Hungary will donate land for a controversial Chinese university campus in Budapest as Prime Minister Viktor Orban moves forward with a project that has triggered protests despite a pledge to leave the decision to voters.
Lawmakers from his ruling Fidesz party pushed through a bill in parliament on Tuesday that also commits taxpayer funds to finance the private campus of Fudan University. Thousands of Hungarians rallied in the capital this month against the plan, which opposition parties say is symbolic of Orban’s embrace of authoritarian regimes and their institutions.
While Orban pledged to let Budapest residents decide the fate of the campus in a referendum in 2023 — after next year’s closely-fought parliamentary elections — the opposition wants a vote as soon as pandemic restrictions allow.
A non-binding consultation organized by the opposition-led administration in Budapest found that 97% of respondents opposed the project and 99% rejected financing it from public funds.
Orban’s support for Fudan, which revised its charter in 2019 to erase the phrase “freedom of thought” and added a reference to the absolute leadership of the Communist Party, contrasted with his government’s decision to oust of Central European University from Budapest the same year.
The George Soros-founded institution had trained generations of leaders committed to the ideals of liberal democracy, something Orban has come to oppose since his return as premier in 2010, which was marked by frequent clashes with peers in the European Union over his consolidation of power.