Blockade of students protest against Viktor Orban’s reach at graduate arts university

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“There’s this very deliberate and determined cultural war that Viktor Orban is waging,” said Mihaly Cserni, 23, president of the university’s student government.

Founded in 1865, the school has many renowned graduates, including Geza Rohrig, the main actor of “Son of Saul”, which won the Oscar for best foreign language film in 2016; influential cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond; and filmmaker Ildiko Enyedi, known internationally for her 2017 award-winning film, “On Body and Soul”.

Mr Orban’s government had promised to give the university administration a say in determining the new board, but that did not happen, said Laszlo Upor, the university’s deputy rector. In August, the council introduced new rules governing the functioning of the university, thereby depriving its Senate of decision-making on major budgetary and management matters. The entire university Senate and most of its administration resigned in protest.

The changes are part of a larger trend in Hungary, as Mr Orban has centralized power among his allies and pushed a nationalist agenda since his return to power in 2010.

In recent years, the Prime Minister and his allies have rewritten the country’s Constitution; have electoral laws been changed to favor his party; and oversaw an overhaul of the Hungarian justice system, with the highest court now filled with loyalists. He and his allies control the Hungarian public media and most of the private media.

Mr Orban’s government has also revamped the Hungarian cultural arts, appointing dozens of theater directors across the country. And last year, he tightened his control by changing the way theaters receive state funds, a major source of revenue.

The nationalist push also spread to academia. The government has funded research institutes that provide revisionist interpretations of Hungarian history, and established a university to train the next generation of government bureaucrats.

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