‚Dalai Lama Road‘: Budapest Seeks to Rename Streets in Protest Against China and Its Campus Plan

Written by | Saturday, June 5th, 2021

Streets in the Hungarian capital near a planned campus of a Chinese university would be renamed to commemorate alleged human rights abuses by Beijing, liberal opposition mayor of Budapest Gergely Karacsony announced on Wednesday (2 May). One street will be named after the Dalai Lama, exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, labelled a dangerous separatist by Beijing. Another street will be called “Uighur Martyrs’ Road” after the mainly Muslim ethnic group that has allegedly been subject to genocide by Beijing, a third will be called “Free Hong Kong Road” while a fourth street will be renamed after a Chinese Catholic bishop who was jailed by the Communist regime. The renamed streets will converge at an area where China’s Fudan University is planning to open a campus offering masters programmes in liberal arts, medicine, business and engineering for 6,000 students with 500 faculty. Budapest City Hall plans to rename streets to protest this “unwanted” project forced on it by the government of the prime minister, Viktor Orbán.
“We still hope the project won’t happen but if it does then it will have to put up with these names,” says Gergely Karacsony, a liberal opposition figure who plans to run next year to unseat Viktor Orban, Hungary’s right-wing prime minister. “This Fudan project would put in doubt many of the values that Hungary committed itself to 30 years ago” at the fall of Communism, he added. Orban’s liberal opponents accuse him of cosying up to China, Russia and other illiberal governments, while angering European allies by curbing the independence of the judiciary and media. In a stark contrast to China’s Fudan University, Central European University, Hungary’s leading private university, was essentially forced to relocate most operations to neighbouring Austria in 2019 after Orban’s government enacted legal changes that jeopardised its status and launched a public hate campaign against its founder, businessman George Soros.
The sprawling project has fed growing unease about Hungary’s diplomatic tilt from west to east and its soaring indebtedness to China. Leaked internal documents revealed that China is expected to grant a €1.3bn loan to cover most of the estimated €1.5bn costs. “We don’t want the elite and private Fudan university here at the expense of Hungarian taxpayers,” said the liberal mayor. Karacsony has also previously blasted “Chinese influence-buying” in Hungary and urged Orban to honour a previous pledge not to force projects on the capital against its will. Opinion polls show a majority of Budapest residents oppose the plan. Fudan is the latest landmark in Orban’s foreign policy of “Eastern Opening”, which analysts describe as a geopolitical balancing act. Critics portray the nationalist prime minister as China and Russia’s “Trojan horse” inside the European Union and NATO.
In a separate but related development, several MEPs have sounded the alarm over Chinese mass surveillance project in Belgrade. The Serbian government has been actively working on the implementation of the “Safe City” surveillance project, which includes a facial recognition system, in the capital city since 2019. he Serbian government has reportedly classified as confidential the surveillance project, implemented by the Chinese tech giant Huawei, and has avoided a public debate on its potential benefits and risks. Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, a French MEP, says that the agreement was “to have a camera at every corner of every street in Belgrade”, which is a source of concern because the government’s goal was to have total control of the population and not to allow dissident voices, which has already been successfully tested in China. While widely used in China, Europeans have serious concerns toward such an Orwellian novelty, stressing the need to first put in place a legislative framework that helps protect people’s privacy and guards against abuses.

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