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Budapest takes stand against construction of Chinese university campus

Budapest takes stand against construction of Chinese university campus

Mayor Gergely Karácsony has announced his bid for the prime minister’s seat in 2022 elections

Budapest’s local government firmly opposes the construction of a campus of China’s Fudan University in the city, Mayor Gergely Karácsony announced at a press conference on Monday following talks with the minister of innovation and technology László Palkovics. He was joined by Krisztina Baranyi, the mayor of Budapest’s 9th district where the campus is planned to be built.

At a huge cost

According to Daily News Hungary, the mayor described the meeting with Palkovics as “long and unproductive”. Karácsony said that during the meeting the minister had lifted the veil on the money the government intends to spend on the project, admitting that the expenditure would amount to more than 500 billion forints (EUR 1.4 bn) in public funds. What makes the deal even more worrisome, according to the Mayor, is that a private Chinese university will be allowed to sprawl on an area designated as a site for a new student quarter, which would now have to shrink from 26 hectares to a maximum of 7 hectares.

Will Orbán honour his pledge?

Karácsony reminded the media that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had vowed not to launch any investment projects in Budapest which the city’s leadership opposed. “This means that the Fudan project is off the table, because the city’s leadership doesn’t support it,” he said.

Karácsony voiced his apprehension that an international elite university was being openly welcomed after the government “drove the Central European University out of the country”.

The metropolitan council “will use all legal and political means at its disposal to ensure that the student quarter is built and Fudan isn’t”, Baranyi reiterated. She said the council feared that the government would sign the international treaties cementing the project by using the pandemic special legal order to quash local referendums on the matter. Therefore, the metropolitan council has decided to hold an “online consultation” with Budapest residents, seeking their opinion on the construction of the Fudan University campus.

The autonomy of Hungarian universities was dealt a heavy blow last month when the ruling Fidesz party pushed legislation through Parliament which envisages universities and cultural institutions to be run by (government-controlled) foundations instead of academic councils. Critics say the move will extend the ideological control of the nationalist, right-wing government over the last vestiges of liberal thinking in the country.

Running against Fidesz leader

With general elections in 2022 looming large, Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony on Saturday announced that he will take part in primaries organized by Hungary’s six opposition parties to pick joint candidates to contest the ballot. The move is seen as a clear danger to Orbán’s decade-long grip on power, as Karácsony enjoys huge personal popularity. Moreover, the united opposition, which has a slight lead in recent opinion polls, opts for the same strategy which allowed its candidates in the 2019 local elections to wrest control of most large cities out of Fidesz.

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