“Liberal, Jewish, Sexy”: Keeping Tabs on Hungarian Students

Last week, Hungarian TV channel Atv reported [hu] that they had obtained a list created by the official student union at one of Hungary’s most renowned universities. Allegedly, the student union members at ELTE University‘s Faculty of Humanities (BTK) added offensive comments to a list of applicants to the university’s freshmen camping trip, using personal information available on once the largest Hungarian social network iWiW. The leaked [hu] list was created in 2009.

The list contains personal information of more than 600 students, including their date of birth, address, phone number and email. It also contains many extremely offensive comments: the authors voiced their opinions, among other things, on people who liked animals, football, had Greater Hungary on their profile photos, looked attractive or unattractive, were members of the Christian or liberal organizations, attended high school with Jewish teachers or were openly gay.

In a statement [hu] on the case, the Hungarian National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information emphasized that the existence of such a list may be regarded as illegal, because personal information such as race, ethnicity, political and religious views, sexual preferences and health are subject to special protection according to the Hungarian law.

The list brought to light another problematic issue at the university’s Faculty of Humanities, namely that several members of the student union were members of the far-right Jobbik party. Dávid Lakner of Teadélután blog stated [hu] that it was no news that the BTK student union also served as a way to start careers with Jobbik. Although the student union members who talked to Atlatszo.hu news site [hu] anonymously complained that it didn’t matter where they were in 2009, all of them had to face accusations of being supporters of the Hungarian far right. According to a recent research [hu], 33 percent of the Hungarian university students would vote for Jobbik these days.

Péter György, head of ELTE’s Institute for Art Theory and Media Studies, wrote in an op-ed piece [hu] that the listing of students brought shame on the faculty and the university, and that the faculty shares the responsibility for Jobbik’s recruitment being so successful among their students. In his self-deprecating text, the university professor concluded that the decision to run a strictly apolitical faculty after 1990 led to the correctly applied academic norms in the curriculum, but failed to protect students from neo-Nazi ideas.

The student union acknowledged [hu] the existence of a database containing contact information of about 1,000 students who participated in freshmen camping trips, but denied having any collection of other data.

A source told Atlatszo.hu that lists serving discriminatory purposes were created by certain student union members, without the knowledge of the majority of those working to support the university students’ lives. The BTK student union has its own powerful elite, which includes members of Jobbik as well. Even though the existence of the list resulted in a battle at the student union in 2011, it did not come to light until now.

Another student union member accidentally learned about the en masse checking of social media profiles, but assumed that the “profiling” served as a spare time activity to some people looking for girlfriends. A meme [hu] that was started after the appearance of the list was a comment also referring to this, it said “[She] will be good for Pista”, Pista being most probably the nickname of the former student union president István Szávay, who is currently an MP from Jobbik.

This post was originally published on Global Voices Online.