Tuesday, 9 April 2013


Her role in Conductive Education
Weighing the balance
It's a funny old world
One definition of Thatcherism is pulling oneself up by one's own bootstraps. Conductive Education fits this to a T – offering perhaps the very antithesis of today's fuzzy and probably iatrogenic ideology of 'support'. To be outrageously ahistorical, I rather suppose that, outwardly at least, András Pető might have been regarded as having been developmentally and pedagogically a bit of a Thatcherite. Mária Hári too.
Be all that as it may, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 7 May 1979 to 22 November 1990, coincidentally from the year that I first stumbled into Conductive Education to the time that it began to dawn on me that things were going seriously wrong. Today I keep hearing how Margaret Thatcher epitomised the 1980s and, for good or for ill, I guess that she was certainly one of those who did.
It is impossible to think that the great explosion of interest in CE in the UK in the latter part of that decade could have happened at any other time, before or after, or in any other country. And if that had not happened in Thatcher's UK then, by definition, it seems safe to suppose that nothing much would have followed on elsewhere. Perhaps almost as probable is the counter-factual possibility that CE might not even have survived in Hungary.
Weighing the balance
'Balance', the 8th World CE Congress assures, is an important consideration in Conductive Education.
So, whatever else the god Anubis or the Archangel Michael have been weighing in  Margaret Thatcher's final reckoning, perhaps CE around the world, in this century as in the last, has something indirect to thank her for, in that the world is are still considering Conductive Education at all in 2013.
But there is also a concrete physical memorial to Margaret Thatcher's involvement in Conductive Education, the building that now stands upon the Stakhanovite foundations of András Pető's old State Institute, at Villányi út 67 in Budapest's District XI.
'International Pető'
In the late eighties the then Hungarian government seriously misread what was happening behind the first influx of foreign (then largely British) parents coming to Budapest. To be fair, how could official people in even the most liberal of the Eastern Bloc countries ever understand this very Thatcherite 'get on yer bike' activity? Surely, it was assumed, governments were involved, and surely there would be big valuta (foreign, 'hard' currency) to be made from them. Hence the ludicrous International Pető Appeal put out to governments around the world, aiming to raise some sixty or seventy million US dollars as I recall.
(And to be equal-handedly fair, how could British Foreign Office wallahs ever understand the hopes, apirations and feelings of parents of disabled children?)
Launched at the same time was the idea of a colossal International András Pető Institute in Budapest, and an International András Pető Association to bind together Conductive Education  worldwide. Families in the growingly Thatcherite UK would not wait for pie in the sky, however, and soon turned their bikes around, to establish their own personal, local CE enterprises, conductive greengrocers' stores one might say, rather than waiting for what vaunting institutes might bring. And the rest of the world did the same, leaving the grandiose plans for the multi-million pounds International Pető Institute, and a few other big plans, dead in the water.
No foreign government responded to this peculiar International Appeal – only Margaret Thatcher's government responded. Why?
The answer was Margaret Thatcher
She and Ronald Regan were fighting the end-game of the Cold War, in which the actions were financial rather than military. One front was the socially, financial and politicly wobbly Eastern Bloc, amongst the nations of which the wobbliest in all three of thse respects was probably the Hungarian People's Republic. And what do you do with a wobbly tooth, you wobble it till it wobbles some more, in the hope and expectation that ultimately it will fall out (with the then likelihood of others' following).
Any opportunity to show the impoverished elite of Hungary where public esteem and above all financial rewards might be found was to be seized upon. Her Britannic Majesty's Ambassador in Budapest and the UK Foreign Office seized upon the International Pető Appeal as one way to do this.
Margaret Thatcher's eye for a Cold War tactic abroad was sat alongside a keen eye for popular sentiment back home. Here was a foreign venture for which there would be no political problem in raising the money. I was told at the time about a cabinet meeting in which she announced that she wanted £3,000,000 for the UK's donation to the Ingternational Pető Appeal from existing budgets, some from the Foreign Office, some from Education, some from Health, and some from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland pro rata according to their populations. There was no argument from Ministers. This was after all Margaret Thatcher – She who was Obeyed.
Presumably all this can all now be be checked in the public record.
Personally I was opposed to this grant, and did myself no good by trying to express this view to Government. In the event, perhaps that three million did help sway Hungarian political opinion, and helped lower the Hungarian wire to the East German refugees – if so you have a case for arguing Conductive Education's tiny contribution to ending the Cold War.
Something else to be weighed in the balance by the god Anubis and the Archangel Michael when judging Margaret Thatcher's soul.
The UK's donation was enshrined in a Treaty between the UK and Hungarian Governments but Hungary never managed to deliver on its side of the deal and in the end therefore the UK Government got away with paying only £1.25M. This rebuilt Villányi út 67. The terms of the Treaty have now expired. As far as I know the building now houses a hotel and a school.
Margaret Thatcher was very popular in Hungary in the 1980s. Maybe a wall plaque at Villányi út 67 would be a nice touch. Hungary does such good ones.
Two further postscripts
By the way, the International András Pető Institute seemed to have stopped calling itself International a few years ago. And the International András Pető Association split away and seems to function solely to encourage the occasional International Congress (number 8 coming up soon, in Munich).

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