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The role of Chinese capital in the present Hungarian regime of accumulation: A context to the present political controversy over the Fudan University

Demonstration against the Hungarian campus of the Fudan University in Budapest, June 6, 2021. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Recent Chinese investments in Hungary have made waves in the international liberal press as part of Transatlantic narratives of hegemonic anxiety. These see Hungary’s “democratic backslide” and “flirtation” with Russia and China in the context of a new Cold War imaginary, defined through Huntingtonian characteristics of politico-cultural belonging. These interpretations have recently found their perfect example in the political controversy over the planned Budapest campus of Fudan University, which included an oppositional demonstration on June 6, 2021, in Budapest, also serving as an early campaign event for the 2022 national elections. If we look at structures of external integration beyond political slogans, instead of some essential cultural turnabout from the “liberal West” to the “illiberal East,” Hungary’s recent Russian and Chinese deals are part of a new geopolitical conjuncture of a long history of world economic integration in an East-West capitalist relation. In the following article we will show how this long history of world-economic integration is defined – and still marked – by issues of dependence and cyclical reconfiguration of capitalist class alliances in the buildup of successive regimes, the latest of which is Orbán’s illiberal hegemony.

Hungarian regimes in East-West geopolitics since 1956

A landmark moment in Hungary’s world-economic re-integration came after the 1956 revolution, when state socialism was reconfigured through a class compromise that proposed less ideological pressure and better life standards for workers, and pacified the conflict that Stalinist industrialization induced between agrarian and industrial lobbies through a new model of integration, which we call the “bridge-model”[i]. This was built on mediating between Western and Comecon trade, importing Western technology that was built into later Comecon exports, and paying for it by exporting cheap raw materials and oil from Comecon markets. Once the balance of the bridge-model was overturned with the oil crisis of the 1970s, Hungary’s state socialist regime shifted towards external debt and early liberalization. The alliance that formed in this period between socialist managers, reform socialist technocrats, liberal experts, and dissidents, and international donors and Western capitalist lobbies, defined Hungary’s post-1989 neoliberal integration model, and remained dominant until the late 2000s. The internal crisis of the transition, linked to the crash of the Comecon trade, contributed to the transformation of Hungary’s labor force into a cheap resource for mostly Western export-manufacturing FDI, flowing into post-socialist countries as a partial compensation of the global profitability crisis of Fordist industries.

While the liberal power bloc (represented politically by the alliance of Liberals and the reformed Socialist party) dominated Hungary’s post-socialist integration model, social grievances caused by privatization and neoliberal austerity came to be successfully mobilized by a contender, conservative bloc, which promoted a nationalist rhetoric coupled with protectionist models to serve national capital. By the end of the 2000s, the neoliberal integration model based on privatization ran into crisis, a problem only deepened by an explosion of popular unrest in 2006, and the crisis effects of 2008, to which the Socialist government reacted with an IMF loan and more austerity measures. During the same period, domestic capitalist actors, initially allied with the Socialists, shifted towards alliances with conservative politics. This context – together with an active political thematization of conflict with Western capital, and organizational work penetrating popular right-wing anti-neoliberal movements – laid the base for the Fidesz supermajority victory in 2010.

The reorganization of Hungary’s world-economic integration under the post-2010 Fidesz governments

After 2010, Viktor Orbán’s government made use of a strong centralization of state power to reorganize Hungary’s integration model within the opportunities opened up by the 2008 crisis, and the subsequent shifts in the geopolitical landscape. In the sphere of domestic services, where the state has a larger capacity to influence markets, it used the selective redistribution of EU funds, as well as discretionary regulation and outright state buyouts to enhance the positions of state-backed domestic capital. In the sphere of export manufacturing – a major factor in Hungary’s balance of payment fragility, dominated by German automotive value chains – it continued to promote FDI, with massive state subsidies, tax cuts, the rewriting of the labor code, and the reorganization of the education system. In the sphere of financing, these efforts were complemented by bold measures to decrease foreign debt, create protected financial circuits that benefit domestic capital, and diversify external financial dependence in order to decrease the EU’s or IMF’s influence over those domestic economic policies which favored Fidesz-allied oligarchs and which therefore did not comply with the EU’s competition law framework.

Fidesz’s reorientation of Hungary’s economic policy happened in the context of a broader geopolitical reconfiguration, within which the Fidesz governments strove to stabilize their own local hegemony through building new alliances with various fractions of international capital that could benefit its own domestic capitalist project. Trends of geopolitical transformations that were already present in the early 2000s, and have accelerated after 2008, provided favorable conditions for this strategic shift in several aspects. Investment by Chinese, Russian, Turkish, Middle Eastern, or Indian capital has been increasingly available for semi-peripheral regions within the EU. The expansion of Chinese capital has become a significant factor across the global semi-periphery and periphery, from Central Asia, Latin America and Africa to Eastern Europe. Besides exporting a surplus of capital, labor, and excess capacities in various construction and logistics industries as the legacy of the post-2008 crisis management (for which large infrastructure projects were the main tools), an important priority on the Chinese side has been access to Western markets and technology (often targeted by mergers and even hostile acquisitions or strategic bilateral collaborations). Eastern members of the EU have been navigating these conditions from the position of junior partners that combine EU dependencies with a potential to receive Chinese capital interested to access Western European markets. The Fidesz government’s efforts to support its own hegemonic project by reorganizing the structures of external integration have been shaped by these conditions. Its efforts towards Chinese deals are not unprecedented in Hungary: the local branch of the Bank of China, a Hungarian-Chinese high school, and the Budapest Confucius Institute had already been funded under Socialist-Liberal governments, in the framework of China’s “Go Global” strategy that preceded the more recent Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Today, the government is striving to broaden its own space of maneuver for financial and economic policy through building on the semi-peripheral position of a junior partner that mediates between various geopolitical interests similarly to the “bridge model” of the 1970s. Structurally, this strategy does not conflict with the orientation of its European industrial policy, but can rather be seen as complementary to it. This mediation happens in a broader geopolitical reconfiguration between larger European and Chinese capital that led to the proposal of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI). The CAI was fueled by the competing but also complementary interests of large European multinational companies seeking entrance to China’s vast internal market and Chinese companies’ similar interest aimed at European market entry, now coordinated under a multilateral agreement (which is however only proposed by the European Council but not yet signed by the European Parliament). The broader geopolitical reconfiguration of CAI impacts semi-peripheral state strategies as well, although with minor stakes (see figure 1). In Hungary for instance, the Eastern European expansion of German manufacturers has been deliberately combined with growing investments from Chinese banks and companies. The reason is that much of the trade between Hungary and China has already been made by the regional and global value-chain deliveries of German multinationals between German, Eastern European, and Chinese subsidiaries.

Figure 1: Chinese, German, and American FDI stock in the CEE region (million EUR)

Source: Matura Tamás, Mérce

On the Chinese side, Fidesz has been making efforts to build on interests for European market access by positioning Hungary as the “entry gate” to the EU. One major project Hungary got involved in regarding these efforts was the 336 km long high-speed cargo-railway, with 85% of its USD 3.8 billion costs covered by a loan from the Export-Import Bank of China. While the construction will be led by China Railway Engineering, Hungarian subsidiaries, among them companies from the innermost circles of Viktor Orbán (like R-kord and RM International) will be part of the joint consortium. Interestingly, unlike most of the Chinese foreign investment projects, in this case Hungarian companies will be allowed to make up to half of the joint consortium.

For the Hungarian regime, these loans primarily serve to diversify away from Western dependence in external finance, in order to enhance space of maneuver for domestic economic policy. Unlike in many cases in Southern Europe, Africa, or Central Asia, where Chinese infrastructural projects fit into the frameworks of local development policies, in Hungary these loans are connected to the government’s developmental priorities only in an indirect way (through financing). Another illustrative example of the efforts to diversify financing has been the construction of the first foreign campus of Fudan University in Budapest. After announcing the plan of a EUR 1.25 billion Chinese loan to finance the construction, the Hungarian government explained that it only plans to withdraw non-refundable grants from the EU post-pandemic recovery package (i.e.: no loans).

In terms of the use of Chinese capital, a significant change is that funds are allocated not only in Western convertible currencies (USD and Euro), but also in Chinese currency, mediated by Chinese banks that are increasingly active in the region. This fits into the Chinese Central Bank’s strategy of internationalizing its own currency, the RMB.

The first step preceding Chinese deals is typically multilateral negotiations, which can be seen as a process of testing. These are followed by concrete deals which are done in a bilateral format. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a general framework for these deals, including economic, cultural, and educational programs. Throughout the last decade, loans extended through these deals have served as a major tool for building good relations with political elites across the globe. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs set up a secretariat for Central and Southern European partners in 2012, to which a 10 billion dollar special credit line has been allocated. The 17 countries included in this framework are eligible to apply for preferential loans that they can use for infrastructural projects mostly in transportation and energy if those are part of the broader BRI framework (see figure 2).

Figure 2. External funding in BRI infrastructural projects (in million EUR and percentage), 2007-2017

Source: Julia Grübler (coord.) et al., Economic implications of the Belt and Road Initiative for CESEE and Austria, 17.

A new geopolitics of indebtedness through the diversification of financing

Figure 2 demonstrates differences of geopolitical context in the financing of BRI projects in the region. In Eastern member states of the EU, EU transfers are dominating infrastructural investments, although Chinese loans have appeared next to traditional EU loans. Outside of the EU, Chinese loans are already dominant vis-a-vis European loans, while the role of EU transfers is minimal. The case of Hungary is special in the sense that European loans have been squeezed down, while EU transfers and Chinese loans have a roughly similar volume, with the Budapest-Belgrade high-speed railway project playing a significant part in the latter.

Next to loans, FDI inflows are also worth investigating. Since 2010, Chinese companies have invested about 6 billion USD in Hungary. One of the biggest brownfield investments started during the first (1998-2002) Fidesz government, in a sector with considerable exposure to foreign trade. This was the privatization of the biggest chemical company, BorsodChem Rt, which started in 2001 (the transaction was closed in 2006). In 2011, under the second Fidesz government, BorsodChem was sold to the Chinese Wanhua Industrial Groups, which bought the company’s shares as its largest overseas acquisition in the chemical industry in the region (1.7 billion USD). Interesting to note that the formation of the Wanhua-BorsodChem group happened in accordance with the expansion of the German automotive industry in the region, which provides the main market for chemical products. Another interesting aspect of the transaction was that instead of an open bidding, Wanhua bought BorsodChem’s shares through a buyout of debt through a Hungarian subsidiary of the Bank of China, and then through an undisclosed equity trade in options[ii]. According to Hungarian competition law, this did not count as a hostile takeover, and the Prime Minister assured Chinese partners of his government’s support[iii]. During the pandemic, BorsodChem was selected as a “strategic partner” of the government, and received significant subsidies from Hungary’s rescue fund.

In addition to the BorsodChem deal, two important Chinese greenfield investments happened in two other sectors with high exposure to foreign trade, telecommunications and electricity supply. Huawei Technologies founded its Hungarian subsidiary in 2005, and opened its European Logistics Center in Biatorbágy, West Hungary in 2009. This is Huaweis largest logistics and service center outside of China, but it also works in manufacturing. In 2020, Huawei announced an R+D investment in its regional HQ in Budapest. With this step, its investments in Hungary reached 1.5 billion USD. Together with two Western European companies, Huawei received the license to build a 5G network in Hungary, which it will be able to use as a reference for competing in the EU market. This happened while Huawei grew into one of the world’s largest telecommunication companies, and amidst a sharp competition on US and European IT markets, was struck by sanctions in the US and several other countries, with references to national security reasons.

Similar tensions have been present around the second main sector where Chinese greenfield investments happened in Hungary. China National Machinery Import & Export Corporation (CNC) has built the region’s largest photovoltaic park next to Kaposvár, a small town in the South of Hungary. Solar energy has been another market where a sharp competition between Western and Chinese companies has evolved in the past years, and where the Hungarian project has an important reference value for EU markets. The electricity produced by the park will be directly connected into the Hungarian network on a fixed price, which means that a state guarantee will cover investors’ risk. How beneficial this will be for Hungarian taxpayers is a question. Synergies will probably be used by industrial policy, providing stable and cheap energy to German manufacturers.

Banks also play a key role in the local expansion of Chinese companies, in a process connected to the transformation of the international monetary system. Hungarian policy makers have been aiming to make Hungary a regional hub for Chinese currency’s clearinghouse, providing infrastructure for a local offshore market of RMB investments. Since 2015, within the framework of the “Budapest Renminbi Initiative,” three of the four largest Chinese credit institutions (China Construction Bank, Bank of China, and the Agricultural Bank of China) opened a regional HQ in Budapest. In 2013, the Hungarian Central Bank stroke a bilateral currency swap agreement with the Chinese Central Bank, and started to build reserves in RMB (although since RMB still does not count as a convertible currency these reserves cannot figure in the official international reserves). In the same year, the Hungarian Exim Bank agreed with the Export-Import Bank of China in a 100 million Euro RMB loan, which would provide funds for Hungarian companies exporting to China. Hungary and Poland were the first to issue state bonds in Chinese currency in 2016 and 2017, although this was only in a small amount to test Chinese investors [iv].

Next to financing, geopolitical changes have benefited the Hungarian regime’s local hegemony-building on other territories linked to the BRI, too. The plan to build the first foreign campus of Fudan University in Budapest has been a major case where aspects of cultural policy have intersected with those of financing and construction. Moreover, the location chosen for the project overlaps with that of a previous plan for a student campus, built in the same urban investment agglomeration through which the Budapest-Belgrade railway line will run.

Site where the construction of Fudan University’s campus is planned, in the 9th district of Budapest, Hungary. Photo by Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images.

In place of conclusion: the Fudan campus project at a conjuncture of hegemonic capitalist projects

The recent strategic agreement on Hungary becoming host to Chinese elite public university Fudan’s first foreign campus has caused major waves in international and domestic political commentary. Financed from a EUR 1.25 billion Chinese loan, and expected to be built by Chinese contractors, the university has become a major symbol of new Cold War narratives about Hungary. These narratives have combined long-term Transatlantic talking points against Chinese loans (and their most simple “debt trap” versions, long criticized by independent BRI research) with geopolitical narratives on Hungary’s “democratic backslide” as a return to Eastern authoritarianism. The case of Fudan constitutes an especially potent condensation point for these narratives, due to its contrast with the Orbán government’s earlier expulsion of the Central European University (CEU), an American-Hungarian university founded by George Soros in the framework of his “open society” project of postsocialist transformation. Unsurprisingly, in Huntingtonian new Cold War narratives the two universities become the symbols of Western democratic and Eastern despotic “cultures,” completed through contrasting academic freedom (represented by CEU) with potential security threats (represented by Fudan’s links to the Chinese state).

Within Hungarian oppositional politics, the issue of Fudan has been put at the forefront of the incipient campaign for the 2022 parliamentary elections. Transatlantic Cold War discourse has been dominating arguments of the opposition. For instance, the liberal Momentum Movement Party’s leader and two independent MPs declared in a common press release that Fidesz banned “a world class Western university, CEU,” only to bring in a “Chinese university useful for educating Chinese spies.” “If I get to be Prime Minister, Fudan will have to go. Instead of the East, we choose the West,” said Momentum’s leader, András Fekete-Győr. “This is a gate [to Europe] for which Hungary is only a tool, and which serves the Chinese to the detriment of Europe,” independent MP Bernadett Szél added. Binding anti-Chinese to anti-communist rhetoric and calling Fidesz out for its betrayal of its anti-communism has been a central element of oppositional arguments. Closely following this framework, Budapest’s opposition municipal government recently renamed streets around the future Fudan campus to names that point at human rights and geopolitical conflicts with the Chinese state: “Dalai Lama street”, “Free Hong Kong street”, “Uyghur Martyrs street”. That such gestures follow US Cold War discourse blueprints instead of an interest in universal human rights is made clear by Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony’s statement at the demonstration that the main stake in the Fudan controversy is Hungary’s choice between Eastern dictatorships and Western freedom. It is also made clear in the statement of  his recently announced “99% Movement” on its foreign politics:

(The Orbán regime is creating) “dubious and dangerously close relations with Eastern empires and Central-Asian dictatorships, which push Hungary into a dependent position. [….] The main aim of Hungary’s new government will be to reinforce trust with our Western allies, and secure our place among those countries of the world that are free and that are fighting for freedom. […] Hungary is the member of two value-based alliances: NATO and the European Union, and we are dedicated to the Euro-Atlantic alliance, and to deepening European collaboration. This dedication does not exclude serving Hungarian national interests, on the contrary, this is the utmost national interest.”

As expected, the Chinese state has responded to the Hungarian opposition’s gestures by condemning them. For the opposition and Western commentators, this serves to reinforce the significance of their actions (similar to earlier instances of such mutually reinforcing political pingpong, which has served as a significant base for Orbán’s own politics so far). Trying to press aside a conflict where the opposition has a larger support within the capital city, the government announced following the demonstration that a public consultation on the Fudan plan (proposed by Karácsony’s campaign) could take place, but only after the 2022 elections.

Next to geopolitical lines of criticism, other arguments against the Fudan deal include taking a loan that will benefit Chinese companies and workers instead of the Hungarian economy or higher education, and the Fudan campus occupying a significant part of what had earlier been planned as a Hungarian university campus development in the outer 9th district of Budapest. Within the campaign situation, these arguments have been used along the lines of existing political alliances and symbolic conflicts. Regarding the loan deal, mayor Karácsony condemned the government in his speech at a demonstration organized to protest Fudan, as “it does not use the opportunity to help out the economy struck by the virus with a EU loan, but instead gets indebted to China or Russia.” The issue of affordable housing – which was one of Karácsony’s main campaign topics for the 2019 local elections – was also connected to the issue of Fudan, since the Fudan campus plan occupies a large part of the territory comprising an earlier municipal infrastructural development plan for a Student District (a sport arena designed for international sports spectacle was also part of this plan).

As usual, political campaign topics do not necessary follow empirical details accurately. The area targeted by the campus project that Karácsony’s campaign now aims to protect has previously been targeted for various other flagship mega-urban projects, such as a world-market exhibition embraced by Socialist (MSZP) governments. None of those previously planned projects materialized due to the failure of each of the post-socialist regimes to keep the diversity of stakeholders on board. Fidesz’s more recent attempt to target the area with the Student City campus project is a continuation of this series of state-led real estate investment circuits feeding oligarchies that are closely affiliated to the actual governing party. This very same model that supports partisan oligarchic circles now includes a push for Chinese investors to join the campus project with their capital. When the anti-Fudan campaign contrasts “Chinese” to “Hungarian” interests, the structure of local extraction built into the earlier campus project is omitted. While the affordable college spaces for students included in the Student City plan would indeed have an impact on the housing situation of the affected districts, foregrounding the conflict with the Chinese university and its elevation to global levels of liberal morals shifts the focus from even more stringent issues of ongoing housing conflicts, and the question of a concrete oppositional plan to solve the housing crisis.

Regarding the higher education aspect, one main critical argument has been that Fudan will promote Chinese state ideology. While concrete details of the contract are not known (similar to Chinese foreign loan contracts in general), Hungarian independent China experts have pointed out that the Hungarian branch of Fudan is unlikely to serve the aim of ideological education, but will rather include technical faculties aimed at European and Western higher education markets. This technical focus would probably exclude smaller critical humanitarian departments like those at the CEU, while the focus on the Western elite higher education market is unlikely to allow for the accessibility CEU provided during its earlier regionally focused “open society” project phase for East European students without exceptional material backgrounds (today CEU functions as a private university with no direct funding from the Soros foundation; since it moved to Vienna, covering living costs has become a problem for East European students). Although Hungarian state support for Fudan is at the scale of the entire Hungarian higher education budget, according to expert comments the state subsidy plays a less significant role on the Chinese side, the main motivation being to establish the first foreign campus within the EU, on politically stable grounds.

Establishing a local branch of a global elite university (ranking 34 on world charts) with a planned student body of 5,000, and a faculty of 500, Fudan’s effects on Hungarian higher education have also been a point of focus. Here, the opposition of “Chinese” vs. “Hungarian” universities has obscured the immense gap between Fudan’s status and that of the Hungarian universities in the global higher education market, as well as the actual increasingly problematic state of the Hungarian higher education system. Through a series of reforms since 2010, the government has starkly reduced the autonomy of universities, and made them subservient to its economic policy (a story that has always been relegated to the background in international debates on the fate of CEU). In 2021, this process has been brought to a tipping point, where the whole higher education system has been practically privatized into Fidesz-related private foundations. These developments mark a major crisis in the history of a system struggling under long-term effects of underfunding and (with some exceptions) underperformance (problems also discussed on LeftEast earlier), and the lack of possibilities for students from poorer backgrounds. While members of Hungarian higher education and academia have earlier reacted to anti-CEU measures with protests of solidarity, in hope that the internationally recognized case of CEU could be used as a bastion that can halt local reforms, present oppositional gestures treat Fudan as part of the government’s “destruction” of local higher education. However, in terms of the global higher education market, CEU and Fudan share more with each other than with Hungarian universities. In terms of their social effects, the presence of Fudan and the pro-business transformation of local universities can be expected to further polarize local career options, providing routes of integration for upwardly mobile experts in technical fields, while stepping up the already existing marginalization of critical social sciences, diminishing mobility routes for popular strata, and blocking popular self-organization in the field of knowledge production.

This article argued that instead of a simplified Cold War framework, we need to see the Orbán regime’s relation to Chinese investments as part of a reconfiguration of Hungary’s dependent development, where state-backed local capital acts as a junior partner to both Western and Eastern capital, trying to carve out a favorable space of maneuver for its own accumulation purposes within the global transformation of capitalist hegemony. From this perspective, the phase of neoliberal subordination of Hungarian workers to Western capital’s crisis management in the 1990s – the time when CEU was founded to produce professionals for the creation of an “open society”– is not the opposite of the present moment when Hungary’s taxpayers are drawn into undisclosed loans, including the one involving the Fudan campus. Both moments are part of a continuous process of dependent capitalist maneuvering within global capitalist crisis and geopolitical transformation. Rather than taking sides between contesting capitalist blocks that compete to monopolize the gains of an unsustainable model of economic growth, our common interest lies in global solidarity and the collective transformation of the present system of extraction that threatens life on a planetary scale.

The position of the Hungarian new left is challenging in this respect. Since the 2019 local elections, a new political movement, Szikra (Spark) has been working to carve out space within electoral politics by joining opposition candidates’ campaigns. The recent demonstration against Fudan was announced by an independent candidate supported by Szikra, András Jámbor (former editor-in-chief of independent left news site Mérce).  In its own statements, Szikra does not support the culturalist and anti-communist line of the campaign and instead emphasizes the housing aspect of anti-Fudan criticism. Like Karácsony, it declared that the case against Fudan does not go against Chinese people. It also criticized Karácsony’s and the broader opposition’s focus on East-West geopolitical and cultural belonging as a superficial form of critique. However, as a member of Karácsony’s 99 movement, and as the organizer of the anti-Fudan demonstration, it also did not conflict with culturalist/racist and New Cold War framings  – for instance, it did not state its own position vis-a-vis 99’s pro-NATO line, or did not engage in a debate with racist statements by opposition politicians or Jámbor’s followers.[v]

This lack of critique is partly explained by the Hungarian political situation where the only chance for any oppositional actor to move ahead in the electoral game is to join the cross-party effort against the Fidesz supermajority. However, this tactical choice also means missing out on the opportunity to voice a perspective of internationalist, global solidarity in the face of a global propaganda of conflict that currently serves to increase military spending to epochal peaks in compensation for capital’s crisis.

Suffering from anxieties and disillusionments tied to the 1989 regime change’s toxic promise to raise Hungarians to the global position of Western white privileges – thereby gaining dominant positions over less Western “others” – and long targeted by Fidesz’s xenophobic campaigns, the electorate now serves as a perfect receptor for anti-Chinese messages (two thirds of respondents were against the Chinese university in a recent poll, including Fidesz voters). Instead of relying on, and feeding into those feelings in an implicit alliance with New Cold War arguments, a left position that is able to differentiate between pressures of capitalist politics, and define itself in terms of global popular solidarity, is strongly needed.

Another significant limitation imposed by merging Jámbor’s campaign for “Taking back our future!” with the opposition’s rekindling of the Westernist rhetoric of the regime change regards the possibility of articulating a labor-based, anticapitalist approach to local politics. Using the opportunity of its anniversary on June 4, Karácsony’s demonstration speech referred back to the Tiananmen square massacre to announce that the opposition is “holding up the same values” when opposing Eastern-type dictatorships (in 1989 and today) and aiming to join the list of free Western countries. This use of the massacre’s anniversary is in sharp contrast with Hungarian new left critiques of the regime change as the introduction of direct capitalist domination in lockstep with parliamentary democracy, as well as Chinese internationalist left movements’ emphasis on the difference between democratization and capitalist restoration (from workers’ struggles against privatization and for democratic self-management in 1989 to left activism within the Hong Kong Umbrella movement that claimed the simultaneous democratization of economy and politics). From the latter perspective, the conflict over democracy is primarily located within the interpenetrating capitalist structures that link Hungarians’ lives to both Eastern and Western aspects of successive global extractive cycles. To emphasize the possibility of a common, anti-capitalist perspective, we conclude with the words of Hong Kong socialist Lam Chi Leung, from an interview with Lausan at the occasion of the banned and heavily surveilled 2021 commemoration of the Tiananmen square massacre:

“From a leftist perspective, we see that cross-border worker solidarity is the only way forward. […] It is totally unrealistic to imagine that freedom can be allowed in Hong Kong in exchange for not questioning Chinese dictatorship. […]  If the vigil doesn’t develop into an actual promotion of the struggle for democracy in the whole of China including Hong Kong, and doesn’t emphasize the mutual reliance of people in China and Hong Kong in their struggle, then the commemoration will indeed be reduced to a ritual of little significance.”

Note from LE: This article was updated on June 16, with the last section expanded for clarity.

[i] Tamás Gerőcs and András Pinkasz, “Conflicting Interests in the Comecon Integration: State Socialist Debates on East-West-South Relations,” East Central Europe 45, nos 2-3 (2018): 336–365.

[ii] Wade Jacoby and Umat Korkut, “Vulnerability and Economic Re-orientation: Rhetoric and in Reality in Hungary’s ‘Chinese Opening,’” East European Politics and Societies and Cultures 3 (2016): 496–518.

[iii] Chris Bryant, “Wanhua takes full control of Borsodchem,” Financial Times, February 1, 2011,

[iv] Tamás Gerőcs, “Challenges of Internationalisation from the Perspective of the Chinese Currency,” Financial and Economic Review 16, no. 1 (2016): 170–185.

[v] The previous version of this article said that Szikra did not speak up against New Cold War/pro-NATO and culturalist /racist aspects of the anti-Fudan campaign. We spelled out this part in more detail, in order to avoid the impression that Szikra did not issue any criticism of the opposition campaign at all, and in order to make clear what we see as a lack in its critique.

Ágnes Gagyi specializes in social movements, focusing on connections between politics and social movements in Central and Eastern Europe, and the social, economic and political aspects of the region’s long-term world market integration. She is researcher at the Department of Sociology and Work Science, University of Gothenburg. She is member of the Working Group for Public Sociology “Helyzet.”

Tamás Gerőcs is a political economist who is currently pursuing his PhD at the State Universi­ty of New York Binghamton. His research field of interest is semi- peripheral de­pendent development, including infrastructural projects and state formation in Eastern Europe and Eastern Africa. Gerőcs is a research fellow at the Institute of World Eco­nomics, Centre of Economic and Regional Studies. He graduated from the Cor­vinus University of Budapest (CUB) in 2008 with the MA degree in International Relations. Gerőcs is also a member of the Budapest- based Working Group for Public Sociology “Helyzet.

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