BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Students at Hungary’s University of Theatre and Film Arts have sealed entrances to the building to stop the new board of trustees getting in, and pledged to maintain the blockade until demands for autonomy from government control were met.
The prestigious institution, which nurtured many of Hungary’s most famous directors and film makers over the past 155 years, has been caught up in a culture war as Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist government expands its control over universities, research institutions and the media.
Some of Orban’s supporters say they want to end what they view as the domination of the arts in Hungary by liberals.
“We will stay until our demands are met, and guarantees for autonomy are set in writing,” student leader Mihaly Csernai told reporters on Wednesday in front of the university whose doors have been taped off. About 100 students have set up camp inside.
The university’s management resigned on Monday in protest after the government appointed a board of five trustees, rejecting members proposed by the university.
The school’s senate has also been stripped of its right to decide on key budgetary and organisational matters.
Some prominent directors have resigned from their teaching positions, including Hungarian film maker and screenwriter Ildiko Enyedi, whose 2017 film “On Body and Soul” won the top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.
It was also nominated for an Academy Award.
In a statement to her students she said she had “foolishly hoped that common sense and respect for university traditions carried a weight and university autonomy would remain”, but that those hopes had evaporated.
Talks between the former management of the university and the new board ended in a stalemate on Wednesday.
Theatre director Attila Vidnyanszky, chairman of the new board, told ATV television on Tuesday that the trustees were open to dialogue with the university.
But he also said he wanted to introduce a “different kind of thinking” while keeping existing classes, placing some emphasis on patriotism and Christianity.
The government denies any attempt to limit freedom of expression. It has said the fact that some universities will be governed by a board of trustees will actually eliminate state influence over them.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Krisztina Fenyo; Editing by Mike Collett-White)