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Hungary: Chinese university faces opposition, Budapest mayor announces renaming of streets after Dalai Lama and Uyghur

Liberal mayor Gergely Karacsony has been at the forefront of voicing concerns about "Chinese influence-buying" in Hungary.

In an attempt to bring forth the human rights violations committed by China, the liberal opposition mayor of Budapest, Hungary, announced on Wednesday that the city authorities will be renaming streets near a planned campus of a Chinese university in the Hungarian capital. 

Listing out all the atrocities enacted by Beijing, the mayor announced the renaming of the streets as follows:

  1. One street will be named after the exiled spiritual leader Dalai Lama who China regards as a “dangerous separatist”
  2. Another street will be renamed “Uyghur Martyrs’ Road” to highlight the persecution of the indigenous ethnic Uyghurs in China at the hands of the CCP
  3. A third street will be called “Free Hong Kong Road”
  4. While the fourth street will be renamed after a Chinese Catholic bishop as Xie Shiguang Road, who was persecuted and jailed by China.

The decision comes after the current government agreed to spend $2 billion of Hungarian taxpayers’ money to build China’s Fudan University which will offer masters programmes in liberal arts, medicine, business and engineering for 6,000 students with 500 faculty members.

Why is the project facing opposition?

Liberal mayor Gergely Karacsony has been at the forefront of voicing concerns about “Chinese influence-buying” in Hungary.

Budapest Mayor Karacsony. Image Source: bbc.com

Mayor Karacsony, a liberal opposition figure who plans to run next year to unseat current right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said, “This Fudan project would put in doubt many of the values that Hungary committed itself to 30 years ago,” at the fall of Communism.

Viktor Orban’s govt accused of ‘flattering’ China

The current government is also accused of flattering China, Russia and other illiberal governments while angering Hungary’s European allies. Karacsony informed that the Fudan project went against an earlier deal with the government to build dormitories and facilities for Hungarian students in the district.

As per documents obtained by Direkt36, a Hungarian investigative-journalism outlet, the construction cost of the university is expected to be around $1.8 billion which is more than the Orban government’s spend on the entire higher-education system in 2019. Additionally, the government has taken a loan worth $1.5 billion from a Chinese bank.

“We still hope the project won’t happen, but if it does then it will have to put up with these names,” Karacsony remarked at a press conference.

As per an opinion poll conducted by liberal think tank Republikon Institute, 66% of Hungarians opposed the idea of the university while 27 per cent were in support of it. 

On the other hand, Tamas Schanda, deputy minister for innovation and technology said, “The presence of Fudan University means that it will be possible to learn from the best in the world.”

“Fudan has brought the topic of relations with China to the forefront of politics,” he added.

Viktor Orban faces criticism from Hungarian ‘liberals’

Orban’s government was criticized by ‘liberals’ in 2019 for enacting legal changes which led to Hungary’s leading private university, Central European University, shifting to Austria. The government was also accused of launching a public hate campaign against its founder George Soros.

Orban also faced criticism over a deal to reconstruct the Budapest-Belgrade railway with the help of a $2.1 billion Chinese loan. The Hungarian Prime Minister also fast-tracked the approval of a Chinese coronavirus vaccine which still has not been approved in the EU resulting in resentment. 

The government justified it by saying that the Chinese doses have helped accelerate the vaccine program. 

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