Monday, February 20, 2012

Student Demonstration in Budapest on February 15

On February 15, 2012 several thousands students made a rally along the Danube to protest against the new Higher Education Act that destroys publicly funded higher education and obliges students to stay in work in Hungary after graduation. The demonstration ended as a several hours occupation of the law faculty of ELTE (Eötvös Loránd University).
The demonstration was organized by the Network of Students (Hallgatói Hálózat, HAHA), an independent student organization. This organization was protesting against the reform of the Higher Education Law in Hungary. As the HAHA explains, the new law is wrong, because:
"The government drafted the new law without previous public consultation with the academic community (students, professors, and administrative staff). The new legislation on higher education establishes governance and funding mechanisms that significantly limit university autonomy, particularly in domains of organizational structures, decision making and academic employment, also harming academic freedom. The new law significantly jeopardises social mobility and equal access to higher education by severely cutting down on the number of state-funded student places, encouraging student loans and otherwise limiting forms of support to those wishing to study (including vulnerable populations, such as the Roma). The new law obliges those who receive student support to stay in the country for twice as long as they receive it, thus restricting of employment mobility, without securing stable employment prospects".

The march started at 3 p.m. from the ELTE Lágymányos Campus, Petőfi híd entrance. Around thousand students, teachers, professors and supporters were already there and they started the demonstration with speeches and interactive call-response action expressing their opinion about various personalities and their attitude to the new Higher Education Act. One person was saying something like "I am Rose Hoffmann" [Rose Hoffmann is State Secretary for Education], the rest of the people were responding with cheerful or discrediting shouts, and then the speaker was expressing the opinion of Rose Hoffmann about the new law.
Then the people started moving towards the Danube and marched along the river on Műegyetem rakpart passing by the Technical University. The students were shouting various slogans and  holding various banners the most frequent slogan was "Don't take away our future". The slogans were "Whose university - our university", "Free education", "Student forum" etc. The march was loud also thanks to the Rhythms of Resistance drummers who were going together with the demonstrators and keeping the cheerful atmosphere with loud and ZAZHIGATELNYY samba rhythms. Then the procession went over the Danube over the green Freedom bridge in the direction of the Corvinus Campus on Fővám tér, where a final demonstration was held at 4 p.m. By that time there were more thousands of protesters who joined the march after 3 p.m. As the demonstrators gathered n front of hte Corvinus university it started snowing heavily, but it did not prevent anyone from staying in the square.

After the speeches were over, some part of the demonstrants moved to nearby ELTE Faculty of Law. It was decided to go there as there was a lot of police around the Corvinus university near which the demonstration was held at 4 p.m. So, the location of a possible place for occupation was changed. Around one to two hundred of them managed to enter the building of the Law faculty as a big crowd. After most of the people were inside, the security closed the door, so that latecomers had to wait outside or try to sneak inside one by one. The people inside occupied an aula upstairs and starting holding an assembly about further actions, the future of the student movement and the occupation itself - how long to stay inside and what to do further. The most difficult moments during the debate were discussions of the assembly itself and self-organization, which was probably inevitable during such direct democracy based debates.
During the assembly the dean Miklos Kiraly and the representatives of the ELTE student body came in. The dean was there "to save" the demonstrators and to let them stay longer in hte building. On the other hand, the ELTE student body turned out to be on the other side of the student struggle.

The administration of the university announced that this assembly can take place until 6-30 p. m. first, and then until 8 p.m. as at that time a classical music concert was starting in the same building where the students and supporters were holding an assembly. Also the administration called the police in case he people who were inside at the assembly decided not to leave the building at by 8 p.m. So, those who came to the building after 6-30 were not able to enter. The security had a strong face control and let only those people in who claimed that they were going to the classical concert at 8 p.m.

The debates could not run smoothly, as there always were deviations from the main topic, and everything should have been discussed under big time pressure. Finally, the protesters decided that it was not impossible to discuss the whole law topic-by-topic. Therefore, the students finally decided to give the government an ultimatum: if the government does not set back the limit by Tuesday, the HaHa will organize further protest actions.

While people inside were discussing and deciding on the issues about their further actions, the people outside were waiting for them, the police cars were coming, and some leftovers of the drummers were drumming in support of the people inside. At 8 p.m. the people who were inside went out of the building. The two groups - the people who were at the assembly and those waiting outside united, the emotions were expressed loudly with shouts, cheers, drumming and singing. While the third floor of the university still remembered the heat of the participatory democracy debates, the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra and the ELTE university concert band were holding a common concert on the second floor of the university. So. although the concert was a good excuse to prevent students from the occupation of the university, and also the moderators of the assembly lead the opinion to the cooperative mood with the administration, so that the students had to leave before 8 p.m., that whole thing was a sign of the first successful campaign of Hungarian Occupy movement let all this happen after all. Looking back at the recent years of stagnation in the student movement in Hungary, this can be considered as a first serious step towards the student fight for their rights and freedoms.

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