The Hungarian capital Budapest changed a number of street names. It is not a phenomenon unique to a country where writer Georgy Conrad once wrote that “people look at politics like the weather.” But there is something special about these street signs: they refer to Chinese human rights abuses. They are next to the site where the foreign campus of China’s Fudan University will be built in 2024.
Soon future students will walk along Dalai Lama Street, Vrij Hongkong Street or Uyghur Martelarenstraat to attend their lectures. “We still hope that construction will not go ahead, but if it does, they will have to make do with these street signs,” said Mayor Girgili Karacsonni, who came up with the idea. His hilarious provocation aims to protest against the Chinese university and especially against the growing Chinese influence in the central European country.
Street signs reveal another, deeper conflict in Hungarian politics: the struggle between the opposition-oriented capital and the government. Especially the battle between Mayor Karaxone and Prime Minister Orban. Karaksoni announced this spring that he will lead a coalition of opposition parties against Orbán’s powerful Fidesz in the 2022 elections. As if globalist and nationalist Orbán Karaksöni were not already different enough, the mayor of Budapest is trying at every opportunity to present himself more forcefully as his polar opposite. .
The discussion about China lends itself perfectly to this. In Budapest, residents are not at all happy because the Orban government is carving out a Chinese campus in the stomach. That is while a few years ago his government still led the liberal Central European University across the border. Project cost is also a pain point. Hungarian investigative journalists from the middle Direct 36 She revealed that the campus will cost 1.5 billion euros, more than the government spent on higher education in the whole of 2019. Incidentally, aversion to Chinese university is not a purely urban phenomenon: More than two-thirds of Hungarians see Fudan University’s campus not sitting, according to the liberal think tank Republikon Institute.
China and Russia
The fact that Orbán is pushing the campus despite its lack of popularity has something to do with its geopolitical trajectory. It is increasingly seeking outreach to China and Russia, while at the same time turning its back on the European Union. The Hungarian vaccination campaign is a good example of this. Hungarians were the first EU country to come under pressure with Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinovac. Thanks to the additional vaccinations, the vaccination campaign has moved faster than other European Union countries.
The love is mutual. China specifically seeks Central European countries to increase its influence. Not only through universities and vaccines: China operates mining areas in neighboring Serbia and funds a highway in Montenegro.
In the run-up to the 2022 elections, eastern influences will continue to be a theme in Hungarian politics. Recently, Karaxone was criticized by pro-government media because he hardly speaks English compared to his rival Orban. He plans to work on his English, and has responded graciously to criticism. “But not my Russian or Chinese.”
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