The government backs the idea of consulting Budapest residents in a referendum on Fudan University once the facts related to the investment are fully known, PM Chief of Staff, Gergely Gulyás, said after the large-scale Saturday demonstration. Budapest’s opposition leadership, meanwhile, claims victory while the mayor once again urged the government to publish relevant documentation on the controversial project.
Following long debates, a demonstration was eventually held on Saturday “for the Student City” and “against Fudan.” The rally, organized by left-wing activist and MP candidate, András Jámbor, attracted roughly 10,000 protesters, including some of the opposition cooperation’s parties, while other forces, such as Democratic Coalition, proved apparently reticent in their participation.
Government: Too early to discuss it politically
Previously, IT Minister Palkovics had said there was no plan B and the project would definitely be completed, but the government has switched to a more cooperative tone since the demonstration. The PMO chief announced a referendum, to be held in a year and half (after the 2022 general elections), and said that the investment was not at a stage suitable for public debate. Once the plans and financial terms are clear in around 18 months’ time (in 2023), a public debate should then take place, Gulyás explained.
On claims that Fudan University is proof of the government’s commitment to the East in preference to the West, Gulyás said that as a NATO and EU member, Hungary need not make declarations of allegiance to the West. “Despite ongoing disputes, they are our allies,” he said, adding that whereas Hungary formed part of the Western system of alliances, it has also sought amicable relations with the world’s major powers, including China and Russia.
Meanwhile, a state secretary at the innovation and technology ministry has dismissed the Saturday event as “political scare-mongering,” arguing that the organizers were protesting on the basis of “unfounded rumors and press reports.” Tamás Schanda similarly argued that protests were “pointless” at this stage, as the project was still being planned and no decision has been made on its finances or implementation.
He said that if Budapest’s municipal and 9th district leadership were willing to work “instead of clowning around,” they should contribute to the talks on the project. “Otherwise, it’ll be their responsibility if the site of this major urban development project turns into a rust graveyard, landfill, or a large bee pasture,” he said.
Besides highlighting the project’s advantages and Fudan’s reputation, Schanda also explained that “if one applies some common sense, it’s clear that the student quarter planned to be built in the area and the university complement each other well.”
Budapest leadership: It’s a victory but fight is still on
In his reaction, the Budapest mayor interpreted Gulyás’ words as the government’s withdrawal and Budapest’s initial victory. Gergely Karácsony, however, hasn’t toned down his combative tone either. He said Fudan’s finances and implementation are not exactly known because the government has been reluctant to make those public, urging them to finally “put everything on the table.” “There is, however, an investment of which all conditions are known, since we have agreed on it: this is the Student City. This needs to be built and nothing more. Period.”
Similarly, a referendum won’t depend on the government’s “grace,” Karácsony insisted; there certainly will be a vote held on the project, “…when we want it and not when the government does.” He also argued that the Student City and Fudan don’t only concern Budapesters (pointing out that the former would serve rural youth while the latter is largely about indebtment towards China, for example), thereby warranting a nationwide consultation.
Karácsony, therefore, announced to start consultation with the other opposition parties’ leaders, to begin the preparations for a referendum and to call on the government once again to publish documents on the talks.
In addition, despite that no final decision has been made on Fudan, there are already two drafts ready for the National Assembly. Csepel’s independent opposition lawmaker, Szabolcs Szabó, now wants the withdrawal of these, otherwise there might be no way out of the project. Besides similarly wanting the withdrawal of the drafts, the 9th district’s (the site of the investments) independent but opposition-backed leader claimed success. “They gave up. They saw strength, and backed off,” Krisztina Baranyi, the organizer of the street renamings, commented.
featured image: the demonstrators on Andrássy Str.; via Zoltán Balogh/MTI