Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Meanwhile in Hungary…

That ‘faraway country’

Time was that Conductive Education was so obviously Hungarocentric, Hungary sneezed and world CE caught a cold. It is a perhaps a measure of how much this world has changed that there can be major political change in Hungary and the world of CE barely seems to register this.

Indeed, why mention it at all?
  • For the record?
  • Out of sentiment and respect?
  • As a general-awareness service for people with Hungarian colleagues, employees, collaborators, to alert them to possible concerns amongst people who should matter to them?

Yes in all cases, but perhaps most of all in 2009, for more utilitarian reasons.

Canary in a coal mine?

Only six months ago the economy of this small, financially enmired country was one of the first to hit the economic bottom. Hungary only just avoided financial meltdown when the International Monetary Fund, the EU and the World Bank stepped in with a $27-billion bailout. It would be only a matter of time before political effects became apparent.

Each country’s unhappy politics are unhappy in their own way. In Hungary the deeply unpopular centre-left Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány announced last month that he would step down after he was unable to push his economic measures through Parliament. Gordon Bajnai, a political independent promoted to economics minister last year, has been nominated in his place, promising his own tough measures, including scrapping some welfare payments and raising the retirement age:

I am putting it in the simplest and most ruthless way. Hungarian people have the choice of losing their jobs or temporarily giving up several percentages of their wages.

Elections are not due till 2010. If held today it seems likely that the centre-right opposition party, Fidesz, would win easily.

A financially enmired economy, a deeply unpopular centre-left Prime Minister called Gordon, next elections due in 2010, a centre-right opposition party waiting in the wings… Watch the canary!

Hungary still matters to Conductive Education

For many, many people now involved in Conductive Education around the world Hungary is no more that a small country somewhere in Europe, and its internal politics no more than ‘a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing’ (Chamberlain, 1938).

As far as the world of Conductive Education goes, however, Hungary remains more that just a some distant canary. In reporting last October’s financial bail-out for Hungary, Conductive World put this as follows (Sutton, 2008a).

In one respect, however, Hungary has remained vital for the well-being of the conductive movement, in that through the Pető Institute Hungary remains by far the largest producer of conductors. Let us hope that it can retain its present level of output over the recessionary years ahead. Meantime, conductor-production outside Hungary remains very low and, even in a buoyant world economy there was little reasonable chance of substantial expansion of this in any foreseeable future. We no longer live in a buoyant world and this has serious implication for any hopes of expanding conductor-training to new bases around the world.

The last six months have been a long time in world economics! Long enough though for the Hungarian bail-out, like so many bail-outs over the same period, not to have ‘worked’.

A further comment of the possible effects of the Hungarian economic situation upon world CE (Sutton, 2008b) may also therefore merit revisiting at this point.

All public services in Hungary, including education and social welfare may have to be cut back, perhaps severely. How will this impact upon the future supply of conductors?

Greater numbers of conductors living in Hungary may be forced to seek work abroad, whether they want to or not, just to feed, clothe and house their families.

At the same time, however, there is likely to be less money available worldwide to set up and maintain conductive services/programs, be this through public bodies, charities, fundraisers or families’ domestic budgets. In other words, there may be fewer jobs available for a perhaps greater number of available conductors. This could mean more the just disappointment and frustration, for would-be employees and would-be employers alike. It betokens a perhaps fundamental change in the balance of supply and demand in the international conductor labour market.

Possibly resulting from this: a fall in the ‘price’ of conductors' labour (in other words, a general lowering of conductors' salaries). There could of course be exceptions to this, such as in the Conductive Education schools in the oil-rich Gulf that one assumes would be immune from the general effect, but in most places the tendency towards lower wages would apply.

If it does, the effect might be upon more than simply salaries. Economic need might force individuals to seek work in places and situations that they would not have previously regarded as ‘suitable’ for Conductive Education, and to do so at lower salaries than they might once have considered acceptable.

In turn this could lead to some dilution and/or distortion of conductive practice.

Equally, it could stimulate some remarkable creativity and innovation.

Whatever happens, Conductive Education has been long overdue for radical change. Right or wrong, ready or not, the economic crunch now looks to be hastening the day, with poor little Hungary making a disproportionate contribution to the process.

Not quite there yet.


Chamberlain, N. (1938) Radio broadcast, BBC, 27 September

Sutton, A. (2008a) Hungarian economy: IMF steps in to avoid collapse, Conductive World, 27 October

Sutton, A. (2008b) Isten, á ldd meg a Magyart, God bless the Hungarians: Hungarian bail-out has potential effects for us all, Conductive World, 30 October


  1. Thank you for caring for us Magyarok, for all the right and also the "wrong" ( = emotional) reasons! We tend to be bashful about our own things to ‘outsiders‘.

    I don't know where you quoted Chamberlain from, but that attitude still prevails. Even today, in Britain, with all the Hungarian Gastarbeiters I meet it daily. It is tiring to repeat all the time, 'No, not Polish, no, not related to the Russian or the German language, no it's Budapest, not Bucharest... Yes, there are lots of Ethnic Hungarians in Rumania and Slovakia... Do you care to hear the historical reasons?'

    Not that I or any of my friends would identify with the ultra-right web-page you once quoted (although I like the song ‘Hol vagytok Székelyek?’); history is history, one has to make the best of the present. Still, we are not a tiny nation and "Megfogyva bár, de törve nem, él nemzet e hazán" (also from Kölcsey's 'Himnusz')!

    Let's hope Bajnai's austerity measures won't exterminate Conductive Education in Hungary - they are a tough lot, over there! It was ALWAYS a strong feature of the ‘echt-original’ Hungarian-type of CE that you HAD to try very hard to live conductively and achieve the seemingly impossible. It was not meant to be a crutch to lean on (figuratively speaking, of course) - rather, an innerly empowering system to lift yourself out of despair and isolation, with minimal material assistance. Many of the British trust-fund-raisers never grasped that at the beginning, which always made me very angry.

    Kellemes Húsvéti Ünnepeket,

    from your exasperating friend


  2. Thanks, Emma, as ever.

    A bashful Hungarian? Perish the thought!

    Neville Chamberlain was speaking on the wireless, as some of us still call it, at the very start of the European War (well, it was for us Brits, anyway). This and the newsreel shots of his waving that piece of paper bearing Herr Hitler’s signature (the pay-off for the Sudetenland) are his lasting contribution to the collective British folk-memory, poor man.

    What’s a ‘small nation‘? How long is a piece of string? By today’s standards I guess that a population of about 60 million inhabitants just about claws the UK into the medium range, which leaves Magyarorszag in the small camp by my reckoning. Not tiny though!

    If, however, you map the micro-world of Conductive Education demographically, with countries scaled by relevant population, the number of conductors in post, or number of service-users, or the number of new professionals in training, then Hungary is a mega-superpower. OK now?

    Yes, I have always regarded austerity as being one of CE’s parents.

    I used to teach that great transformative pedagogies have flowered in exiguous times and situations. Think of Pestalozzi, the early Montessori, the Soviet psychologists and pedagogues of the heroic, innovative period, Feuerstein, Friere...

    No doubt their have been great pedgogic theories and practices springing from more 'comfortable' circumstances. Piaget in Switzerland maybe (though I am reminded inevitably of Harry Lime's cuckoo-clock!)... Tell me another.

    Pedagogic advance born out of harsh conditions is neither a specifically conductive nor specifically Hungarian phenomenon. It will be interesting to see how things pan out now for CE as times get harder.