Hungarians Target Orban on China in First Post-Lockdown Protest

Thousands demonstrated against a Chinese university’s planned campus in Budapest, saying the project reflects Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s disregard for democratic values.

Mayor Gergely Karacsony led the protest against the government-backed $1.8 billion plan, which has mobilized opposition supporters in the capital ahead of next year’s general election. Saturday’s rally was the first opportunity for residents to protest in the streets since authorities eased pandemic restrictions.

The Fudan University project is the “moral suicide” of Orban’s governing Fidesz party, Karacsony, the front-runner to lead an opposition election alliance, said in a rally speech. “We’re starting to take power back now for the 99% of the population.”

China has denounced a decision by Budapest city authorities this week to rename streets around the campus site with references such as the Dalai Lama and Free Hong Kong. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin called the symbolic protest “despicable.”

Orban’s cabinet has recently backed off calling the project a done deal and now says it’s only a plan. Cabinet Minister Gergely Gulyas, a senior Orban aide, has said the campus is in Hungary’s interest because Fudan is one of the world’s top universities.

Karacsony said he would use all tools at his disposal to counter what he called the government’s drift away from western democratic values in favor of closer ties with countries such as China.

The campus project has roiled residents and opposition officials, who allege it could allow closer surveillance of the European Union by China.

The area in Budapest’s industrial south was initially designated for affordable accommodation for students after years of rent increases. The government dropped the housing plan and considered accepting a loan from China to build the Fudan campus.

The EU has already locked horns with Hungary over relations with China. Orban has repeatedly vetoed joint statements critical of China, including one that expressed concern about the treatment of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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