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Hungary: Protesters rally against university ‘takeover’ in Budapest

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image copyrightEPA

image captionThousands joined the human chain in Budapest on Sunday

Thousands of people have formed a chain in the streets of the Hungarian capital Budapest in protest at what they say is a takeover of a top arts university by the country’s nationalist government.

Demonstrators fear a new board at the University of Theatre and Film Arts, led by an ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, will ruin its autonomy.

Students have occupied the campus for the past week.

Orban supporters say the arts are dominated by liberals and left-wingers.

The university is the seventh institution to be transferred to the control of private foundations where the board of directors are selected by the government.

The government denies claims that it is limiting freedom of expression, and says the privatisation of this and other universities will make them more competitive.

The human chain on Sunday took in four other institutions and linked around 8,000 protesters from parliament to the university. Demonstrators demanded autonomy for the school and freedom for artistic endeavour and education.

Marta Barbarics, who attended the rally, told Reuters news agency: “For a university to be able to operate autonomously is the foundation of democracy.”

She added: “If a university can’t teach in a way as its citizens deem appropriate then there are serious problems, and the leadership of a university doesn’t quit for no reason.”

image copyrightEPA

image captionThe chain went from the university to parliament

The University of Theatre and Film Arts has nurtured some of the great names of Hungarian cinema. Graduates of the university include the Oscar-winning director István Szabó – whose credits include Mephisto – and the actress Alexandra Borbély.

Students have occupied the university since last Sunday.

The new head of the board, Attila Vidnyanszky, said on Tuesday they were open to dialogue. However he also said he wanted a “different kind of thinking” at the university, adding that existing classes would be kept with some emphasis placed on patriotism and Christianity.

Fears for artistic and academic freedom in the country have escalated in recent years.

In 2019, the Central European University in Budapest

moved most of its courses to Vienna

after a legal battle launched by Mr Orban. The university said it could no longer “operate as a free institution” in Budapest.

In July, more than 70 journalists and staff at Hungary’s top news site Index resigned.

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