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No compromise in sight over Theatre and Film University

September 7th, 2020

As the controversy over the restructuring of the University of Theatre and Film rages on, the political debate has escalated into a full-fledged culture war between the government and the opposition. Both sides rule out the possibility of compromise.

Magyar Nemzet’s Bence Apáti accuses the the outgoing leadership of the University of Theatre and Film (SZFE) of left-wing liberal ideological bias and propaganda. Apáti writes that the “mad-lib” professors at SZFE have incessantly criticized the government and advocated gay marriage and transgender rights as well as migration. In addition, they expected students to follow their ideology and political leanings, whilst silencing right-wing and conservative students. Apáti concludes by claiming that it was the previous leadership of the SZFE that launched a political and ideological attack on the university thirty years ago when they took over the institution.

On Vasárnap, Kristóf Trombitás calls for a “regime change in culture”. Trombitás finds it justified for conservative nationalists to demand a greater presence in cultural institutions. The conservative pundit writes that right-wing individuals purged from cultural life under Communism are still in a minority, as the pre-2010 left-wing liberal governments failed to “break the monopoly” of Communist cultural elites. Trombitás believes that Christian conservatives need to confront the current left-leaning elites in order to claim back their role in Hungary’s cultural life.

In Magyar Demokrata, László Szentesi Zöldi interprets the resistance to the new SZFE leadership as an effort by “liberal, Communist, anarchist, feminist and homosexual” elites to preserve their power positions in cultural life. The pro-government commentator also labels the current liberal cultural elite as the successors of Communists. Szentesi Zöld proclaims that the battle for cultural domination is no longer a fight between the governing party and the opposition, but rather a matter of “Hungarian culture, thinking and way of life”. No compromise is therefore possible between the two camps. Either liberals maintain their domination in culture, or those that put the national interest first take over, Szentesi Zöld concludes.

444.hu’s Márton Bede praises the students of the SZFE for occupying the university (see BudaPost September 3) in protest against the government’s restructuring plans and the new leadership. The liberal commentator thinks that both the editorial staff of Index (who collectively resigned fearing government interference with editorial policies – see BudaPost, July 27; 28, and August 3) and SZFE students set a good example for Hungarians as they show that the government should be resisted in an uncompromising way. Bede hopes that the revolt of the students and the resignation of leading faculty members will cause the government a powerful headache – and will also become the first sign of a more general resistance against the government.

Magyar Narancs in a first page editorial also celebrates the SZFE students’ determination to ‘fight to the last bullet’. The liberal weekly suggests that the student revolt may not last long, but even if they fail, they will have shown a good example by trying to resist a government that wants to ‘plunder’ everything.

On Mérce, Márk Losonc goes so far as to claim that the protest of the SZFE students is relevant for the whole country – or even the world. The alt-left blogger contends that public universities belong to primarily to students, and therefore they should be the ones to decide how the universities are managed, and by whom. Losonc likens the government’s restructuring plan to capitalist privatization, claiming that the government intends to hand over the university to its acolytes and friends. He hopes that students taking part in the protests will taste grassroots democracy and collective decision-making, and also that they will set an example for others, how to resist the government.

Népszava’s Péter Németh calls for organized resistance against what he calls a piecemeal takeover of ‘all important institutions’ by the government. The left-wing journalist acknowledges that ‘we are not in 1944’, and there is no open dictatorship in Hungary, but thinks nonetheless that those threatened by the government need to join forces, otherwise the government will hunt them down one by one. After the Central European University, the research network of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and now the Theatre and Film University, further institutions will be targeted, he believes.

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