THE LANGUAGE BELONGS TO THOSE WHO CULTIVATE IT: FINKELSTEIN-GOEBBELS 2.0. Part II

Today I’m summarizing and excerpting the second half of Mária Vásárhelyi’s essay on the language of dictatorships and the Orbán government’s conscious imitation of their well-tried methods to change people’s political views and create devoted servants of the regime.

* * *

The colonization of  language

Besides the seizure of the media, the most important tool in Goebbels’ propaganda campaign was the expropriation of language. Gradually the Third Reich created a language of its own and everyday linguistic usage adjusted to it. As Klemperer noted, “the absolute rule that was created by a handful of people was the linguistic command of one man that eventually spread across the whole German-speaking world … Oration must be understood literally: to say nothing in a raised voice, or more precisely to yell nothing. This boorish style became compulsory for the whole world…. The language of the Third Reich attempted to kill the person in his individuality and make him a person without will.”

Soon enough it became customary that every Friday night someone on the radio would read the Goebbels article that would appear in the Saturday paper. In this way the government designated the topics that would define political discourse for the next week. In Hungary, Viktor Orbán’s Friday morning radio interviews serve the same purpose. In these conversations Viktor Orbán not only sends the pro-government media a message about what topics should be discussed but also makes sure they understand how these topics should be interpreted.

One key distinguishing feature of the language of the Third Reich was its linguistic poverty. After 1933 the language of Mein Kampf became the language of the people. It occupied public as well as private life. This primitive language served several purposes: to reach as many people as possible, to simplify the understanding and functioning of a complicated world, and to express the essence of the centralized power of one man. The same linguistic poverty can be found in the political language of Viktor Orbán and other Fidesz leaders. They make sure that their messages get to even the least educated segment of the population. They translate complicated relationships into simple sentences.

Given the poverty of the language of dictatorships, it is interesting to note that sentimentality, pathos, and kitsch are also part and parcel of their style and their way of speaking. These mask the emptiness of their phrases. Kitschy phrases are integral to Viktor Orbán’s speeches. For example: “I readily accept the advice of boys attending tea parties when sailing on Lake Balaton, but we are on open sea. A captain of a ship in the middle of rolling billows and among reefs who is being told that he should be a little more careful with the rudder can only laugh.” Or, “Under the uniform there is also a heart, not only muscle.”

The cult of strength is an important feature of the language of dictatorships. As Klemperer pointed out, it was the cultivation of the body that held first place and intellectual endeavors last place in education. In the Third Reich an incredible amount of public money went to the support of sports. Surely, the same can be said about Viktor Orbán’s infatuation with sports as the most important ingredient of the education of youth.

The emphasis on the “Volk” served two purposes. It was supposed to strengthen the feeling of community and, even more critically, it was designed to destroy the person as a distinct individual. One of the posters of the Third Reich declared that “You alone are nothing, your people are everything.” According to Klemperer, “the word ‘people’ appeared as often in speeches and in writing as salt in our meals.” In Hungary, instead of “people” the favorite turn of phrase is “the nation” or “the Hungarian people.” The constant use of these words has rendered them meaningless. Their overuse leads to such ridiculous combinations as “National Tobacco Shop” or “National Parking Company,” but unfortunately by now we don’t even have an inclination to laugh at them.

The instruments of linguistic occupation

An important stylistic element of the word usage of dictatorships is repetition, which is supposed to ensure that people learn the meanings of newly created words or words with new meanings. This tendency is also recognizable in Orbán’s Hungary. Once a word has been chosen to hammer into the heads of the population, all Fidesz politicians will repeat it ad nauseam. This is what Gábor Kuncze, former chairman of SZDSZ, dubbed the “parrot commando.”

In the Third Reich folksy turns of phrases played an important role. Viktor Orbán’s speeches are crawling with such phrases as well, which otherwise don’t serve any political or stylistic purpose. And that’s also why one can see Viktor Orbán stuffing sausages on Facebook or singing a folksy (not folk) tune on a video circulating on the Internet.

Antal Rogán, Hungary's new propaganda minister. In the background: Hungary performs better

Antal Rogán, Hungary’s new propaganda minister. In the background: Hungary performs better

Another element is the militarization of the language, the use of military metaphors, pointing out the enemy and constantly fighting against him. All this is designed to strengthen the feeling of community. If there is no enemy, there is no reason to be afraid and to hold onto each other. In the Third Rich, according to Klemperer, the most used words were: struggle, warlike, fight, storm, black marketers, domestic enemy, imperialist agents, saboteurs, and clerical reactionaries.  Orbán is always fighting against someone: communists, beneficiaries of the former regime, those on public aid, liberal traitors, the European Union, the multinationals, or lately, the illegal immigrants. Such words as war of independence, war, struggle, defense of the country are the fodder of everyday political discourse. Just the other day the Hungarian prime minister while in Bavaria talked about himself as “a knight at the battlefront against a threat of brutal strength” in connection with asylum seekers traveling across Hungary. The refugee crisis provided an excellent opportunity to use such language and to incorporate more military terms into the political vocabulary: units of border hunters, line of defense, etc.

The creation of new words was a feature of the language usage of the Third Reich.  In Hungary examples of such words are “rezsibiztos” (commissioner of utilities), “rezsiharc” (struggle for lowering utility prices), and “elszámoltatási biztos” (commissioner who is supposed drag politicians of the former government to court).

“History” and “historical” were favorite words of the Third Reich. As Klemperer put it, “the regime finds itself so important that every small thing is considered of historic importance.” The same is true about the present Hungarian government. Viktor Orbán is walking along the “high street of history.” In fact, he gave that title to a volume of his collected essays (2003) which is—to use Klemperer’s phrase ,“a dramatic and shocking time travel in history.” Klemperer’s phrase is apposite because, as Orbán claimed in this book, “until now it was history that formed our character [but from here on] our characters will form our history and thus we will again have our own past.”

The constant exaggeration and the use of superlatives serves a similar purpose: the bravest soldiers, the most dangerous enemies, the greatest battles of history. And Goebbels used words for Jews like “parasite,” “worm,” “pest,” which soon enough spread to everyday usage. Fidesz politicians have played this kind of verbal game for years, but now with the appearance of the asylum seekers they had new targets: the “migrant hordes [that] stampede across our country.” Orbán now talks about “the attack of the extremist Islamic horde,” and a pro-government journalist called Angela Merkel “an aberrant magnet of migrants.”

Klemperer noticed the Nazis’ preference for foreign words, which in his opinion not only sounded elegant but, more importantly, served to confuse and confound: “the fewer people who understood them the better.” Foreign words serve the same purpose in Fidesz’s propaganda. Instead of the usual Hungarian words, they use foreign words not understood by everybody: illiberalizmus/illiberalism, hipokrita szellem/hypocritical spirit (instead of képmutató, álszent), szub-szaharai-térség/Sub-Saharan area (instead of dél-szaharai), migráns/migrant (instead of bevándorló). For most of the less educated Hungarians “migráns” means nothing; it creates a fear of the unknown.

Klemperer says the following about the language of the Third Reich. “They achieved the greatest impact not so much through speeches, articles, broadsides, posters, or flags. Nazism penetrated the body and soul of people through words, through turns of phrases which were repeated countless times and thus were pressed upon the people who mechanically and unconsciously took them over … Words can be the infinitesimal amounts of arsenic we swallow unnoticed, but the effect of the poison will be felt after a while.” All totalitarian dictatorships try to poison the consciousness of the people. Fidesz included.

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gdfxx
Guest

I waited for the second part, although this question occurred to me after the first part. Is there any proof (other than someone’s guess) of what parts of Orban’s PR (or rather propaganda) were generated by Finkelstein? Or was it not the propaganda but the election strategy?

By the way, as I said it before, Orban’s style and PR reminds me of that of Romanian dictator Ceausescu. And I am sure there are or were others like these two in that part of the world (or elsewhere, see Kim Jong Un, Peron, Castro, Hugo Chavez etc.).

Nádas
Guest

I was looking to see more about Finkelstein’s involvement, too. His name, after all, appears in the title of both today’s and yesterday’s postings comparing him, a Jew, to the Nazi propaganda minister, but there’s no further mention of him in the article, or even a suggestion that it is he who shapes Fidesz’s use of language.

Finkelstein’s kind of amoral, take-no-prisoners approach to politics is closer, as I wrote yesterday, to that of Karl Rove, a.k.a. “Bush’s Brain.” (This is not to compare Orbán to George W. Bush. That would be insulting – to Orbán.)

The fact that Finkelstein is both Jewish and gay, and yet has come to Hungary as a gun-for-hire for a regime that is often called both anti-Semitic and anti-gay, just goes to show, I guess, that politics really does make strange bedfellows.

But what has Jesse Helms got to do with this? He’s been gone from the scene for many years now. His most lasting and disastrous impact has been on US-Cuban relations.

György Lázár
Guest

The Finkelstein case is absolutely fascinating… He also worked for Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman (onetime Israeli foreign minister) who was close to Martonyi. And if I’m not mistaken he also worked for George Pataki when D’Amato supported Pataki… Not surprisingly the Israelis never accused Orbán with antisemitism, in fact they praised him…

Molo
Guest

Actually there are some who have been saying (waiting for it to happen any time now) that Orban could be best friends with Netanyahu.

Sure, the Hungarian right-wingers wouldn’t love that, but there are many more similarities between the two men than what is acknowledged.

Guest
Re: ‘Hungary Performs Better’ No doubt directed to two publics one being internal the other external. But performing on what? Propaganda and ‘marketing’ the country seem to go together in selling Hungary as ‘brand’. Curious on what the tremendous amount of data mining by the Fidesz back room has offered as key selling points of the state. Of course written and presented to slide in with the pitch to the resident population. Have to keep the messages in sync. Too much ‘noise’ will ruin the brand. And noting Vasarhelyi’s insightful observations on how the Reich worked propaganda to its advantage, it comes as no surprise that autocrats/dictators like to be popular with the masses. At this point VO appears to have the population on his side but it can be noted that the more repressive Hitler and Stalin were the more they became popular. Point to ponder as the government and its leader map out their strategies and tactics in repetitive messaging and holding power. If more repression occurs it just may give a leader more legitimacy and power in governing the state. As they say he could be ‘flying high’. Perhaps an upcoming nettlesome issue for the country. VO… Read more »
bimbi
Guest

A very telling comparison of our Fidesz/KDNP government propaganda and that of the Third Reich. All part of the grand scheme to control, control.

On another front though, after 5 ½ years of intense effort by the government in one area Hungary is not performing better – on the soccer field – being unable to qualify for the European Cup now. Maybe with a bit more practice and proper leadership they could qualify in the first six of the Visegrad Four.

I must have missed it but apart from the propaganda front, in which area exactly IS Hungary performing better?

Tyrker
Guest
hab
Guest

Listen, this is a magazine where these “awards” can be purchased for money. These “awards” exist in other industries too.

Hungary’s debt is still junk, Industrial production and GDP are visibly slowing (and not from a too high base), employment is very weak (not counting the GDP-costing fostered workers) and so on and on.

Hungary is clearly lagging behind in the region, now even behind Romania.

spectator
Guest

Let alone, the sentence in Hungarian just as incomplete as it is in English!

Hungary performs better than:
-yesterday!
-Uganda!
-as expected!
-it supposed to!
-……

-or what???

The “One and Only”, our National(socialist) Leader couldn’t even use his(our) mother language correctly – and there is a country which buying this crap.

Go, figure!

Molo
Guest
George Lakoff wrote so many books about this linguistic phenomenon. It’s not as though this was a secret or could not be emulated. But the leftists and liberals – totally irrationally – cling to the idea that voters are rational (OK, it’s also acceptable to invoke Kahneman that there are some constraints to this idea) and that if you show them what each government policy will bring what advantages and disadvantages and if you propose a better set of policies in a campaign than people will vote for you. And election after election the liberals get surprised f.e. why working class white Americans vote Republican (who I agree really the prefer the rich), which is supposed to be bad for poor whites. I think in a sense liberals know that people are not rational but they want to cling to this idea, ie I know very well but still hope that this rational choice theory will turn out to be the winning paradigm. No, this is not how politics work. People have this stereotype that liberals are smarter, or smart people are liberal, but it’s not true. Right-wingers, conservatives are smarter, they certainly use tools and methods better, while liberals… Read more »
tekla7
Guest

Liberals way overestimate the intelligence, education and the cognitive skills of average and below average folks (who obviously make up more than half of society).

They really should go out more often to the local CBA or Aldi at 7AM in Szekszárd or to a pub in Szolnok on a Wednesday afternoon. Or even in district 12 in Budapest.

I propose that it’s not possible to underestimate the cognitive skills of people and conservatives know that instinctively. Liberals lough at the folksy ways of Orban and his mannered use (to urban educated ears) of language as an average joe but they work.

Most people subsist at the cognitive level of a 6-10 year old child brought up in a well-to, educated family. This is not a joke. For starters, all PISA and other research shows that about 1/3 of the Hungarian people are functionally illiterate.

Member

Extolling Demagoguery

Those who mock honest politicians and admire demagogues are simply recommending that everyone become a demagogue: Is that really what they want? (Not sure what side they’re on, but if they’re for decency, this is a terrific recipe for winning the battle and losing the war.)

(And this has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence; it is just about lack of scruples. It is the psychopath who says “There is no such thing as true or false, right or wrong: just what to say that works.”)

spectator
Guest
“..liberals are inhibited by childish constraints, like their fetishistic attachment to rationality.” How wonderfully true! Because the average Fidesz supporter has nothing/nada/nil to do with rationalism. They’re going on pure beliefs – and nothing else matters! I have read many of Orbán’s speeches, and let me tell you, that my grammar school teacher would throw him out of class, guaranteed! It doesn’t really matter, what the overall massage means, as long as the necessary catchwords piled up and make some impact! Sometimes there are whole chapters pure gibberish, only to have some words emphasised loudly and repeatedly. The effect is there and working, thank you! Aunt Bess and uncle John will applaud and cheer, because “our” (their) Viktor said so! They hear his voice, and its enough to be happy right away, whatever he says. I’m not joking. Go to the http://www.miniszterelnok.hu/beszedek/ and read any of his public rants. Be aware, though, that if you click on the link “English” you may even find German references as well on the same page, but hey, one shouldn’t be so picky as to require consistency, after all he is the ‘Hungarian Prime Minister’ with all capitals, and the least he should bother… Read more »
german1971
Guest

Let us us accept a new rule for this blog and for its comments:

Express all thoughts in simple straightforward short sentences.

exTor
Guest
This is nothing less than an exegesis of the Fidesz text, Éva. I’m enjoying wading through the food-for-thought comments “The same linguistic poverty can be found in the political language of Viktor Orbán and other Fidesz leaders. They make sure that their messages get to even the least-educated segment of the population. They translate complicated relationships into simple sentences.” [paragraph 3] The hallmark of effective communication is not convoluted language, but simple direct sentences. Convolution is for those in academia who believe that abstruse verbosity is the key to success. If I were an opponent of Orbán, I would utilize the same methods as he, albeit with a different (better) message. There is nothing that Orbán does that hasn’t been done thousands of times by others. Just as those in the West (and elsewhere) who have been on the receiving end of derogation and who have fought back by appropriating derogatory terms like ‘nigger’, ‘faggot’, ‘queer’, etcetera, I would employ the same devices that make Orbán strong. One must fight like with like. Were I a politician in Hungary opposing Viktor Orbán I would have to fight him with his own weapons. To take on Orbán with nambypamby tools is… Read more »
Member

Please don’t conflate populism, lying, manipulation, vulgarity, incitement and pandering to pettiness and bigotry, on the one hand, with either “clarity” or speaking plainly, on the other.

exTor
Guest

Listen Stevan, if I knock out a bully who wants to punch my lights out and I’m using the same weapons –fists– as he’s using, am I the same as he?

I didn’t think that I’d meet resistance over my suggestion that one must fight fire with fire. And that is precisely what needs to be done.

One does not have to resort to populism, pettines, pandering in order to take someone on, one only needs to fight hard.

And say the right things.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Member

Fight’s fine, as long as we fight fair. They don’t.

german1971
Guest

Let us us accept a new rule for this blog and for its comments:

Express all thoughts in simple straightforward short sentences.

german1971
Guest

Let us us accept a new rule for this blog and for its comments:

Express all thoughts in simple straightforward short sentences.

manamana
Guest

Are they really so dumb? I guess they are.

At MSZP nobody wants to be party chairman. “For the sake of social democracy” some would “contemplate the idea” but a real ‘szoci’ isn’t interested in “positions”.

I really think that a 3 year old is smarter than that.

Of course every politics is meta-politics.

So by showing that a Socialist has no ambition to be the leader of their party, they also imply that they refuse to lead the nation (which is the goal of any politics).

Why would anybody vote for them when they apparently don’t want to be leaders?

It boggles the mind.

Is there any other country where the leftists are so completely impotent?

It’s not that Orban is a genius, it’s his supposed opposition which contains only retards.

http://444.hu/2015/10/14/kovacs-laszlo-nem-zarkozik-el-az-mszp-elvezetgetesetol

Member

IQ and IOU

It’s not that Orban is a genius but that he is a sociopathic demagogue who has, through dishonesty, implemented a cronyist kleptocracy where even his criminality is not criminality, because he changes the laws at will. And the only “retards” are the plurality of the populace that fell for it or felt the same way, giving him the power to wreak the havoc he has wrought. There exists no codebook of conduct that explains what a democratic opposition can do under these criminal conditions — but there will always be those of the “manamana” persuasion who deride democrats’ impotence in the face of a criminal regime as lack of intelligence rather than possession of scruples. (Those who themselves lack scruples are bound to see things that way…)

Webber
Guest

OT – The next wheeze
Tax authorities are working out a new system in which companies will be rated for reliability. Those with a high rating will be treated better than normal companies. For these companies, regulations will be less lax, and there are other benefits, too. For instance, if a company with a good rating is found in violation of this or that, the fines will be lower than they would be for ordinary companies.

I don’t think I need to explain what this is likely to mean, but just to make it explicit: companies in some way associated with Fidesz seem likely to get the best ratings.

I quote, in Hungarian: “A kormány tervei szerint a cégeket megbízhatóság alapján rangsorolják, a jóknak kiemelt bánásmódot és enyhébb büntetéseket helyeznek kilátásba.” – from the article “Nem kell adóbevallás, fizetős a pálinkafőzés”, Népszava, 14 Oct. 2015.

Black is white
Guest

Magyar Idők, the new partizan Fidesznik daily newspaper, seems to be obsessed with George Soros.

http://martonbede.tumblr.com/image/131159420419

tappanch
Guest

Hungarian (European) green cards in return for huge profits to Rogan-approved offshore companies.

Citizenship of recipients between January 1, 2013 through September 30, 2015.

Chinese: 2,486
Russian: 173 (think of sanctions busting)
Iranian: 25 (think of sanctions busting)
Syrian: 20
Ukrainian: 19
Pakistani: 19
Turkish: 16
Saudi: 15
Iraqi: 15
Lebanese: 14
Egyptian: 12 (think of the previous lies 🙂 )
Kazakh: 10

http://www.parlament.hu/irom40/06396/06396-0001.pdf

Istvan
Guest

Interesting short article in Oringo for those that read Hungarian http://www.origo.hu/nagyvilag/20151014-keritest-epitene-hatarra-kolinda-grabar-kitarovic-horvat-elnok.html

The Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović called her country unprepared for the migration crisis and discussed the idea of building their own fence apparently with Serbia. Remarkably the Oringo article also indicated that she did not blame Hungary for building a fence on Croatia’s border, rather she argued Croatia needed to defend its own borders.

President Grabar-Kitarović went to high school in the USA and did graduate work in international relations in the USA at schools like Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University. She served as Assistant Secretary General in NATO until 2 October 2014, and was also once Croatian ambassador to the USA. She is a member of the conservative Croatian Democratic Union party.

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