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European Citizen’s Prize awarded to Hungarian civil rights group FreeSZFE

European Citizen’s Prize awarded to Hungarian civil rights group FreeSZFE

The winning Emergency Exit programme is a collaboration between the students of Budapest’s University of Theatre and Film Arts (SZFE) and five other universities

Hungarian civil rights group FreeSZFE has been awarded this year’s European Citizen’s Prize for its Emergency Exit programme, the European Parliament said in a statement on Tuesday.

The FreeSZFE Emergency Exit programme is a collaboration between the students of Budapest’s University of Theatre and Film Arts (SZFE) and universities from five other EU Member States. The new initiative at European level promotes mutual understanding and cultural cooperation, and propagates European values.

Thorn in the side

Lívia Járóka, MEP of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, complained of what she called “unsportsmanlike” process in selecting the prize recipient. In a statement, quoted by Hungary Today, she said that the Hungarian jury had nominated four candidates for the prize, but three of the contenders were disqualified by the EP’s jury in Brussels which cited administrative reasons.

The harsh reaction comes as no surprise given SZFE’s reputation as thorn in the side of Victor Orban’s government. Fidesz clamped down on the autonomy of higher educational institutions, pushing earlier this year a law through Parliament which transferred control of 11 state universities to quasi-public foundations chaired by Orban allies.

The same fate befell SZFE even earlier, when the 156-year-old state-run theatre school woke up last year with a new board of trustees, losing powers to decide on its budgetary, organizational, and personnel policy. Teachers started stepping down in protest, a trend culminating in the collective resignation of the university’s former administration and democratically-elected Senate on 31 August 2020.

On the same day, 250 students occupied the university campus. Responding to the protests, the new Chancellor cancelled the autumn semester.

European Citizen's Prize explained

The European Citizen's Prize, established by the European Parliament in 2008, is awarded each year to individuals or organizations who have contributed to closer integration between EU citizens and Member States, to the development of common understanding or to programmes designed to represent the values ​​of the Union.

TheMayor.EU – the European Portal for Cities and Citizens has also won the European Citizen’s Prize for 2021 for its work in promoting the European values of transparency, cross-border cooperation and good governance at the local level.

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