Viktor Orban: member in good standing of the “axis of resistance”
It seems that a week does not go by without some incident in Eastern Europe involving the inhumane treatment of people who have fled Baathist terror in Syria.
For example, in the Czech Republic, cops wrote numbers on the arms of refugees in order to identify them, a chilling reminder of how Nazis tattooed such numbers on the arms of Jews in the death camps.
But it is Hungary that takes the cake apparently.
- It put a razor-wire fence on the border with Serbia to keep refugees out.
- It put up billboards (in Hungarian no less) warning anybody who made it through the razor-wire fence that “If you come to Hungary, don’t take the jobs of Hungarians!”
- A TV news photographer kicked and tripped refugees running away from the police. The station she worked for was connected to the far-right Jobbik party that lines up with the “axis of resistance” on Syria, opposing “the systematic attempts of the West to find a casus belli for an armed intervention against the Assad government.”
- At an internment camp for refugees in Hungary, cops threw bags of food to them as if they were hungry animals.
Since the refugees are only interested in making their way to Germany or Britain, the xenophobia is likely a strategy to mollify Hungary’s burgeoning ultraright groups like Jobbik and their voters. Key to success is the ability of President Viktor Orban to exploit simmering discontent over dire economic conditions. In fact this is exactly how German fascism succeeded. When economic disaster ruined Eastern European Jewry, the largely working class and impoverished small proprietors fled to Germany. Hitler then blamed “the Jews” for taking away German jobs.
It must be noted that Viktor Orban has recently joined the “axis of resistance” after the fashion of Jobbik. All across Europe ultraright parties with zero exceptions have showed solidarity with the Kremlin in its ostensibly “anti-imperialist” struggle against NATO, the EU, and Washington. This Red-Brown alliance is a revival of the National Bolshevist tendency of the early 1920s when a faction of the German CP advocated a united front with the incipient fascist movement.
Orban is now Putin’s closest European ally. While the bonds involve mutual economic interests, including Hungarian access to Russian natural gas at bargain prices and a willingness to back Putin’s pipeline project that would bypass Ukraine, there are also ideological affinities. He has nationalist pretensions casting himself as an enemy of neoliberalism. He has also followed Putin in cracking down on NGO’s and pressuring Hungarian media to follow his strong man rule.
For a fascinating account of Orban’s political evolution, I would recommend the Intercept article by Adam LeBor titled “How Hungary’s Prime Minister Turned From Young Liberal Into Refugee-Bashing Autocrat”. It seems that early on he was not kindly disposed to Russian domination, speaking at a Budapest rally in 1989 commemorating the death of Imre Nagy, the leader of the failed 1956 revolution. In his speech he demanded the immediate withdrawal of all Soviet troops from Hungary.
You don’t have to understand Hungarian to know that he was lambasting “Communist dictatorship”. Understanding which side of the bread was buttered, Orban hooked up with George Soros just before this speech was made. LeBor reports;
Orban was born in May 1963 in Alcsutdoboz, a small village 31 miles from Budapest. After graduating from high school he moved to Budapest to study law at Eötvös Loránd University. There he co-founded Századvég, a dissident social science journal.
He graduated in 1987 and joined the Central-Eastern Europe Study Group, which was funded by George Soros, the financier who had emigrated from Hungary after World War II. The following year Orban became a founding member of the Alliance of Young Democrats, known in Hungarian as Fidesz. The outspoken radicals quickly became the darlings of the Western media. They were young, smart and scruffily photogenic – Tamas Deutsch, another founding member of Fidesz, was a model for Levi’s jeans. Fidesz in its early years was a broad coalition, from near anarchists to nationalists. They all had one aim: to get rid of the Communists. Once that was achieved, like all revolutionary groups, the party began to fracture.
Having been born and raised in Hungary, Soros took a particular interest in his native land. He spent millions on cultivating a following among ambitious young politicians like Orban, paying for airfare and hotel costs in the USA where they were afforded red carpet treatment at Soros’s Open Society conferences. Soros was also shrewd enough to pay for photocopying machines that anti-Communist activists found crucial in their attempts in the late 80s to create a liberal pole of attraction against the Stalinist bureaucracy. Michael Lewis, by no means a critic of neoliberalism, traced Soros’s steps in a 1994 Guardian article:
IN 1984 Soros opened his first office, in Budapest, and began all manner of subversive activities for which he is temperamentally very well-equipped. “I started by trying to create small cracks in the monolithic structure which goes under the name of communism, in the belief that in a rigid structure even a small crack can have a devastating effect,” he wrote in Opening The Soviet System. “As the cracks grew, so did my efforts until they came to take up most of my time.”
Says Liz Lorant, who worked with Soros from the start: “It was the excitement of what we got away with [that is irreplaceable]. We got away with murder. [For example] at that time Xerox machines were under lock and key. That was the way it was. In Romania you had to register a typewriter with the police. Well, we just flooded the whole damn country with Xerox machines so that the rules became meaningless.” In short, by the time the dust settled over the Berlin Wall – boom! bust! – Soros had accumulated a highly-charged portfolio of gratitude. The Great White Gods of Eastern Europe – Havel, Michnik, Kis, Haraszti – were all in his debt. So were all sorts of lesser-known, highly motivated people wending their way to high political office.
For most people on the “anti-imperialist” left, Soros is a kind of archenemy symbolizing globalization, neoliberalism and all the rest. He is also a convenient symbol of liberal ignominy for the far right as the supposed puppet master behind Obama and the secret plans to transform the USA into a European-styled socialist state. Of course that is the paradox of George Soros. Like Fay Dunaway telling Jack Nicholson in “Chinatown” that a woman was both her daughter and her sister, Soros is both a neoliberal shark and someone favoring European style socialism, which is in reality nothing but a welfare state and incapable of being realized today.
With Soros’s record of intervening in Hungarian politics through his well-funded NGO’s, it is easy to understand why Orban would have a free hand in cracking down on them. Many Hungarians must have gathered that Karl Popper’s philosophy probably had more to do with a fast buck then it did with promoting civil society and equal opportunity.
Five years ago Soros’s firm was fined $2.5 million for illegal bank stock transactions in Hungary (a mere slap on the wrist.) It was his exploitation of short sales and other shenanigans from 2007 to 2010 that prompted the billionaire and major donor to my alma mater to confess that he was having “a very good crisis”, referring to the stock market crash that is still impacting countries like Hungary.
Like Greece, Hungary had huge debts when the crisis broke and like Greece has been scrambling to nurse the country back to health—a dubious prospect given the world economic situation. In late 2008 Hungary pleaded with the International Monetary Fund for $25 billion in emergency financing. In 2010 unemployment reached 11.4 percent while the economy shrank by 6.3 percent. It was such suffering that convinced voters to back Orban’s party that promised to wave a magic wand and make things right.
For those who think that a Grexit would solve Greece’s problems, it is worth mentioning that Hungary’s failure to be part of the Eurozone was no silver bullet as the NY Times reported in 2012:
Zoltan Zsoter, an 80-year-old retiree, would seem to be about as far from the world of currency speculation as a person can get. Yet he is an example of how the workings of the global financial system, amplified by the policies of a single political leader, can have a devastating effect on ordinary people.
Mr. Zsoter is one of hundreds of thousands of Hungarians who took out home loans that must be repaid in Swiss francs or other foreign currencies like the euro. Such loans offered seductively low interest rates when times were good. But then the Hungarian currency plunged, causing Mr. Zsoter’s monthly payment to almost double.
“I live day to day,” Mr. Zsoter said. After defaulting on his loan, he pays 40,000 forints, or about $163, out of his monthly pension of 51,000 forints to stay in his modest Budapest apartment as a renter. “Sometimes I have to choose between buying either food or medicine,” he said.
Hungary serves as a cautionary tale for those who argue that Greece could regain competitiveness by reintroducing its currency. The drachma would plunge against the euro, the theory goes, and allow Greek products to compete on price with countries like Turkey.
So if Viktor Orban is facing intractable economic problems, why not scapegoat Syrian refugees or the Roma who have been the target of persecution for a number of years now? And meanwhile, the left that admires Putin would have all the reasons to back Orban who after all is sticking it to the EU.
According to anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, our species homo sapiens has a tendency to think in terms of binary oppositions like life and death or good and evil. This would likely explain the eagerness for so much of the left to divide the world between those forces aligned with the West and those with the East. Like a plot out of a Tolkien novel, the Evil West is always seeking ways to destroy the Good East. Instead of elves with bows and arrow, we have people like Pablo Escobar, Mike Whitney and Eric Draitser rallying around the “axis of resistance” to the fire-breathing dragons of the West. And god help any decent folk in the East who managed to get on the wrong side of an elite in their neck of the woods. Everybody had to understand that it was their half of the world, love it or leave it.
Ironically, Hungary was a symbol of this binary opposition way of thinking in 1956 when the population rose up over Russian domination. In the same way that sections of the left make all sorts of excuses for Assad today, the CP justified the invasion of Hungary in order to “defend socialism”.
But in fact it was Russian tanks that created the animosity in Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Hungary that made it possible for George Soros, NATO, the CIA and the US State Department to get a foothold. By reinforcing bureaucratic rule in the name of “socialism”, ordinary people began to think positively of its opposite. In the most extreme example, Ukrainians regarded Stephen Bandera as a hero for opposing Soviet domination even if he was a fascist.
The bottom line is that the encroachment of NATO at the doorstep of Russia is a direct outcome of the encroachment of the Red Army on nations throughout Eastern Europe.
There was one Communist who was able to see through the lies. The Daily Worker, the British CP newspaper with the same name as the American paper, sent Peter Fryer to Hungary in 1956 fully expecting him to write articles that echoed the party line that Russia needed to quell a CIA-inspired plot. In other words, he was expected to write the same kind of crap that Max Ajl, Patrick Higgins and Adam Johnson are writing about Syria today. But Fryer obeyed his conscience rather than party bosses and filed reports that any radical journalist would be proud of. You can read Peter Fryer’s “Hungarian Tragedy” here. This excerpt shows that it doesn’t take much effort to see the similarities between Hungary in 1956 and the Arab Spring in Syria in 2011, no matter how it has been slandered in places like Jacobin, WSWS.org, MRZine and elsewhere:
But the crowds spoke also to me of their lives in this small industrial town, of the long years of grinding poverty, without hope of improvement, of their hatred and fear of the AVH [Hungarian secret police]. ‘I get 700 forints a month,’ said one. ‘I only get 600.’ said another.  They were ill-dressed, the women and girls doing their pathetic best to achieve some faint echo of elegance. They spoke to me about the AVH men. ‘They were beasts, brutes, animals who had sold themselves to the Russians.’ ‘They called themselves Hungarians and they mowed our people down without hesitation!’ ‘We shan’t leave a single one of those swine alive – you’ll see.’ They asked me what the West was doing to help, and some asked outright for arms. I for one do not regard these as counterrevolutionaries. If after eleven years the working people, goaded beyond bearing, look to the West for succour, whose fault is that? If the Americans are guilty of seeking to foster counter-revolution with the Mutual Security Act, surely the Rákosis and the Gerös are a hundred times more guilty for providing the soil in which seeds sown by the Americans could grow.
There was a general movement in the direction of the hospital, where an immense crowd had gathered, clamouring more and more insistently with every minute that passed for Stefko to be brought out to them. The German journalist and I were admitted into the hospital, where we met the director’s wife and a French-speaking woman who had volunteered to help with the nursing. It was here that I got for the first time reasonably accurate figures of the number of wounded. There had been about 80 wounded brought here, of whom eleven had died, and about 80 had been taken to the hospital at Györ. The need for plasma and other medicaments was desperate if lives were to be saved and so was the need, said the director’s wife, to end the tumult outside. A deputation from the revolutionary committee was interviewing her husband to demand that Stefko be handed to the people.
A few minutes later the director was forced to give in, and we saw a stretcher carried by four men appear out of a hut in the hospital grounds. On it lay Stefko, wearing a blue shirt. His legs were covered by a blanket. His head was bandaged. He was carried close enough to me for me to have touched him. He was fully conscious, and he knew quite well what was going to happen to him. His head turned wildly from side to side and there was spittle round his mouth. As the crowd saw the stretcher approaching they sent up a howl of derision and anger and hatred. They climbed the wire fence and spat at him and shouted ‘murderer’. They pushed with all their might at the double gates, burst them open and surged in. The stretcher was flung to the ground, and the crowd was upon Stefko, kicking and trampling. Relations of those he had murdered were, they told me, foremost in this lynching. It was soon over. They took the body and hanged it by the ankles for a short time from one of the trees in the Lenin Street. Ten minutes afterwards only a few people were left outside the hospital.
I wrote later in my first, unpublished, dispatch:
After eleven years the incessant mistakes of the Communist leaders, the brutality of the State Security Police, the widespread bureaucracy and mismanagement, the bungling, the arbitrary methods and the lies have led to total collapse. This was no counter-revolution, organised by fascists and reactionaries. It was the upsurge of a whole people, in which rank-and-file Communists took part, against a police dictatorship dressed up as a Socialist society – a police dictatorship backed up by Soviet armed might.
I am the first Communist journalist from abroad to visit Hungary since the revolution started. And I have no hesitation in placing the blame for these terrible events squarely on the shoulders of those who led the Hungarian Communist Party for eleven years – up to and including Ernö Gerö They turned what could have been the outstanding example of people’s democracy in Europe into a grisly caricature of Socialism. They reared and trained a secret police which tortured all – Communists as well as nonCommunists – who dared to open their mouths against injustices. It was a secret police which in these last few dreadful days turned its guns on the people whose defenders it was supposed to be.
I wrote this under the immediate impact of a most disturbing and shattering experience, but I do not withdraw one word of it. Much of the rest of the dispatch was never received in London because the call was cut off after twenty minutes, and the first ten had been taken up by three different people giving me contradictory instructions as to the ‘line’ I should take. Mick Bennett insisted on reading me a long extract from a resolution of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party. I had had enough of resolutions. I had seen where eleven years of terror and stupidity had led Hungary, and I wanted to tell the readers of the Daily Worker the plain unvarnished truth, however painful it might be. But the readers of the Daily Worker were not to be told the truth. The day after I had sent this dispatch they were reading only about ‘gangs of reactionaries’ who were ‘beating Communists to death in the streets’ of Budapest. The paper admitted in passing that ‘some reports claimed that only identified representatives of the former security police were being killed’. Next day Hungary disappeared altogether from the Daily Worker’s front page.