The students of Budapest’s Eötvös Loránd University demonstrated Wednesday evening for the right to be able to decide for themselves what they study. Starting with just a few hundred protesters, the crowd grew severalfold as it marched from the Ministry of Human Resources to the Raoul Wallenberg Technical High School (which the ministry announced this week is to be closed so that the building can be given over to the new university for public service). While marching the demonstrators blew whistles to let everyone know that, while the universities may be willing to compromise with the government, the university students are not. They have given the ministry an ultimatum: either withdraw the proposal to eliminate certain undergraduate departments by Monday or the demonstrations will continue.
Wednesday’s demonstration was a continuation of the one held on Monday organized by the teachers and students of ELTE after learning that the government planned to eliminate a number of undergraduate fields of study. Since then the secretariat appears to have retreated, promising not to do away with certain departments. It appears this is not enough for the students, who would like for the ministry to completely withdraw its proposal to eliminate certain departments as well as its proposal to modify the law on higher education, and to start a wide, consensus-based social discussion.
“We are fighting to be able to study and to be able to teach,” shouted university student Fruzsina Csonka, teaching assistant Márton Gerő, and university lecturer Balázs Majtényi in Szalay street. Csonka reminded all that the ministry had only partially satisfied their demands even though the ultimatum expires Monday night, and this was the reason they were standing in front of the ministry.
Majtényi told the crowd that independent universities, where students and teachers regard each others as partners, “no longer exist in Hungary”. He said “autonomy means that matters are discussed and mutually decided on” and that this was “stronger than every political power”. He concluded his speech by pointing out that “it is not the ministry that is the human resource but us”, adding that “we have principles and we are not concluding any compromises”.
“Universities for the universities!” exclaimed Dánial Deák, a teacher at Corvinus University. He told the crowd that their value system should not be “determined from above”, to which the crowd responded by chanting “Free country, free universities”.
Calling the “so-called national upper education law” an “empty pile”, Deák said the spirit of autonomy lies in the freedom to choose one’s course of study. “However, this does not exist”, he said, asking “should not at least those take the fundamental law seriously who shoved it down our throats.” The professor accused university leaders of “peddling excuses” instead of saying “we are not willing to go along with this, thereby creating the false appearance of consensus” adding that “the deputy undersecretary is not the association of university rectors, but the university students and teachers, who want free education.”
Afterwards the demonstrators marched to the Ludovika square to protest the closure of the Raoul Wallenberg Technical High School and Technical school announced earlier this week. During the procession the crowd grew severalfold. Using a megaphone, university Student Network (HAHA) activist Károly Füzessi stoked the mood of the crowd, while those at the head carried a banner bearing the text “We are the human resources.”
At the Ludovika square legal rights advocate Henriett Dinók took the stage. The curator of the Give a Chance to Disadvantaged Children Foundation (CFCF) said it was “embittering” that a “series of immeasurably destructive decisions” had taken place in the past few days, She called Wednesday “a black day for education” because the Curia, Hungary’s highest court, had handed down a decision “depriving every child of the equal right to begin his or her studies.” The lawsuit concerns whether Roma children should be segregated in order that they might be given a religious upbringing. The Curia believes this is possible, and the largest supporter is the Minister of Human Resources, Zoltán Balog, said Dinók. Upon the mention of Balog’s name the crowd jeered and started chanting “resign.”
Having destroyed public education, Balog wants to destroy higher education, he added, to which the crowd responded “we won’t allow it” and “nothing about us without us”. “We won’t fall for their tricks,” exclaimed Dinók. “We won’t give in to pressure and secret backroom deals,” she added. “Demoracy!” roared the crowd.
1956 revolutionary hero and former SZDSZ politician Imre Mécs joined a group of students holding the banner on the back of the truck serving as a mobile stage.
Meanwhile, Anna Adorján took the stage. The student at the department of social sciences said there is a training that provides a multifaceted education. “We are fighting to be able to study,” she exclaimed. “Free country, free universities,” roared the crowd.
A number of students from the Raoul Wallenberg school joined the demonstration, placing banners at the entrance to the school. The organizer of the demonstration told them “we are with you.”
The next speaker was a film student, who said the elimination of the faculty of visual culture was “unacceptable”. He was followed by Gábor Csuvi, who sarcastically explained that the reason there is no need for the department of intercultural psychology and education is because “There are no minorities, there are no conflicts, there is no sexism, there is no violence, and we cannot speak about blaming the victim either. Sexual identity and sexual orientation are merely ‘western humbug’ There are no historical minorities that suffer discrimination. These problems do not exist.”
Ferenc Hammer was the last to speak. Before doing so, he greeted the students from the Raoul Wallenberg high school, and asked the university students to continue. “We will not give you the Raoul school,” chanted the high school students, who will be forced to bid farewell to their teachers and fellow classmates at the end of the school year.
Hammer criticized the government for “eliminating those educational programs where it is possible to study for free or where it is possible to obtain creative knowledge.” The ELTE teacher called it “a program for the Hungary of the 1920s”, referring to one of the darker periods in Hungary’s history from the point of view of academic freedom.
“Let us teachers make it clear that we are responsible for our students regardless of whether they pay or not,” exclaimed Hammer, adding that “they don’t let us work” and “they want to nationalize everything”. “I hold the government responsible for the damages resulted from this,” said Hammer. “We don’t believe the government. Universities are only good if they are free!”
At the end of the demonstration the organizers said the ministry has until Monday to withdraw the proposals to eliminate the various undergraduate departments as well as a bill modifying the higher education law, and to make public the impact studies on which the decisions are allegedly based. “If they don’t do this, then it is proof that no such studies were prepared, in which case the Ministry of Human Resources is lying,” proclaimed the protest organizer, “in which case the demonstrations will continue.”