Visiting lecturer at Fidesz' elite education center detained at London airport
October 18. 2022. – 03:24 PM
On 7 October, British authorities detained and interrogated John Laughland, the eurosceptic conservative political scientist and historian at Gatwick Airport. Laughland is also the international director of the Dutch far-right party Forum for Democracy and a visiting lecturer at the pro-Fidesz elite training centre Mathias Corvinus Collegium – Szabolcs Panyi, a journalist for the Hungarian investigative journalism center Direkt36 wrote on his Facebook page.
MCC's page also lists the detained Laughland as officially working at the educational centre as a guest lecturer until February next year. MCC's board of trustees is chaired by Balázs Orbán, the political director of the Hungarian prime minister, and the educational institution was fattened up with state funds amounting to around HUF 500 billion. The British political scientist's detainment is further made fascinating by the fact that Thierry Baudet, leader of the Dutch far-right party stated in an interview that
Laughland was suspected of spying for Russia.
Laughland himself wrote at length about his detention. He wrote that he flew from Budapest to London and was detained at Gatwick airport at 11.30 at night by anti-terrorism police, who took everything he had, took him to a room and interrogated him for an hour. In the end, his laptop was not returned.
Among others, police questioned him about his work in the EP and his activities at the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation, an organisation he led between 2008-2018. This is an organisation set up in Paris by a Russian lawyer, which, among other things works on responding to Freedom House's allegations of human rights violations in Russia, or rather to present a different interpretation of the events. Similar organisations have been set up in Hungary as well in the last 12 years, just think of the Centre for Fundamental Rights.
Laughland also writes that the police questioned him about his political views with one interrogator remarking that "it's a free country, but not everyone is so lucky". He ends his post by complaining a little about the EU's ill-treatment – via sanctions – of Putin's top advisor Alexander Dugin, and concludes by saying that Europe is on the road to dictatorship, and is in fact already there.
The Dutch Nrc.nl, which reported on the case, says that the police were contacted about the event, but were unable to respond due to data protection laws.
In his post, Panyi adds that this is not the first time Laughland's Russian connections have come to light. He has been a regular on Russia Today and other Russian state propaganda channels for many years.
The Hungarian journalist then wonders why MCC – whose board of trustees is chaired by the political director of the Hungarian prime minister – chooses such figures as their guest lecturer, and whether they are vetted at all.
MCC: We are a talent management institution, we don't screen people
We also contacted MCC about the matter on Monday, and received the following answer to our inquiry on Tuesday:
"John Laughland applied for the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) Visiting Fellowship Program in March 2021. Following his application, MCC made its decision based on its assessment of his academic and professional record (University of Oxford undergraduate and doctoral degrees, significant publication record, author of several best-selling books, strong international academic teaching and research experience.)
Mathias Corvinus Collegium is a talent management institution, and as such, it does not conduct any screening beyond academic performance and teaching activities. During Laughland's application, the institution has not received any indication from either domestic or foreign authorities that his integrity is compromised. No formal charges have been brought against him and, to the best of our knowledge at present, no legal proceedings are pending against him."
The educational centre, which was pumped up with billions of forints of public funds with the goal of creating Fidesz' counter-CEU institution started its programme for visiting scholars targeting foreign professionals (or Hungarians living abroad) in 2020. The first names were announced in February 2021, and since then more speakers have been added to the institution's website. A visiting lecturer can receive up to €10,000 per month.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, the title and the body of the text contained misleading wording suggesting that Mr. Laughland had been suspected of or charged with espionage, which is not the case. We apologize for the mistake and have changed the wording accordingly.
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The translation of this article was made possible by our cooperation with the Heinrich Böll Foundation.