Posted on August 18, 2023

The 2023 MCC Feszt and the War for Culture

Augustin Goland, American Renaissance, August 18, 2023

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Most people call it the Culture War, but Miklós Szánthó prefers to call it the War for Culture. And he is probably right, for what the Left is trying to do in Europe and both Americas is to destroy Western Christian culture.

Mr. Szánthó heads Hungary’s Center for Fundamental Rights, the main organizer of the European edition of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which took place in Budapest in May. A couple of months later, he shared his thoughts about the War for Culture at the third annual MCC Feszt, held July 27–30 in Esztergom, 30 miles northwest of Budapest. The Feszt is named for its organizer, the Mathias Corvinus Collegium, the largest private university in Hungary. (The Hungarian word Feszt — pronounced like the English “Fest” — means just that: a fest, or festival. It is one of the very few words non-Hungarians can understand in their hosts’ language.)

An MCC Feszt is a unique combination of night concerts, dancing, and beer-drinking — attended mostly by young people of university age — and of a variety of daytime discussion panels. Those panels feature Hungarian and international figures, mostly but not exclusively on the political right. Here are a few subjects discussed at this year’s Feszt:

  • “Geopolitical Realities in a Changing World”
  • “Battery Production: Blessing or Curse?”
  • “Who Is a Journalist?”
  • “Assessing the Past 10 Years of Education Policy”
  • “Perspectives of the National Military Development”
  • “Playing by the Rules: The Importance of Fair Play in Life and Sport”
  • “Migration: The Cultural Aspect”
  • “Central Europe and Hungary in the International Great-Power Arena, 1918–1990”
  • “Notes from the Past: How Do We Preserve and Pass on Hungarian Folk Music?”
  • “After AI: Changes to Creative Fields”
  • “The Sao Paolo Forum’s Cultural Warfare”

(The full list of this year’s panels and events is available on the MCC Feszt website.)

All the events — both nighttime concerts and daytime discussions — took place outdoors, on the streets of Esztergom’s center.

As noted above, MCC is the biggest private education institution in Hungary. Despite being private, in 2020 the country’s National Assembly granted it funds and assets worth 1.7 billion US dollars — not a small sum by Hungarian standards.

The MCC Feszt is growing rapidly. In 2021, its first year, it attracted a little over 10,000 youthful attendees; the next year, 30,000. This year more than 40,000 attended, making it the largest of several hundred events organized each year by the MCC throughout Hungary and in neighboring countries. Those events include festivals, summer universities, student camps, and conferences.

Recently, the MCC even opened an office in the European Union’s capital, Brussels. MCC Brussels acts as a think-tank, a lobby group, and a base from which Hungarian students can have a close look at the way EU institutions work.

For Viktor Orbán’s government and parliamentary majority — constituted by his conservative party Fidesz and a smaller party, the Christian-Democratic KDNP party — the MCC has two goals: one is to raise the tertiary education standard in a country lacking outstanding universities, and the second is to give Hungarian students an opportunity for additional, complementary education in the social sciences and humanities with conservative accents. This latter is necessary because, in Hungary, as elsewhere in Europe, there is a clear leftist-liberal bias in the academic world, despite conservative governments having ruled the country since 2010. In this part of Europe, this bias is partly a legacy of communism. The Mathias Corvinus Collegium, which was initially created out of a private initiative in 1996, exists to compensate for that bias to the maximum extent possible.

Currently, with ten candidates for each place it can offer — it has about 7,000 students but is expanding quickly — the Collegium is a center of excellence for young talents, to whom it offers free student accommodation and free courses from high school to post-doctoral level in fields such as economics, philosophy, political science, journalism, and psychology.

Those joining the MCC are students from various universities across Hungary as well as faculty members from various disciplines, including natural science and engineering. The MCC thus serves an added purpose: it not only raises the level of those studying in their own fields of interest but educates the country’s future scientists and engineers in humanities, raising the overall level of culture.

Remember that we are in a War for Culture.

In that regard, the choice of Esztergom for the MCC Feszt was no coincidence. Hungary’s first capital, Esztergom was established in 960 on the location of a former Roman stronghold. From that time on, it has been an important part of Hungary’s cultural history. As the MCC director general, Zoltán Szalai, has said about the college he has led since 2009:

We believe that we are not just individuals, but we are part of something larger. We believe that it is important to know our history and to understand where we come from. We believe in our Judeo-Christian heritage, and the values derived from this heritage are very important in our eyes.

Esztergom symbolizes that heritage.

The former Roman stronghold that became Esztergom was founded as part of the Limes: the line of defense bordering the Roman Empire. Today, this town of 30,000 people on the bank of the Danube still sits on a border, facing its sister city, Štúrovo, a majority-Hungarian town in Slovakia.

When looking at the old part of Esztergom from the bank of the Danube, as I did in July, you have a view of a monumental basilica dominating from the top of a steep hill. Nearer the foot of the hill stands a much smaller former mosque that dates to the time of Ottoman occupation. A very symbolic view, a Hungarian companion remarked with a smile. Ottoman rule ended in 1683 when an army led by Polish king Jan III Sobieski liberated Esztergom and Štúrovo shortly after the Battle of Vienna. King Sobieski is well remembered on both sides of the river.

John III Sobieski (1629–1696), King of Poland

It was in this Danube city on the border of the former Roman Empire that the baptism and coronation of King Saint Stephen I took place in 1001. Saint Stephen was the last pagan Great Prince of the Hungarians and the first Christian king of Hungary, a land he then undertook to Christianize. Today, Esztergom remains the siege (seat) of the Catholic primate of Hungary.

Returning to the MCC Feszt, the overall tone at the Feszt is conservative, but the MCC takes pride in organizing real debates, so speakers representing various points of view were invited to the discussion panels at this year’s event. For example, a Hungarian socialist MP participated, as did an openly Marxist writer.

In general, contrary to what the Western liberal media often say, Hungary is a haven of free speech compared with Western Europe and North America, as indeed is the rest of Central Europe. As I mentioned, leftist liberal views dominate in Hungarian universities, but as a Spanish lawyer and former EU civil servant told Remix News: “[I]n Hungary, it never happens that a mob of left-wing students prevents a right-wing lecturer from speaking. We are not at the level of censorship you might find at Sciences Po in France, or Cambridge and Oxford in England.” And, of course, right-wing students never silence leftist speakers either.

I have been told by an MCC department head that even at events organized by Viktor Orbán’s political party, Fidesz, opposition politicians from the Left are often invited to participate in discussion panels. Some do come and take part, showing a respect for rational debate.

Unfortunately, however, Hungary also has another brand of elitist, left-wing opponent, examples of whom are more akin to the totalitarian liberal Left in the West. These people find it easier to call their conservative opponents “extreme right,” “homophobes,” and “xenophobes,” and accuse them of having fascist leanings than to have discussions about topics that are important for Hungary. They are also the ones who have been relentlessly asking for EU intervention and sanctions against their own country, being incapable of convincing a majority of voters to cast their ballots for them in elections.

According to some, another explanation for such treacherous behavior by some of the national elites lies in a sort of post-colonial syndrome suffered by societies that have been dominated and annexed by empires in the past, which is the case of both Hungary and Poland.

In April 2022, during Hungary’s most recent parliamentary elections, a leftist faction and its allies in Brussels tried to delegitimize the elections by calling for a full observation mission by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Sending such a mission to any EU member state had been unheard of until that time. The result backfired on the leftists, however: monitors found the elections “had taken place under good conditions and that the candidates had been able to campaign freely.” Aside from a few debatable ”flaws,” the elections were much more transparent and secure than is typical in the West and, I might add, far more so than the last presidential election in the United States!

The only objection the OSCE observation mission could come up with after the election had to do with their belief that the public media as well as part of the private media were too one-sided in favor of the government during the electoral campaign. However, Hungary has two competing sets of media, and the media landscape is pretty much balanced between pro- and anti-government media outlets, the former being conservative and the latter left-wing.

Pro-lifers are invited to speak by the conservative, pro-government media, while pro-abortion activists are invited by the liberal, anti-government media, such as Hungary’s most watched television channel, German-owned RTL. The same goes for other important issues, such as immigration. This cannot be said of Germany, France, or Spain, for example, where pro-life activists and anti-immigration politicians are simply banned from nearly all media outlets. Moreover, in those countries when a media outlet does give dissidents a voice, the authorities threaten to ban the outlet altogether, as is currently the case in France with the CNews television channel.

Meanwhile, in Germany, most of the media, including the public media, has an official policy to ban politicians of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, a party polling more than 20 percent in spite of having all of the mainstream media against them.

By the way, for last year’s parliamentary elections, the Mathias Corvinus Collegium invited other observers from foreign conservative organizations — including America’s Judicial Watch — to join the OSCE observers, to make the observation process more diverse and inclusive. Afterwards, MCC held its own election night party for students and the journalists and observers it had invited.

Inviting foreign journalists is nothing new for the MCC. It regularly does so, to raise its profile internationally. The MCC invited conservative journalists for this year’s edition of the MCC Feszt as well. Most were not from big media outlets, as there are few such outlets that are really conservative in Western Europe, even by Fox News standards.

At this year’s MCC Feszt were representatives from GB News (the new “anti-woke” British television network, sometimes dubbed “Britain’s Fox News”); The European Conservative; The American Conservative; one of Spain’s leading conservative news websites, La Gaceta de la Iberosfera; Poland’s conservative weekly Do Rzeczy; Central Europe’s English-language right-wing news website Remix News; The Brussels Signal, a new right-wing competitor to the left-wing, and a few others.

One journalist I met jokingly showed me what he said was the first and last book he would ever read in Hungarian: Michael Knowles’ Reasons to Vote for Democrats: A Comprehensive Guide. The book consists of 266 blank pages, making it an easy read in Hungarian even if you don’t know the language!

Michael Knowles speaking at MCC Feszt 2023.

By the way, Michael Knowles, who writes for the Daily Wire, conducted a discussion at the Feszt titled “The World According to Michael Knowles.” Later, in an interview with the European Conservative, he said something that seems very close to the heart of Hungarian leaders:

[Italian Communist Antonio] Gramsci, when he was trying to instigate his cultural revolution by recognizing the failure of Marxism, understood that it was necessary to hold on to common sense if you want to succeed in revolution because people don’t like abstract theories. They like their way of life and their traditions, and you have to infiltrate that and wage a war of positions, rather than a war of movements. The Left has done this by infiltrating the institutions and controlling their power. Today, the Left controls virtually every institution in the United States, including much of the military, which has always been conservative. The Left has been very good at retaining power, not just here, but in many other countries in the West, and this has not been a five or ten-year campaign — this is a hundred-year campaign.

If we are going to turn that around in Western nations, we are going to have to recognize that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and we are going to have to build our fortitude and have a long-term political vision. Fortitude is not just a virtue, it is a prerequisite for other virtues, and without it, we will achieve nothing.

I also heard the director of Hungary’s Center for Fundamental Rights, Miklós Szánthó, whom I mentioned earlier, say something similar at the MCC Feszt, something on the order of:

Although I do not admire Antonio Gramsci as a politician or as a political philosopher, I think the Right should learn from him. He was the one who, a century ago, declared for the Left, for the socialist movement, that culture is the priority. His idea was that if the socialists dominate and control culture, then they will win the political fight as a natural consequence.

This points up a big difference between the Hungarian Fidesz and its close Polish ally, Law and Justice, which currently holds the reins of government in Poland. The former is very much aware of the Western Left’s war against Western Christian culture, in its effort to create the New Man conditioned for the totalitarian society communists dream of. The latter, on the other hand, is still anchored in the 20th century, in a world of games played among big powers, where their own country’s most important strategic goal is to protect itself from Russia with the help of the United States, supposedly the defender of the Free World even when it is no longer very free itself.

This is not to say that the Poles should not regard Russia and old-style Russian imperialism as a serious potential threat. They are just that, but compared with the Poles’ close Hungarian friends, the party of government in Poland seems blind to the culture war that is going on. Unfortunately, Poland has nothing similar to the Mathias Corvinus Collegium and no festival like the MCC Feszt, after almost eight years of government led by Law and Justice.

We must hope that Hungary, a small country of under 10 million inhabitants, will not be left alone for too long in this unequal War for Culture on European soil.