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Hungary: referendum on Fudan expected

Opposition parties in Hungary are pressing for a date for a referendum on the construction of a Fudan University campus in Budapest after collecting 235,000 signatures in a petition over just a few short weeks.

Photo: pexels

For now it appears that the government is continuing with its plans for the campus

The petition, which also asks for a vote on extending the duration of unemployment benefits, was launched in mid-December by a coalition of Hungarian opposition parties. With parliamentary elections coming up on April 3, it is however unlikely the referendum will be held before then.

Opposition to the campus has been growing since early last year when investigative outlet Direkt36 broke the news that Hungarian taxpayers would be footing the bill for the campus’ construction through a €1.3 billion loan from the China Development Bank.

It has become a major political issue and a focal point for criticism of the Hungarian government’s close relationship with China.

In June last year, thousands took to the street to protest its construction, with many expressing anger that the money was not being used for the improvement of Hungary’s existing institutions. The cost borne by Hungarian for building the campus totals more than is spent on state-run universities each year.

Budapest mayor and government critic Gergely Karacsony, who has been leading the campaign against the Fudan campus, has emphasised that aside from concerns about Hungary’s relationship with China, another key objection to the campus should be the location – the land had previously been earmarked for affordable student housing.

He has since been renaming streets in the area after human rights and political issues in China such as “Free Hong Kong Road” and “Dalai Lama Street”.

“These signatures were not collected just for the sake of a referendum”

“These signatures were not collected just for the sake of a referendum,” he said. “These signatures have been collected to restore faith in politics which would serve public interest.”

For now it appears that the government is continuing with its plans for the campus. Tamás Schanda, a state secretary for the innovation and technology ministry, said that the “most economical and favourable construction is being prepared”.

The government argues that having a world leading university’s campus in Hungary would be a boon to its education system. The country was also home to another foreign-owned university, the George Soros-backed Central European University, until the government forced it from the country and it relocated to Vienna.

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