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Mayor Gergely Karácsony is approached by a Chinese pro-democracy activist during the street-renaming event, Source: Gergely Karácsony on Facebook

Budapest renames streets in protest against Chinese university campus

Budapest renames streets in protest against Chinese university campus

Two-thirds of Hungarians oppose the project because of exorbitant construction cost and unaffordable housing

The Municipality of Budapest yesterday renamed four streets in the IX district of the capital where a campus of the elite Chinese Fudan University is planned to be built with Hungarian government backing. The new plaques bear the names of individuals, an ethnic group and a pro-democracy movement that are persecuted in China. The act is a stand for solidarity and freedom, to which Hungary has been committed for 30 years, Mayor Gergely Karácsony wrote on his Facebook page.

Not in the interest of Hungary or Budapest

One of the streets is named after Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader. Bishop Xie Shiguang Street pays homage to a persecuted Chinese Catholic priest. Free Hong Kong Road commemorates the grass-roots protest movement against Beijing’s strangulation of Hong Kong’s autonomy.

A fourth street is called Uyghur Martyrs' Road, honouring the Muslim ethnic group which is subjected to genocide in Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China. China denies any allegations of human rights violations.

Addressing the press, the Budapest Mayor pointed out that the Fudan University investment serves neither the interests of Hungary, nor of Budapest. The elite university, to be built with a loan from a Chinese bank, will cost Hungarian taxpayers HUF 540 billion (EUR 1.4 billion). For that much money, they will get a campus that will be unaffordable for Hungarian students, he said.

Karácsony stressed that this investment is only in the interests of the privileged few who are close to the Orbán government, while 99 percent of residents are interested in building a Student City, which provides affordable housing for ten thousand Hungarian students. A protest against the development will take place this Saturday in Budapest.  

Fudan University is one of China's most prestigious educational institutions. The Budapest campus, which is expected to be completed by 2024, will be its first in the European Union. According to BBC News, quoting Direkt36, a Hungarian investigative-journalism outlet, the Orbán government will spend on the Fudan University campus more than it did on the country’s entire higher-education system in 2019.

"Chinese influence-peddling"

Around two-thirds of Hungarians do not support the Chinese university investment, according to liberal think tank Republikon Institute.  Liberal mayor Gergely Karácsony, who has entered the race for next year’s parliamentary elections, has repeatedly voiced concerns about "Chinese influence-peddling" in Hungary. He and other critics of Victor Orbán’s policies are becoming increasingly nervous about the prime minister’s affinity for authoritarian states such as Russia, China and Belarus, as well as his restraints on media and higher education independence. 

A 2017 law targeting foreign universities forced the Central European University (CEU) founded by George Soros to shift most of its activity abroad. Last year the European Court of Justice ruled that conditions imposed by Orbán’s government on CEU were incompatible with EU law.

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