Flipping the Script on Beijing

Hungarian Opposition Revives Orbán’s Normative China Criticism

6 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.

Reaction against Hypocrisy 

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.

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Mátyás Mervay

Ph.D. Candidate and Adjunct Instructor at New York University’s History Department. He holds degrees in Modern Hungarian, European, and Chinese History from Eötvös Lóránd University (Budapest, Hungary), Nankai University (Tianjin, China), and New York University (United States). His research focuses on Sino-Central European historical relations in the 19th-20th centuries. He is writing his dissertation about the state administration and diaspora self-organisation of post-Habsburg Central European refugees and expatriates in Republican Era-China.

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