Pro-Orbán Hungarian Organizations Are Spreading the Country’s Authoritarian Agenda Abroad

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At the CPAC Dallas event in August 2022, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán called for Christian Nationalists in Europe and the United States to “unite forces,” because “we Hungarians know how to defeat the enemies of freedom on the political battlefield.” At the governmental level, this is increasingly done through Hungarian organizations that are used as a form of soft-power to influence other countries culturally and ideologically. A growing army of Hungarian “universities,” “think tanks,” and other organizations including American lobbying outfits, heavily funded by the Hungarian treasury, have taken to building widespread networks of influence in the United States and much of Europe. In doing so, they intend to influence these countries to move their politics in the direction of the Orbán regime’s, which the EU parliament calls an “electoral autocracy.” 

Through this network, Hungarian soft-power organizations make connections with foreign NGOs, think tanks, intellectuals, and politicians, and spread far-right propaganda about immigration, LGBTQ+ issues, European integration, and “wokeness,” and promote a positive image of Orbán and the Hungarian regime to fellow far-right travelers abroad. Some of this influence is gained through the American Hungarian community and American lobbying firms. This can be seen in the case of the American Hungarian Federation, an organization representing the Hungarian expat community in the United States which supports Orbán’s political agenda, as when it pressured the Trump Administration to reconsider the State Department’s decision to provide a 700,000 USD grant to foster the free press in Hungary, which Orbánists criticized as an example of American interference in Hungarian affairs.

In another instance, Orbán hired the lobbying firm of former Florida Republican Congressman Connie Mack IV. According to Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filings obtained by GPAHE, this contract amounted to payments of 20,000 USD per month to Levick Strategic Communications, which according to the New York Times, “specializes in generating media coverage that casts troubled clients in a more favorable light — preparing executives for interviews, urging reporters to pursue more sympathetic angles and spreading complimentary facts through news releases and social media.” Other firms of Mack’s, such as the Prime Policy Group, were tasked with contacting US journalists in order to schedule meetings with a visiting “Hungarian official.” Later in 2018, Orbán hired Policy Impact, led by Republican lobbyist William Nixon, which helped to introduce Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson to Orbán and Hungary. Carlson later would go on to paint the country as a glowing conservative paradise and even visit in the summer of 2021, claiming on his show that Orbán had been unfairly cast as an authoritarian in the international press: “Because the lessons are so obvious, and such a clear refutation to the policies we currently have, and the people who instituted those policies, Hungary and its government have been ruthlessly attacked and unfairly attacked: ‘It’s authoritarian, they’re fascists…’ There are many lies being told right now, that may be the greatest of all.” It is estimated that Orbán spent an estimated 4.5 million USD on lobbyists from May 2012 to October 2021.

Other actions are more oriented towards building a coalition of far-right movements and leaders that the Orbán regime can call upon to support its politics. While organizations based in Hungary have been provided the most resources for these aims, the Hungarian government also has ties with international organizations such as the anti-LGBTQ+ organization Political Network for Values (PNfV), which received a 140,000 euro grant from the Hungarian government in 2020 and has Hungarians in its leadership.

Many of these attempts to influence Western countries function under the radar. In September 2022, the investigative journalism outlet Átlátszó reported on the activities of a bilingual, “London-based” international news agency called V4NA, which delivers coverage of current events from a far-right perspective. According to Átlátszó’s reporting, the outlet is owned by the large media conglomerate KESMA, filled with Orbán loyalists, and actually is based in the center of Budapest, not London, in order to provide a pro-Orbán spin on current events while apparently presenting itself as a foreign news outlet.

These efforts have borne political fruit for Orbán. Hungarian government officials and representatives of organizations funded by the government are regularly invited to large international, far-right conferences such as CPAC, NatCon, the World Congress of Families, and others, some of which Hungarian organizations now co-sponsor. At the same time, the American and European far right have become increasingly infatuated with Budapest. In 2019, Hungary arranged its first meeting between Orbán and a sitting US President since Bill Clinton in 1998. Pro-Orbán “experts,” once confined to the borders of Hungary, have now found roles pushing the regime’s bigoted narratives abroad. In the United States, Orbán has gained a considerable amount of influence due to his network’s connections to policy makers in Washington, particularly through its deep working relationship with The Heritage Foundation and members of the Republican Party. In Europe, Hungarian organizations regularly promote conferences and events featuring prominent far-right activists and government officials at the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) in both Budapest and Brussels, the Danube Institute, and CPAC Hungary events, as well as engaging pan-European partnerships between organizations such as Hungary’s anti-immigrant Migration Research Institute and other European anti-immigrant groups. 

Here are seven Pro-Orbán organizations working to undermine liberal democracy in the US and Europe.

Batthyány Lajos Alapítvány Foundation

The Batthyány Lajos Alapítvány (BLA) foundation is a philanthropic institution that serves as one of the primary sources of funneling taxpayer money from the Hungarian state to organizations that are pro-Fidesz, Orbán’s political party. Originally founded as a private institution in 1991 by Prime Minister József Antall with the task of supporting democracy following the collapse of communism, Fidesz began using it to transfer public money to its aligned projects after Fidesz gained a supermajority in the 2010 elections. Since 2016, the Miniszterelnöki Kabinetiroda (Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office) has transferred an estimated 10 billion HUF (27 million USD) through the BLA. 

In 2021, the status of the BLA was changed from a private institution to a Public Interest Asset Management Trust (KEKVA). The product of a recent privatization plan, a KEKVA is a type of organization that serves as a semi-private trust for major institutions in Hungary, including most Hungarian universities, and is used, in practice, to inject millions of dollars in public money, valuable real estate, and company stock into pro-Fidesz organizations. It has been estimated that more than 70 percent of the country’s universities have been brought under the control of Fidesz-affiliated KEKVAs. In order to retain control over the flow of funds, and the direction of universities, the board of directors of KEVKAs are usually filled with Fidesz MPs, politicians and other allies of the ruling party who serve for life and earn monthly salaries of around 1 million HUF (2,700 USD). 

Transparency International has described KEKVAs as “everything that is unacceptable to citizens who fight corruption and are concerned about the rule of law. The politically motivated distribution of substantial unearned incomes is a textbook example of rent-seeking. The takeover of the foundations by political and business elites has led to a previously unimaginable increase in conflict of interest and the revolving door phenomenon.” Today, the president of the board of the BLA is Tamás Dezső, who is also the leader of the pro-Orbán Migration Research Institute, which serves to produce anti-immigrant experts for the news. István Kiss, Danube Institute Executive Director and former advisor to Viktor Orban also holds a seat on the board of trustees. While the recipients of its funds are largely pro-Orbán organizations, the foundation also distributes funds to groups with different target audiences, with the Centre for Fundamental Rights, the Migration Research Institute, and other organizations focused on providing “experts” for domestic media consumption, the Danube Institute doing so for international audiences, and the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) for both.

The contracts provided by the BLA often require foreign partners to promote the Hungarian government in the foreign press, provide them interviews, or assist with the activities of pro-government Hungarian NGOs. Some of them have specifically referred to the obligation to place articles in the US media that are favorable to the Hungarian government, presenting Orbán’s actions as a model for the conservative movement in the US. This was the case of Rod Dreher, who despite not being listed in the US’s lobbyist database, was responsible for publishing positive pieces about Hungary in the US media, participating in events for the Danube Institute, and networking with conservative politicians in Europe, for which he was paid 3.1 million HUF (8,750 USD) per month in early 2023. 

Like Dreher, American journalist Michael O’Shea was also paid 4,500 USD (HUF 1.59 million) per month to publish “on Hungarian family policy and Hungarian geopolitics for American and European media.” To this day, he continues to write for outlets such as the American Conservative, the European Conservative, the American Spectator, and The National Interest, while on the payroll of the BLA. Similarly, American Christopher Rufo received a 35,000 USD (12.41 million HUF) grant from the foundation to give lectures on “critical race theory” and “LGBTQ propaganda” and write articles for the Hungarian Conservative, a journal managed by members of the Danube Institute, or the pro-government Hungarian Review. Rufo, a former fellow at the Heritage Foundation and Claremont Institute, is known in the US for having masterminded the far-right strategy to link any form of inclusive material in schools to “critical race theory” around 2021, and leading efforts for such material to be banned. Jeremy Carl, a journalist for the American Conservative and currently senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, was paid 7,000 USD in February 2023 to write two studies on “Hungarian family support policy, with special regard to its connections with Hungarian immigration policy,” and “How the Orbán government managed to tame the Hungarian deep state while keeping Brussels out.”

The Batthyány Lajos Foundation also provides financial support to the English-language publication The European Conservative produced by the Center for European Renewal which provides a far-right take on news in European Union member states. Unlike The Hungarian Conservative, the list of editors at The European Conservative mostly consists of individuals from outside of Hungary. These include editor-in-chief Alvino-Mario Fantini, Francesco Giubilei, president of far right Italian think tank Nazione Futura and president of the far-right cultural center Tatarella Foundation that serves as an archive for the Fratelli d’Italia’s (Brothers of Italy, FdI) neo-fascist predecessors, Lorenzo Montanari, executive director of the U.S.-based Property Rights Alliance, former Project Veritas board member Matthew Tyrmand, and communications director for the anti-abortion Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform Jonathon Van Maren. Also in leadership positions are the Danube Institute’s president John O’Sullivan, and David Engels, the Roman History chair at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and an analyst at the Polish Instytut Zachodni. Engels regularly lectures at and collaborates with the French identitarian and Christian nationalist group Academia Christiana, which was nearly dissolved by the French state for extremism last year. Incidentally, the large conferences that The European Conservative hosts usually have representatives from a number of pro-Orbán organizations.

Centre for Fundamental Rights (Alapjogokért Központ)

The Centre for Fundamental Rights (Alapjogokért Központ, CFA) is a pro-Orbán think tank that views as its mission the “preservation of national identity, sovereignty, and Judeo-Christian social traditions,” “countering today’s overgrown human rights fundamentalism and political correctness,” and “galvanizing the cooperation of conservatives worldwide.” The CFA was founded in 2013 as the Jogállam és Igazság Nonprofit Kft. (Rule of Law and Justice nonprofit) by Miklós Szánthó. Szánthó is a lawyer with ties to Fidesz who also holds a position on the board of KESMA, the massive right-wing media conglomerate filled with Fidesz loyalists that was handed a large portion of the country’s media by business allies of Orbán. Although the name of the organization would later be changed to the CFA, the Jogállam és Igazság Nonprofit Kft. remains the legal entity behind the CFA today as money from the government is sent there, and no registered organization exists by the name of the CFA. In addition, the Centre has held more formal ties to Fidesz, listing the Fidesz party group Foundation for Civil Hungary (PADA) as a partner in a 2013 report to the Fidesz foundation. In the same report, Szánthó is more clear about the mission of the Centre: “The foundation of the Centre was driven by the realization that it is necessary to provide professional responses based on public law to politically motivated domestic and international criticism of Hungary in recent years.”

The Centre for Fundamental Rights serves as the propaganda arm of the Orbán government both at home and abroad. The CFA regularly takes hard-line stances on immigration, with research director Péter Törcsi stating in October 2023 that “with mass migration, we have imported the civilizational conflicts and bloodshed of distant countries to Europe,” and that “the past week in Western Europe has been marked by hordes of migrants marching through cities from Berlin to Paris and London, celebrating fanatical terrorists killing innocent civilians – women and children – in Israel.” Domestically, the CFA is mainly known for providing a handful of pro-Fidesz “experts,” such as Attila Kovács, to speak to Hungarian media and provide a pro-government ”spin” on issues. Abroad, however, the CFA works both to foster connections with Western conservatives and project Hungarian soft power abroad. The CFA works closely with the anti-LGBTQ+ Polish group Ordo Iuris (see GPAHE’s previous reporting on Ordo Iuris here), and other international groups such as the anti-LGBTQ+ Spanish CitizenGo, against the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) and what they refer to as “globalist liberalism.” The international director, Magor Ernyei, was present at a private meeting between Republican elected officials, the Hungarian Embassy, and the Heritage Foundation in December 2023 to try and convince US leaders to cut off funding and arms for Ukraine. More recently, Szánthó invited former Trump Administration official Rob Law of the America First Policy Institute, a pro-Trump think tank often described as a “White House in waiting,” to the militarized Hungarian border, which Law referred to as as “example of how political will can prevent illegal migration.”

The CFA regularly lashes out at European Union and Washington critics of the current government. For example, after a resolution condemning democratic backsliding in Hungary was introduced in the US Senate, the CFA responded with a long tweet claiming a “vicious attack” on Hungary and accusing Biden and his family of “corruption.”

Tweet from the Centre for Fundamental Rights following the introduction of a US Senate resolution condemning democratic backsliding in Hungary (Source: Twitter)

Their members also regularly attend far-right events around the world, such as CPAC 2023 in Washington, DC, and the 2022 CPAC Brasil conference, in addition to speaking at events held by the Bulgarian anti-LGBTQ+ group ROD International (for more on this group, see GPAHE’s Hate and Extremism country report for Bulgaria here). They partner with the Heritage Foundation and other anti-LGBTQ+ groups in the United States, such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, in the “International Coalition on Gender Imperialism,” and recently launched a series of events about the upcoming US election with the help of Heritage’s Mike Gonzalez called “We Win, They Lose–America’s Choice.” One of the largest events they organize for non-Hungarians are the CPAC Hungary events, financed to the tune of one million euros by the Lajos Batthyány Foundation, that bring together prominent far-right activists from around the world. Speaking to the press before the most recent event, Matt Schlapp, the president of the US-based group which organizes the event, the American Conservative Union, stated that “It certainly seems like the government wants to partner with us.” The CFA were also listed as a sponsor of the 2022 CPAC Texas event, despite the American Conservative Union denying any official connection with the group. In March 2024, the Centre for Fundamental Rights opened an office (Centro de Derechos Fundamentales) in Madrid where they began organizing events for Spanish-speaking audiences attended by elected members of the far-right political party, VOX.

The Centre for Fundamental Rights is one of the most well-funded organizations in the country. The CFA budget is derived almost exclusively from grants from the Batthyány Lajos Alapítvány foundation funneled directly from the PM’s Cabinet Office (Miniszterelnöki Kabinetiroda), some with contracts stipulating they were “devoid of any obligation.” In 2021, this amounted to nearly 1 billion HUF (2.73 million USD) in grants from this source. Moreover, due to Fidesz’s seats in the European Parliament, the Centre for Fundamental Rights was able to obtain contracts worth tens of thousands of euros from the center-right EU parliament grouping European People’s Party (EPP). The assets held by the CFA increased from 55 million HUF in 2018 to 7.6 billion HUF in 2022, including the acquisition of a fancy new office building on Budakeszi út in Budapest next to the Hungarian Academy of Arts building, with a sauna and a fitness room worth 1.4 billion HUF (3.8 million USD), which they purchased in 2021. In 2021, the CFA spent an estimated 777 million HUF (2.1 million USD) on salaries for a staff of 37 people, and 1.182 billion HUF (3.23 million USD) in 2022. On average, employees in 2022 earned a gross monthly salary of 2.05 million HUF (5,600 USD), more than four times the national Hungarian median salary of 559,100 HUF (1,500 USD), and more than the salary of the secretary of state.

The Danube Institute (Duna Intézet)

The Danube Institute (Duna Intézet) is a far-right, pro-Orbán think tank, founded in 2013 by the Batthyány Lajos Foundation, with widespread international connections. The Institute exists to “encourage the transmission of ideas and people within the countries of Central Europe and between Central Europe, other parts of Europe, and the English-speaking world,” which it does by attending and organizing conferences, publishing articles and books, and recruiting individuals from other countries to participate in their fellowship program. In practice, it is used primarily to spread the ideological agenda of Orbán, and recruit Western allies to build political networks abroad. The Institute is led by John O’Sullivan, a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher and senior fellow at the American National Review Institute in Washington, DC, and along with fellow Danube Executive Director István Kiss, is an editor of the Hungarian Conservative, a journal published with funding from the BLA. 

Danube staff are regularly invited to conferences around the world, including the large far-right NatCon events, to which O’Sullivan is invited every year. Incidentally, the organizer of the NatCon events, Ofir Haivry, was recruited as one of the Danube Institute’s fellows. Aside from O’Sullivan, Danube’s Director of Research David Martin Jones and Kiss are also frequently seen at international events. Danube Institute staff have attended events such as the Worldwide Freedom Initiative (see GPAHE’s reporting on this event here), where Kiss addressed a group of far-right politicians including Frenchmen Éric Zemmour (Reconquête!), Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (Debout la France), Florian Philippot (Les Patriotes), Jean-Frédéric Poisson (Voie du Peuple), American Republicans Kerry McQuisten and Kristi Noem, Dutchman Rob Roos, and the UK’s Nigel Farage.

As with the Centre for Fundamental Rights, the Danube Institute is completely funded by the Hungarian treasury, and pays millions to American public figures every year in order to influence discourse abroad. The Institute is a project of the Lajos Batthyány Foundation (BLA), and while it claims to be an independent venture in the Hungarian media, legally-speaking no such organization exists in Hungary as it is not registered as an NGO or a company. It lists the same address as the BLA on its website, the Lónyay-Hatvany villa in Budapest, and its staff are directly hired by the BLA itself.

Part of the Danube Institute’s strategy for increasing Hungarian influence is through its fellowship program, which attracts conservative intellectuals from across the Western world. The common thread for many of these visiting scholars is that they tend to be either practicing journalists, activists with influence in the conservative movement, or academics with a media presence. It has invited numerous Americans to serve as fellows, including Jeffrey Kaplan, philosophy professor at the University of North Carolina, American Conservative columnist Rod Dreher, John Fonte, director of the Center for American Common Culture at the Hudson Institute, The National Interest editor Carlos Roa, Claremont Institute fellows Daniel J. Mahoney and Jeremy Carl, The American Conservative and European Conservative columnist Michael O’Shea, and anti-”critical race theory” activist Christopher Rufo. Outside of the United States, the Danube Institute has recruited Edmund Burke Foundation founder Ofir Haivry, Canadian “anti-woke” journalist Katherine Brodsky, British far-right author Douglas Murray, French reporter for Livre Noir Erik Tegnér, and British historian David Oldroyd-Bolt. More recently, the former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was added to the list of the institute’s guest lecturers.

In September 2021, the Danube Institute invited former Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions to give a speech on geopolitical issues, and he stated that he was promised a small fee for attending. Sessions is not the only American to be paid to attend an event; in September 2023 journalist David Satter and Professor Steven F. Hayward were paid a total of 15,000 USD to attend the Danube Geopolitical Summit conference, which was co-organized by the Heritage Foundation. The Institute has attempted to use these connections to further the foreign policy goals of the Hungarian state, as many fellows are expected to write for English-language Hungarian journals produced by the Institute and other allied groups, or publish in media outlets abroad. This was the case of Chris Rufo, for example, who was tasked with writing two articles in the Hungarian Conservative or the Hungarian Review, and published an article in the German conspiracist COMPACT-Magazin (see GPAHE’s reporting on Compact here) that called for American conservatives to learn from the Hungarian experience. Michael O’Shea, who regularly publishes in the American Conservative, European Conservative, and The National Interest, has also been contracted by the BLA to “write two articles a month, of at least 650 words, especially on Hungarian family policy and Hungarian geopolitics for American and European media.”

In recent years, the Danube Institute has been investing time and effort in establishing stronger relations with the conservative movement in the United States. In April 2023, Danube Institute executive director István Kiss spoke before the Tennessee State Senate at the behest of the Tennessee Republican Party (see GPAHE’s reporting on this here) in order to network and create connections with the Republican elected officials. Last year, they also established a formal partnership with the US-based Heritage Foundation, allowing Heritage associates to come to Hungary through the Institute’s fellowship program. Staff from both organizations now regularly participate in each other’s events since the ascendance of Kevin Roberts to the presidency of Heritage, and in October 2023, both organizations co-hosted the Institute’s annual Geopolitical Summit. 

In order to avoid registering their associates as foreign lobbyists, Danube publishes two English-language journals based in Hungary but intended for American audiences, the Hungarian Conservative and the Hungarian Review. On the team for both of these publications are Tamás Magyarics as editor-in-chief, Kiss as the deputy editor-in-chief, and O’Sullivan as an editor. Among the contributors listed for the Hungarian Conservative are Danube Institute research fellows Dávid Nagy, Sáron Sugár, and former fellow Lili Naómi Zemplényi. BLA contracts for the Danube Institute sometimes stipulate that fellows are required to publish in these journals or give interviews for journalists who work for them.

Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC)

Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) is a pro-Orbán “university” and “think tank” led by the advisor to Prime Minister Orbán, Balázs Orbán (no relation), with campuses in both Budapest and Brussels. MCC serves as an institution designed to train right-wing intellectuals, and provides stipends, networking opportunities, and fellowships to interested student applicants and foreign intellectuals. In an interview with the New York Times, Balázs Orbán said that one of the goals of the MCC was to instill a sense of “patriotism” among the next generation of Hungarian leaders. The MCC regularly publishes studies and organizes groups on issues important to the Christian Nationalist movement. A few of the more recent events hosted by the Brussels branch include “How did the LGBTQ lobby take over the EU?,” “The Diversity Obsession: Can Europe survive multiculturalism?,” “Grooming gangs and the dangers of political correctness,” and “The EU’s gender obsession: undermining education and families?” Unlike normal universities, the MCC reacts to current events as if it were officially representing the agenda of Orbán, and regularly organizes speeches and press conferences that are more about the political agenda of the government than about academics and science.

Source: @MCC_Brussels on Twitter

This is because the MCC is a part of Orbán’s “ideological assault” of European Union institutions according to Politico. The Collegium is more than a typical think tank to promote certain policies; Balázs Orbán described it as a counter-cultural project whose mission is to “influence the European debate.”

The board at MCC is stacked with Fidesz loyalists. Aside from Balázs Orbán, the director-general of the pro-Orbán site Mandiner.hu Zoltán Szalai holds a position on the board, as well as the former Fidesz MP János Martonyi. The current Minister of Culture and Innovation János Csák, holds a position on the Board of Patrons, and another former Fidesz MP, József Szájer, was a trustee until December 2020. 

The MCC branch in Brussels serves as a meeting point for far-right reactionaries from across Europe through the conferences and speaking events they organize. Most often, right-leaning academics or employees of other pro-Orbán institutions are invited. Speakers have included Jerzy Kwaśniewski (President of the Board of the Polish anti-LGBTQ+ Ordo Iuris) and Jeremy Stubbs (Causeur deputy editorial director), and politicians from the European far right: Jorge Buxadé Villalba (VOX MEP),  Margarita de la Pisa Carrión (VOX MEP), Ladislav Ilčić (Hrvatski suverenisti MEP), Patricia Chagnon (Rassemblement National MEP), José Antonio Fúster (VOX MP), Rob Roos (JA21 MEP), and Judit Varga (Fidesz – former Hungarian Minister of Justice). As with the Danube Institute, Heritage Foundation fellows also regularly attend MCC events. MCC faculty, such as Attila Demkó, Rodrigo Ballester, Werner J. Patzelt, Gladden J. Pappin, and Frank Füredi frequently attend major international conferences abroad. They have appeared at most NatCon events organized by the Edmund Burke Foundation, the Worldwide Freedom Initiative organized by the Republicans Overseas in Paris in November 2023, and the March 2022 “Hacia una renovación cristiana de Europa” (Towards a Christian Renewal of Europe) conference at the Universidad San Pablo CEU in Madrid.

The MCC has been described as a right-wing “socialization machine.” The MCC gives a special priority in university admissions across the country to students who pass their high school program, provides programs for lower-income Roma, and teaches Hungarian minorities in western Ukraine and Slovakia. MCC alumni have reported that the MCC curriculum often includes lectures from pro-Fidesz intellectuals and encourages these students to write glowing articles about Hungary and Orbán based on their lectures. For young students in Budapest, the MCC hosts the MCC Feszt, a large annual festival which features local musicians, lectures from pro-Orbán organizations, and public talks by prominent far-right speakers such as former Fox News talk show host Tucker Carlson, Daily Wire talk host Michael Knowles, and “PragerU” founder Dennis Prager, known for producing far-right propaganda for schools (Prager was paid 30,000 USD to attend the event). In 2022, MCC built upon a previous agreement to launch a scholarship program at Quinnipiac University for Hungarian students to spend three years in the United States where they join an American company, and are mentored by members of the Hungarian business community in exchange for returning to Hungary after their studies and working with the MCC. MCC has other forms of scholarship programs at universities and far-right think tanks in multiple countries. 

The amount of property owned by the MCC is substantial. The Collegium possesses two campuses in Budapest, 16 locations in other cities in Hungary, and eleven campuses in nearby Slovakia, Romania, Ukraine, and Belgium. In May 2023, MCC reportedly purchased a new campus in Vienna, and The Guardian recently reported that the MCC also plans to open up a center in London in a Hungarian cultural center near Trafalgar Square. Whereas many universities in Hungary lost out in the privatization reforms that placed 70 percent of all Hungarian university assets in the hands of semi-private KEKVAs, which helped Fidesz build a power base outside of government and tear away at independent higher education, the MCC was a major winner from these changes. Balázs Orbán was allegedly behind the plan to transfer property directly to the university foundation, and currently oversees the assets as the chairman of the Board of Trustees. In 2020, the government provided the MCC with a 10 percent share of the oil refiner Mol Nyrt and drugmaker Gedeon Richter Nyrt, as well as oil properties around the country, and a majority share in the bookseller Libri, which in total amounts to around 1.7 billion USD, equal to one percent of the country’s GDP.  Even peripheral companies with ties to the board have also benefited from the inflow of money to the MCC as seen by the two million USD donation to Zoltan Szalai’s café “Scruton,” named after British conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, that was used for an event.

Hungarian Institute of International Affairs (Magyar Külügyi Intézet)

The Hungarian Institute of International Affairs (Magyar Külügyi Intézet, MKI) is a non-profit research institute and “think tank” owned by the Hungarian state and controlled directly by the office of the prime minister. The MKI replaced the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade (IFAT), originally founded in January 2007 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After a government decree from Orbán himself, Gladden J. Pappin, an American professor from the University of Dallas and current resident fellow at the Mathias Corvinus Collegium, and Balázs Orbán, an advisor to the prime minister who was tasked with “strengthening the Institute’s research activities and its cooperation with foreign counterparts,” were given leadership positions at MKI. Márton Schőberl, who served as the deputy state secretary for cultural diplomacy, serves as the general director. According to the Institute’s website, it was renewed around this time so that “the Institute can more effectively support the Prime Minister’s strategic foreign policy decision-making and strengthen its activities: channeling academic and international information, promoting awareness of the basics of Hungarian foreign policy among a wider and professional audience, as well as actively communicating with the public about international events.” 

According to a 2023 interview with Pappin in Mandiner, the Institute is “going to work directly for the Prime Minister from now on.” Pappin describes his connection to Hungary as follows: “For me Hungary is the pivotal country. Long before moving here I supported the Hungarian approach to God, family and nation—particularly articulating Hungary’s family policy as an example for America, and writing in defense of Hungary in the pages of Newsweek and elsewhere. I have long put my efforts toward forging links between American and European conservatives.”

It was reported by The Guardian that associates of the MKI were present for a private meeting that took place between the Heritage Foundation, the Hungarian Embassy, and elected members of the Republican Party to stop the flow of funds and weapons for Ukraine in December 2023. While not as active as the Danube Institute or MCC, the MKI also makes an effort to foster international networks by attending conferences in other countries and organizing the Budapest Balkans Forum. Pappin was also a speaker at the 2022 NatCon event in Brussels and was featured on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show in January 2022, where he spoke about Hungary’s “track record in conservative governance—and why its success is important to the future of the Western world.”

Migration Research Institute

The Migration Research Institute (Migrációkutató Intézet, MRI) is a Hungarian organization, led by historian Tamás Dezső, that was founded in 2015 as a partnership between the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) and the Századvég Foundation, a Hungarian-based think tank which produces polling and surveys that favor the government’s positions. As with many other Fidesz projects, the MRI was set up by the prime minister’s advisor Balázs Orbán and maintains a center on Somlói street in the center of Budapest. While operating as an independent organization, it is technically listed as a research institute of the MCC. Dezső also holds the position of president of the Batthyány Lajos Alapítvány (BLA) foundation. 

As with many other Orbánist organizations, formally the MRI is involved in “research” related to migration that it then presents at conferences, workshops, or to the Hungarian media. The MRI describes itself as “deepening understandings of migration” by “synthesizing the scientific findings of various disciplines.” A brief look at their “research,” though, shows little to no engagement with actual academic research, and it almost exclusively cites news articles that are used to push an anti-immigrant agenda, which the government favors. Like with the other Fidesz-aligned organizations, the MRI regularly appears in Hungarian media to provide an anti-immigrantspin” on current events. In 2015, for example, they referred to “mass immigration” as the country’s most important security risk, and the slogan appearing on their site is “preserving our culture is a value,” which presumably immigration doesn’t do. They frequently attend events by the MCC and were present at the Danube Institute’s 2nd Summit on Geopolitics. Executive director Viktor Marsai appears regularly in Hungarian media, and can often be found traveling around to immigration hot spots, including the American-Mexican border

In November 2023, the Mathias Corvinus Collegium announced that the Migration Research Institute would be creating a “migration realist” body of immigration research through the International Network for Immigration Research (Nemzetközi Bevándorláskutatási Hálózatot, INIR) that includes partners from the United States, France, and Israel. The five founding organizations were mentioned weeks later in another announcement by the MCC. They are the Migration Research Institute, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and NumbersUSA, both part of the American anti-immigrant network created by the now-deceased white nationalist John Tanton, the Israeli Immigration Policy Center, an anti-immigrant group that takes positions against immigrants from Africa, and the Observatoire de l’immigration et de la démographie (Observatory of Immigration and Demography), a French anti-immigrant group which believes that the white supremacist “great replacement is happening now.”

The Hungary Foundation

The Hungary Foundation (HF) is a Hungarian organization, based in Washington, DC, which aims to “create lasting value by reviving and strengthening the cultural and educational bonds between the United States and Hungary, as well as Hungary and the diverse Hungarian American community.” The Orbán government organized the creation and funding of the HF in 2012 with the aim of financing some of the Hungarian government’s efforts to influence American officials. An October 2021 article in the New York Times claims that the HF has been financed to the tune of more than 21 million USD in grants by the Hungarian government. 

The foundation is led by Anna Stumpf Smith Lacey, who previously worked in both the Hungarian Foreign Ministry and the Hungarian Embassy in the United States. She is married to Marion Smith, the American president of the Common Sense Society and a former Heritage Foundation fellow, and her father is István Stumpf, former judge on Hungary’s Constitutional Court, and minister in the prime minister’s office during Orbán’s first cabinet in the early 2000s. The members of HF’s board consist of a significant number of former Hungarian diplomats to the United States (and vice versa), and members of the Hungarian diaspora in the United States. Among them are János Martonyi, the former foreign minister of Hungary, and Tamás Fellegi, former Hungarian chief negotiator with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, and political advisor to Orbán in the 1990s. 

Through their Budapest Fellowship program, the foundation, with support from the MCC and the Ludovika University of Public Service, sponsors many of the US-based individuals who agree to go to Budapest as fellows at various institutions. These applicants are then funneled into one of a number of pro-Orbán organizations such as the Danube Institute, the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC), or the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, and given anywhere from 3,000-4,500 USD per month in stipends, and an all-expenses paid trip to Budapest, where they publish articles for far-right journals. Study abroad programs going in the other direction have brought Hungarian student interns to such organizations as the Center for Immigration Studies, Hillsdale College, the Hudson Institute, and the Mercatus Center. Upon returning to Hungary, the interns begin working for pro-Orbán Hungarian organizations. The Hungary Foundation claims that its funds may not be used to “carry on propaganda” or “attempt to influence legislation,” which would require registration under America’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Under the guise of a cultural and educational exchange organization, the HF has transferred more than 5.2 million USD from the time of its founding to the end of 2020 to a number of think tanks, colleges, and Hungarian-American organizations, as well as to members of the Hungarian diaspora engaged in lobbying efforts. This led several of the members of the board to step down around 2014 over the possibility that they would have to be registered under FARA, only to return in 2016 once the US State Department issued an advisory opinion saying that they would not need to if they refrained from lobbying and public relations efforts. 

Since 2015, Lacey has been present at meetings on Central Europe at the State Department during the Trump Administration, as well as meetings with US officials organized by the Atlantic Council and the Center for European Policy Analysis. According to the New York Times, each of these organizations received more than 200,000 USD from the Hungary Foundation, and during the Atlantic Council meeting, Lacey pushed back on claims of democratic backsliding in Hungary. In 2019, the Hungary Foundation attempted to form a partnership with the two organizations, which would have involved private retreats for policymakers and experts and trips to Budapest, though they both pulled out of the agreement after it became clear that the Hungary Foundation would not allow them the opportunity to speak on issues of democratic backsliding in the country. 

More recent financial documents appear to show the Hungary Foundation providing an 82,000 USD grant to the American conservative think tank, the Hudson Institute, as well as a 118,000 USD to the Center for Immigration Studies, designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Their 2022 financials indicate that the foundation has more than 17 million USD in total assets.

640 853 Global Project Against Hate and Extremism
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