Greg Sheridan, Australian conservatives flirt with Orban’s fascistic politics

Jul 29, 2023
Viktor Orban

Senior Australian “conservative” figures continue to attend conferences backed by illiberal Hungarian leader Viktor Orban. The Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) hosted its 2023 London Summit in late June, featuring Alexander Downer and Greg Sheridan as two of the five speakers. Australians must focus on connections between our Right and Hungarian fascistic politics.

Peter Browne of Inside Story recounted in early June that Greg Sheridan had just spent a week in Budapest again as a visiting fellow to the Orban-backed Danube Institute. This stay was followed by an effusive celebration of Orban’s illiberal Hungary in The Australian (3/6). Sheridan has previously appeared on the Orban speaking circuit, and was a notable part of its first appearance in Melbourne in 2016.

The MCC is superficially an educational institution that fosters conservative students and thinkers.

In fact it functions as a key part of Orban’s efforts to establish a Western and Christian bulwark that proclaims itself a staunch defender of “traditional” values. These nouns are dogwhistle codes meaning white, anti-Muslim and staunchly anti-LGBTQIA+. It is also antisemitic. George Soros, Hungarian expat and Jewish Holocaust survivor is demonised as public enemy No.1.

The MCC is part “think tank” aiming to push anti-EU and far right positions in Brussels. A Hungarian opposition party member described it as a key part of Orban’s “alt-right intellectual universe.” It is also part indoctrinator of conservative youth.

Frank Furedi, director of the institution, described a goal in 2022 to be the publication of an annual “Fear Barometer” measuring “What European people fear.” Orban’s Political Director chairs the MCC’s Board of Trustees.

In 2021, while Hungary’s health system struggled to cope with Covid19, Orban gifted USD1.7 billion worth of funds and assets or the equivalent of 1% of the nation’s GDP to the MCC. This act was described as part of his “unfettered kleptocratic corruption.” He is replacing an open tertiary education sector with one that fosters only the ultra-conservative values he endorses. The 11 public universities in Hungary are overseen by his “political confederates.” The grant ensured that MCC now “controls assets worth more than the annual budget of the country’s entire higher education system.”

The London MCC event was a celebration of the power of nationalism. The Hungarian account of Downer’s private speech translates to say that he asserts migration policy is used “against” nations. Migration that does not endorse the culturally dominant population brings electoral defeat, threatens political stability and gives way to extremism. In a previous Budapest speech, Downer slammed immigrant “Bantustans.”

Downer decried the Left’s divisiveness. His derisive use here of the term “identity politics” is another Right canard that aims to silence once again those who were erased from our public square in the past. The voices of women, Queer people, non-white and non-Christian people were not welcome in the shaping of our society; the Right fears the joyous vitality of polyvocality.

Downer depicts the refusal of the Other to accept dictates from a Christian rump about our lives as silencing Christians because their views are not “politically correct.” (In fact, most are delighted for Christians to practise their faith as long as they cease to grant their beliefs the status of divine mandate over us.)

In words that would delight Orban, Greg Sheridan celebrated the power of the strong nation, apparently describing national weakness as “provocative.” He located that strength in Christianity with Western Civilisation its treasured child. Liberalism, he apparently observed, “goes ‘crazy’ without its roots.”

Presumably that craziness is manifest in another of his targets at the event: the “green madness” which is the “new religion” taught in schools.

The account of the event has Sheridan criticise the EU’s ability to restrict whether “idea a or b” is more sympathetic to a nation. This account of Sheridan’s contribution does not mention which Orban-style authoritarian oppression objected to by the EU ought to have been allowed.

Former Israeli general Yosef Kuperwasser appeared to summarise the event’s theme in describing the nation state as a political entity that serves the “common good.” He characterises that as a people united by a “common land, a common culture and a common language.” He depicts the enemies of this “national idea” as both “globalisation, but also Islamism.” In a warning that core to Orbanism, he describes the threat of Islamisation of Europe, with those who aim to Islamise the world treating people who reject nationalism as “useful idiots.” Kuperwasser’s sentiments echo the violent ultranationalists in Netanyahu’s government in Israel.

Ron De Santis, presidential hopeful and Florida governor, has made importing Orban’s fascistic politics into America his modus operandi. The broader influence of the European “traditionalists” has been intermingling with the American Christian Nationalist Right for years.

Nostalgia for past greatness and a mythical racial monoculture are imposing challenges on national and global politics. Australia is less damaged by this culture war so far: the US and UK are savaged by the impact.

We need to be watching the Australian names that embrace the Orban illiberal war on modernity: Quadrant, the Australian conservative journal, has been firmly entrenched within the Orban circuit. Former Quadrant editor and contributor, Brit John O’Sullivan is also the president of the Danube Institute. Reverend Peter Kurti from the Centre for Independent Studies and Notre Dame university is one who speaks in Hungary, listed with a who’s who of the Radical Right. He depicts “tolerance” as a tyrannous threat to religious liberty. Andrew Cooper also pays homage in Budapest. He co-founded Australia’s offshoot of the Conservative Political Action Conference, a body at the heart of Trumpist politics.

The fact that our emeritus politicians, Trumpist activists and strategists are joined by one of our most senior Murdoch journalists, Greg Sheridan, in this circuit ought to be deeply concerning. Surely this should be high on the list of points to be tackled by a Murdoch Royal Commission.


(NB: When Morrison joined the Orban-celebrating IDU, it was listed on the Danube Institute page as a partner organisation. It has since been scrubbed, as is often the case with awkward publicity. Now the only partner organisation listed on the Danube Institute page is the grotesque Heritage Foundation.)

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