Tuesday, 31 July 2012

KNOWING CONDUCTIVE EDUCATION

Words of power: Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo 
Summer conundrum revealed

Two postings in July

On 16 July Conductive World and its Facebook Page published three brief paragraphs –
Professor Peto was a Hungarian neurologist. Before the Second War he lived in Vienna where he held high positions in several hospitals and published widely on his work. He was a polymath, and a genius. After the War Professor Peto lived in Hungary where he developed Conductive Education specially for children with cerebral palsy, and then extended its use to people with Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and stroke. Research has shown that 70% of children who receive Conductive Education are included in ordinary schools, and that it is not suitable for everyone. 
The Peto Institute has long been world-famous, Conductive Education is  widely recognised around the world. It is a multi-disciplinary, holistic, physical therapy that gets people to walk by rewiring their damaged brains, as is at last being confirmed by modern medical science. It is recognised amongst medical specialists worldwide and influences how children with cerebral are treated everywhere. There has never been anything like Conductive Education and it is an official Hungarian treasure, officially designated as a 'Hungaricum' by the Hungarian government. The Peto Institute in Budapest, Hungary, is a research institute, and maintains the most correct and purest form of Peto's Conductive Education.
Conductors are highly trained in physical, occupational and speech therapy, and they are also schoolteachers. Their professional qualification is recognised around the world and Conductive Education has been established and recognised in many countries, such as Japan and the United Kingdom. It can be easily understood through five or six simple 'principles', such as use of special wooden furniture, and because of this it can used by all sorts of rehabilitation staff, particularly therapists, who have been introduced to these principles. It can be provided through short summer camps of a couple of weeks and parents may be involved.
http://www.conductive-world.info/2012/07/conductive-education.html
http://www.facebook.com/conductive.world/posts/282892638485665
How did I find this stuff?

I had posted the four paragraphs both here and on Conductive World's Facebook page a short while back, on 1 July. It attracted three substantive comments, on Facebook:
  • 'Is someone having a laugh? ' (Norman Perrin)
  • 'Oh dear. At least 5% is correct. ' (Anne Wittig)
  • 'At last! Now we all know...Where did you find it?' (Judit Szathmáry)
The answer, Judit, is that I find it everywhere. Indeed I find very little else nowadays when  I see Conductive Education explained.

And where specifically did these three paragraphs come from (and why have I uncharacteristically failed to give a reference for my source?). The come from 'the wisdom of the crowd', the CE crowd

I made these three paragraphs up, out of my head, from recollection of what I have been increasingly reading over the last couple of years or so to explain Conductive Education. Even at the slow speed of my typing, it took less than half an hour to dig enough snippets out of my memory and set down these paragraphs explaining Conductive Education. I could have gone on, about children who are not suitable, assessment, homogeneous groups, the virtues of wooden furniture, Peto boots... add your own. I do apologise if I have missed out anybody's favourites. It is so easy to do, just add what seems a reassuring notion that looks familiar and, Hocus Pocus, we shall soon have enough for a fourth paragraph.

Grow your own, lots do

It is so easy to write this stuff. Just imagine, and you will see at once how anyone can do it. It requires no relevant background knowledge and understandings, and there is no critical check. I do not need to hunt out and read books, as there is so much briefer material to read on the Internet and it matters not if I do not know how to read critically. I can just pick out bits of what I come across on line, then I can cut and paste those that I think I understand and fit in with what I already believe, especially those that I judge will impress my intended audience. 

Then I put them together and what have I got? 'Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boo'. On 20 July Conductive World posted the words of the Fairy Godmother's magic spell from Walt Disney's Cinderella (1950), on both Conductive World and on its Facebook page. I also linked to the relevant clip from the film, that includes the Fairy Godmother's helpful tips on how to compose your own magic spell:


No Comments, not as much as a 'Like' on Facebook. So it goes.

Dumbing down

I had woven my magic own spell, just as Cinderella's Fairy Godmother demonstrated. I created words of power, and now I could publish my own personal Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo on line. Job done. My part in the transmission, expansion and re-creation of the culture was played. Other people could now build upon it if they were to pick up my freshly minted Bibbedi-Bobbedi Boo, through Google and the other search engines, and the process of composing a new arrangement of this magic spell could start all over again. Nowhere along the line dkid my mythography need touch upon the nitty-gritty of actual practice and reality, or meet any sort of credibility test. After all, my words are as good as anybody else's. Aren't everybody's? 

This is a problem that is far, far bigger than what concerns Conductive Education. The Internet's democratisation and demoticisation of information make it next to impossible for any but those already in the know to distinguish what is right from what is not, what is valid and what is total garbage. I am all for democratisation, even perhaps demoticisation of knowledge, but where this does not occurs in an informed and critical way, without  having to to stand the attention of an informed and critical readership, the outcome may be a steady process of dumbing down.

Separation of theory and practice in Conductive Education

The words of my three paragraphs may look comfortably familiar. So they should, given that the ideas that they express are to be found all over the Internet. There are real facts there. For example, András Pető did live in Vienna before the Second World War (indeed he became an Austrian citizen), and his eponymous method is indeed now deemed a Hungarikum, but these are at best starting points for discussion rather than firm reassurances of the story of Conductive Education. As for the rest, it is with the fairies. I apologise if you have invested faith in such statements. If you do not believe me, CHECK – not just where you found them but where that information was sourced and how it validated. And by cross-checking. And by reference to your own sense of reality.

The canon of beliefs gathered together in those three paragraphs represent a summary of the greater part of the explicit background understanding of 'international Conductive Education'. Though it would be easy to add another paragraph, perhaps even two, I leave this to others if they can be bothered. The exercise is pointless anyway. As they stand, these paragraphs are more a litany of what Conductive Education is not, rather than of that what it is.

I would like to hope that websites and other texts that purvey these notions are regarded as suspect. Unless they can demonstrate conclusively to the contrary, they should not be regarded as authoritative. How nice it would be to think that in 2012 we might look forward to some checking of sources and reconsideration of cherished but unverified beliefs, followed by a general cleansing of the message of innumerable websites. Do let's hope that, but without holding our breath.

Meanwhile, it begins to be embarrassing to be associated with a movement that defines itself publicly in such an unsatisfactory way.

Ethical footnote

I have added a health-warning to both the previous postings referred to here and to their respective notifications on Conductive World's Facebook page. I do hope that this will be enough to prevent my three paragraphs, or more likely de-contextualised extracts, from turning up elsewhere. 

References

Sutton, A. (2012) Conductive Education: all you need to know, Conductive World, 16 July
http://www.conductive-world.info/2012/07/conductive-education.html                                http://www.facebook.com/conductive.world/posts/282892638485665

Sutton, A. (2012) Words of power: do you believe in magic? Conductive World, 20 July



Sunday, 29 July 2012

ADVENTUROUS, SELF-CONFIDENT, JOYFUL, ENTERTAINING

An Olympic thought

Among all the hundreds of thousands of words spoken and written on the opening of the Olympic Games, the above little string of adjectives jumped out to catch my attention, because this 'Olympian spirit' chimes with a spirit to be found within pedagogy and upbringing that are properly conductive. The words appeared in the Editorial of yesterday's Times:
Adventurous, self-confident, joyful, entertaining...
With respect to the actual Olympics, I can see how they might apply in many, perhaps most of the athletes, and the performers at the opening ceremony (and I recognise that there may also be instances and circumstances in which they probably do not apply at all).

These words may not apply unreservedly to the institutional juggernauts that attach to the athletes and their events, and with them the so-called 'Olympic family', for whom other political, micropolitical and commercial forces may hold sway. 

I suspect, however, that they apply to the uncountable army of unpaid volunteers without none of this would be happening, and in varying degrees amongst the far greater numbers who care to watch.

Conductive practice

It is easy to draw the Olympic-Conductive analogy but as often the case such comparison inevitably brings questions in its train. 
  • 'Adventurous, self-confident, joyful, entertaining'  doesn't that sum up a vital aspect of the experience of many of those who take part in in actual practice of Conductive Education, on either side of the supposed teaching-learning divide?
  • Does it necessarily sum up Conductive Education's own little institutional juggernauts?
  • Do these words necessarily apply within that wide range of practices that for a variety of reasons are pleased to refer to themselves in terms of Conductive Education, by whomsoever delivered or within whatever framework? 
  • Indeed, might they represent an important distinction, part of that elusive 'definition'? 
These adjectives not offered here as prescriptive. They are only indicative,  reminder of dimensions so often missed when it comes to analysing  including researching  Conductive pedagogy and upbringing. Put away your tick-boxes, however.  Conductive Education is a dynamic system. Such properties of conductive practice help or, if you feel more comfortable, more technical, more 'professional' , they facilitate. 

Volunteers

How many thousands and thousands of people around the world have given their time, their knowledge their hard work and efforts? If they had not there would be very little to see of the present world of Conductive Education and without their redoubled endeavours there might be rather less to see in the harsh years to come.  Why do they do it? Probably for as many reasons as there are volunteers, but surely in part for most what they do is 'adventurous, self-confident, joyful, entertaining'.

Thousands and thousands of people, not for the most part involved in conductive practice, nor even knowing directly of the human effects of motor disorders. But 'warm' contacts. What might the world of Conductive Education learn from this?

Spectators


Spectators, so the saying goes, may see most of the game. I could not count the times that the immediately expressed and then longest persisting impression of people who watch a conductive group is that what they have seen is just that: 'Adventurous, self-confident, joyful, entertaining'. This goes as much for hardened hacks and politicians as for those with direct personal experience if motor disorder in their own families.

This is not necessarily so for all visitors who work with motor disorder for a living. What lessons might society as whole draw from this?

Reference

– (2012) Festival of light (editorial), The Times, 28 July, p. 2

Friday, 27 July 2012

PHYSIOS AND STROKES

AND LOCKED-IN SYNDROME
Where are the conductors?

Up North

Manchester Physio: Musculoskeletal and Neurological Physiotherapy runs three clinics, in Manchester, Sale and Macclesfield. Amongst its varies services it provides 'neurological rahabilitation', defined as follows –
Neurological rehabilitation is provided for clients following a stroke, head injury or exacerbation of multiple sclerosis. Lifetime disorders of childhood onset such as cerebral palsy and developmental delay are also commonly treated.
A wide range of approaches is on offer, including Conductive Education –
Neurological rehabilitation can take a number of approaches and use a variety of techniques to produce you a personalised plan focused on your personal goals. These include … Conductive education – A unique learning experience which addresses the child as a whole to help them become more independent...
With respect to this, the company's employment policy may be interest here:
Manchester Physio are a team of specialist musculoskeletal, neurological and paediatric physiotherapists with the passion, experience and desire to achieve the best results for their patients regardless of their age or problem. 
I am sure that Manchester Physio is an estimable concern and, if I lived in or around Manchester and required physiotherapy, I might well look to see what it could do.

Amongst British cities Manchester is a major cultural and academic centre. I cannot, however, recall its being ever mentioned in relation to Conductive Education. No doubt many factors will have contributed to this particular far-from-unique British black hole. If one of these is Zeitgeist, might this be a pointer to its present state with respect to Conductive Education.

In wider context

I know about Manchester Physio's seemingly authoritative position only because it was quoted and cited in a recent item on the site of a national charity called Fighting Strokes –
Empowering and inspiring those affected by brainstem stroke and locked in syndrome to promote better recovery, especially in the young.
This item was posted two days ago, under the title 'Things You Can Look Into That May Help!'

I cannot think of a more worthwhile cause to which CE might bend its efforts – and has so far almost totally failed to become involved in.

Nature abhorreth a vacuum. Such a shame therefore that, with the best intentions in the world, this most worthwhile cause has lit upon what looks like such an inappropriate understanding of CE.

References

– (2011) Manchester Physio

'Kate' (2012) Things you can look into that may help! Fighting Strokes, 25 July

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

HOW TIME FLIES

International Research Agenda 
Next stage nearly done?

Two years have now passed since a press release from the Percy Headley Foundation recorded that 'Nearly all the international researchers in Conductive Education' had met for two days' discussion to begin defining priorities for research in Conductive Education.
The discussions were complex, but we were able to agree our priorities for research into Conductive Education.
'Participants are now taking the list back to their own countries, and will consult with colleagues, disabled people and other professionals to reach agreement on a final list of urgent research studies.'
This press release is no longer on line, but can be read in full at:


In December that year, a largely different group of 'leading international CE researchers' met during the 7th International Congress in Hong Kong, from which a few more details of what had been done so far were recorded:


It was announced that the survey would be extended, and that Percy Headley would collate and disseminate further information on research priorities to ensure continuation of this group's agenda. This stage would continue over a two-year period after which it will report again.

GRAMMAR

I go along with this

Kyle Wiens writes on the blog of the Harvard Business Review
I've found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing — like stocking shelves or labelling parts... [Those] who don't think writing is important are likely to think lots of other (important) things also aren't important... After all, sloppy is as sloppy does.
This also goes for anyone, anyone who writes about Conductive Education, in any context. Sad to say, persistently inelegant and inaccurate language is locked in dialectical unity with inelegant and inaccurate thought processes, as both manifestation and cause.

Where I disagree, with both him and Lynne Truss, is that I do not regard barely literate native English-speakers as necessarily rejectable. One can break into the vicious circle of poor language and poor thinking. Anyone can be transformed if finding the need and the motivation for change and perhaps someone bothered to take on the task of teaching better ways. Though whether it a matter for an employer to devote resources to achieving this, especially in these straightened times, I accept as being quite another matter.

PS I do take a little exception to Mr Wiens' split infinitive. I do hope that he will not do that again.

Reference

Weins, K. (2012) I Won't Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here's Why, Harvard Business Review, 20 July

'FACILITATION'

A world beyond jargon

One of the treasured words in the jargon of CE is 'facilitation'. Treasured maybe, much used certainly, but rarely explicitly defined. Look out for it and try to work out what it actually means in the contexts in which you find it.

In common English parlance the noun 'facilitation' means 'help'; the verb 'to facilitate' means 'to help'. No more, no less.

In conductive pedagogy and upbringing, however, 'facilitate' has a qualified meanings, with colossal effect upon what they signify – in practice and in outcome.  It does not mean the same as does 'help in everyday parlance (including in most professional parlance in the field of motor disorders).

Conductive facilitation

In CE one does not help to get something done, to solve a problem, to complete a task. Indeed, to act in this way may be actively counterproductive to the goals of teaching and upbringing etc. and work against transforming dysfunction into orthofunction. Helping in this conventional sense, however well intentioned, might appear to offer all sorts of immediate advantages to everybody involved in the transaction – in the long term, however, it is at best a diversion or a hindrance, at worse pedagogically harmful, developmentally destructive. This applies to all sorts of uncritically applied aids as well as to help through human agency, personal and social.

Conductive facilitation is quite distinct. In CE one does not help to do and to be:
  • but to want to do and to be.
  • and to learn to do and to be.
A world of difference, a different paradigm, a different way of teaching, a different way of bringing up children and caring for the disabled, a different philosophy, a different way of life.  

A different kind of love: Mária Hári's 'intelligent love'.

It can be so easy to say or write 'facilitation, or even 'conductive facilitation', yet to miss this vital distinction altogether – and to act accordingly.

Two simple pedagogic principles

I used to contribute to 'training conductors (I liked to think of this as educating conductors). I offered student-conductors two simple psycho-pedagogic principles to identify help  that is 'conductive', i.e. facilitation, as opposed to that which is not:
  • always provide the least necessary help
  • reward trying to achieve, rather than rewarding what has already been done.
Less than these and one is working at the level of present development, reinforcing and confirming it, maintaining not correcting dislocation or derailment of the developmental process, diverting the process of learning into active creation of dysfunctional development, channelling the processes of motivation and personality to who knows what end... etc.

It may indeed be easier to explain conductive facilitation in terms of its opposite (‘unconductive facilitation’?), doing things for people, which can be related to the easily understood concepts of 'learned dependence' and 'learned helplessness'. When applying these to the learning and development of disabled children and adults, and their families, I prefer to talk about the destructive effects of taught dependence and taught helplessness inherent in so many prevalent beliefs, practices and ‘services’.

A little Mária

Mária Hári summed it up rather well –
One of her [the conductor's] main tasks is to provide the child with experience of success. Facilitation is a device that eventually helps the child to carry out the task independently with less and less aid. Conductive facilitation abolishes itself. (in Maguire and Sutton, 2004, p.36)
Characteristically, she also managed to complicate the issue, here with the notion of 'inductive facilitation' –
The child does not always find the way of doing something, he must be conducted. With the aid of applied inductive facilitations sometimes we obtain the result in a round-about way. .. Inductive facilitation offers an opportunity for activisation, moreover it gives the child the possibility of feeling that he has discovered the solution by himself. By this method his inclination for solving tasks develops. (ibid., p. 39)
I have never seen this specific formulation taken up elsewhere.

More...?

All the points touched upon above have been raised before and elaborated in Conductive World. Seek and ye shall find them. Here are just a couple of examples:

Intelligent love

To be and to do

Reference

Maguire, G., Sutton, A. (eds.) (2004) Mária Hári on Conductive Pedagogy, Birmingham, Foundation for Conductive Education

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

ECONOMICS?

Therapists seek to invent simple wheel

Rony Schenker writes –
A friend of mine once told me (in a different context) that one should come at the end and stay until the beginning.
Rony was commenting upon this:
Phys Occup Ther Pediatr. 2012 May;32(2):120-35

Increasing the use of group interventions in a pediatric rehabilitation program: perceptions of administrators, therapists, and parents.

Université de Montréal, Québec, Canada
ccamden.cre@ssss.gouv.qc.ca
Abstract
OBJECTIVES. To explore perceptions related to increased utilization of group interventions as a part of the service reorganization within a pediatric rehabilitation program.
METHODS. Individual interviews with program administrators (n = 13) and focus groups with therapists (n = 19) and parents of children with disabilities (n = 5) were conducted. Data were analyzed using a coding grid inspired by the organized action systems theory.
RESULTS. Administrators and therapists identified several issues including the need to improve the referral process for groups and the coordination across services. Groups considerably modified practice and required substantial efforts from therapists. Administrators felt groups contributed to increased service accessibility. Although therapists had some doubts about service quality in groups, especially in regard to the reduced attention to individual needs, they reported positive benefits on children's social participation. Generally, parents were satisfied with group interventions.
CONCLUSION. Groups appear to be a promising method of service delivery, but organizational-related issues should be considered.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21942928


Monday, 23 July 2012

WORLD CP DAY

Help required

I have tried to contact the organizers of World CP Day, using the reply form provided on line:
http://www.worldcpday.org/contact-us
I wrote –
I am enthusiastic about what you are doing for World CP Day and am doing my best to bring it to people's attention, for example:

http://www.conductive-world.info/2012/07/ce-and-cerebral-palsy.html

I am being asked 'What about disabled people, their families and friends, who do not speak English? How can they make their contribution?
Immediately someone or something, somewhere replied. It did not accept my telephone number, however I presented it  Then when I persisted –
Security token doesn't match, possible CSRF attack.
I hate this sort of impudent, mindless reply, Geekspeak for two fingers. What can it possibly mean? Is it bad? What might I do about it? Does nobody care? Bad show all round, especiallyso when it happens in a context like this. Does anyone our there have an 'proper' email contact for World CP Day? Just a minute There is still plenty of time to submit your one minute's advocacy of CE. Submissions will be accepted from1 August and will be accepted up until 30 September. For the moment I have no advice for people who are not English-speakers... Introducing World CP Day http://www.conductive-world.info/2012/07/ce-and-cerebral-palsy.html

A PAINFUL ARTICLE

From a painful time

A long newspaper article by Claire Tomalin, published in 1993, offers a useful commentary from the time that the UK's national public enthusiasm for Conductive Education was entering sharp decline. This seemingly authoritative article possibly even made its own contribution to CE's fall from grace (though worse news was to follow hot on its heels, not least the disastrous 'Peto court case').

Same pain

Now in 2013, twenty years after it is published, this article is still painful to read and, in view of what has happened since with CE, and in the wider field of 'special educational needs' too, rather poignant. The report brims with righteous indignation and some of the specific points made deserved making, but this was still a profoundly anti-progressive document, drawing the message to hold on to existing ways of thinking rather than asking how the inevitable problems of replacing them might be overcome. No wonder that difficulties of bringing up  disabled children that the article recounted for the eighties and early nineties, before many of today's parents had been born, may look so familiar to a new generation today.

Then I am partial.

Judge for yourself:

Tomalin, C. (1993) The price of a miracle: The Peto method of treating handicapped children was hailed as a breakthrough..., Sunday Independent, 16 May

Sunday, 22 July 2012


'LOCKED IN': INDIVIDUAL CASE
Road back to life modelled by infant

Enthusiasts for learning from others in a social context will find this news report by  Jenni Marsh heartening and corroborative:
A father who became trapped in his own body after a stroke has learned to walk and talk again – by copying his baby daughter.
http://www.metro.co.uk/news/905601-paralysed-father-learns-to-walk-and-talk-again-by-watching-his-little-girl 

(If, by the way, this man indeed 'amazed doctors by learning to talk and walk again', by whatever means he did so, then perhaps this is measure of something that some stroke survivors and their families find themselves up against.)


Learning together as pedagogic principle

Note that I do not offer this heartening story as an example of 'plasticity' or even of 'learning', but rather as an example of the power of social context and emotional bonds in bringing about change.

Of course this is just an 'anecdote', with no evidential force. It does, however, evoke echoes of the method by which, amidst a wider programme of upbringing, the late Alex (the talking parrot) was taught to speak by psychologist Irene Pepperberg. She used the 'model-rival' technique', an approach developed for training animals and tested out (rather mechanistically it appears, but with some hint of success) with disabled children:


Just something to think of next time one hears talk about groups, and 'one to one' ('one on one' if you are American)  and especially about the supposed need to have groups that are 'homogeneous'.

Reference

Marsh, J.(2012) Paralysed father learns to walk and talk again by watching his little girl, Metro, 18 July


Saturday, 21 July 2012

HUNGARY: WAKE-UP CALL IN US SENATE

For CE, what happens in Hungary MATTERS
  • The bulk of CE's critical employment group, its conductors, are Hungarians. They care for what is happening in the land of their birth. They worry about friends and relatives left behind. They fear for their futures.

  • This group, the Hungarian conductors, is critical for the continuance of most CE services around the world. Caring, sensible colleagues and employers of all backgrounds should also beiconcerned for his aspect of their well being.

  • And so should sensitive clients.

  • If things take a turn for the further worse in Hungary, not just the well-being of this workforce be put at risk, so may be its availability in future years.
Hungary is its own little country and there is little likelihood that most people elsewhere will have much idea of its story, its present politics, its hurts and its sensitivities, its heights – and its depths. And even if someone is interested to find out, where to start, where to learn? Certainly, the out-of-Hungary news media have little to say.

It is hardly healthy when an organism (here CE), its institutions and its personnel, are divided between those who are personally concerned about something, perhaps deeply so, and those for whom understanding this may mean little of nothing.

Hungary remains one of those far-away countries about whose people we know nothing. Most of us in 'the West' can live with that. Those involved in Conductive Education ought to do better – if for no other reason that enlightened self interest.

New readers start here

But to give some mind to the Magyar soap opera then one first must get up to speed on the big issues against which all the minor sub-plots have to play. Conductive Eduction in one of those minor sub-plots and, whatever happens, it will not avoid being affected by the big national trends and events back in the old county.

Last week a report presented in the US Senate offered a balanced, informed and measured overview of where things presently stand. The was presented by Senator Benjamin Cardin (Maryland). It is a good place to start, a basis for those who are not Hungarian at least to ask some questions of those who are.

HUNGARY 
 (Senate – July 12, 2012)
[Page: S4944]
Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, a year ago, I shared with my colleagues concerns I had about the trajectory of democracy in Hungary. Unfortunately, since then Hungary has moved ever farther away from a broad range of norms relating to democracy and the rule of law.

On June 6, David Kramer, the President of Freedom House who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor for President George W. Bush, summed up the situation. Releasing Freedom House's latest edition of Nations in Transit Kramer said:

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, under the pretext of so-called reforms, have been systematically breaking down critical checks and balances. They appear to be pursuing the “Putinization” of their countries.

The report further elaborates,

Hungary's precipitous descent is the most glaring example among the newer European Union (EU) members. Its deterioration over the past five years has affected institutions that form the bedrock of democratically accountable systems, including independent courts and media. Hungary's negative trajectory predated the current government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, but his drive to concentrate power over the past two years has forcefully propelled the trend.

Perhaps the most authoritative voice regarding this phenomenon is the Prime Minister himself. In a February 2010 speech, Viktor Orbán criticized a system of governance based on pluralism and called instead for:

a large centralized political field of power . . . designed for permanently governing.

In June of last year, he defended his plan to cement economic policy in so-called cardinal laws, which require a two-thirds vote in parliament to change, by saying,

It is no secret that in this respect I am tying the hands of the next government, and not only the next one but the following ten.

Checks and balances have been eroded and power has been concentrated in the hands of officials whose extended terms of office will allow them to long outlive this government and the next. These include the public prosecutor, head of the state audit office, head of the national judicial office, and head of the media board. Those who have expressed concerns about these developments have good reason to be alarmed.

I am particularly concerned about the independence of the judiciary which, it was reported this week, will be the subject of infringement proceedings launched by the European Commission, and Hungary's new media law. Although there have been some cosmetic tweaks to the media law, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media has argued that it remains highly problematic. Indeed, one expert has predicted that the most likely outcome of the new law will be to squeeze out reporting on corruption.

Hungary also adopted a new law on religion last year that had the stunning effect of stripping hundreds of religions of their legal recognition en masse. Of the 366 faiths which previously had legal status in Hungary, only 14 were initially granted recognition under the new law. Remarkably, the power to decide what is or is not a religion is vested entirely and exclusively in the hands of the legislature, making it a singularly politicized and arbitrary process. Of 84 churches that subsequently attempted to regain legal recognition, 66 were rejected without any explanation or legal rationale at all. The notion that the new framework should be acceptable because the faiths of most Hungarian citizens are recognized is poor comfort for the minority who find themselves the victims of this discriminatory process. This law also stands as a negative example for many countries around the world just now beginning tenuous movement towards democracy and human rights.

Finally, a year ago, I warned that

[i]f one side of the nationalism coin is an excessive fixation on Hungarian ethnic identity beyond the borders, the other side is intolerance toward minorities at home.

I am especially concerned by an escalation of anti-Semitic acts which I believe have grown directly from the government's own role in seeking to revise Hungary's past.

Propaganda against the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which defines the current borders of Hungary, has manifested itself in several ways. Most concretely, the Hungarian government extended citizenship on the basis of ethnic or blood identity--something the government of Viktor Orbán promised the Council of Europe in 2001 that it would not do and which failed to win popular support in a 2004 referendum. Second, the government extended voting rights to these new ethnic citizens in countries including Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine. This has combined with a rhetorical and symbolic fixation on "lost'' Hungarian territories  apparently the rationale for displaying an 1848 map of Greater Hungary during Hungary's EU presidency last year. In this way, the government is effectively advancing central elements of the agenda of the extremist, anti-Semitic, anti-Roma Jobbik party. Moreover, implicitly--but unmistakably – it is sending the message that Hungary is no longer a civic state where political rights such as voting derive from citizenship, but where citizenship derives from one's ethnic status or blood identity.

The most recent manifestation of this revisionism includes efforts to rehabilitate convicted war criminal Albert Wass and the bizarre spectacle of the Hungarian government's role in a ceremony in neighboring Romania – over the objections of that country – honoring fascist writer and ideologue Joszef Nyiro. That event effectively saw the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament, Laszlo Kover; the Hungarian State Secretary for Culture, Geza Szocs; and Gabor Vona, the leader of Hungary's most notoriously extremist party, Jobbik, united in honoring Nyrio. Several municipalities have now seen fit to erect statues honoring Miklos Horthy, Hungary's wartime leader, and the writings of Wass and Nyiro have been elevated onto the national curriculum.

It is not surprising that this climate of intolerance and revisionism has gone hand-in-hand with an outbreak of intolerance, such as the antiSemitic verbal assaults on a 90-year old Rabbi and on a journalist, an attack on a synagogue menorah in Nagykanizsa, the vandalism of a Jewish memorial in Budapest and monuments honoring Raoul Wallenberg, the Blood Libel screed by a Jobbik MP just before Passover, and the recent revelation that a Jobbik MP requested--and received – a certificate from a genetic diagnostic company attesting that the MP did not have Jewish or Romani ancestry.
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We are frequently told that Fidesz is the party best positioned in Hungary to guard against the extremism of Jobbik. At the moment, there seems to be little evidence to support that claim. The campaign to rehabilitate fascist ideologues and leaders from World War II is dangerous and must stop. Ultimately, democracy and the rights of minorities will stand or fall together.

Hungary is not just on the wrong track, it is heading down a dangerous road. The rehabilitation of disgraced World War II figures and the exaltation of blood and nation reek of a different era, which the community of democracies – especially Europe – had hoped was gone for good. Today's Hungary demonstrates that the battle against the worst human instincts is never fully won but must be fought in every generation.


Notes

Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, co-chair of the CSCE (Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe), gave the above speech to the US Senate on 13 July, outlining his concerns about the direction in which Hungary is heading. The CSCE, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is an independent US government agency charged with monitoring compliance with the Helsinki Accords and advancing comprehensive security through the promotion of human rights.

I have a soft spot for 'Helsinki'. In 1984 Conductive Education received one of its first boosts in the UK as an exercise in what was known as 'peace-building', an attempt to build some mutual understanding and a civilised, humane bridge between the Eastern and Western blocs within the Cold War – within the spirit of the Helsinki Accord. Had that not happened then is is exceedingly unlikely that Conductive Education would have ever spread outside Hungary in the way that has, and never become 'world-famous' as elements still present it.