Artist Revolt Against Orbán

For the last few days an unprecedented strike has taken place in the center of Budapest.  600 students and faculty of the University of Theater and Film (SZFE) have joined forces to oppose the government’s “privatization” of the University.  They have taken to the street, resolved not to allow the newly appointed head of the University to enter.

The man in question is Attila Vidnyánszky, who hails from the little town of Beregszász in Ukraine, and has been a fervent proponent of nationalist Christian theater and values. When appointed head of the theater department of the University of Kaposvár, he fired all the professors who stood in his way and alienated the entire student body.  His nationalist views curried favor with Viktor Orbán, so he was given the most prestigious position of director of the National Theater.  He replaced the sophisticated international productions of his predecessor Róbert Alföldi with traditional Hungarian plays.  Over five years of his directorship attendance dropped drastically.

That was not enough.  Vidnyánszky wanted to mold the way actors would be taught.  He was appointed president of the board of the new, privatized SZFE foundation.  That proved to be too much.  Students and faculty knew all too well that this meant the dismantling of the prestigious institution that had been independent since its founding in 1865 and united to bar him from entering and taking over the university.

The protesters have received the backing of Oscar-winning actors and directors, Western art universities and theaters, the European Film Academy.  Vidnyánszky argues that the university is opposed to Christian-conservative perspectives and therefore represents only a narrow liberal point of view.

When I taught at SZFE I encountered extremely talented and motivated students, well versed in the arts.  The very best theater and film directors, actors, cameramen, editors, and designers composed the faculty.  Even the rector of the university was challenged by the faculty for his authoritarian methods.

In Hungary, revolutions have been started by artists and intellectuals.  Petőfi launched the 1848 Revolution with his stirring poem on the steps of the National Museum.  The Petőfi Circle of writers drew up the 16 point manifesto in October 1956 that led to the Revolution.  After all the abuses of power by the Orbán government, perhaps it will be once again the artists who will lead the people to rid the country of its latest tyrant.

Steven Kovacs

Steven Kovacs

(Steven Kovacs is a Professor of Cinema at San Francisco State University.  He began as a film historian, writing the book From Enchantment to Rage: The Story of Surrealist Cinema. He taught at Stanford, where he co-produced the documentary Arthur and Lillie, for which he received an Academy Award Nomination. He worked as head of production for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures (1977-79). He has produced, written and directed a number of features, including The Lady in Red, On the Line, ’68, and Angel Blue. He was invited to chair the SFSU Cinema Department in 1990 and has taught there ever since. He has written criticism on art, film, and politics, poetry and fiction. He has taught a wide range of courses, including screenwriting, directing and national cinemas, particularly European and Latin American. He received a Fulbright Fellowship to the Hungarian Academy of Theater, Film and Television in 2002-2003.)

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