The Hungarian government argues that the debate around Fudan University is irrelevant, since no final decision has been made, yet it continues to take steps towards the Chinese University’s establishment in Budapest. Despite the capital’s opposition, the Fidesz-held majority in the Hungarian National Assembly voted to establish the Fudan University Hungary Foundation and to allocate its Danube-shore properties formerly designated to the Student City for free.
MSZP, the Democratic Coalition, LMP, Párbeszéd, and pro-Momentum independent representatives did not take part in the vote, which was passed in parliament on Tuesday with 134 for and 25 against. The votes against the bill were made by Jobbik and the Mi Hazánk Movement, as well as independent representatives formerly affiliated with Jobbik.
Fudan University Reaches Legality in Hungary
This bill switched the designated locations of the university and the Student City, which had previously taken up the entire area designated for development. While formerly expected to be constructed in the much less attractive northern part of the area, Fudan University will now take up the much larger and much more attractive Danube-shore properties formerly designated to the Student City.
A last-minute modification of the legislation requires the government to report to lawmakers on preparations around the establishment of Fudan University Hungary as well as its budget for implementation, by December 31, 2022 at the latest. There will also be a referendum to finalize the decision.
Opposition Up in Arms Over Fudan Hungary
Alongside Tuesday’s vote around Fudan was the “anti-pedophile” bill, which included legislation not only on pedophilia, but on homosexuality and gender identity as well. Both the legislation around Fudan and the portion of the latter bill which targets the LGBTQ community do not stand well with the opposition.
Party group leader of leftist green party Párbeszéd, Tímea Szabó spoke up before the session began, criticizing the governing Fidesz party of having many terrible moments in the past eleven years, but saying that this one “will end up on the dark pages of history.”
Today’s vote is a perfect summary of what your 11 years of governance has been all about: theft, selling Hungary to China, hate towards opposition-led cities, the slave-like treatment of Hungarian workers and the fueling of hatred towards others.”
After telling Fidesz politicians to be ashamed of themselves, Szabó proceeded to hang a flag formed like that of China, with a Fidesz logo displayed in red.
Photo via Tímea Szabó’s Facebook page
Budapest Is Not On Board with National Assembly
While the government has until the end of 2022 to finalize its plans, around 30 thousand people in Budapest have made it clear that they do not want Fudan University’s Budapest campus to be constructed.
In a questionnaire led by the opposition, Budapest residents were asked
- Whether they agree with the Student City not being built according to its original plans – 94.38 percent said no
- Whether they agree with the establishment of Fudan University in Budapest – 96.92 percent said no
- Whether they agree with the Hungarian government picking up a loan or adjusting its budget to finance the construction of the university – 99.18 percent said no
- Whether they agree with the university operating in Hungary through public financing without offering free education to Hungarian students – 98.74 percent said no
If the thirty thousand respondents are taken as relative to Budapest’s population, one could conclude that 96 percent of the city does not want the Chinese university to be established in the capital at all. Still, the survey raises the question of how many of its respondents were pro-opposition and how many of them were pro-Fidesz.
Considering that it was led by opposition leaders and promoted on opposition platforms, it may not have reached an audience representative of the entire Budapest population. Nevertheless, thirty thousand responses must be taken into account.
Hungarians Protest, Gov’t Changes Language on Fudan
The opposition’s questionnaire was not the only identifier of resistance to the bill. On Saturday, June 5, thousands of people gathered in Budapest to protest the construction of the University, and to show support for the plans around the Student City.
The rally, which was organized by left-wing activist András Jámbor, gathered around 10,000 protestors, and it led the government to change its tone around the university. Minister of Innovation and Technology László Palkovics had previously explained that there was no plan B, that the operation was underway, and that the university would definitely be completed.
Following the protests, however, government officials have begun saying that since the project is not yet finalized and the numbers are not yet clear, Fudan cannot yet be properly debated. This type of language could be heard during Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s press conference on June 10.
Referendum to Make the Final Decision
The protests also led to relative certainty that the final step of the university’s creation will be a referendum, confirmed during the June 10 press conference. While the government has until December 31, 2022, to present its finalized plans around Fudan, if Hungarians truly do not want the university, they will make it clear through such a referendum.
At a press conference of the joint opposition, Spark (Szikra) Movement candidate András Jámbor said that laws which are brought into effect “can be reverted if we change government in 2022.”
If the referendum has only a one percent chance of coming to fruition, and there is a one percent chance that it will be successful in causing the government to step back, then it needs to be done.”
Hungarian Universities Are Less Controversial Investments
In an interview with Népszava, Abel Award winner mathematician and former president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences László Lovász said that it is difficult to formulate an opinion on the subject, “since we do not know the details, but everything depends on the details.”
Regardless of future development’s, Lovász believes it would have been better if the energy and money directed towards Fudan would have been directed instead to the development of the Hungarian universities already in existence.
In the featured photo illustration: a protest against the Fudan University. Photo by Zoltán Balogh/MTI