Hungary arts university protesters told to leave premises

BUDAPEST, Oct 16 (Reuters) - The chancellor of Hungary’s University of Theatre and Film Arts (SZFE) ordered students and staff to end a blockade by later on Friday, in a row over the imposition of a government-appointed board that protesters say undermines the school’s autonomy.

The institution, which nurtured many of Hungary’s leading directors and film makers, has been caught up in a culture war as Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist government seeks to reshape the cultural and scientific life of the nation.

“All university citizens must leave university facilities by the end of business today, 6 p.m. at the latest,” Chancellor Gabor Szarka wrote in a letter quoted in local media and confirmed to Reuters by the protesting students.

The 1600 GMT deadline raises the risk of confrontation with students who have blockaded the downtown Budapest campus for weeks, declaring a “Students’ Republic” and repeatedly pledging to hold out until their demands are met.

The government appointed a new board of trustees in August to the 155-year-old SZFE, prompting the management of the prestigious school to resign in protest.

Szarka, a former military officer appointed by the new board, said every member of the student body and the staff would have to declare whether they supported the protest, with “employment consequences” looming for those who do.

Some prominent faculty have resigned, including Ildiko Enyedi, whose 2017 “On Body and Soul” was nominated for an Oscar and won the top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Orban’s supporters and pro-government journalists have long argued that, after he won a third strong mandate in 2018, it was time for a conservative cultural shift to end what they see as the domination of the arts in Hungary by liberals and left-wingers.

But the government denies any attempt to limit freedom of expression. It has said the fact some universities will be governed by a board of trustees will actually eliminate state influence over them. (Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Alex Richardson)