Gergely Karácsony, the liberal mayor of Budapest, Hungary, has decided to change the name of some streets in the city to criticize the Hungarian government’s decision to open the headquarters of an important Chinese university in the capital. During a press conference on Wednesday, Karácsony said that four streets in the area where the university will be built have been renamed “Free Hong Kong Street”, “Uyghur Martyrs Street”, “Dalai Lama Street” and ” Bishop Xie Shiguang ”: names chosen to commemorate the lack of freedom of expression in China.
The Dalai Lama, the highest authority of Tibetan Buddhism, has in fact been exiled to India for years; the Uighurs are a predominantly Muslim minority living in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, severely repressed by the regime; Hong Kong is a region with a special status that in recent years has become less and less autonomous due to some laws wanted by China that have limited the freedom of citizens; Xie Shiguang was instead a Catholic bishop, who died in 2005, who had been persecuted for years because of his conflicts with the Chinese authorities.
The Chinese university that will open in Budapest is the Fudan University of Shanghai and will be the first Chinese university to have an office in a country of the European Union. The announcement of the opening last January highlighted the increasingly close ties in the economic and diplomatic spheres between Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Hungary and China.
According to Karácsony, this project “would cast doubt on many of the values Hungary committed itself to 30 years ago”, ie following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the overthrow of the communist system in the country. Karácsony added that the project will cost Hungarian taxpayers nearly 1.6 billion euros, and that it would run counter to a previous agreement between the city and the government to build dormitories and facilities for Hungarian students in that area.
The announcement of the opening of the university had created a lot of controversy also because last year the Orbán government forced the Central European University (CEU) – founded by the financier and philanthropist George Soros and at that time the best university in Hungary , according to international rankings – to close its Budapest office: it did so by passing a law that theoretically punished universities that operated without the necessary licenses, but which in reality aimed almost exclusively at hitting the CEU. Last October the law was declared incompatible with EU law by the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Karácsony has been the mayor of Budapest since 2019, when he defeated the candidate of the radical right-wing party Fidesz, led by Orbán in the municipal elections.