Tag Archives: alt-right

Moving to the center? Anne Applebaum’s essay on Viktor Orbán and Donald Trump

This morning I encountered Anne Applebaum’s name on the “Reggeli gyors” (Morning express) program on KlubRádió, on several Hungarian internet news sites, and in a Hungarian-language summary of foreign news related to Hungary that I receive daily. Anne Applebaum is an American journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has written several books on the Soviet Union and on Eastern Europe. She knows the region of East-Central Europe well, having spent several years in Poland while working as a correspondent for multiple British publications.

As a student of East-Central Europe, she is well acquainted with Hungary’s history and follows its current political events. She often writes about Hungarian affairs, so her name appears frequently in the Hungarian media. Every time an article of hers is published in The Washington Post, this or that Hungarian newspaper or internet site will report on its content. Hungarian journalists even follow her tweets.

As for her opinion of Viktor Orbán and his regime, it is devastating. This was not always the case. In 2010 she received the Petőfi Prize for her 2003 book on the Gulag, which was translated into Hungarian (as was her 2012 book Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956). The Petőfi Prize was established by the Public Foundation for the Research of Central and East European History and Society, which is a Fidesz-sponsored foundation. The prize was bestowed on her by Mária Schmidt, whom I call Viktor Orbán’s court historian.

Anne Applebaum (2015) Source: Václav Havel Library

If Anne Applebaum had any hopes for the Fidesz government in 2010, they evaporated soon after. She has written many harsh words on Hungarian domestic and foreign policy as well as on the government’s treatment of refugees. But this is not what I want to talk about here. Anyone who is interested in Anne Applebaum’s political opinions should visit her website, which offers an extensive collection of her writings over the years. Here I will focus on her latest article, “Beware: Trump may use the alt-right to turn himself into the center,” which appeared last night in The Washington Post, because it has a great deal to do with Hungary.

The article is about Donald Trump’s bigotry, which he has used as “an electoral tool, to excite a relatively small group of supporters.” He was successful mainly because the rest of his voters, mainstream Republicans, overlooked his tactics in their eagerness to win the election. Applebaum’s question is whether Trump will further manipulate racism “for political ends.” If he does and proves to be successful, the alt-right will gain strength, which might result in a level of violence that could offer Trump the opportunity to “present himself as the candidate of law and order.” In addition, “by encouraging the alt-right, Trump can also change our definition of what it means to be a moderate or a centrist.”

It is at this point that Anne Applebaum brings up the comparison with Hungary, where “the center-right ruling party, Fidesz, turned a neo-fascist alt-right party, Jobbik, into an electoral asset” and where Viktor Orbán can portray himself and his party as a centrist party that alone can save the country from extremism. A couple of years ago Fidesz used Jobbik very much as Anne Applebaum describes it, but I don’t believe this formula applies today.

In Hungary there are three main political forces: the left-liberals, Jobbik, and Fidesz. After 2006 the left-liberal group lost a great deal of its appeal, and at roughly the same time Jobbik, representing the extreme right, became an important political party. It was in this political climate that Viktor Orbán portrayed himself as the head of a right-of-center party that would save Hungary and Europe from the curse of a government of Gábor Vona, the leader of a racist, anti-Semitic party, which proudly declared itself to be an enemy of democracy.

But, as Anne Applebaum correctly points out, as time went by Fidesz, in order to maintain its support, took over more and more of Jobbik’s program. Applebaum says in this article that “Fidesz borrowed some of Jobbik’s ideas and language.” I think she is too kind. It wasn’t borrowing. It was a wholesale adoption of Jobbik’s program. From day one the Orbán government began fulfilling all of the important nationalistic demands of Jobbik, until the two parties and their constituents were barely distinguishable.

As the result of Fidesz’s rapid move to the right, it became increasingly difficult to maintain the myth of Fidesz as a central force, balancing between the “communists” and the “Nazis.” If Anne Applebaum had written this piece a few years ago, I would have fully agreed with her, but today I believe the picture needs to be refined.

As Fidesz was moving to the far right, becoming a nationalistic party with racist, anti-Semitic undertones, Gábor Vona of Jobbik realized that the political territory his party once occupied was being usurped. He decided to move his party more toward the center, with some success. Thus, the myth that the Fidesz government guarantees law and order in the face of a physically dangerous extreme right has collapsed. Today there is no longer a serious threat of extremists, akin to the alt-right extremists we saw demonstrating in Charlottesville, using deadly force in Hungary.

So, let’s go back to the United States and the “centrist” scenario Anne Applebaum foresees as a possibility. Viktor Orbán is a shrewd, intelligent politician, which we can’t say about Donald Trump. Such sophisticated thinking is, to my mind, unimaginable from Trump. I also believe that both his temperament and his deep-seated political views incline him toward extremism. I cannot picture him as a centrist in any guise, promising calm and the rule of law. He thrives on conflict and discord.

Before the 2010 Hungarians election I said in a lecture that “one doesn’t know where Jobbik ends and where Fidesz begins.” Today I am convinced that the same can be said about Donald Trump and the alt-right in all of its variations.

August 18, 2017

Sources of Fidesz propaganda: Foreign and domestic alt-right sites

While I was doing background research for my post on how the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s reference to the “evil multibillionaire Zionist-American” as applied to George Soros made it to the evening news of M1, the Hungarian Television’s news channel, I became fascinated with the question of how and from where Hungarian right-wing sites get their information.

As I discussed in that post, George Soros, based on Khamenei’s accusation, intended to overthrow Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, and he was instrumental in the ouster of President Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia, an event normally described as the Rose Revolution. It derives its name from the climactic moment, when demonstrators led by Mikheil Saakashvili stormed the parliamentary session, red roses in hand. As far as Khamenei is concerned, Soros was guilty in the overthrow of Shevardnadze, but the truth is not at all clear-cut. In the three years prior to the Georgian regime change, foreign support for Shevardnadze’s regime had declined. The United States announced a reduction in aid, and the International Monetary Fund suspended aid to the country. Foreign governments and individuals, among them George Soros, gave financial aid to NGOs, but surely if the time had not been ripe for a regime change, Soros’s $1.5 million wouldn’t have mattered.

Hungarian journalists working on the news that night were not satisfied with these two claims and looked for other instances in which Soros’s financing of NGOs made a difference in election outcomes. They pointed to the 2015 election in Canada where Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party achieved an overwhelming victory against the Conservative Stephen Harper, who had been prime minister for the previous 12 years. The win was so large that it impossible to fathom that the couple of millions of dollars Soros may have given to Canadian NGOs would have made any difference. But the real question is: did George Soros’s NGOs tip the Canadian elections? I’m almost certain they didn’t.

M1’s claim is based on an article that appeared in the Calgary Herald. It reported that an organization called Canada Decides filed a complaint in which it claimed that “the outcome of the 2015 election was skewed by money from wealthy foreigners.” According to the complaint, the culprit was the U.S. based Tides Foundation, which gave $1.5 million to Canadian third parties. One of the three directors of Canada Decides is a former Conservative MP from Calgary who lost her seat to a Liberal in the election in question. I should add that George Soros’s name is not mentioned in the Calgary Herald article. Only questionable sources claim that Soros was funneling some of his money through the Tides Foundation. For example, Activist Post, which specializes in conspiracy theories and pseudoscience, claims that Soros is the largest contributor to the Tides Foundation, but I doubt that since the Tides Foundation’s total assets were $284,560,083 in 2015.

But let’s move on to Hungarian “fake news” sites. This morning a friend of mine called my attention to a Zsolt Bayer article which appeared on Bayer’s blog Bádog. Thanks to that article, I became acquainted with a number of far-right Hungarian sites. From the look of it, Hungarian extreme right “journalists” freely take over each other’s articles. Zsolt Bayer, without changing a word, copied an article which appeared on the alt-right site Magyar Közösség on May 25. The fake news this time was that “19 girls have disappeared without a trace from the location of the terror attack in Manchester.” If you try to find the origin of this story in English, you are out of luck. There are many stories about children who got lost and were eventually found, but nothing about 19 missing girls. A Cosmopolitan article even wrote about ostensibly Muslim taxi drivers who helped many children get home free of charge after the attack. The author of the Hungarian story, on the other hand, was convinced that the girls were kidnapped by these Muslim taxi drivers and sold as sex slaves. The British government is fully aware of it all, the article claims, but “it cannot tell it to the public because otherwise there would be a revolt.”

Brits out, Turks in. They would replace Brits with Turks

You would think that Magyar Közösség was the original source of the story. But no, it had already appeared on another far-right site, Világlátó, on May 24. The number of news items that appear every day on this particular site is truly remarkable. It is an Islamophobic site which just today, for example, informed its readers that “ISIS actually represents 1.5 billion Muslims” and therefore “Europe is doomed.” Or, “We must be prepared for a huge new wave of refugees: 500 million people may head toward Europe.” Or, “The Pentagon is said to be in complete panic after a ‘Russian super gun’ paralyzed the protection of Alaska.” Or, “About half of the potential terrorists are in Germany.”

What I’m driving at is that Fidesz’s well-known journalists, like Zsolt Bayer, have a strong affiliation with far-right Hungarian circles. They publish on each other’s news sites and borrow each other’s stories. It is high time to call Fidesz and its propaganda machine what it is: a far-right party that relies on far-right western and domestic sources for at least some of its news. The state propaganda apparatus–television, radio, and the internet–influences and misleads millions of people.

May 28, 2017