BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) – Thousands of students, teachers and supporters of the Hungarian University of Theater and Film Arts formed a human chain between their institution and parliament on Sunday to protest against government measures that saw its autonomy diminish.
Those at the protest passed from hand to hand a document explaining the principles and goals of the school, which was to be presented to lawmakers.
In recent years, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist, conservative government has turned over several important universities to private foundations run by boards of directors loyal to the government.
While the government says the new structure will increase the quality of education and make the institutions financially independent, critics see the reforms as attempts to limit the autonomy of the schools and bring them ideologically closer to the nationalist government.
Students from the University of Theater and Film Arts have barricaded themselves in the building since Tuesday. A school official said on Sunday that the start of classes would be delayed for a week.
Many of the university’s top professors have resigned, as well as the management of the school, following the designation of the foundation’s board of trustees headed by theater and film director Attila Vidnyanszky. Since 2013, Vidnyanszky has also been the director of the National Theater of Hungary.
The SZFE, the university’s Hungarian acronym, is 155 years old and has several Oscar winners among its graduates, including Michael Curtiz, the director of “Casablanca”, and Vilmos Zsigmond, the cameraman for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.
Numerous actors, musicians, artists and other universities have expressed their support for the university, both in Hungary and abroad. On Saturday, film director Kornel Mundruczo wore a ‘#Free SZFE’ T-shirt at the Venice Film Festival, where his new film ‘Pieces of A Woman’ starring Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf and Ellen Burstyn entered the competition.