The clash between the plans for construction of Fudan University’s Budapest campus and the IX District’s Student City Program has caused a conflict of interest between the Hungarian Fidesz-led government and Budapest’s opposition-led municipality. A number of developments have led to the Chinese state university being planned to replace the northern portion of the Student City. Opposition leaders are unhappy with what they consider to be an intrusion on the original plans for Ferencváros.
Budapest Mayor Does Not Support Fudan
Budapest mayor and co-leader of leftist green party Párbeszéd Gergely Karácsony stated last Monday that his administration is prepared to cancel 2023’s World Athletics Championships, set to be held in Budapest, if the planned Student City is not built in its entirety.
Karácsony has emphasized that he has ethical problems with “indebting our kids with more than 500 billion forints just for Hungary to serve Chinese influence acquisition in Europe,” as well as with the money going towards the Chinese Communist Party instead of Hungarian higher academics.
In response to the mayor’s accusations, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás said that the building of Fudan University’s Budapest campus “does not go against the Student City, but instead gives it meaning.”
Gulyás asserted that since Karácsony was the prime ministerial candidate of a “mass murdering party’s successor” (referring to MSZP and the 2018 general elections where MSZP and Párbeszéd ran together with joint candidates), he should not speak of Chinese communism when he brings up Fudan. Gulyás believes that former MSZP leader Ferenc Gyurcsány also designated Karácsony as the Left’s candidate for the upcoming election.
Gov’t Official Replaced in Fudan Role
Various opposition politicians have already raised concerns that the Chinese state university will be a national security risk, but according to Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó, it is neither problematic or dangerous if the university offers diplomatic training.
Budapest’s state secretary for the development of metropolitan agglomeration, Fürjes Balázs, stated that the construction of the Fudan campus will not modify the planned Student City. If this was true, it would end the conflict around the Chinese university and the Student City.
Fürjes said that Fudan will be open to Hungarian students as well, and will provide economic, environmental, and medical education. He added that “the future is Asia’s, the victor of the 21 century will be Asia.”
Chinese Campus Intrudes on Student City
Gergely Karácsony posted pictures of the planned university which are in direct contrast to Fürjes’ statement. According to these plans, the Fudan campus will be constructed on the northern portion of the Student City’s planned area, where residence buildings and offices were supposed to be constructed originally.
Photo via Gergely Karácsony’s Facebook page
One day after Fürjes made his statement, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán replaced his involvement in the matter with László Palkovics, Minister of National Innovation and Technology. The exact reason for Palkovics replacing Fürjes is unknown. It cannot be known whether the announcement Fürjes made is still valid or not.
Palkovics is now the one responsible for the construction of both Fudan and the planned Student City. He is answerable directly to Orbán. It appears that China has accepted the location of the university campus in the northern part of the Student City’s area, and plans will no longer be adjusted.
IX District Mayor to Initiate Referendum
Thus, it appears that the location of the Student City, planned by the Norwegian architecture office Snøhetta and costing the government 580 million forints (1.6 million EUR) will also be the site of Fudan University’s Budapest Campus, funded primarily by a 400 billion forint (1.1 billion EUR) loan from the Chinese government.
But opposition leaders will not back down from their defense of the full construction of the original plan. Ferencváros mayor Baranyi Krisztina referred to the government’s 2019 announcement that it will not fund developments in Budapest without the support of the capital’s municipal council.
Considering this, and the fact that 13 hectares of the campus’ planned area are the property of the IX District, she announced that she is initiating a referendum regarding the construction of the university, to see whether it receives the support that would be expected of such a large investment.
Featured photo illustration by Noémi Bruzák/MTI