An investigation by the Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) has identified another Western academic supporting rightwing “culture” war themes in Eastern Europe consistent with Russian influence operations. According to his Twitter feed, former university professor Peter Boghossian was scheduled to speak on Monday at the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) facility in Cluj-Napoca, Romania:
I’ll be lecturing in Romania Monday, October 24, 5:00pm. Followed by a fireside chat w Romanian Parliament member Botond Csoma.
Boghossian followed up his talk with another Tweet featuring a Romanian student claiming there is a “big wave” in Romania rejecting the US and moving towards Russia because of the “wokism America is exporting to Romania.”
Boghossian was described in a GIOR report on the National Conservative movement as:
…best known as a “radical atheist” and for his 2018 role in the so-called “Grievance Studies” or “Sokal Squared” hoax. As part of the hoax, BOGHOSSIAN and two colleagues submitted fake papers to various specialized academic journals to discredit gender and critical race studies.
In February 2022, the MCC reported that Boghossian was a guest instructor at the MCC, a Hungarian educational facility associated with the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and headed by Balázs Orbán, Orbán’s political director (no relation). Botond Csoma is a Romanian parliamentary deputy representing the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romani, a junior ruling coalition party. US media reported in June that seven UDMR lawmakers had initiated a bill to ban minors from being exposed to so-called “gay propaganda” in schools and public life. According to LGBTQ media:
The proposed law would prohibit exposing minors to any sort of content related to LGBTQ identities or sexual and gender diversity – particularly in educational settings. The law would also freeze the legal gender of minors, preventing trans youth from changing their legal names or assigned sex at birth on identity documents, and from having their gender identity acknowledged by the government.
The parliamentarians supporting the bill said Romania was under threat from gender theories that have “taken Western Europe by storm” and are “endangering Christian values and the traditional Christian family.” In December 2020, Romania’s Constitutional Court annulled legislation adopted by parliament earlier that effectively banned gender studies in the educational system. The proposed legislation was harshly criticized by Romanian civil rights groups, who linked the effort to similar policies adopted by the Hungarian government:
“This is an absolutely inhumane draft law against a community that has the same rights as the majority,” said Catalin Tenita, a lawmaker from the liberal Save Romania Union party and a member of the Human Rights Commission who voted against it.“It is an illiberal policy following in the steps of [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orban,” he said, claiming that the law would be “used as an instrument against the LGBT community, which will become a scapegoat…. [If] there are cases of pedophilia, [the law] will be used against them.”
Russia passed similar legislation in 2013, and Romanian critics warned that the bill would “fuel Russian propaganda and disinformation campaigns” and reinstate censorship in the former communist country. Catalin Tenita, cited above, went on to say:
“This level of [Russian] interference has been going on for six or seven years, fueling fears about the traditional family,” Tenita said. “I can’t prove the [ethnic Hungarian lawmakers] are on the Russian payroll, but their interests dovetail with Russian interests.”
In January, the GIOR reported on a speech by Russian President Vladamir Putin that closely mirrored rightwing themes that dominate the so-called “culture wars” in the US. In that speech, Putin claimed:
The fight for equality and against discrimination has turned into aggressive dogmatism bordering on absurdity, when the works of the great authors of the past – such as Shakespeare – are no longer taught at schools or universities, because their ideas are believed to be backward. The classics are declared backward and ignorant of the importance of gender or race. In Hollywood, memos are distributed about proper storytelling and how many characters of what color or gender should be in a movie. This is even worse than the agitprop department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
In July 2021, we reported that actors linked to Russian disinformation operations were targeting American far-right audiences on alternative online platforms employing culture-war themes.
In light of the above, the GIOR does not believe it is a coincidence that Boghossian, a US academic known for his harsh criticism of gender studies and support for Orban’s policies, is being hosted by the representative of a Romanian political party pushing its own version of Hungarian and Russian legislation. The GIOR report on the National Conservative alliance explained the role of the MCC in the Orbán government’s struggle to control Hungarian higher education and to create a platform for rightwing figures. The report also detailed the potential role of the National Conservatives in Russian influence operations:
The MATHIAS CORVINUS COLLEGIUM, a Hungarian educational facility, is a key part of the ORBÁN government’s struggle to control Hungarian higher education and is the center of National Conservative activity in the country. This facility, funded by a massive gift of stock from the ORBÁN government, has sponsored events and teaching positions for prominent US right-wing figures. Russia has already begun to employ National Conservative themes in its influence operations which will likely find a more receptive Western audience than in the past. Hungary is particularly fertile ground for Russian exploitation of National Conservatism given the existing close relationship between Russian and Hungarian elites and an extensive pre-existing Russian influence network.
Read the full report here
Last week we reported that Boghossian and another US academic had recorded a podcast in which they gushed praise for Hungary under Orbán’s illiberal rule.
Earlier this week, we reported that the new Brussels center of the MCC will be co-directed by Frank Furedi, a Hungarian-Canadian academic who is also a contributor to RT, the Russian propaganda outlet. As noted in that report, Furedi’s RT contributions echoed many of these same culture war themes.