Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) is a conservative Hungarian educational institution funded by Viktor Orbán’s rightwing government. The institution is expanding internationally: they have opened a centre in Brussels, bought a university in Vienna and they are planning to establish new branches in various European cities.
Last year, Bence Szechenyi, an American descendant of István Széchenyi, arrived in Hungary with three other American researchers as part of the Budapest Fellowship Program, which was financed by the Mathias Corvinus Collegium. Now, he has written about his MCC experiences on The Guardian.
During their stay, the researchers took part in historical seminars and Hungarian language courses and tried to get closer to Hungarian culture through the works of writers such as Imre Madách, Antal Szerb, or Krisztián Nyáry. Based on his experience as a scholarship recipient last year, Bence Szechenyi is concerned about the expansion of MCC, as the institution’s views are closely aligned with those of Viktor Orbán.
According to Szechenyi, the MCC finances academics who exclusively spread Orbán’s position and serve to increase his influence.
Szechenyi added that the institution has a level of state support that enables it to provide funding, scholarships and housing support that is difficult to refuse even for those who disagree with the Hungarian Prime Minister. They also offered him what he needed: an opportunity to start a career as journalist, tools and a comfortable apartment in Budapest. All they expected in return was that he align himself with right-wing politics. Despite this, Szechenyi continued his own research into political corruption and ethnic tensions in Eastern Europe when one of his administrators warned him to be careful. However, he published his own articles when he was told MCC was monitoring his work. The researcher’s friend, Direkt36’s investigative reporter, Szabolcs Panyi, who was monitored with the Pegasus spy software, also warned him several times that even he could be the victim of a similar cyber attack with such an attitude. Szechenyi added that these were exaggerated concerns, but according to him, Hungarian journalists live in an atmosphere of fear.
Szechenyi is afraid that if the MCC continues to expand, if the Orbán government gets its hands on even more universities and cultural institutions and is able to influence researchers, then the realities of Hungary will become even more muted in front of the international audience.
“Hungary is much more than the MCC, much more than Viktor Orbán’s far-right politics”, he says.
Szechenyi also states that the international expansion of MCC is an opportunity for more people to be swayed by this narrow view. As the institution grows, more people will hitch themselves to this ideological wagon because they are financially motivated to do so. It’s a powerful tool for far-right propaganda, he added.