Letter to CILECT from students and former teachers at SzFE, Hungary

Dear Friends,

We have come to a point, in which the situation at the University of Theatre and Film Arts (SZFE, Budapest) is no longer tenable, so we would like to inquire about the willingness and ways of your active participation. To the means of this participation, I shall return at the end of my letter so please skip ahead if you are familiar with the recent events.

As you may know, our university has been going through an arbitrary, forceful transformation. As a result, the university is now owned by a private foundation run by a board of trustees. The members of this board were pointed undemocratically without any consultation with our university. They are all closely linked to the proudly illiberal government of Viktor Orban. On 27 August the former management received the new deed of foundation that strips the democratically elected university senate of most of its decision powers. This endangers the freedom of Higher Education and the independence of our University. On 1 September the senate and the faculty leaders had resigned as a form of protest and the students occupied and blockaded our institution. Our demands are clear and targeted at the guaranteed autonomy of our University, which has been an invaluable cornerstone of Hungarian culture for 155 years. All our demands have been dismissed by the parties responsible for the transformation. Due to the lack of dialog and their aggressive approach our only means to be heard is maintaining the blockade as a form of peaceful civil disobedience.

The new illegitimate board of trustees has nominated vice-rectors (János Zalán and Emil Novák) and a chancellor (Dr. Gábor Szarka, a former colonel) again illegitimately. The new management has been systematically and always more viciously trying to intimidate our community. The new chancellor is doing his utmost within his administrative powers and beyond, to render the current ongoing education impossible. In the last few weeks, the situation escalated grievously. The chancellor has introduced new internal — and illegal — measures, such as switching off the wi-fi, closing the main auditorium (where daily assemblies are held), and other rooms. Moreover, referring to epidemiological control measures he ordered all citizens of the university to leave all the premises, including the dormitories by 6 pm on 16 October. He claimed that no one can enter the university without the chancellor’s permit until 26 October. He also threatened us with not paying wages as long as he is not allowed to enter the University. On 6 November the new management illegally declared our current semester invalid and prohibited any sort of education to take place in our buildings. Needless to say, their efforts were in vain: we stayed in the buildings and continued to study. On 10 November we had to leave the building due to the COVID-situation, which means we moved our protest to the online space. Our buildings have since been watched by dubious security guards who tell us we are not students of the university anymore.

Our options are decreasing by the day and we have to get prepared for the worst. With the current email, we would like to explore the range of opportunities that your Institution might be able to offer to our community. Among other things, we have started working on a program, which we dubbed Emergency Exit, whereby we are trying to save the diplomas of our students (BA, MA, PhD, DLA, film and theatre) in a structure whereby they will not have to cooperate with the illegally

appointed management of the school and might formally get their degrees from international partner universities. We identified the following means of active help, where we would love to count on you if possible:

We identified the following means of active help:

●  offering the chance for some of our students to complete their degree at your institution (though, if you signalise your interest, you’ll see that the idea is more of a formality than an actual taking over)

●  providing an opportunity for some of our students to temporarily study at your institution in an accredited manner who could finish their degree once the bureaucratic necessities for a new free independent University based on European values is established by us in Hungary

As a last resort, you can also contribute to our cause with financial means or in fact in any other way that you feel comfortable.

If you have the intention to help we can schedule a short call to discuss our mutual options further. In such a case please reply to this email with few options when you are able to talk at your earliest convenience.

For further information please see the below links:

FreeSZFE Press Release:

The statement of the students of the University of Theatre and Film Arts of Budapest

Republic of Learning

The Case Study on the Violation of University Autonomy

International news

Warm regards,
Lili Stern & Jakob Ladányi Jancsó, student representatives
Kata Csató, László Bagossy, Anna Lengyel — lecturers working on the Emergency Exit Programme
University of Theatre and Film Arts, Budapest (SZFE)

Download: KÉSZ-Basic-Press-Release-NEW-FINAL.docx

Attached videos:


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