Péter Krekó and students
Europe, Russia & Eurasia, Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies, Hungarian Studies, Munk School

Dr. Péter Krekó visits CERES

Péter Krekó is a Hungarian political scientist and social psychologist who, aside from his work as an academic and engagement in several visiting professorships, is also the director of the Political Capital Institute based in Budapest. Describing himself, Krekó says he wears two hats. One of these hats is his work at the Political Capital Institute (PCI) — a partner institution of CERES’ internship program. As the director, he takes more of a strategic role rather than an operational one, setting strategy for the organization as well as fundraising. These activities enable PCI to conduct its work in various fields — their efforts include research, writing advocacy papers, and policy consulting for a broad range of actors. Krekó stated that the topics that PCI has focused on for a long time – such as disinformation and Russian influence — are very timely now. For Krekó, this underlines that the work they are doing is shedding light on the right issues.

PCI has shifted from working primarily on political communications analyses and campaign recommendations towards the role of a more classical think tank, working on projects with different partners that align with their values. They are also developing relationships with the younger generation in order to build a community of people who value parliamentary democracy, the market economy, and human rights. PCI’s goal is to create not just a platform, but a hub for these values to flourish and thrive within the younger generation.

Krekó identifies PCI’s successes to include achieving some modifications in Hungary’s electoral system. Analytically, Krekó cites PCI as being among the first organizations to analyze Russian infiltration into European far-right parties through soft power tools, using events from 2009 and 2014 as examples. Otherwise, the Institute’s recommendations regularly appear in European Union documents.

When asked why he was interested in pursuing consulting and the work of a think tank, Dr. Krekó answered, “I enjoy the practical quality of work combined with the intellectual depth.” He was able to bridge his background in academia with the consulting environment and several transferable skills such as conducting academic research within a community, data collection, developing and analyzing public opinion polls, and other foundational techniques in quantitative analysis and data modeling. For Krekó, solid logical thinking and sound methods are key to practical application. He also emphasized the importance of education in history, psychology, and area studies in contextualizing the world and that social science matters in predicting and understanding political and historical events.

On this matter, he used the example of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, stating that Russian President Vladimir Putin was entrapped by conspiracy theories and a particular reading of history. As Dr. Krekó’s work also focuses on conspiracy theories, I wanted to know more about how the so-called “post-truth phenomenon” has affected his research and his work as a lecturer. He described his personal take on this from a positivist perspective, arguing for facts, for they exist in history, geopolitics, and the social sciences. He worries, however, about a tendency of relativization of the facts, urging people to be vigilant for the dangerous ways in which conspiracies can manifest in our daily lives. According to Krekó, this over-relativization appears in the public domain and is increasingly present at the Western World, such as in the political practices of the United States. At the same time, relativization is a foreign policy tool in the hands of authoritarian leaders such as Vladimir Putin. He mentions tactics of whataboutism, blatantly questioning facts, and creating confusion as ways in which conspiracy can trickle into the political and public discourse.

Dr. Krekó has also closely studied on the rise of the Hungarian far-right, research that was consolidated in his book Social Demand, Political Supply, and International Context, co-authored with Attila Juhász. He described the Hungarian case as having similarities to other far-right actors on a general level — specifically on the topics and language weaponized to advance a particular group’s agenda. Krekó said that Hungarian President Viktor Orbán adopts the same tactics of mimicry often used by Russia. He also believes that Hungary is a very specific example of far-right growth, noting, “I believe Hungary was an early bird of this populist right zeitgeist, and, in that respect, it is an important country to see because this is where it can continue if a populist right leader is in power for a long time and has enough mandate to transform institutions.

As for Peter Krekó’s other endeavours, he donned an academic hat early this Fall when he delivered an intensive workshop on Russian sharp power. This course was conducted with CERES students over a two-week period totaling twelve hours of what he described as “very interactive” seminars. His course presented the broad topics of Russian sharp power influence ranging from the impact of the Orthodox Church and the use of disinformation, the role of the ideology of Eurasianism, and the role of western countries in providing a safe space for sharp power to flourish. The course was a disciplinary mixture of International Relations, Political Science and Social Psychology in analyzing contemporary events. The class sought to challenge the issues of authoritarian influence, especially in political, cultural, and ideological domains. The enthusiasm and engagement of the students on these topics was high and Dr. Krekó shared that the class prompted good debate and discussion. Reflecting on his experiences as a visiting professor, he remarked how what interests and drives students differ in various environments but that, no matter what, it is always refreshing to have students who are actively interested in the material.

As a parting remark, Krekó reiterated the importance of area studies, and that learning history and culture is a very valuable asset that can be important in contributing to policy decisions. He encouraged students to be open to different intellectual impulses and to research beyond their university lectures. It is through this that one can hone thinking and communication skills, leading to a holistic student experience that can provide a myriad of future possibilities, whether in the realm of academia, political consulting, or anywhere in between.