Contents international patterns in the history of Hungarian educational administration


Why a university numerus clausus?



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Why a university numerus clausus?


Which sphere will “manage” this restriction of Jews? After the Soviet Republic of Hungary (which was accused in 1919 because of confiscation and nationalisation) it was impossible to confiscate the Jewish property, and in the serious economical situation it would be very dangerous to exclude the very well educated Jewish engineers, economist and so on. The only solution was: to help the christian middle class with the help of sons in the educational sphere.

The sphere of education had adequate anti-liberal tradition: in the 1910s the right wing political Catholicism expanded in this sphere. The ministry of education had the best chance getting of the support of the churches, because this ministry could pay for this: the ministry make the denominational service be part of the school attendance.

Why did the restriction of the number of Jews happen on the university and why not on the secondary level? We can find three important reasons.


  1. The ministry had to solve the pacification of the extreme right student movement whose aim was the excluding of the Jews from the university. (The rate of Jewish students at the colleges and universities had grown very intensively: 1871:10, 4 % 1880: 20, 1%, 1890: 27, 8%, 1900: 28, 4, %, 1910: 29, 6 %)

  2. The over-production of intellectuals, the unemployment of intellectuals were a popular and acceptable argumentation - in any circle of society.

  3. The university “close number” was relatively less disadvantageous for the upper classes of Jews, because they could sent there children abroad, but it excluded the Jewish middle-class en mass. The system had to save some relation to the Jewish population, and a secondary school numerus clausus would have made the situation of Hungarian Jews absurd: force the kid to go abroad at the age of ten, or stop a middle class merchant to get a simple maturity for his son: it would have been absurd.

If we look at the concrete steps which initiated the numerus clausus act, we can prove that there was a coalition between the different types of anti-semitic attitudes. It’s very clear from the fact that the initiators of numerus clausus movement among the faculties - the theology - where the aggressive neo-Catholicism triumphed - and only ideological reasons were important and the medical faculty where the number of Jews was relatively high and where the “competition of elites” was the relevant question.

There was a compromise between the militant student organisations and the leaders of universities. A similar compromise as in the macro-policy between the paramilitary forces and the conservative government.

We are sure that the governors of university gave up their weltanschauungs and principles, because without it, they would not have had any chance to reintegrate the students, and to get back the control over order of universities and order of selection. It is an important fact that professor Bernolak, who is the father of the incrimination article urged the pacification and controlling of university student organisations.

It was necessary to find a solution for the government: to find an argumentation in the scandal, which would be initiated by the act in Europe, and an argumentation to help them to keep, to moderate relations to the leading circles of Hungarian industry and finance. The minister of education and public instruction - was an anti-semitic politician himself, but he and the government realised two important facts. The anti-semitism could be a social movement, the restriction of the Jews could be the policy of government - but it could not be an element of an act, because the government was able to explain to the western public opinion that “communism and the war have caused a dangerous pogrom - anti-semitism. If we want to stop the pogroms - we have to take temporary steps against the Jewish population.” But it was impossible to explain why the integration of an anti-semite article into the Corpus Iuris was necessary.

The solution was a special game in the parliament. The issue of act - in its original form a neutral financial restriction - suffered a lot of changes in the parliamentary process.

The centre of political forces - the group which had a majority in the financial commission of Parliament - headed by the conservative politician, Kuno Klebelsberg - and in the education commissions - headed by a leader of the catholic church, Vass Jozsef - declared it is necessarily a political article into the act. It was: “only the persons are acceptable, whose national and moral attitudes are reasonable.” It means that the act became anti-liberal in its political meaning because it opens a possibility to exclude the liberals and socialists from the entering exams. It means that everybody needed a certificate from the local police about his or her political attitude.

On a government party meeting the group of bishop Prohaszka suggested a new article: “the percentage of races and nationalities among the students could not be higher then the percentage of the races and nationalities in the population” In the government party meeting this opinion got a majority. (Ladanyi:152)

At the plenary session of the Parliament the new article was initiated by a right wing university professor, Nandor Bernolak. The text was an absurd one in the Hungarian law because the word: race was not a category in the law. The situation in its logical meaning was very complicated because the real task was the ousting of the majority of Jews: But if the act called the religion as a selection aspect - it would be dangerous for all of the stability of Hungarian state, because the protestants were in minority of the total population but they were over-represented in the elite positions of state and among the intelligentsia, among the urban and rural middle-class, every strata of society which need place for their children in the universities.

The new act - which was practically anti-semitic - was a European scandal. More then 50% of MPs was not at the plenary session of the Parliament when the president asked whose answer would be yes.

The 90% of government, the prime minister himself , the well known politicians of Dual Monarchy - Andrassy, Apponyi, - or the leaders of consolidation in the 1920s - Bethlen, Klebelsberg, Vass - were not in there seats.

It shows: it was impossible to vote with no - because the radical right wing groups, the white terrorists, and the paramilitary forces forced there will on the parliament, but it was impossible to say yes because these politicians knew: The powers of Europe and the powers of Hungarian capital - two factors which were necessary for the consolidation of the regime noticed and chose from them. But, and it is a important information: some of these politicians really wanted this act, because they were responsible for the middle class, guarantying more positions for there children in the university. (Only 57 MP vote for yes, and 7 vote no. If the voters had left the building instead of voting no, the chairman could not have opened the voting process because the absurd small number of MPs, who were present. So the MP who vote “no” - the minister of education himself was among them - objectively helped the passing of numerus clausus, too.)

In the act you can not find the word “Jew, Jewish, Israelite” or something similar. But the order, which was issued by the minister of education after it brought a list about the percentage of each nationalities and the percentage of the Israelite population. The minister mentioned in this order that the percentage of Jewish denomination mean a “national percentage” too. This order was a statistical and constitutional absurdity. In statistical meaning the national censuses from 1869 to 1920 - and it has not changed later - had a separate list about the denominations, and the nationalities: the “Israelite” as category was on the list of denominations, and not on the nationalities. Constitutionally: the state - churches relation in Hungary based on the principle that none of the denominations could be identified as a nation. (It was an important question not because of Israelites, whose majority were German, and became Magyar, but because of Orthodox Christian - the majority of orthodox believers belonged to Serbs, Romans and so on.)

The churches - Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran - which were very rigorous in the question that the situation of any church could be changed by act, and not by ministerial order, tolerated this dangerous precedent.



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