Students blockade top arts university as Hungary's government tightens control

BUDAPEST, Sept 2- 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…

By Krisztina Than

BUDAPEST, Sept 2 (Reuters) – Students at Hungary’sUniversity of Theatre and Film Arts have sealed entrances to thebuilding to stop the new board of trustees getting in, andpledged to maintain the blockade until demands for autonomy fromgovernment control were met.

The prestigious institution, which nurtured many ofHungary’s most famous directors and film makers over the past155 years, has been caught up in a culture war as Prime MinisterViktor Orban’s nationalist government expands its control overuniversities, research institutions and the media.

Some of Orban’s supporters say they want to end what theyview as the domination of the arts in Hungary by liberals.

“We will stay until our demands are met, and guarantees forautonomy are set in writing,” student leader Mihaly Csernai toldreporters on Wednesday in front of the university whose doorshave been taped off. About 100 students have set up camp inside.

The university’s management resigned on Monday in protestafter 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 todecide on key budgetary and organisational matters.

Some prominent directors have resigned from their teachingpositions, including Hungarian film maker and screenwriterIldiko Enyedi, whose 2017 film “On Body and Soul” won the topprize at the Berlin International Film Festival.

It was also nominated for an Academy Award.

In a statement to her students she said she had “foolishlyhoped that common sense and respect for university traditionscarried a weight and university autonomy would remain”, but thatthose hopes had evaporated.

Talks between the former management of the university andthe new board ended in a stalemate on Wednesday.

Theatre director Attila Vidnyanszky, chairman of the newboard, told ATV television on Tuesday that the trustees wereopen to dialogue with the university.

But he also said he wanted to introduce a “different kind ofthinking” while keeping existing classes, placing some emphasison patriotism and Christianity.

The government denies any attempt to limit freedom ofexpression. It has said the fact that some universities will begoverned by a board of trustees will actually eliminate stateinfluence over them.(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Krisztina Fenyo; Editing byMike Collett-White)