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Thousands march through Budapest for academic freedom

October 23, 2020

People have been venting their anger at Viktor Orban's decision to undermine academic freedom. The march took place intentionally on October 23 to coincide with the anniversary of Hungary's anti-Soviet uprising in 1956.

Hungarian protesters with placards and banners
Image: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP

Some 10,000 people marched through the Hungarian capital of Budapest on Friday, expressing their frustration at moves by the government to undermine academic freedom, and in particular over the lack of autonomy for the University of Theater and Film Arts (SZFE).

The demonstration, named "For all of our freedom!" by organizers, took place intentionally on October 23 to coincide with the anniversary of Hungary's anti-Soviet uprising in 1956, a student-led revolution designed to fight back against oppression.

Speakers on Friday accused Prime Minister Viktor Orban of limiting academic freedom and pushing through an overhaul of SZFE's structure without consulting students or staff.

The participants in the protest marched mainly in silence while brandishing placards and banners with slogans such as "Art is free" and "Enough!"

Orban withdrew SZFE's autonomy

On September 1, Orban's ruling Fidesz party withdrew the autonomy from what is Hungary's most significant training center for theater people and filmmakers.

Read more: Students in Hungary form human chain to support autonomy for universities

A board of trustees set up by the right-wing government has since assumed control of practically all management functions while disempowering the elected senate.

Hungary: Culture and education under attack

EU slams lack of democracy in Hungary

The most recent rule-of-law report by the European Commission expressed serious misgivings regarding judicial independence in Hungary, as well as the increasing dismantling of the country's independent media.

The EU's executive branch also aired its unease over corruption in Hungary, highlighted by "tight interconnections between politics and certain national businesses."

jsi/dr (dpa, AFP, Reuters)