Today is a special day in Hungary. The 23rd October marks the anniversary of the Hungarian revolution of 1956.
No wonder the students of the University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest (SZFE), who have been occupying their university since 1 September chose this day for a protest march to stand up for academic freedom and independence. “On October 23, 1956, brave university students mobilized for what they believed,” the students wrote. “They stood up for the freedom of the individual and the community. Let us remember that we can achieve anything if we act together.”
The occupation by students is a “protest to what they see as a takeover of their school by the autocratic government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a demonstration that has become a symbol of resistance to the country’s nationalist leadership”, wrote the New York Times.
The occupation and the #freeSZFE campaign, has gained large international support from leading public intellectuals, artists and citizens: it was hailed as “a huge wave of solidarity, a desperate cry for respect for universal values in a regime that systematically dismantles long-established spaces of self-governance and independence,” by Akram Khan, Cate Blanchett, Colm Tóibín, Peter Brook, Salman Rushdie and others in an open letter to the Financial Times.
As a partner from Hungary wrote to us “The occupation is becoming a proper movement for university autonomy and intellectual freedom in Hungary and goes beyond this single university. For instance, an alliance of students from universities all over the country has been established to support the initiative. It is becoming a strong symbol of resistance, something we haven’t seen for a long time. Moreover, it creates resistance through mobilising people with a great amount of creativity, showing how art and culture can be a vehicle of community-making.”
This echoes the words of MEP Anna Donath in her contribution to our annual magazine Common Ground reflecting on the civic protests of 2018: “When day by day, more and more people went out to the streets all over the country and after almost 10 years, they were not afraid to raise their voice against the autocratic regime. It was the time when we all started believing that there’s hope for change. As we are not alone and we are more than we thought.”