Students in Pécs on SZFE and the “system” – Hungarian Spectrum

Students in Pécs on SZFE and the “system” – Hungarian Spectrum

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Today’s post, on the student response at the University of Pécs (PTE) to the student-faculty revolt that broke out at the University for Theater and Film Arts (SZFE), was inspired by a report by Tamás Ungár, Népszava’s correspondent from Pécs, titled “This is how the system works.”

Pécs, a city that has lost most of its industry in the last few decades, is by now a typical university town with a student population of 20,000, 5,000 of whom hail from foreign countries. One would assume that the students of PTE are well aware of the situation at SZFE and that they would show solidarity with their fellow students. Unfortunately, the local response to the events in Budapest, similar to the response elsewhere in the country, has been meager.

Blikk, a nationwide tabloid, reported that “present and past members of the faculty of Fine Arts [of PTE] condemn the political measures that are interfering with the autonomy of the universities, endangering the professional independence of the institution.” They declared solidarity with the students and faculty of SZFE. Note that the declaration came from the faculty. The students were nowhere. The same was true about the Department of Communication and Media Studies. Only faculty members raised their voices. Other departments didn’t even bother with that much.

The local internet site Pécsi Stop, being on the spot, had a little more information. It reported that, in addition to the faculties of the Department of Fine Arts and the Department of Communication, the faculty of the Department of Hungarian Language and Literature also wrote an open letter expressing their concern over the flagrant violation of academic freedom at SZFE. In the end, it turned out that about 50 present and past students of the Department of Fine Arts did sign a letter in solidarity, in addition to nine members of L!FT, a specialty college for aspiring young artists. Thus, out of 20,000 students of PTE, a tiny fraction, about a quarter of one percent, bothered or dared to stand by SZFE.

And now let’s turn to Tamás Ungár’s report to Népszava. He spent two days in front of the buildings of PTE in the hope of ferreting out student opinion about the student-faculty revolt at SZFE. According to Ungár, about 25% of those he approached refused to talk to him, claiming either that they were in a hurry or that they didn’t know anything about SZFE. About half of the students admitted that they had heard something about the events in Budapest, but they didn’t know enough to say anything worthwhile on the subject. And even those who claimed to be interested in the question turned out to know little about the issue because the fate of SZFE is simply not one of the topics they talk about among themselves.

Reading some of the answers, my first thought was that these students are incredibly confused. One of the “better informed” students described the events at SZFE as a landmark in the Orbán government’s war against Hungarian culture in the following manner: “A man got into the leadership of the school whom the students didn’t want,” but he didn’t remember the name of this man.

Solidarity seems to be a foreign concept for most of these young men and women. A student who is planning to be a teacher of history and geography said: “Let each man fight for his own truth.” That to my mind means that each person is alone in this world without the support of anybody else. He continued: Of course, it is possible that the SZFE students don’t have right on their side, but, I guess out of some minimal student camaraderie, he is still keeping fingers crossed for them. He is hoping for negotiations and an agreement. Obviously, he cannot comprehend that there can be no compromise on such matters as academic autonomy and the freedom of thought.

Interestingly, women seemed to be better informed than their male colleagues. A female student of archaeology knew a fair amount about Attila Vidnyánszky, who, she said, is not at all popular at the university among those who know something about him. She herself knew that Vidnyánszky taught at the University of Kaposvár, where he turned out to be a negligent teacher and a destructive member of the faculty. Another young woman, a psychology major, objected to Vidnyánszky’s eight jobs, which, in her opinion, one man cannot handle responsibly. She was also one of the few who was able to grasp the essence of the matter. As she put it, “at SZFE, young people have been learning acting according to a liberal approach. Now, they want to change that, and the Christian and national approach will be dominant. Students have been following their teachers and their approach so far. I understand the students. Freedom is the essence of art.”

A few PTE students objected to the demands and methods of the students of SZFE. One was a second-year medical student who wouldn’t reveal his name. In his opinion, “the left and the liberals have brought politics to the university. They are the ones who are moving the kids.” A third-year Hungarian student who studies economics in the English-language section of the university is a true Fidesz follower. In his opinion, “the university until now belonged to a liberal group of friends. Now that it is taken away from them, they are inciting the young people.”

In brief, most of the students are oblivious to what’s going on in the country, even though the matter is widely discussed on the internet that they use daily. Moreover, the subject under discussion should be of direct interest to them because what happened to SZFE could easily happen at their own university. Of the many respondents, only one, a design major, realized that they might be the next victims. As he put it, “If they were to replace our teachers, we would stand up for them.” When Ungár interjected that at SZFE they hadn’t removed the professors yet, he and two women, also design majors, smiled. He said, “if politics doesn’t want that school, sooner or later they will get rid of them. This is how the system works.”

Of course, our design student is correct, but it is really heartbreaking to hear this young man’s resigned reaction to something he feels cannot be changed. “The system” has the power; it mows down everything and everyone that’s in its way.

September 18, 2020

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