The Student Network in Hungary has been one of the most vocal and visible opponents of the current government. In Hungarian, the network has a memorable name: HaHa (Hallgatói Hálózat). Formed a year after Viktor Orban and Fidesz came to power, HaHa has focused on the government’s education reforms, opposing proposed cuts in state support and requirements to remain and work in Hungary after graduation. They’ve engaged in various forms of resistance, including street demonstrations and an occupation strike at ELTE University.
Student activists have not restricted their actions to education reform. HaHa conducted a flash mob occupation of the Ministry of Human Resources last spring. Many members also participated in an occupation of the Fidesz headquarters that took place last March. And students have been a critical part of a homeless advocacy organization.
When I was in Budapest last May, I sat down for coffee with Csaba Jelinek, a student activist that has worked with HaHa. We talked about the initial Student Network that formed in 2007 and the current Network that was restarted in 2011.
“Looking back from now to the very first moments of forming the Student Network, it has been a huge achievement,” he told me. “It has grown much bigger than we could have imagined two years ago. Those who formed the group were ideologically oriented at the beginning. Then the Network started to become more practical and attracted younger students. These younger students were more practice-oriented. They made it very big this year, when we older ones left the movement. We were on the front page of the conservative Magyar Nemzet newspaper every day last January. We were accused of being financed by Soros and the Jews and the Americans.”
Another achievement, he told me, has been structural: “Much more important is this strongly non-hierarchical way of organizing — developing the skills to have unexpected actions like sit-ins, a human microphone to disrupt lectures, moderating student forums with hand signs, making decisions in meaningful ways. This strong belief in participation creates a situation in which a person can politically participate and is a very good way of ‘indoctrinating’ someone.”
We talked about the differences between the students attracted to post-modernism and those leaning toward political economy, the differences in Hungary between liberals and leftists, and the formation of his own political views in his first years at university.
You went to university and studied sociology. Were there student groups involved in politics at the university?
That was in 2006, which was exactly at the same time as the violent riots in the streets in October. In the summer a group called Student Network was formed.
In Hungary we have this system called collegium. Each college is an autonomous self-organized entity, focusing on a certain study area. Before I was accepted to the university, I looked at the college that focused on critical social sciences and Frankfurt School and Marxism. During the autumn, we had these camps at the very beginning of university. That was the first time I met members of that college, and later I lived there. We met and talked about politics and about the Student Network, which they and some other activists formed, mainly inspired by Western European student movements and an anarchist, non-hierarchical way of organizing. The Paris events of that year, when the students occupied several universities, were also influential.