22 July 2021
In the first half of his career, Viktor Orbán used the galvanising force of an anti-communist narrative to ascend through the ranks and cement his position among the Hungarian political elite. Once there, financial crises and economic pragmaticism steered him from this course, and now the opposition parties are using his former arguments to challenge the despotic leader.
On 5 June, one day after the ominous anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement’s bloody suppression in Beijing, opponents of the Hungarian government’s Fudan University project took to the streets in Budapest. They carried Tibetan flags, anti-communist iconography and Disney’s stuffed teddy bear, a cheeky internet reference to President Xi Jinping prohibited in the People’s Republic.
‘We won’t be a colony!’ chanted thousands of participants echoing Viktor Orbán’s own famous 2012 anti-Brussels sovereigntist slogan, protesting the government’s latest pro-Beijing policies to establish Europe’s first Chinese university in the Hungarian capital.
Just a few days before, Mayor Gergely Karácsony, the frontrunner to become the opposition’s joint candidate in the 2022 Hungarian general elections, christened Budapest streets focusing on alleged human rights abuses committed in China. He also called Fidesz’s move a ‘moral suicide’. The 5 June demonstration was the first China-critical demonstration that gained traction in Hungary since 1989, highlighting a weak spot and a potential threat to the domestic support for the ruling Orbán government.