Opinion: What Are Sparrows Chirping About Fate of Fudan University in Budapest?

  • 30 Aug 2021 2:24 PM
  • Hungarian Spectrum
Opinion: What Are Sparrows Chirping About Fate of Fudan University in Budapest?
As it stands now, the World Athletics Championships or, in Hungarian, the Atlétikai Világbajnokság will be held from August 19 to August 27, 2023 in Budapest.

World Athletics points out that “sustainability is at the heart of the Budapest plans.” We learn from the blurb that Hungary is a supporter of sustainable events and renewable energy.

The event doesn’t require any permanent construction, and once the championships are finished and the temporary upper tier is removed, the stadium would be left with a circular plateau, which could be filled with publicly available leisure areas.

Families and school children will be frolicking in and around the stadium. As Miklós Gyulai, president of the Hungarian Athletic Association (MASZ), said, this stadium is not just for the championships; “the residents of Budapest will feel the tangible legacy of the event.”

Members of MASZ as well as members of the Orbán government were elated by the award by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), approved on December 4, 2018, in Monaco, in the presence of beaming Balázs Fürjes, government commissioner in charge of sports, and deputy lord mayor of Budapest, Alexandra Szalay-Bobrovniczky. The award was called “Hungary’s historic sports success.”

When I read the glowing report about Hungary’s careful adherence to ecological sustainability, I immediately became suspicious because it is a well-known fact that the Orbán government has little concern for the environment.

Once World Athletics announced its “Sustainability Strategy 2020-2030,” which included better management of the sport’s social and environmental risk factors and identification of opportunities benefitting the sport and engaging a wide group of stakeholders, the Hungarian bidders adjusted their plans accordingly.

My distrust continues. In May 2020, Zoltán Jandó of G7 noticed that, although the original call for tenders stated that the winner would have to provide 14,531 fixed seats and a further 22,795 mobile seats, this was later amended.

The current document states only that the task is to build a 40,000-seat sports facility. This to my mind means that Orbán and his friends have no intention of removing the upper tier and opening up the facility to the “residents of Budapest.”

Balázs Fürjes, who was questioned by 444 on the fate of the mobile seats, assured the paper that nothing has changed and that the discrepancy was due to a slight alteration in the plans, expanding the seating capacity to 40,000 instead of 36,336.

There is no need to fear, he said, because the tenders state that the contractors will be responsible for the dismantling of the mobile stands after the World Championships. Unfortunately, Balázs Fürjes is not the most trustworthy source of information.

The much-heralded athletic stadium, with or without the upper tier, has been a bargaining chip between the government and the opposition-led city of Budapest ever since 2019.

The city was upset by the government’s decision to purchase a large tract of land from District IX for the government’s latest questionable dalliance with China, the construction of a campus of Fudan University financed by Hungarian taxpayers.

The plan is unpopular even with Fidesz voters. But what upset the city most was the government’s decision to pick the plot of land that was designated to become a complex of student dormitories and faculty housing for Hungarians living outside of Budapest.

Given housing prices in Budapest, such a project is sorely needed. The Budapest government said that if the government insists on giving the land to Fudan, the city of Budapest will withdraw its permission to stage the 2023 Athletic Championships.

The government has been stalling on the Fudan project ever since. Every time Balázs Fürjes makes a statement, the story changes a bit.

However, HVG noticed only a few days ago that the government had stopped preparation for the Fudan campus. Two days later, Lord Mayor Gergely Karácsony announced on his Facebook page that he had made his decision about the Student City and the World Athletics Championships.

The government has not kept its promise concerning Fudan and the student quarters, he said, and therefore he proposed that the Budapest City Council withdraw its consent for the 2023 Championships at its next meeting.

The reaction of the prime minister’s office was simple-minded: “Gergely Karácsony’s statement is frivolous, the mayor clearly wants to divert attention from the traffic jams and chaos in the capital.” Nemzeti Sport turned to the Hungarian Athletic Association, which announced that “they are still preparing for the World Championships.”

A fairly meek response to the threat. However, Iván László Nagy of HVG seems to be certain that the government is in a secure position in this debate because “it makes no difference what Karácsony and his party do.”

The agreement was concluded between the World Athletics Federation, the Hungarian Athletics Federation, and the Hungarian government, and therefore Budapest has no legal right in this case.

The City of Budapest sees it differently. Ambrus Kiss, deputy mayor, stressed today in his press conference that the agreement on hosting the World Championships in Budapest has three signatures: Gergely Karácsony, mayor of Budapest; Krisztina Baranyi, mayor of Ferencváros; and Gergely Gulyás, minister of the prime minister’s office.

That document was sent to the International Athletics Federation, the organizer of the event. He added that “If there had been no need for the city’s agreement, the government would probably not have asked for it.” This sounds convincing to me.

Yesterday Karácsony said in an interview on ATV that “the sparrows are chirping that the government gave up on the Fudan project.” Such rumors often turn out to have some basis in fact, although a few hours ago the government announced the establishment of a foundation charged with the preparation, impact studies, and plans of Fudan University.

László Palkovics will be its chairman. They added that a referendum will be held later to determine the fate of Fudan University. All that in the far future, by 2023 at the earliest.

Well, one could say that this doesn’t sound like a retreat, but I see it differently. By including a referendum in its plans, this is almost an admission that Fudan University will not be built, but the government is not yet ready to admit it.

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Hungarian Spectrum

Hungarian Spectrum features analyses in English about Hungarian political, economic, and cultural news. Its editor and primary pundit is Eva S. Balogh, who formerly taught East European history at Yale University. Guest contributors include Hungarian and international professors, experts and researchers of sociology, international affairs, and political science. The site, which is archived at the Library of Congress, is recognized by diplomats, journalists, scholars, and representatives of non-governmental organizations as a source of thoughtful analysis and high-level discussion of contemporary Hungarian affairs.

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