Tag Archives: Third Reich

Mária Schmidt and Zsolt Bayer on the fate of Europe

Viktor Orbán’s court historian, Mária Schmidt, has written an article that can perhaps be described as something between a book review and an attack on Germans and Germany. The occasion for her piece was the appearance of a new book by Hans-Peter Schwarz, a conservative political scientist and historian, titled Die neue Völkerwanderung nach Europa: Über den Verlust politischer Kontrolle und moralischer Gewissheiten. Due to Schmidt’s cavalier handling of borrowed text, it is hard to tell how much of the article actually reflects the ideas of Schwarz and how much comes from Schmidt’s own view the world. My sense is that Schwarz’s book is only an excuse for Schmidt to espouse her peculiar views on the state of Europe.

In the article, which bears the title “Egg without its shell, country without borders,” Schmidt vents her anger over the elimination of borders within the European Union. For Schmidt, the removal of borders meant “the abandonment of [the countries’] defense capabilities and thus their national security which are indispensable instruments of national sovereignty.” So, she continues, “Schengen soon became popular among tourists and businessmen, and naturally among drug dealers, human traffickers, prostitutes, pimps, and, naturally, international terrorists.” In brief, it was a dangerous experiment which by now cannot be undone and which leads ever more closely toward federalism. So, if I understand her correctly, if it depended on Mária Schmidt, she would dismantle the single market that seeks to guarantee the free movement of goods, capital, services, and people throughout the European Union. Some people in Hungary claim that this is the path Viktor Orbán will argue for in the future.

Schmidt’s venom is also directed against the European Court of Human Rights, which is “the favorite organization of federalists.” In Schmidt’s opinion the ECHR is largely responsible for the European Union’s crisis, mostly because, according to the court, human rights have priority over the defense of the borders, which means that the European Union became defenseless against the invasion of outsiders. In her tirade against the court, she recounts all the decisions that went against Hungary. The court, with the effective assistance of Soros-financed NGOs, will bankrupt Hungary, which is trying its best to save Europe from the migrants.

Schmidt’s hatred of Germans and Germany has no bounds. Germany was responsible for a borderless Europe which, as we already learned, is the source of all the evil that has befallen the European Union. The Germans are unable to get rid of their feelings of guilt associated with the Third Reich and what it entailed, and therefore they “dream of a federal Europe hoping to leave Hitler behind.” But in their eagerness to build a real union “they forget that a new German-led, unified Europe was in fact Hitler’s cherished dream.” Thus, Schmidt accuses today’s German politicians of continuing Hitler’s conquest of Europe by other means. And, she adds, “as we know, the ideology of socialism began its conquest of the world in Germany and socialism both in its national and international version is deeply rooted in German thinking.”

Mária Schmidt, very deep down, must know that the Hungarian government’s treatment of the refugees is unacceptable by any moral standard. She naturally knows what world opinion is of the Orbán government’s treatment of the refugees and its anti-refugee propaganda that poisoned the souls of Hungarians. One way of minimizing this anti-social behavior is to belittle the magnanimity and compassion of others. This is exactly what Schmidt does when she writes that “in 2015 the entire German elite and public fell in love with their own goodness and generosity, with their chancellor in the lead. They enjoyed the perception that they are now on the right side of history and that they are good-hearted, generous people, helping people in need.” Of course, the German people were told that it was time to be generous, and “once the Germans are told what to do, they don’t stop until they reach the bunker.” Once they receive the so-called order “wir schaffen das,” the consequences don’t matter. “A command is a command.”

It seems that it is not only the Germans who mask their “sentimental and romantic” nature with “arrogance and cynicism,” but the Council of Europe also believes that “the most important task is to prevent humans from drowning in the sea! Thus, the priority is not to halt the surging crowds but to save humans.” Can you imagine?

Schmidt spends considerable time on misinformation being spread in the West about Hungary in general and about the Orbán government’s treatment of the refugees in particular. There is nothing new in her arguments about the manipulated media of the West except for one amusing item. Schmidt uses President Trump’s “memorable” sentence–“The fake news media is not my enemy; it is the enemy of the American people”–as an epigraph for her section on “Fake news media.” Quite a literary coup for a man who, according to Philip Roth, is “incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.” Decrying all the fake news about Hungary and bolstering her defense with Donald Trump’s attack on the media is pretty low. According to the latest Fact Checker’s ongoing database, Trump in 119 days made 586 false and misleading claims. Moreover, as Ruth Marcus says in today’s Washington Post, Schmidt’s idol “is impervious to embarrassment, no matter how blatant his falsehood.” To use the words of a liar to pass judgment on others is a peculiar way of defending one’s alleged truth.

Of course, the hero of Europe is Viktor Orbán, who stopped the flow of migrants who otherwise would have run down Europe. He saved Europe with his brave move of stopping the invaders at the Serbian-Hungarian border. The following picture appeared with the article.

This depiction of the alleged result of migration is the death of Europe as we know it. That brown foot tells it all. Schmidt is very careful, the word “white” nowhere appears in her essay, but Zsolt Bayer, another favorite of Fidesz and Viktor Orbán, is much more outspoken in his essay that appeared in Magyar Idők today. As far as he is concerned, the Europe Hungarians so fervently wanted to belong to during the Kádár regime in fact no longer exists. That Europe was the world of “white people,” but now the Western Europe of old is gone. He recalls the popular German television series Die Schwarzwaldklinik, which depicted life in the Black Forest where one could see beautifully kept lawns, clean streets, elegant cars, villas, and “white people taking care of their problems who were Europeans like us, only much richer, luckier, happier and freer but still familiar.” Hungary will not accept the demands of the European Union in the name of solidarity. The real solidarity means that “when the European white Christian people lose the battle in the defense of their own past, then we–the humiliated, the betrayed and the despised—will welcome them. However, in the meantime, we will not tolerate lecturing and empty threats. Is that clear?” I guess it is.

May 20, 2017

Teachers’ revolt, Nazi speech, and Orbán’s “battle” in Brussels

Hungarian public discourse at the moment revolves around three topics. The first two, about which I’ve already written, require updates. The third topic is new: today’s summit in Brussels and Viktor Orbán’s latest stunt.

First, the aftermath of the large anti-government demonstration of teachers and sympathizers on March 15, at which the organizers demanded an apology from Viktor Orbán. The prime minister’s response was that he considered the demand nothing more than a joke. János Lázár couldn’t even comprehend what István Pukli and his colleagues had in mind. As for their demand for his presence at the negotiations, he invited them to one of the town meetings Hungarian politicians attend to answer questions from the local folks. Zoltán Balog didn’t react to the organizers’ demand for his resignation. László Palkovics did, and said that he will remain at the head of the round table discussion. The leaders of the teachers’ revolt can come and join him.

Pukli was not intimidated by the predictable response. He did what no ordinary subject of the almighty Viktor Orbán has dared to do. He spoke back. “Here is the opportunity, dear Viktor Orbán, to take the teachers seriously, and instead of condescension and disdainful jokes, to take the problem itself seriously.” And he added that members of the government “secretly hope that the whole thing was no more than a bad dream and once they wake up everything will be the same as before. But their real awakening will be painful.” Pukli seems very sure of himself, and I do hope the teachers are ready to follow him.

I might also add that the two trade unions are still in conversation with László Palkovics and Bence Rétvári, who made it clear that the declaration of a strike is restricted to unions and that Pukli’s call for a walk-out is considered to be illegal. There might, however, be a clever legal loophole, as indicated by László Mendrey, leader of the Pedagógusok Demokratikus Szövetsége (PDSZ), this afternoon.

The other event of March 15 that continues to resonate is Viktor Orbán’s speech. People from opposing political backgrounds, including a former Fidesz propagandist, came to the conclusion that Orbán’s oration was a “Nazi speech.” The epithet spread first on Facebook. Yesterday I cited a Facebook post that compared the crucial part of the speech about the host animal and its parasites to a similar passage from the 1942 edition of Mein Kampf. The speech reminded Gábor Kuncze, former chairman of SZDSZ and minister of interior in the Horn government, of Adolf Hitler’s speech delivered on November 10, 1933.

Zsolt Gréczy, spokesman of Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), wrote in his blog that “what Orbán said is a perfect copy of Adolf Hitler’s speeches.” As an example, he quoted the following sentence from Orbán’s speech: “It is written in the book of fate that hidden, faceless world powers will eliminate everything that is unique, autonomous, age-old, and national,” adding that only the mustache was missing from under his nose. Sándor Csintalan, who for the last ten years or maybe longer was a devoted supporter of Fidesz, finally broke with Orbán because the “parasites” metaphor was too much for him. Although he hates “drawing these kinds of historical comparisons, it was in the 1930s in Nazi Germany that political rivals were compared to animals who sponge off a host animal.”

The most thorough assessment came from historian Mária M. Kovács, who is well known among our readers from her articles that appeared in Hungarian Spectrum. Yesterday morning, in an interview on Klubrádió, she summarized the German historical and rhetorical heritage that began with Johann Gottfried Herder and Eugen Dühring and eventually blossomed during the Nazi period in the language of Adolf Hitler and other leading characters of the Third Reich. That tradition included labeling members of the political opposition as members of the animal world, especially its least attractive members. “Parasite” was one of the favorite words, as well as “pack,” i.e. a pack of wolves or wild dogs. She added that this is not really new in Orbán’s vocabulary. But it has taken quite a bit of time for people first to recognize the similarity and then to be courageous enough to compare Orbán to Hitler.

I may add here that László Bartus, editor-in-chief of Amerikai Népszava, who is usually considered to be too extreme in his criticism of Orbán, has been describing the prime minister’s speeches as “Nazi talk” for a long time. For example, after Orbán’s “illiberal speech” on July 28, 2014. But even earlier, Bartus wrote an article after Orbán’s October 23, 2013 speech, which he called “Orbán’s Nazi speech.”

Viktor Orbán arrives at the summit in Brussels

Viktor Orbán arrives at the summit in Brussels

Finally, a few words about the summit that began today and will continue tomorrow. János Lázár devoted a significant part of his weekly government.info to the subject. He announced that today Orbán will be part of a huge battle in Brussels where the debate will center on the quota issue. Will it be compulsory to take a certain number of refugees? If so, then the referendum the government is currently planning will have to be held.

Naturally, all Hungarian news sites picked up the story of Hungary’s battling prime minister. If these journalists had followed the news a little more closely, news that was reported even in the Hungarian media, they would have known that Viktor Orbán was fabricating a phony battle to show his people that the European Union is at his mercy and that all decisions are dependent on his image of the future of Europe. The fact is that yesterday at a press conference held in the Bundestag Angela Merkel already announced that the question of compulsory quotas would not be put on the table. So, like a fortuneteller who predicts the past, Orbán announced today in Brussels that “there is a good chance” that his views would be accepted at the summit. Csaba Molnár, one of DK’s two members of the European Parliament, declared today that “it is a shame that the Hungarian prime minister week after week tries to mislead the Hungarians with his lies.” There will be no fight “because during the negotiations there will be not a word about compulsory quotas.”

Unfortunately Orbán is doing a splendid job of misleading the Hungarian public. Indeed, week after week he returns from Brussels as the victorious defender of European and Hungarian freedom. Even the better informed public and members of the opposition media lap it up. Another thing that needs to change.

March 17, 2016

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.

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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.

The language belongs to those who cultivate it: Finkelstein-Goebbels 2.0

In the United States Arthur Finkelstein is not widely known although, as can be seen from his biography, he has been one of the most important movers and shakers in Republican politics ever since the 1970s. He was instrumental in devising a campaign for Ronald Reagan’s presidential bid and, in general, was behind a number of conservative candidates’ spectacular and unlikely wins for the U.S. Senate. In Hungary, by contrast, he is very well known as the man behind Viktor Orbán’s successful political career.

The article that I will summarize and excerpt (part 1 today) is by Mária Vásárhelyi, the well-known sociologist whose works deal primarily with media affairs and public opinion. It analyzes language as an instrument in forming public opinion by the ruling political elite. As you can gather from the title, Vásárhelyi doesn’t share the “educated” Hungarian public’s belief that Finkelstein gave Viktor Orbán the tools of modern communication that can assure him power for years to come. In her view, he merely refined some old tools of totalitarian dictatorships.

* *  *

In a short time the name of Arthur J. Finkelstein became a household word. In the eyes of the government’s supporters he is “the miracle doctor” who handed Viktor Orbán the weapon of communication that allows him to get and hold onto power for a long time to come. For the democratic opposition he is the devil incarnate who has supplied the prime minister with the most extreme negative propaganda tools–lies and slander included, which can destroy democratic political culture. What Finkelstein did, however, was no more than the modernization of the instruments of totalitarian dictatorships, including the communist one. The reason Vásárhelyi points to the similarities between the propaganda of the Orbán regime and that of the Third Reich is that we have at our disposal a unique source: Viktor Kemperer’s LTI–Lingua Tertii Imperii: Notizbuch eines Philologen (1947), which was translated into English under the title The Language of the Third Reich.

Viktor Klemperer

Viktor Klemperer was a literary historian of Jewish origin who in 1935 was stripped of his professorship but who in his home in Dresden kept a diary throughout the remaining days of the Third Reich. He paid special attention to language: how the Nazi regime changed the German language to serve its own image. His diary, which he kept for ten years, is “the linguistic analysis of the propaganda instruments and practices of Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda ministry. The Language of the Third Reich depicts how the Nazi empire took hold of and formed German society through language.”

Viktor Kemperer

Viktor Kemperer

Expropriation of the sphere of communication

The secret of Goebbels’ success lay, on the one hand, in the government’s total domination of the field of communication and, on the other, in the transformation of language. Setting up a propaganda ministry was one of the first moves of the leadership of the Third Reich, which very quickly supervised and subordinated all publicly available communication channels. Antal Rogán’s new ministry cannot even dream of such an “ideal” situation.

Goebbels concentrated on radio communication. Already in 1933 he created a Reich Radio Association which every radio employee had to join. At the same time the government removed anyone whom they suspected of a less than loyal attitude toward the new regime. All regional radio stations were placed under one company, the Reich Broadcasting Corporation. Even the manufacture of radios was placed under state supervision. The Nazi state heavily subsidized the manufacture of inexpensive radios. By 1939 70% of all German households owned a radio, a world record.

The subordination of newspapers took longer and followed a multi-pronged strategy. Some of the successful daily papers were purchased by firms sympathetic to the regime. The government tried to ruin other papers not to its liking by withholding advertising money from them. There were more forceful acts as well: intimidation or suspension of the publications. The two official telegraphic agencies were taken over by the state, and thus both domestic and foreign news were effectively controlled. By 1939 two-thirds of all German newspapers were owned by the state company, Eher Publishing House.

It is not difficult to find similarities between the illiberal Orbán regime’s communication strategy and the propaganda of the Third Reich. But since the Orbán regime is not a totalitarian dictatorship and because in the last 80 years developments in communications have made complete central supervision impossible, the comparisons are not in their realization but only in their methods and aspirations. Both in 1998 and again in 2010 one of the first moves of the Fidesz government was the seizure of public radio and television as well as MTI, the Hungarian news agency. At the same time a political purging of undesirable employees took place. They bought up media in private hands deemed unloyal, and, in the case of radio stations, they simply took away their frequencies and gave them to loyal friends. On the positive side the Orbán government, unlike the Third Reich, doesn’t forbid the activities of opposition media, but its plan is to make their existence impossible.

In the Third Reich important ingredients of the propaganda machine were broadsheets and posters which, as Klemperer describes them, “are all the same. One can feel physical strength and fanatic will. All power, firmness, the obvious lack of any thought.” Lajos Simicska already in the early 1990s realized the importance of posters both as a business venture and as a propaganda tool. By the time Fidesz won the election in 1998 Simicska owned 90% of all poster surfaces. By 2010 these posters served as the most important venue for Fidesz campaign communication.  The billboards carried aggressive and primitive messages like “The deed is first,” “Only Fidesz,” “Honor the Hungarians,” “Enough,” “Trust Fidesz,” “Now is the time.”

But back to the Third Reich. In July 1933 the new Nazi regime voted in a law on referendums that made holding one practically impossible. Instead, they introduced the practice of “national consultations.” Doesn’t that sound familiar?

In today’s Hungary, in addition to some independent organs, the most important guarantors of democratic norms, however limited their influence, are the new forums of communication, which even the most brutal dictatorships haven’t been able to keep under their supervision. But the Orbán government is trying; it is testing the freedom of the internet. A good example is its successful intimidation of Deutsche Telekom Hungary, leading to the firing of the editor-in-chief of the internet news site Origo. We can also be pretty certain that trolls paid by the government make it difficult if not impossible to carry on intelligent and fruitful political discussions among people of different political views.

To be continued