opened. The work has been completed at three more institutions (Bilky, Dovhe and Kostryno), but the official opening has not taken place yet. Institutions in villages Muzhievo and Bereguyfolu are undergoing repairs and renovation will begin in 7 more kindergartens in the fall. We purchased real estate for kindergartens in four settlements: Mynaj, Kholmok, Veliky Berezniy and Berehove. The procedure of obtaining permits for repair and reclassification of the objects that we purchased in the first stage of the project is in progress in Dilove, Solotvyno, Svoboda, Serednie, Koropets. In the summer of 2019, the foundation stone of a new kindergarten was laid in Esen’.
The program of basic schools, implemented by the Charity Foundation of the Transcarpathian Hungarian Institute, continues its work. The work has been completed and the building will soon be officially opened at the Dayka Gabor secondary school in Uzhgorod and secondary school in the village Veyka Dobron, where major repairs were made. Schools in Solotvyno, Kosyno, Velyki Berehy and the Ferenc Rakoczi Secondary School in Mukachevo are being refurbished at the moment. Preparation is in progress – this means obtaining documentation and permits for repair – at the Perenyi Zsigmond secondary school in Vynohradiv, Secondary Schools in Nevetlenfolu, Batiovo, Chop, as well as the Berehove Hungarian High School named after Gabor Bethlen and Secondary School No. 4 named after Lajos Kossuth. The owners and management of these institutions play an important role and are responsible for the renovation, repair and maintenance of these institutions that took place during the summer. Because owners and users are required to obtain documentation, the foundation can only help and support them. That is why I urge interested principals to start working constructively, not to postpone anything for tomorrow if they want to start the school year in an updated environment next September. We thank the head of the foundation, Vasyl Brenzovych, for having invested all his political influence in the reconstruction of our institutions, and Ilona Vash, who has taken responsibility for the task.
The above confirms the statement that nothing is impossible, only some people are helpless, because these results were achieved in conditions almost impossible for a European.
That these results exist, is first and foremost a matter of faith. On the one hand, faith in the Almighty can give us the strength to find the best answer to life’s challenges. Faith in the Almighty can make us true in our actions, the common strength of the Christian faith can give us the strength to not give up, because, as the Bible says, “bearing one another’s burdens”, supporting one another by learning from one another in modern times, we create a happier and a quieter future for our children and young people. Good luck to you, us and everyone who works for the next generation!
Chongor, September 7, 2019.