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The history of youth work in Hungary is often referred to as continuous discontinuity (Oross, Wootsch). The foundations of modern youth work lie in the Christian youth organisations of the early 20th century, most importantly scouting, and do not differ radically from other European countries at the time. As Wootsch (2010) notes, the consequences of the treaty of Versailles after the 1st World War led youth movements to a intensely political path
'because the nationalists and revisionists defined the political and social role of youth work' (Wootsch 2010: 106).
Scouting had strong political support in the right-wing authoritarian regime, and they did engage in direct political activities: mainly with spreading the revisionist goals abroad (see Bodnár 1986). The most notable youth-related event of the era was held in 1933, when the 4th World Scout Jamboree took place in Gödöllő.
'By World War II there are 60,000 scouts in Hungary. The communist regime in Hungary makes scouting very difficult in the country and permanently bans the movement in 1948.' [Horvath (2017): The History of Hungarian Scouting Worldwide]
After World War II, institutionalised youth work moved under the umbrella of the pioneer movement, similar to the general trend in the socialist bloc. In 1948 the scouts were merged into the pioneer movement. Some elements and methods of scouting were kept, but the communist ideological socialisation had a key role in the activities (though the ideological function gradually decreased from the 1970s). [Trencsényi (1993): About child movements (adolescent movements) and their helpers - A gyermekmozgalmakról (serdülőmozgalmakról) és segítőikről].
Besides the ideological function, the pioneer movement also played a role in cultural education and sports. Almost all primary school students were pioneering, whereas young people of higher age groups could be attached to the Communist Youth League. During the late socialism, youth work carried out mainly by these institutions focused on community organisation, and as such, it was not unsuccessful. When Act 1989 - II on the Right of Association made it possible to form organisations, many youth organisations were established upon communities of these origins [Tóbiás (2019): Career paths in youth work (Szakmai életutak az ifjúsági munkában)].
The above-mentioned discontinuity has been ongoing since the democratic transition too. The 1995 opening of the European Youth Centre (Európai Ifjúsági Központ) in Budapest and especially the operation of Mobilitás National Youth Service (which, among its other tasks, provided the methodological background to youth work) between 1995 and 2013 marked positive opportunities and failed hopes. Since then, its tasks are coordinated by the project-funded Elisabeth Youth Foundation Nonprofit Ltd (Erzsébet Ifjúsági Alap) that is the legal successor of the New Generation Centre Nonprofit Ltd. As Nagy and Oross (2018) conclude regarding the traditions of Hungarian youth work:
'The tradition of Hungarian youth work has been shaped by the pedagogical practice of teachers, by the social work practice of building horizontal relationships and cooperation with young people and by the leisure-time activities of public cultural work. Since 2003, the basis for the distinct profession is provided by youth worker training. But […] youth work has continued to be a complementary, ancillary area in Hungary, and has less prestige than related professions.' [Nagy and Oross (2018) p. 43.]
There is no official definition of youth work in Hungary. With the lack of youth law, only contextual information and approach can be drawn. Strategical and policy documents often use the term youth work [ifjúsági munka], but the term ifjúságsegítő (officially translated into youth assistant, but routinely referred to as the Hungarian translation of youth worker) is also present both in strategical documents and everyday language of youth work.
It appears that in government documents and statements, the terminology of youth work has consolidated in the past years. The consequent terminology is undermined with the changes in the education, which had been called 'Social and Youth Work' between 2012 and 2016, and was reconceptualised as 'Youth Community Coordinator', whereas the Hungarian Standard Classification of Occupations still refers to the occupation as youth assistant.
In Youth Wiki, we make a distinction, and
- where the term 'ifjúságsegítő' is in use, we will refer to youth assistant, and
- 'ifjúsági munka' will be translated as youth work.
But again, it must be underlined, that in many cases they are used as interchangeable or overlapping concepts.
Theoretical approaches of youth work in Hungary usually refer to its low threshold nature and service role (értelmezése) [Nagy, 2016], as well as its non-formal and informal learning methods, contribution (hozzájárulás) to young people becoming responsible adults and citizens and participation in the labour market (Wootsch, 2009).
The National Youth Strategy [Nemzeti Ifjúsági Stratégia (hereinafter referred to as NYS)] refers to youth work as one of the youth services playing a key role in the development of youth. A vague understanding of youth work can be concluded from the part of the NYS that concerns intercultural learning:
'In the context of youth tourism, youth exchanges, volunteer work performed in an international environment, special training courses and information and counselling activities formulated in the language of those concerned, particular attention must be paid to the involvement of young people who belong to social groups living in disadvantaged regions or struggling with socio-cultural disadvantages.' [National Youth Strategy (Nemzeti Ifjúsági Stratégia) p. 54.]
This excerpt of the strategy can be interpreted in a way that informal and non-formal learning, as well as counselling, is considered to be part of youth work. Youth work is most saliently mentioned in the specific objective of 'Enhancing the Work of The Youth Profession and Nongovernmental Youth Organisations'. The chapter on 'youth policy, the youth profession, youth work' states, that
'it is necessary also in the Hungarian youth work and youth field to set the criteria of recognising the equality of the professions of youth assistants and youth specialists, who directly and multilaterally deal with the concerned age groups.' [National Youth Strategy (Nemzeti Ifjúsági Stratégia) p. 68.]
This excerpt adds the aspect of direct and multilateral contact to the understanding of the concept.
In more recent government documents youth work (in accordance with the changes in the name of the education programme) is often understood in the context of community coordination, as it can be seen for example in the National policy framework strategy for the policy of lifelong learning (Az egész életen át tartó tanulás szakpolitikájának keretstratégiája - Cselekvési terv 2014-2020). The strategy mentions the role of local youth work in the paragraph about youth communities, as a means to develop the social environment of young people.