Don Basilio, a Hero for our Times

by | Oct 27, 2022


‘Russian spy among the guest lecturers of a Budapest elite college? ’The question mark at the end of this headline above a recent article in an English-language Hungarian media outlet, Daily News Hungary, is an excellent example of the vigorous dishonesty practiced by journalists around the world, both in major national newspapers, including Dutch ones, as well as in minor media like this Hungarian one. Gideon van Meijeren caught a mendacious Dutch journalist red-handed this week but they are the same all over the world.

The question mark in the headline illustrates the dishonesty. It is nothing but an attempt to say something while denying that you are saying it. Right at the end of the piece, with breathtaking chutzpah, the journalist writes, ‘Of course, all the above written does not support he (Laughland) was ever a Russian spy.’ But of course that is the whole thrust of the text, otherwise the headline would have been ‘Innocent academic wrongly questioned by British police. ’You have to get to the end of the article to read this miserable disclaimer, whereas the intent of the text is to make the reader see the headline (while overlooking the question mark).

Ever since I started working at the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in 2008, and long before the concept of ‘fake news’ became common (around 2016) I observed the industrial production of fake news at close quarters because it concerned me personally. Whether the journalists contacted me or not, it made no difference: they always wrote the same story – that IDC was a front organisation for the Kremlin. The accusation was always more interesting than the truth, even though the accusation was always identical. In the last 15 years, the so-called ‘news’ has not progressed one jot.

On some occasions, my enemies simply invented things, such as the ridiculous Cécile Vaissié whose book on ‘Kremlin networks in France’ recounts, in loving detail, an IDC conference, including quotes from speeches, whereas in fact the conference never even occurred. Other minor lies include the claim that I have addressed the Russian State Duma and other such nonsense.

Even though IDC ceased all activity in 2017, and terminated my employment for lack of funds (something no media outlet has ever reported or investigated) – in other words this all goes back nearly 5 years – the identical conspiracy theories all started up again in the Dutch press when I started to work for FVD, first at the European Parliament in 2019 and then, this year, for FVD International. Dutch journalists are evidently so provincial that they do not know what rubbish their French colleagues had been writing all these years. Moreover, they do not care.Nor evidently, do the Hungarian ones.If I had been a Russian spy, my cover was blown a decade and a half ago.

Just as with the French journalists, it did not make any difference whether the Dutch journalists contacted me or not: they always peddled the same fairy tale. The Zembla documentary of April 2020, rebroadcast this year and available on Youtube, was a spectacular exercise in dishonesty, taking a 5-second clip from a 20- or 30-minute interview I gave to the team, and instead lavishing long minutes on two compulsive liars, Anton Shekhovstov and Henk Otten.

It also did not make any difference if I wrote to the news outlet in question or not: a letter sent to NRC Handeslbad in early 2020, denouncing an article by Tom-Jan Meuss, was simply never published. No Hungarian journalist has attempted to contact me about this latest rubbish.

The phenomenon of the snowball (or mud ball) is particularly arresting. Malevolent people, by which I mean most journalists, decide they want to write the ‘Laughland is a Russian spy’ story, even though it has been written countless times before. They go on line, they find someone else who has written the same story, they take that as proof for their presupposition, they often add in a bit of their own dirt, and they thus increase the size of the mud ball which they then throw at me. This happens again and again, the latest example being fantastical lies told about the level of my salary in Hungary and duly repeated, along with all the other garbage, by strange obsessive Twitterati in Dutch provincial cities.

In case anyone is interested, here is the truth. I am not a Russian spy and never have been one. I am not a Russian agent and have never been one. I have never worked, directly or indirectly, for the Russian government, or indeed for any government. IDC was not funded by the Kremlin or by the Russian state, but by Russian companies and foundations: its whole identity was to be a Russian-funded non-governmental organisation. It was not a lobbying organisation. 

While director of studies there, I never received instructions about what line to take on a particular subject, nor what subjects to tackle, nor whom to invite as speakers at our seminars and conferences: on the contrary, my job was to come up with ideas for subjects and possible speakers, whom I generally invited. 

I had an extremely good working relationship with the president, the Russian historian and conservative public figure, my good friend, Natalia Narochnitskaya. A kindred spirit, she gave me an exceptionally high degree of freedom, including in some very high-profile events which we helped organise, for which I was and remain very grateful. It goes without saying that we let our guest speakers say whatever they wanted. Many of our speakers were very senior politicians, from heads of state downwards, and all of them were themselves free men and women.

We never lobbied anyone. We never tried to recruit anyone. All our activity was in the public domain. The whole ‘Kremlin influence’ thing is pure nonsense, the product of sick minds.

I was not arrested at Gatwick airport. I was not accused of being a Russian spy. No charges of any kind have been brought. No legal procedure is under way. 

Evidently the people who write that I was arrested do not understand the meaning of ‘arrest’; evidently they also do not believe in the presumption of innocence, which means that the burden of proof lies with the accuser. Repeating someone else’s accusation (as did this latest tawdry little piece in Daily Hungarian News does) is not proof; it is just backbiting. 

Worse, these people are the willing executors of the totalitarianism I patiently explained in an article I wrote for this site shortly after the event at Gatwick: they are the hoodlums in the lynch mob. Let that be on their conscience.

These attacks are against me but the real target (in the case of the Hungarians) is the Mathias Corvinus College, where I am a Visiting Fellow until next year, and the Fidesz government which partly funds it, and (in the case of the Dutch) Thierry Baudet and FVD. These people have no trouble prostituting themselves for political purposes. They are today’s embodiment of the contemptible Don Basilio in Rossini’s Barber of Seville whose most famous aria[1] I am now going to listen to to cheer myself up.

Slander is a gentle breeze, a gentle zephyr which insensibly, subtly, lightly and sweetly, commences to whisper.

Softly, softly, here and there, sottovoce, sibilant, it goes gliding, it goes rambling.

In the ears of the people, it penetrates slyly and the head and the brains it stuns and it swells.

From the mouth re-emerging the noise grows crescendo, gathers force little by little, runs its course from place to place, seems like the thunder of the tempest which from the depths of the forest comes whistling, muttering, freezing everyone in horror.

Finally with crack and crash, it spreads afield, its force redoubled, and produces an explosion like the outburst of a cannon, an earthquake, a whirlwind, which makes the air resound. 

And the poor slandered wretch, vilified, trampled down, sunk beneath the public lash, by good fortune, falls to death.

[1] With thanks to Jacques Sapir for suggesting this comparison, as long ago as 2013!

Reprinted with author’s permission from Forum for Democracy International.

John Laughland is Director of Forum for Democracy International and a Member of the Academic Board of the Ron Paul Institute. He is a Visiting Fellow at Mathias Corvinus College in Budapest, Hungary.


  • John Laughland

    John Laughland is a British eurosceptic conservative academic and author who writes on international affairs and political philosophy.

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