On January 27, Yale University Library hosted a Zoom conference on “Art, Education, and Protest in Hungary: FreeSZFE’s Radical View”. In September 2020, the entire faculty and students of the University of Theater and Film went on strike and occupied their building to protest the government’s privatization of the University, the transfer of national assets to a council appointed by Orbán, ending 155 years of independence. Their strike lasted 71 days, until COVID restrictions forced them to leave. They established a free university and have been operating successfully ever since.
The university’s last legitimate rector, László Upor, award-winning director Ildikó Enyedi and former student Nóra Aujeszky presented an update on the establishment and functioning of the free university since its founding a year ago and half. They recalled the heady days of the protest when students and professors created innovative productions that marched through the streets of Budapest, their march to parliament to stage their protest joined by 30,000 citizens. The government was surprised by their immediate and unanimous defiance. The police sent to disperse or control them ended up coming to their aid. No such reaction occurred when other universities were stripped of their independence. They showed video footage of the torch lit by the principal and passed on to teachers and students. The torch, red and white ribbons signaling urgency and a mask with an outstretched hand have become symbols of the movement. And this movement was a call to defiance that gave life to the opposition forces to the dictatorial regime of the Orbán regime.
Deprived of a building and a degree, faculty and students found other locations and secured the cooperation of five different theater and film universities in Germany, Austria and Poland who agreed to offer diplomas to students who continued their work with their professors. .
Ildikó Enyedi, acclaimed director of MY TWENTIETH CENTURY, ON BODY AND SOULand the last MY WIFE’S STORY, spoke of the difficulty of the democratic process to make decisions by such a large and diverse body working together against government oppression. She spoke of the success of the artistic community working together, of the elation that fueled their creative protest, of what she called the “humble resilience” that stood against the regime.
Upor and Aujenszky talked about other ways in which FreeSZFE confronted autocracy – by filing lawsuits to invalidate privatization, by organizing public events and performances, demonstrating the vitality of the new organization. They emphasized the integrity of everyone at FreeSZFE, not accepting any private offers offered by the government.
But the strong opposition of the free university is constrained by political realities. Asked about the press, Upor admitted that there was a modicum of free and independent electronic and print media, but that they could not compete with the barrage of government propaganda. He also gave his sober view that even if the opposition were to take control in the April election, the university’s independence is unlikely to be restored.
And Orbán’s propaganda machine immediately sprang into action to discredit the Zoom conference, attacking Enyedi on Facebook as ungrateful and hypocritical for attacking the government while accepting funding to make his films.
Despite the difficulties, the best and brightest Hungarian theater and film teachers and students have continued to study, work and create, and in doing so have lit a torch of freedom that creates light in a country ruled by a “democratically elected” oppressive. autocracy.
Here is the video recording of the zoom conference.