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Protestors demonstrate against Fudan Uni campus in capital

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Image by NG-Spacetime / Shutterstock.com

Protestors held a demonstration against plans to set up a local campus of China's Fudan University in Budapest on Saturday, according to a report by state news wire MTI.

The protest, organized with the title "Demonstration for the Student Quarter and Against Fidesz", involved the participation of a number of opposition politicians, including Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony and District IX mayor Krisztina Baranyi, whose district would be home to the campus.

Protestors gathered along a three-quarters of a kilometer stretch of the capital's grand Andrássy út, then marched to Kossuth tér, facing the parliament building. Protestors with immunity certificates were allowed into the square, while others gathered around the perimeter.

The protest was organized not long after pandemic restrictions on gatherings were eased as Hungary's inoculation rate passed the 50% mark.

Plans to build the Fudan Hungary campus at a brownfield site in the south of the capital have been a source of contention between the government and opposition politicians who argue it would reduce the area for student dormitories also designated for the site.

Mayor Kaáacsony, who is running in the opposition's joint primary to pick a candidate for prime minister in the 2022 elections, said the protestors do not want to build an "elite Chinese university with HUF 500 billion in Hungarian taxpayers' money".

"We don't want to be a ferry-country," he said, making a literary reference familiar to Hungarians about the country's shifts between East and West. "We want to moor safely on the Western shore". 

He also described the "Fudan affair" as the "complete and utter moral suicide" of governing Fidesz.

Karácsony urged protestors to participate in a consultation launched on the Fudan Hungary campus and asked them to support opposition candidates in the 2022 elections.

Baranyi said Fudan Hungary University is a "private business set up with public monies", adding that she had signed up for the construction of a student quarter that would offer affordable accommodation to students with limited resources who are enrolled at universities in the capital.

"China is building its own Trojan horse with our money," she said.

At a press conference on Saturday, state secretary Tamás Schanda called the demonstration "scaremongering" prompted by "unfounded rumors and speculation in the press". He added that plans for the Fudan campus were only in the "planning stages" and decisions on implementation and cost was not expected to be taken until the second half of 2022.

The government signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Fudan University in April, clearing the way for preparations to establish a campus at the brownfield site in District IX. Fudan Hungary University is expected to launch with a teaching staff of 500 and 6,000-8,000 students, offering programs in economics, social sciences, the natural sciences, engineering and medical studies.

Gov't announces support for future referendum on Fudan campus

Hungary's government supports a local referendum on establishing a campus in Budapest for China's Fudan University, but in 2023, after the conditions for the investment become clear, Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister's Office, said in an interview with the magazine Mandiner posted online on Sunday, a day after the protests..

Gulyas said the issue of Fudan University "does not exist in a form suitable for public debate at present", adding that no firm plans have been made.

"When the plans are there, when the financial conditions, the cost and financing of building the university are there, then a decision can be taken. That point could be reached in one-and-a-half years," he told Mandiner.

Gulyás brushed off a suggestion by opposition leaders that the planned campus is proof of the government's commitment to the East, as opposed to the West.

"We don't need to make a declaration of our loyalty to the Western world, because we are part of it through our membership in NATO and the EU. In spite of our differences, they are our allies. We understand their language, even if we don't always get along with them," he said.

"Hungary is a part of the Western system of alliances, but it strives to maintain properties with the world's other big powers, too, such as China and Russia," he added.

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