Saturday, 8 August 2009

Social background of Conductive Education

In a country very different from our own

The recent item on holidays in Conductive Education drew attention to possibly lingering effects of the some of the darker aspects of the social context of the early days of this system in post-war Hungary.

One reader who commented upon this was Emma McDowell, leading to some further, private correspondence on Hungarian society in the late forties and the early fifties of the last century.
Here is something of what Emma wrote me. There should be nothing surprising here to most Hungarians, and to those who have sought seriously to understand this important period in the shaping of what we now call Conductive Education. What she writes is wholly in accordance with other reports, both of the early days of András Pető's practice and of Hungarian society at large.

Many others now actively involved with Conductive Education (and with Hungarian conductors) around the world may have little idea of the Hungarian heart of darkness out of which Conductive Education emerged some fifty or sixty years ago, and no immediate chance of finding out further. So here's a quick glimpse, as a taster.

The women employed by Pető at first included "refugees" of the Proletár Diktatúra who could not get employment anywhere else because of their "undesirable" background.

Such a one was Ida, my Aunt's friend and university colleague, who explained it all to me). Her father and her fiancé had both been army officers. They died in the war. Her mother had no pension and was dependent on her. She was a young, intelligent, handsome, sporty, teacher-qualified girl, who became one of András Pető's favourites, but she left, as soon as she could, (after about eight years) because the 'atmosphere' was better at some physiotherapy department that she was head-hunted to, and from where she eventually retired.

Ida said that there were all sorts of deklasszált elemek working for Pető at the beginning, méltóságos asszonyok and the like... They felt lucky because Pető gave them work. You would not have met any of these, neither did I, because after '56 (and in the years leading up to it) the original, cruel, harsh regime had softened.

Historians reckon that the worst period lasted for less than ten years but it was enough to destroy the normal social system of a 'just-democratised' society, never to recover, or not starting to recover until the present.

Elemer Hankiss analysed this in his books (published, daringly, already before the Change, i.e. in the late seventies and early eighties). How people's free associations, networks, trade unions, church-based social activities, non-Communist youthwork etc. etc. were all systematically destroyed, or driven into the exclusively private sphere (families) by the Party programme, and how it made Hungarian society "sick" by the seventies. His best (short) books on the subject are entitled Diagnózisok (1982) and Társadalmi csapdák (1979) . I think that quite a few of his books have been translated into English by now.

Glossary

Proletár Diktatúra. The dictatorship of the Proletariat

deklasszált elemek. Declassed elements, people declared persona non gratis, stripped of all social position, denied work or any form of relief. It was illegal to employ such people. Desperate for work they would accept minimal remuneration, often only basic rations, and were totally in the power of those who did offer them employment.

méltóságos asszonyok. Honorable ladies

Diagnózisok. Diagnoses

Társadalmi csapdák. Social traps

More

One should add a further helpless and therefore amenable population from which András Pető recruited his early workforce: country girls, often ill-educated. desperate to move to the big city, who would do anything if this led to the work essential for being awarded residency.

So here's a further paradox in the strange social history of Conductive Education. The original workforce was about as powerless as you can imagine, grateful for the rather good rations to which András Pető had mysterious access, liable to be cast out into a harsh outer darkness if his exact demands were not met... how very different from the employment situation of so many conductors since they became an international shortage commodity.

What a difficult cultural heritage to have to harmonise with the values and traditions of, say, the Anglo-Saxon world.

Nowadays in Hungary?

Emma made mention of the esteemed Hungarian sociologist Elemér Hankiss. He left Hungary after the Change and served as a professor in Europe and the United Stares. He is now with the Hungarian Academy of Science Institute of Political Science in Budapest and the University of Europe in Bruges.

His analyses of present-day Hungarian society (and by extension of other societies that have been similarly traumatised during the twentieth century) are both entertaining and thought-provoking. If you regard Conductive Education as Hungarian, as empirically in many ways it is, but find yourself sometimes prone to illiberal thoughts about 'Hungarians', have a look for example at these:

Hankiss, E. (2008) Doom and gloom, Hungarian Quarterly, no 190

Hankiss, E (2007) Transition or transitions? The transformation of eastern central Europe, 1989-2007, Hungarian Quarterly

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