We talked with Balázs Orbán, Deputy Minister of the Prime Minister and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Mathias Corvinus Collegium, about the transformation of the higher education system in connection to MCC, conservatism, a Europe based on Judeo-Christian values, Hungary’s international example and Hungary’s relationship with Israel.
Outside of your office, I saw a picture of you with Jordan Peterson. Were you able to speak with him?
I was lucky enough to have dinner with him when he was in Budapest. Our three-hour, in-depth conversation was a special experience. I was also there later when he met Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, which was a fantastic conversation as well. Peterson is a brilliant man, not only during his media appearances but also in everyday life. He had an extremely lean build; even then, he seemed not to be in the best health.
Did this happen before or after Peterson’s illness?
Before. He was rather colorful: Back then, he was already on what was, for me, a strange diet. He only ate steaks, constantly, with nothing on the side, and drank water.
Doesn’t sound bad….
Sure, but just steak, for weeks? I also tried this, though not specifically with steak but all kinds of meat. After two weeks, I couldn’t stand it.
So Jordan Peterson, don’t you consider him Roger Scruton’s spiritual heir in some way?
Sir Roger Scruton was a complete man, in the sense that he had a special worldview in all matters of the world, and he was able to show this specifically in meaningful books. I am very glad that with the support of his widow and personal items, the first café and community space bearing his name could open in Budapest. I think Jordan Peterson is outstanding in that he is able to point out in a very tangible and comprehensible way to the narrow field of clinical professional psychology what is good and what is bad, what is black and what is white, how people can navigate confidently in this uncertain world. Scruton communicated well with audiences but never was, nor wanted to be, very popular in the age of social media. What they have in common is that they are both fantastic, and one can only learn from them.
Let’s talk about MCC! The MCC Festival featured Tucker Carlson and Dennis Preger as speakers. What was the purpose of having such big figures?
Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) is a talent management institution operating throughout the Carpathian Basin, which is very important from a national strategic point of view. In the golden eras of Hungary, there were always institutions or individuals who sought to educate Hungary’s future leaders from among the most talented Hungarian youth, regardless of their social background. Kunó Klebelsberg himself spoke about the fact that we are a fantastically talented country, something that we should strive to increase.
MCC is a 25-year-old institution with a broad training portfolio and grounding, along with know-how and an international network. As a result of the support received in 2020 and the construction that has started since then, it will soon offer its free trainings to almost 10,000 young Hungarians in more than three dozen locations, from primary school to the end of university, and even after that. MCC training begins where public education and higher education end.
Across the border, too.
Yes. In addition to the Highlands, the South [ed. note: refers to the southern areas of the former Kingdon of Hungary, which are today in Serbia and Croatia], Transcarpathia and Transylvania, we also want centers in Vienna and Western Europe. This September, we will have 23 locations.
The most important element of the portfolio is university education in the live-in system. The existing locations in Budapest and Kolozsvár are now being supplemented, as we will also have programs in Győr, Miskolc, Debrecen, Szeged and Pécs.
Does this have anything to do with the country’s higher education reform?
Yes and no. It is taking place from the point of view that we must acknowledge that Hungary can only trust the talents and ambitions of the Hungarian people. We do not have mineral resources, but we still have something that can be a driving force: Hungarian talent and related ambition. Without quality education and investment in the human sector, we cannot move forward. The government is keeping this in mind, and despite the crisis due to the epidemic, we have not diverted resources from the human sectors like our predecessors, but have invested in healthcare and given much more resources to higher education as well.
I reckon that by 2022, we will already be among the top 3 European countries in terms of spending on higher education as a percentage of GDP.
This is not exactly what you get from reading the news. The numbers may show otherwise, but higher education seems to be gutted.
Obviously, the transformation also has a party-political dimension, on which the Left builds the usual campaign of lies. A good example of this is when I publicly discussed the issue with András Fekete-Győr. He could not present a single, defensible professional argument; in fact, it soon became clear that he was at war with basic facts. However, the facts are clear; a structural transformation has taken place, and universities have received enormous funding.
A foundation structure and transfer of assets, that is, setting up an endowment, is a common practice in both Western Europe and the United States.
Let’s see how the world’s leading universities like Harvard, MIT, and Yale started out in the second half of the 1800s! There was a law that created a foundation, and the federal and state governments simply handed over factories, land, and other assets to the universities that they could start managing. And here they are today.
This already works here to some extent, for example, the University of Debrecen has multiple pieces of land.
Of course, the nature of the budget implies a completely different type of management logic. Before, you were not your own master and had to spend the money you received from the state. Now, however, the boards of trustees and foundations are also tasked with building industry relations, other economic partners, and a system of international relations; giving the institution its own profile; and diversifying funding as much as possible.
So, the state is withdrawing from higher education.
No. The state is not withdrawing from higher education, which is also part of the lies spread by the Left. The state will be in a customer position, thanks to which it will finally not finance on a per capita basis, but will be able to formulate performance expectations. So, on the one hand, the state continues to govern higher education through regulation, and on the other hand, it concludes long-term funding agreements with universities, providing more resources for operations and research than before.
In addition, universities are being given real autonomy to decide on their human resources management, teaching staff, student body and infrastructure to achieve the expected performance. There are dozens of higher education institutions, which are all very different. While SOTE [ed. note: Semmelweis University, a medical school], for example, could be among the best internationally, Corvinus could develop into a regional central university, and the University of Miskolc could become an important educational base in its region. So each institution has a different portfolio, and they need to be given the flexibility and opportunity to find their way.
Western universities work the same way: Despite having huge revenues of their own, the federal government and states are still their biggest supporters through various research and other projects. So the state does not disappear in this system, which is just the opposite of privatization. Privatization would mean a private university from which the private owner pays dividends. However, in the system that has just been set up [in Hungary], it is expressly forbidden to take any money from education. The bottom line is that even if revenue is generated, it needs to be poured back into education. At the same time, the National Assembly has made the decision, which I think is right, that, although we are developing our universities, an “accelerator track” should be created that specializes specifically in dealing with the most talented students. Because no matter how we improve public and higher education, the methods of teaching must always be based on the median student.
You mean, you pull up the weaker and push the more talented back a little?
And this situation must be rectified and we must create an opportunity for highly talented young people to receive, on the one hand, additional education and upbringing, in which the idea of one’s nation is also included, via tutoring, and, on the other hand, a way to acquire the skills, abilities and knowledge required to stand their ground in international competitions with the elites of other countries.
This would be MCC?
Yes. At MCC, we think what is being said about young people today is not true, that they are lazy, that they are not interested in anyone or anything, that they are not able to look at events from a historical perspective or in an international context. We see the opposite trend. The country boasts very talented young people who want to know more, see debates, learn about different approaches. That’s why we launched […] the MCC Festival, with the motto “We give talent a voice.” During the day, the festival is about discussions, professional events, various cultural events, and then there is entertainment in the evening.
Are well-known foreign speakers expected to put Hungary on the „conservative map”?
I don’t expect anything like that, I just want to show young people different points of view. On the other hand, from the international turbulence and the hysterical reaction of the progressive liberal Left, I see that we have managed to start something they really do not like.
The visit of Tucker Carlson and the support of prominent members of the national conservative movement, Douglas Murray, Yoram Hazony, Rod Dreher, Eric Zemmour and many other friends, clearly shows that what is happening here, in Central Europe, including Hungary, is that we are trying to create a 21st-century conservative, right-wing, Christian-democratic system of government that is successful in terms of society, the economy and geopolitics and which can also be a model for conservatives in the Western world.
I think you can be happy about that. Sure, we know we’re still in a scenario of being the mouse up against the elephant, but it’s still much more than a “dare to be small” mentality.
Photo: Márton Merész
As a country of 10 million, it won’t be otherwise.
This is true, but it seems that the Hungarian government’s family policy, migration policy, struggle for identity and sovereignty, and its relationship to Judeo-Christian civilization are great examples for Western Europe and Westerners overseas.
This is something new because Central European and Anglo-Saxon conservative thinking are fundamentally different.
Anglo-Saxon conservatism is fundamentally expansive in nature and has physically and mentally colonized the world in the last one to two hundred years. So they think there has to be some kind of universality in the idea of conservatism — an Indian must also think like an American, an Australian or a British person. As a result, however, pragmatism disappeared, and in some places, it became more of a dogma; meanwhile, the expansive phase of the Anglo-Saxon world came to an end, and this dogma did not respond well to the new challenges. I also recently wrote about this phenomenon in the journal Commentary. Central European conservatism is an instinct rather than an ideology — the instinct of national freedom.
Therefore, its central element is not the fetishization of individual freedom, but the protection of identity and national sovereignty, which, due to its basic state, responds well to external challenges. Some also say that there exists a “civilization of defense” in the Danube area.
Is it possible to always fight with a drawn sword?
On this, all authoritative opinion-makers agree that Western societies perform worse, and certainly not better than before. This leads to polarization, as when one sees that things are going in the wrong direction, one becomes more and more desperate to try to find the right answer to the situation. There are sharp differences between the responses of the Left and Right.
Leftists and liberals see the principles and approaches that make our culture successful outdated, while on the Right they adhere to, for example, the Judeo-Christian tradition, the traditional family model, the nation-state, capitalism, and a work-based society.
Conservatives say the problem stems from the abandonment of these values, so they need to be rediscovered, as strengthening our value system can make us winners in the race of the century. Due to this idea, Hungary is now a very interesting place for Westerners in an intellectual sense.
While there is a lot of innovation going on on the conservative side, obviously in the United States especially, although not only there, also in Europe, Hungary and Israel, many times conservatives are accused that the Left always comes up with new topics, and public discourse is dominated by the Left.
It’s true. There is a saying in politics, as can be read in Gábor G. Fodor’s book: Truth without a majority is not worth much, and a majority without truth is worthless. At the moment, I see in the Western world that conservatives are right, but they cannot secure a majority for themselves.
The media, academics, the economic elite, the political system and, as they call it, the “deep state” distort competition in the liberal direction to such an extent that even if right-wingers make it into government, they find it difficult to gain power.
Just recently, Trump was the president in America, Netanyahu was prime minister in Israel, Viktor Orbán was PM in Hungary, and Boris Johnson won the election in England — it seemed for a moment that the Conservatives were holding the flag. The first domino was eventually pushed by America when Trump’s reelection failed, and then Israel followed. Are you afraid that something like this could happen in Hungary as well?
No, I think our opponents will try their best, the external forces will do their best to change the government in Hungary, but we will win the election. We will not roll over, and this only requires the support of the Hungarian people.
So, the dominoes can stop here?
Yes. Namely, because in Hungary, the Left is in an extremely empty state. The whole left-wing ideology, its political structure, media background, financial backing, and NGO network, are all imported or supported from abroad.
That is why I see that from the point of view of national sovereignty, the 2022 election will be one of the easiest elections since the regime change. Because anyone who believes in this idea simply cannot vote for the list on the Left, for that would be tantamount to giving up national sovereignty.
This was not necessarily or clearly the case before, but now the map looks perfect.
Are you accusing the opposition of treason?
I don’t like to use such words, and the Hungarian political system has already worn out this term. I think the current left-wing politicians in many cases do not even know what the big system is behind them, nor what is working under them. But take a look at what is happening as they try in Poland, what’s happening in Bulgaria, what’s happening all over the region everywhere. The last decade has been about this region trying to find itself.
Governments that came to power and will retain power in the longer term, although ideologically diverse, had in common the necessary social grounding, vision, leadership, economic strength, and media support to be able to assert their interests in international affairs and sometimes also against major international players.
Let us not forget, however, that having a strong Central European region is only in the interest of the Central European countries. It is simpler for everyone that this area remains a periphery where the great powers can fish among the confused. Therefore, from the outside — whether from the West, the East, the North, or the South — political formations that do not have such a strong grounding and are much more vulnerable receive support. Coalition governments can be formed that are extremely unstable, that are externally dependent or that can be pressured at any time from the media, or by way of the economy or politics; they can be replaced at any time, they can be blown away by winds from the outside.
This is not a conspiracy theory, but mere geopolitical reasoning. In this situation, today’s government is a strong opponent, while today’s Hungarian Left is a reed that would not be able to withstand the pressure.
We have touched on Israel very briefly. Is there an expectation of any change in Israeli-Hungarian relations now that there is a government in Israel that, although, in today’s fashionable terms, is a rainbow coalition, cannot be labeled a left-wing government. The new prime minister is the leader of a nationalist party and, at least on paper, is even more nationalist than the previous prime minister. And although there are many different political ideas within the coalition, the majority of the coalition is middle-right.
I hope there will be no change. We are working to ensure that there is none, but that requires two sides, so we need the Israeli side as well.
Unfortunately, the situation, and this must be seen in the Western world, in international organizations and in Brussels, is that the state of Israel has fewer and fewer friends, especially in Brussels. Hungary is one of the few.
We are committed to keeping this the case and to steer the whole of Central Europe in this direction. I think this policy has been very successful in recent years. Both countries benefited from this, as did the Jewish community here, the state of Israel and Hungary. So I think it’s a fruitful relationship that would be a shame to dismantle.