Sides disagree at EP debate on involvement of political influence at SZFE standoff

Sides were in disagreement at a European parliamentary debate on Tuesday about whether political parties are influencing the current standoff at the Budapest's University of Theatre and Film Arts (SZFE).

Attila Vidnyanszky, head of the board of a foundation that took over the university on Sept. 1 under a government decree, told the CULT Committee on Culture and Education’s online debate that all current developments were orchestrated by left-wing political parties. The parties concerned launched their electoral campaign on October 23 instead of expressing solidarity, Vidnyanszky said commenting on a protest march organised by students. He said the board had clear intentions wanting to implement changes in demand for several decades but the SZFE “is increasingly demonstrating exclusion rather than moving towards openness and diversity”, he added.

“We are open to negotiations and cooperation in any form,” he said. The students should demonstrate that they are “indeed open and are ready to accept new ideas, methodologies and aesthetic approaches”, he added.

State secretary at the Ministry of Innovation and Technology Laszlo Gyorgy said that more than a dozen consultations had been held with SZFE leaders before the model change was implemented in line with the constitution and current legal regulations, as part of the modernisation of Hungarian higher education. The new model will ensure increased autonomy to the institution and budget support will grow four-fold, he added.

Laszlo Upor, former deputy rector of the university, said the SZFE had never acted in line with a political agenda and its demands always in protection of autonomy. The institution was “forced into restructuring” which caused a loss of autonomy, he said. Its senate has lost the right to appoint the university’s leaders, he added. Upor said they had rejected invitations to talks after none of the university’s requests and demands were accepted at preliminary negotiations. “Changes were implemented without the university’s involvement,” he said.

Hanna Milovits, head of the SZFE student government, said the university’s restructuring had been carried out in an undeserving manner because government representatives refused to negotiate with anyone among the SZFE’s former leaders and students. The students are “forced to maintain” a blockade of the university buildings because “under the current circumstances the university’s autonomy is not guaranteed”, she said.

MEP of ruling Fidesz Andrea Bocskor said in a statement that “left-wingers have created a political case from the SZFE reform” and “it is unacceptable that the left wing is using students for its own political purposes”.

SZFE’s previous senate and leadership announced their resignation on Aug. 31, saying the foundation that took over the university had deprived them of “all essential powers”. The students cordoned off the university’s main building and employees went on strike.

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