András Göllner wrote an insightful piece for the Hungarian Free Press on how Viktor Orbán and his regime have used specific language and propaganda to generate trust and even love within the Hungarian diaspora in Canada. How is it, that people of common sense are often unable to distinguish political illusion from reality? Illusions are once again outselling reality as credible and desirable political commodities within the diaspora communities. And, in Canada’s case, even the federal government to a certain extent has been mesmerized by the Orbán government’s illusions. But that may soon change.
We go abroad to wonder –
at the towering beauty of the mountains,
at the crashing power of the waves on the high seas,
at the winding flow of a majestic river,
at the vastness of the oceans,
at the miracle of the stars above:
but we often walk past ourselves, without wondering
The Confessions of Saint Augustine
How do modern day autocrats, like Viktor Orbán of Hungary or his political role model, Vladimir Putin of Russia use language to get what they want? How do they use their tongue, their voice, to generate trust, loyalty and love? Why is Stalin, who sent tens of millions of his countrymen to perish on the Gulag during the first half of the 20th century, still the third most admired political leader of modern Russia? What did Hitler owe his enormous popularity to in Germany? How is it, that people of common sense are often unable to distinguish political illusion from reality?
In the first part of a two part series on the language of political deception, I tried to provide some answers to the questions posed above. (See: “A Fidesz nyelve”. Kanadai Magyar Hírlap. April 24, 2014. An English translation will be shortly available here.) In that essay, I talked about the application of the rules of magic to politics. I explored how politicians and their spin-doctors corrupted the techniques that were designed to induce self-delusion as an instrument of healing. I revealed the secrets of political seduction. I demonstrated how politicians generate political capital for themselves while they strip their audiences not only of their possessions but their souls. I argued, that if people are put in the right frame of mind, in the right mood, they will accept almost anything they’re told, as long as the narrative follows certain rules and resonates with their political culture. I showed, that post-modern politics, armed with the latest technological innovations is capable of returning us to antiquity, to a period that existed prior to the Age of Reason. I explained why it is, that illusions are once again outselling reality as credible and desirable political commodities.
In that first article in this series, I decoded the language of deception used by Hungary’s ruling political Party, FIDESZ. I showed how it works its magic in that country. I illustrated how Viktor Orbán’s government – a.k.a. RCA Viktor – uses the methods of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and the teachings of positive psychology. I showed how it applies the ideas of marketing consultants, high performance advisors and quantum physicists who claim that the secret of getting what you want out of life is to follow the “Laws of Attraction”. In this second and closing article, I will show, how RCA Viktor uses it’s tongue and its voice to get what it wants in Canada. I will decode the communications strategies and tactics of Viktor Orbán’s Canadian diplomats, friends and local affiliates. I will identify the key components of RCA Viktor’s Canadian sound system and show how the system is kept in high fidelity mode. I will demonstrate how the Orbán government manipulates public opinion, how it uses the language of love and harmony, to generate applause in this country as it destroys the values that hundreds of thousands of Canadians gave their lives for in the course of two World Wars. Happiness, John Lennon once sang, is a warm gun, and then he went on to tell us about a Mother Superior who jumped the gun. What Lennon didn’t tell us was that one cannot have a warm gun, one cannot reach happiness, without a trigger. In this article, I will look at the trigger that Hungary’s prime minister uses to keep Canadians happy about his duplicitous behaviour.Why focus on Hungary? Why focus on a country that carries little weight in world politics and whose economy has about as much impact on the way North Americans live and work as a moth may have on the fate of a giant oak tree in the middle of a distant forest? Why not focus on the recruitment tactics of ISIS or on the linguistic practices of dozens of other states or corporations around the world, including those that reside within the trans-Atlantic community of nations? Besides, isn’t political deception, political lying a central element of political life everywhere? (On the question of why democratic politicians lie, I suggest Alex Rubner. The Mendacious Colours of Democracy: The Art of Benevolent Lying. Charlottesville. Inprint Academic Philosophy Documentation Centre. 2006). Isn’t political lying as old as politics itself? Why single out Hungary for something that everyone is guilty of?
The question of “why Hungary”, deserves to be addressed up front and especially now, that Hungary’s government is beginning to spend vast sums of money on diverting critical attention away from itself. I would like to begin answering this question by directing our attention to the words of those who worked the hardest to end communist rule in Central Europe. This is what Central Europe’s leading anti-communists, headed by the internationally respected former President of the Czech Republic, the late Vaclav Havel, had to say about why we should single out Viktor Orbán’s government for special attention: (see: www.iprotest.hu):
“We, the undersigned, are members and supporters of the democratic movements that fought against the communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, fought for our nations to join the community of European democracies….This time the destruction of democracy’s guarantees is unfolding right before the eyes of the European Union, the very alliance founded to ensure that respect for our common values remain indivisible….Today, the goal of a Europe united in liberty is in grave danger. In just 20 years after communism collapsed, Hungary’s government, though elected democratically, is misusing its legislative majority to methodically dismantle democracy’s checks and balances, to remove constitutional constraints, and to subordinate to the will of the ruling party all branches of power, independent institutions and the media… We call on European parliamentarians and commissioners, on Europe’s governments and parties to build clear standards of compliance with the values of democracy… Censorship anywhere in Europe is censorship everywhere else; the removal of constitutional constraints holds all our nations hostage; the denial of basic rights in one country humiliates all Europeans. Any member nation’s shaken trust in Europe’s capacity to stand up for democracy will lead to further charges of “democracy deficit” at the European level, and will end up in a global mistrust for Europe’s democratic vocation… European institutions should name and shame the transgressors, so that our nations may continue to look to the Union for guidance in their daily struggle to keep freedoms alive.”
My choice of the Orbán regime for a case study on the language of political deception is driven not only by the cry for help issued by Central Europe’s leading anti-communist warriors. My choice is driven by an additional imperative, that bases itself on a large body of verifiable evidence about the predatory nature of this regime. To date, this body of evidence has not been refuted by RCA Viktor. It has merely been brushed under the carpet, and it’s authors subjected to various forms of character assassination and slander.(See for example the Canadian Hungarian Democratic Charter’s “Indictment” document – www.hungariancharter.com – or the works of such internationally respected scholars as Princeton University’s Kim Lane Scheppele, Jan Werner Müller, John Hopkins’ Charles Gati, or Hungarian scholars such as Gábor Halmai, János Kornai or Bálint Magyar, to name just a few). These authors are usually dismissed as agents of forces hostile to Hungary, as Jews with an ax to grind, as dithering liberals, traitors, liars, or simply disciples of the devil. In the first part of this series I provided new and once again fully verifiable evidence about the chameleon like nature of the Orbán regime and how it uses this ability to disguise its true identity, and hide its fraudulent modus operandi. This second part closes yet another chapter of the indictment and increases the weight of verifiable evidence.
Ultimately the reason why the Orbán regime needs to be singled out is because it’s a pioneer. RCA Viktor is as much of a prototype of the post-liberal-democratic predatory state as RCA Victor was a prototype in the world of sound engineering close to a century ago. There are, to be sure, other regimes that are similar to Orbán’s, but his is the first one that is inside the gated community known as the European Union. RCA Viktor deserves attention because it uses a unique navigational technique to avoid detection. It must be put under the magnifying glass, because it has achieved immunity from the antibodies that we put in place to guard us against predators. It needs to be looked at because it’s spending millions of US dollars to hide its identity. (A good example of this detection avoidance was given during a special hearing organized by a few of Orbán’s Republican friends in the US Congress in the middle of May, 2015) This author agrees with a growing number of Central European leaders, and with respected Princeton political scientist Jan Werner Müller: Hungary deserves our attention because it is a Trojan Horse within the Western alliance.(See. “Moscow’s Trojan Horse”. Foreign Affairs. August 6, 2014).
RCA Viktor’s Acoustic Challenge
Hungary’s Foreign Ministry underwent a massive purge in 2014. Hundreds of its key employees were fired because they did not possess appropriate acoustic fidelity. The entire diplomatic core was rewired according to new specifications. Orbán’s first ambassador to Canada, László Pordány was one of the victims of this purge. He was summarily recalled in 2014 before his term of office expired and was replaced by Bálint Ódor (as good a name as any in the sensitive world of international diplomacy) who is a close confidant of the PM, a loyal follower of his Party’s line, and according to some gossip, a relative of the Hungarian PM.
What was RCA Viktor’s acoustic challenge that necessitated this shake up ? Why did RCA Viktor install a new sound system in Canada and around the world last year? For many, the purge was long overdue. They argue, that Hungary’s diplomatic core was unable to adjust to the acoustics of a rapidly changing global theatre. RCA Viktor’s messages appeared to increasingly irritate external audiences, the volume of critical commentary directed against its performance was reaching dangerous levels. RCA Viktor’s media approval rating was way down, and not only in so called liberal media outlets but especially in globally recognized Conservative circles. Such important Western leaders as Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, John McCain, Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sárkozy had spoken up against him. Dozens of American congressmen, the EU Parliament, the Venice Committee, the OSCE, and many other international groups such as England’s Actors’ and Writers’ Guild, and even his own Party Block within the EU Parliament, the European People’s Party, began to voice disapproval. Something had to be done to stem this negative tide of criticism. Interestingly, and in contrast to other countries within the trans-Atlantic community, the Harper government has remained publicly silent about the Orbán government’s misconduct. In private, and especially with the Conservative Party’s rising star, Jason Kenney, the relationship has been downright chummy. A significant number of Orbán’s minister’s have been greeted with open arms by the Harper government during the past few years, even after Orbán had openly gotten into bed with Vladimir Putin and announced that the Canadian Conservative leader’s nemesis is his personal role model. Politics does indeed make for strange bedfellows.
With the notable exception of Canada, the number one objection of RCA Viktor’s external audiences prior to 2014 was that it did not fully respect the rules of democratic discourse. The Orbán regime was portrayed as an opponent of political and economic competition, an opponent of free speech, a regime that tried to control the mass media, and limit the type of policy-making scrutinization that is the hall-mark of democratic societies within the trans-Atlantic community. The recent revelations, by a former US Ambassador to Hungary that in a private conversation with her, Orbán dismissed debate and democratic discourse as mere bullshit, merely confirms what astute observers had known about Viktor Orbán for a long time. (See Eleni Kounalakis. Madame Ambassador: Three Years of Diplomacy, Dinner Parties and Democracy in Budapest. New York. The New Press. 2015)
Already, during his first tenure in office between 1998-2002, Orbán showed what he thought of democratic governance. He shortened the time allotted to debate in the Hungarian Parliament. He refused to allow a single parliamentary committee investigation into the conduct of his government. He began to use the National Revenue Agency (APEH) the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Ministry of the Interior, and the State owned mass media as tools of censorship and intimidation. When he was thrown out of office in 2002 and became the official leader of the opposition, he hardly set foot in the Hungarian Parliament for the first three years of his tenure. There is solid evidence to prove, that in 2006, he attempted to overthrow the democratically elected government of Ferenc Gyurcsány by a putsch. In 2008, at the height of the global financial crisis that hit Hungary probably harder than any of the Central European States, he refused an invitation from the then Prime Minister to consult and work on a bipartisan recovery plan for the country. He actively opposed all efforts to reform Hungary’s corrupt electoral laws, and did just about all that he could to ensure, that Hungary’s fragile democratic system would not be able to face up to the challenges confronting the country at that time. In a so called secret speech at Kötcse, in 2009, he clearly articulated his contempt for discursive democracy, and his intention to put an end to it, once he was elected into office. (The full text of this speech to Party faithful in the town of Kötcse, was kept under wraps for almost half a year, and was disclosed only a few weeks prior to the April 2010 elections because of fear that it may have gotten into the hands of the opposition who would release it in a distorted form in order to discredit Orbán and limit his chances of attaining a two-thirds majority in Parliament. See: Nagyítás. February 17, 2010).
Orbán’s legislative actions between 2010-2014 spoke louder than any words he may have uttered publicly or privately in the past. What his critics have been saying about him for years – he finally owed up to, in a public speech in July 2014. He announced that he will remodel the Hungarian State, so that it will resemble Putin’s Russia, and the People’s Republic of China. He didn’t divulge any details – he simply asked his audience to trust him and declared prophetically that: “anything is possible”. (Orbán’s speech was given at the 25th Summer University and Youth Camp, at Baile Tusnad, Romania, a yearly gathering of pro-FIDESZ ethnic Hungarians. For the English translation of the text see: Budapest Beacon. July 29, 2014. For a critical analysis of the speech, see Charles Gati, Senior Research Professor at Johns Hopkins University. „The Mask is Off” The American Interest. August 7, 2014.)
Many claim, that the change in the Orbán government’s international communications strategy was simply a recognition, that the performance we summarized above was not suited to the acoustics of the trans-Atlantic community’s public arena. We’re told that it is this dissonance that necessitated the 2014 roll-out of a new sound system. While there is some truth to this reasoning, it does not provide us with a sufficient explanation of the transformation that took place in Hungary’s external communications strategy and tactics shortly after Orbán was re-elected to a second term of office in 2014. There is more to RCA Viktor’s new global market initiative than this. The sound-system change of 2014 was driven not by one, but a number of interlinked acoustic challenges. We need to briefly identify these additional challenges in order to fully comprehend the logic and technical parameters of RCA Viktor’s new sound-system and the play list its DJ’s are spinning in Canada and elsewhere.
The first essential thing to recognize about the roll-out is, that it reframed the content of the narrative the Orbán regime was to pursue vis-a- vis its critical external audiences worldwide. It decided to forego, as much as possible, rhetorical engagements about the theme – democracy – which the PM dismissed in his confidential musings with the US ambassador as bullshit. From one day to the next, RCA Viktor replaced Homo Politicus with Homo Economicus as his primary target audience. The logic of this change is straight forward. RCA Viktor’s messages to Homo Politicus were increasingly falling on deaf ears. The cat was out of the bag for too long. In July, 2014 he admitted as much. He had enough of the rap. Pretending to be something that you’re not, is acoustically unsound. Hence the need for a new narrative, a new communications menu, that would be more in harmony with the acoustics of western theatres. Besides, more and more people were suggesting that Hungary’s democracy-deficit problems were not unique to that country. If there is one thing we can say for certain about Orbán it is this: He hates to be told he’s like all the rest. RCA Viktor always wanted to be a market leader, always wanted to be loved. This is a brand that wants to stand out, to differentiate itself from its competitors to ensure that it’s going to be listened to. Demonstrating economic, managerial competence, rather than competence in upholding commonly held western political values, became the instrument for differentiation.
In part one of this series I discussed the works of public choice economists, who argue very persuasively, that it is the ability to appear responsive to people’s desire for material welfare, the ability to project an image of acompetent provider of material benefits, that is the key to political success. Orbán is convinced of the wisdom of this school of political economy. But as in the case of his earlier fascination with the writings of Machiavelli, he had forgotten to pay attention to many of the key corollaries that public choice economists like Anthony Downs or Mancur Olson had woven into the fabric that so fascinated him. Viktor Orbán is convinced, and he has articulated this conviction to his followers (e.g at the Friends of Hungary Association’s annual meeting in Budapest earlier in May of this year) that autocrats are more competent in generating success than democrats. We can find no such suggestions in any of the writings of public choice economists. Yet this is the message RCA Viktor’s new sound system is programmed to convey. His market research people assured him that they pre-tested the sound, and this one has a better accoustic resonance with right of center, Conservative theatrical audiences, especially in North America. As I shall show in this paper, Orbán’s advisors badly miscalculated the acoustic challenge. RCA Viktor’s drive for market leadership is fraught with major problems from the outset. In the following paragraphs I will quickly summarize the problem.
As the OECD’s most recent study has shown, as far as living standards are concerned, Hungary is only one up from the bottom, slightly ahead of Mexico, among the countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Development. While there is nothing new in this low placement what is new is, that during the decade prior to Orban’s coming to power in 2010, Hungary’s standard of living was on an upward spiral, since Orbán took over, this upward trend has came to an end. Hungarian living standards have been stagnating for the past five years, in spite of the government’s official mantra that Hungary is performing better under Orbán’s leadership than ever before. Hungary’s bond rating, by all of the major bond-rating firms, is in the junk category. It is lower now than it was prior to 2010.
The global financial crash of 2008, hit Hungary the hardest of all central European emerging markets, still the country’s national debt was lower before Orbán took over in 2010, than it is now. Under Orbán’s rule, income differentials have dramatically widened, poverty affects more people in Hungary than five years earlier. The country’s expenditure into health and education has been sharply curtailed, and all this, without the introduction of any meaningful reforms. The country’s entire privately held pension fund holdings have been nationalized, but the funds were not reinvested into healthcare reform but to pay off the national debt, which in-spite of this massive injection is larger than it was 5 years ago. The public health care sector of Hungary is close to collapsing. The country’s hospitals are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and doctors are fleeing the country in hordes. Close to 500,000 Hungarians left Hungary since the election of Orbán – the largest exodus of people from this country since World War II. What’s even more telling is, that at least half of Hungary’s youth have indicated in recent polls that they would rather live elsewhere than at home.
Meanwhile, public corruption has reached it’s highest level in Hungary’s recorded history. According to Transparency International’s most recent study on corruption (See: Lobbying in Europe. Transparency International, April 15, 2015) Hungary has the worst record in all of Europe, and the authors blame the Orbán government’s policy changes for this sorry state of affairs. The Head of the Hungarian National Revenue Agency has been persona non-grata in the USA for almost a year as have been some of Orbán’s closest advisors. Currently, almost 90 percent of Hungary’s publicly financed development expenditure is paid for by European taxpayers. The coordination of those expenditures is concentrated in the Hungarian Prime Minister’s office, an administrative arrangement simply unknown in any other EU member state. At the moment substantial portions of the EU funds that go through the Hungarian PMO are suspended and are being poured over by European anti-corruption investigators. The suspicion, not unfounded, is that a significant proportion of the moneys European taxpayers dole out to Hungary each year end up in the offshore accounts of Orbán’s friends and relatives, who, like Putin, have become enormously rich during the past few years. An even bigger problem is, that many of the developmental projects Hungary has chosen to invest Europe’s taxpayers’ money into is unproductive and has little if any multiplier effect. The developmental targets were not selected according to the country’s developmental needs but according to the fancy of Orbán’s oligarchs and political cronies.
The sign of this harmful cronyism, the disturbing signs of Hungary’s mafia state are everywhere. 5 of the Hungarian banks that Orbán set up during the past few years, headed by his closest confidents and ostensibly to remove Hungary from the greedy clutches of foreign bankers, have folded. Their funds – approximately 500 billion HUF – have disappeared and Hungarian taxpayers are left holding the bag. The largest single financial fraud in the country’s 1000 year history has just recently exploded, with strong suspicion of insider trading by the PMO and by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Once again, the oligarchs have taken the loot, while taxpayers are called upon to pick up the tab. In the case of each of these massive robberies, Orbán quickly steps in as the vigilant Sherriff, the friend of the “hard working little people” and assures account holders that the State will reimburse the money that his closest allies have run away with. Easy does it. Or does it ?
It is common knowledge in financial circles, that without EU funding Orbán’s economic system would be as dead as the dodo. Hungary doesn’t have Russia’s natural resources, it can only compete if it’s technologically better, more efficient, than its competitors, and if the government is as tight and judicious with its expenditures as the proverbial Scottish Grinch. The first problem is, that under Orbán, the country’s financial resources are literally in the hands of mafiosos, hell bent on generating short term personal gain at the cost of long term national pain. (For a detailed accounting see Bálint Magyar’s excellent two volume study on Hungary’s Mafia-State. Magyar Polip: A posztkommunista maffiaállam. Budapest. Noran Libro, 2013, 2014).
The key to the new communications strategy of Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs resides within the figures cited above. Given the scarcity of domestic productive developmental capital, Orbán’s diplomats have been given a new priority in 2014. They must scour the corrupt, but oil rich republics of the former Soviet Union, they must court the favours of Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, the financiers of Lebanon, the little and big tigers of the Pacific rim countries, for soft loans and investments to keep the predatory regime solvent back home. Investors must be told that Hungary is a safe-haven for their money. The regime must demonstrate economic competence in order to attract foreign capital. There is once again a problem with all of this. It’s businessmen not diplomats who are the engines of prosperity. The desire for repositioning the brand, the deployment of a new sound system by RCA Viktor is understandable – the expected outcome of this new deployment is not assured. As I argued in the first part of this two part series, the massive increase in public expenditures on demonstrating one’s economic competence crowds out badly needed investments into productive domains, and creates, counterproductive results. In a recent study two western political economists have provided a clear cut econometric illustration of this delicate balancing act and of the role propaganda, censorship, cooptation and repression plays in the maintenance of Orbán’s authoritarian rule. (Sergei Guriev and Daniel Treisman. How Modern Dictators Survive.Discussion Paper No. 10454. Centre for Economic Policy Research, London. March 2015.) If RCA Viktor thought it had a difficult acoustic challenge in the past, it ain’t seen nothing yet.
The one place where RCA Viktor’s is particularly hopeful of scoring some early gains is Canada. As I stated above, the acoustic dissonance in this country, especially within the corridors of the federal government is very low. Harper’s Tories are apparently comfortable with the sounds emitted by RCA Viktor in this country, and if Jason Kenney becomes the new Conservative PM, as some are speculating, RCA Viktor may have a genuine friend at the helm of Canada’s ship of State. The acoustic challenge for RCA Viktor in Canada is to convert the private praises of Canadian parliamentarians into public applause and to arrange a state visit for Orbán to Canada, in order to demonstrate that he is comme il faut, that he is looked upon as a respected member of the club. The acoustic challenge in Canada is straightforward: critics, nay-sayers, such as those who make up the Canadian Hungarian Democratic Charter, or who edit and run the Hungarian Free Press, and its sister paper, Kanadai Magyar Hírlap, have to be isolated and silenced. The elderly spokespersons of the ever dwindling local Hungarian communities have to be bought off by whatever it takes to ensure they will play nothing else but RCA Viktor’s play list. There are 300,000 Canadians in Canada according to the last census. Technically all of them have been given the right to participate in Hungary’s national elections by the Orbán regime. A key challenge for RCA Viktor in Canada is to ensure that with the generous use of Hungarian taxpayers’ money, this potentially significant voting block will cast its ballot for Orbán’s party in the upcoming national elections in 2018.
The last but not least significant of the acoustic challenges for RCA Viktor in Canada is to convince key segments of the non-Hungarian community, especially the Canadian Jewish community, that RCA Viktor is their friend. This last challenge is a particularly difficult one because, as we shall later demonstrate, the evidence is overwhelming, that the Orbán regime is attempting to deceive this community. The British Actors’ and Writers’ Guild successfully saw through this trick when Hungary’s ambassador to England attempted to pull off a similar stunt a few years back. Ambassador Bálint Ódor can certainly boast about some early gains in this domain, but the final outcome is by no means assured. He is working under a formidable handicap. As he discharges his duties in Canada during this year of international remembrance of victims of the holocaust, his masters at home are busy white-washing Hungary’s role in the Holocaust, and restoring to respectability those who were responsible for the mass murder of some 600,000 Hungarian Jews during the second World War. While Hungary’s Canadian ambassador is hosting the leaders of the Jewish community at his residence, in another part of town, and on Hungarian taxpayers money, top aides of RCA Viktor are celebrating with those who are directly responsible for the prolongation of World War II and the massacre of innocent civilians. After some reflection, it appears that the acoustic challenge in Canada is about to become as problematical for RCA Viktor as elsewhere. At this point RCA Viktor’s best bet in Canada is to hope and pray, that the Tories don’t catch on to the sleight of hand, and stay by his side. RCA Viktor can only hope and pray that the NDP’s victory in the province of Alberta will not spread as far as Ottawa and that the brand’s vocal critics lose their interest and determination to unmask the fraud that’s being foisted upon unsuspecting Canadians from coast to coast. But as any brand manager that’s worth his weight in salt knows, a prayer is not a solid platform to build a lasting brand on, even if the brand-managers are convinced that everything that happens on earth is a direct product of their God’s will.
To be continued…
András B. Göllner