RCA Viktor–His Master’s Voice in Canada (3)

Why is Canada a key test-market for RCA Viktor?

Perceived acoustic compatibility is not the only reason why RCA Viktor chose Canada as the place to roll-out its sound-system. There are important historical factors behind RCA Viktor’s secret attachment to Canada. This 3rd section in a series on the language of political deception used by the Orbán regime in Canada will examine the sources of this curious attachment. (Part 1 of this series can be read here, and Part 2 here.)

This author knows, perhaps better than anyone else, about Viktor Orbán’s enduring fascination with Canada. I was present at the start and in fact, played some part in the development of his addiction. And he knows it.

After setting up the Canadian-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce in Montreal in 1989 with two other Montreal associates – Tamás Szirmay and André Mécs – I served as the Chamber’s Director of Operations in Hungary and spearheaded the establishment of a Canadian Chamber in Hungary as well. In 1993, I was approached by the head of FIDESZ’s International Relation’s office, Attila Ledényi, about organizing a trip to Canada for Orbán and two of his top lieutenants – József Szájer and László Urbán. The visit was scheduled for late February 1994.

Initially I was perplexed by this request – why on earth would the leader of FIDESZ want to go to such a far away place as Canada, right in the middle of our formidable winter and especially during the home stretch of Hungary’s upcoming 1994 national election campaign? As a professional political scientist, the timing of this visit made no sense to me at all. As a committed democrat, and a person who wanted to lend a hand to Hungary in its transition to democratic rule, I put aside my reservations and agreed to help out. Better help FIDESZ, which at that time was a trusted member of the Liberal International, an international grouping of Liberal Democratic Parties, than the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) which was FIDESZ’s main adversary and which counted among its top leaders many, who diligently served under the former dictator, János Kádár. I suggested to my contact within FIDESZ to reach out to the “Buddha of Bay Street”, the Toronto based Canadian-Hungarian investor and financial guru, Andrew Sarlós, to coordinate the Toronto and Ottawa legs of the tour. I agreed to handle the Montreal end of the visit. The visit went off like clock-work orange.

Viktor Orbán in 1990. Photo: Népszava archives.

Viktor Orbán in 1990. Photo: Népszava archives.

My colleagues at the CHCC in Montreal put on a great show. A blue-ribbon luncheon with the Montreal Board of Trade was attended by Quebec’s top business and political leaders. Representatives of Quebec’s biggest investment fund, the Caisse de Depot, the engineering giant SNC Lavalin, Bombardier, the heads of leading financial institutions and many other provincial and municipal dignitaries were present at this gathering. I also arranged a public speech for Orbán and his two associates, at my place of employment, Concordia University. I criss-crossed the city with the three FIDESZ leaders, from venue to venue, in a stretched limo, sharing jokes and drinking a very fine bottle of French champagne that was sitting chilled in a silver bucket in the limousine’s bar.

I learned that the limo-service, the champagne, first class hotel suite, the airline tickets, the entire trip was financed by Sarlós and his closest Bay street associates. Orbán was way ahead in the polls during this visit. The elections were just a month away. Everywhere he went in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, Orbán was presented as Hungary’s Prime Minister in waiting. The two associates with him were presented as the two most powerful ministers to be in Orbán’s new cabinet. I realized very quickly as I traveled with Orbán and his lieutenants, why they were in Canada. They were reaching out for big money in Canada and Canadian big money was eager to contribute in expectation of preferential treatment once the boys got into power. Hungary was being opened up for western business and Orbán was seen as the man who would control the gateway to the hub of Central Europe’s hitherto untapped market.

I will never forget the private conversation I had with Sarlós a few months later back in Budapest. We were on good personal terms. He was a true Hungarian Canadian patriot, a recipient of the Order of Canada, and I had great respect for him. Though I was not from the world of business, he realized that my active engagement in building good relationships between Canada and Hungary, and my close ties to Hungary’s newly developing democratic forces would be useful to him.

For a short period before he suddenly passed away, I had his confidence. I vividly recall a private dinner party with him in Budapest, when quite unexpectedly he turned to me and the others at his table, and recounted how shocked and disappointed he was with the intensity of the corruption that he encountered around Orbán, and at the highest levels of Hungary’s political establishment. This anecdote lives vividly in my memory, because until then I have not heard anyone talk about this so openly and with such sincere conviction. I could not believe my ears – and pressed him on this. Surely, these are very isolated cases and cannot be seen as systemic? Sarlós was adamant. I confess to thinking afterwards, that this revelation might had something to do with Sarlós becoming the target of a growing wave of ultra-right wing, neo-fascist political operatives around István Csurka and Sándor Lezsák of the Hungarian Democratic Forum. (One of these vehemently anti-Sarlós agitators was Dénes Csengey, who died very young, shortly after being elected to Parliament in 1990. He is a cult hero for Hungary’s neo-fascist Party, the Jobbik. Lezsák, who is now a member of Orbán’s Party and serves as one of the Vice-President of Parliament, officiated with Gábor Vona, the head of Jobbik, at the recent opening of the library that Jobbik put together to hold Csengey’s papers. Lezsák also officiated at the unveiling of a number of statues to Ottokár Prohászka, the Father of Hungarian anti-Semitism. He attended Csurka’s state funeral, and also unveiled statues to Admiral Horthy who for all intents and purposes signed the death-warrants of close to 600,000 Hungarian Jews at the end of WWII.)

The recitation of the personal anecdote above is important, because it offers a glance into Orbán’s attraction towards Canada’s corporate elite. Canada is the place where Orbán became aware of the connectivity between political power and big money. This is the place where he first tested his wings. But strangely enough, Canada is also the place where his wings took him too close to the sun. It is while he was in Canada in the winter of 1994 that everything he had hoped for at the time, suddenly evaporated. The first and probably the biggest financial scandal exploded around FIDESZ, while he was chasing after the big Canadian bucks to propel himself into power (or as Mick Jagger would say, while “bumming for nylons and cigarettes in the American zone” – for those interested in the entire song, click here.) Before he arrived to Canada, his popularity in the polls was over 40%, by the time he got home and the polls closed in April, he was just under 11% – the biggest and steepest drop in popularity ever recorded in a political poll in Hungary before 1994 or after.

What was this corruption scandal about? Its details are revealed by a number of politicians who were in the top leadership of FIDESZ at the time and left the Party as a consequence of the scandal. (See the series of interviews with these players in György Petőcz. Csak a narancs volt. Budapest. Irodalom Kft. 2001. Another excellent account is provided by a writer, who at the time was a prominent member of Hungary’s first democratically elected and genuinely conservative government, József Debreczeni. The latter also places the date of FIDESZ “derailment” from the rails of democracy to this period. For a verifiable account of that scandal, see his book Arcmás. Budapest. Noran Libro. 2009, especially pp 55-99.)

In essence, what happened was this. Not long after the collapse of Communism, leading players of Orbán’s Party set up more than 20 private companies with the use of public funds, and then proceeded to stuff their own and their relatives’ pockets with receipts from these companies. Orbán’s own father was one of the recipients of such an extraction of public money. What’s more, the balance sheets of all of these companies were uploaded with massive unpaid tax bills, and other debts to private lenders. The State and all the private lenders were defrauded when in late 1993 all of these companies, their assets stripped bare, were suddenly sold for a dollar to two foreign transients with fake passport and no fixed address in Hungary. When bits and pieces of this sordid story broke out in the media Orbán’s popularity in the polls plummeted. It is this episode in his life that taught Orbán never to trust the media again, and to always ensure that he has a cozy relationship with the judiciary, the prosecutor’s office and the police. All those pieces are now in place, and he’s much better prepared to manage his corporate affairs than in 1994.

Everything that RCA Viktor became, is coloured in some way by his early Canadian experience with big money and his sudden demise. He got a taste of the enormous wealth he could tap into as a politician and after his defeat he came to an epoch making conclusion. „In my head, what we should have done, was to make a deal with the country’s top 8-10 businessmen… no need for more than that. We should have developed good personal contacts with these men, we should have brought them into the Prime Minister’s tent, in order to enhance their competitive market advantage… This is what we must do now. After we have achieved this unity, the business community will take care of the rest” (Quoted by József Debreczeni, ibid, pg 107-108).

And indeed that is what he has done ever since. After winning the 1998 election he quickly returned to Canada at the head of a mission organized by one of his currently loyal Oligarchs, Sándor Demján. Demján had cultivated very close relationships with Andrew Sarlós, with Peter Munk, the Reichmans and with other Bay Street moguls. Everything Demján knows about high-stakes international real-estate development financing comes from this Bay Street circle. While in Toronto, Orbán secured major participation and backing from Peter Munk’s real estate division for what is to date the single-most important and prestigious real-estate development project in Budapest – the National Theatre and the National Concert hall, along with related housing and commercial establishments. Toronto money built Budapest’s first and biggest mall, the Polus Centre and then the West End. The Reichman brothers were the major players behind Budapest’s Bank Centre. Budapest’s most prestigious Hotel development, the 4 Season chain`s Greshem Palace, was also undertaken by a Toronto financier, Béla Fejér who was a close associate of Sarlós. Earlier, the development and modernization of Budapest’s dilapidated international airport was also financed by a group of Toronto investors.

Suffice it to say, that Orbán’s secret attachment to Canada’s corporate elite dates from 1994 and he would love nothing more than to replay his earlier successes with this group. This is one of the reason`s why, Homo Economicus is the new target audience for His Master`s Voice in Canada. In the US there are also major domos in the financial establishment that Orbán is keen to rope in – unfortunately the biggest one of them, George Soros is a passionate advocate of values that are anathema to Orbán. Soros is an outspoken democrat, a Liberal, who has demonstrated through his Open Society Institute that you can be a capitalist and a staunch champion of civil liberties and the rule of law. The kind of problems Andrew Sarlós encountered with Hungary’s neo-fascists during the early 1990s has been a constant companion of Soros all over the world. He is a constant thorn in the side of autocrats. Simply put, Canada’s business elite, especially the leading Canadian-Hungarian representatives of that elite, has not given RCA Viktor the type of challenge the “Buddha of Wall Street”, George Soros has. Bay Street has not faced up to its corporate social responsibility the same way as Soros and his associates have. RCA Viktor is out to capitalize on this short-sightedness before the tide turns against him here. This is one of the main reasons why Canada matters for RCA Viktor.

Will he succeed in keeping Canada’s business elite in his corner? As in 1994, so it is today, that the main threat to the realization of this dream comes from the predatory nature of his party and the corruption that Andrew Sarlós had alluded to in his private conversation with me. One of the original Canadian investors, who contracted to modernize Budapest Airport can attest to this. After Orbán assumed the Prime Ministership in 1989, his government unilaterally and without cause, cancelled Budapest International Airport`s contract with the Canadian investors. FIDESZ rolled the project over to another investment group – as the saying goes, they wanted a bigger bang for the buck – and were simply oblivious to the cost such a measure would impose on the Hungarian Treasury and on their own reputation. Following a very lengthy and very costly legal battle the Canadian investors were finally partially compensated for the highway robbery, but an important lesson was learned. The rule of law, and contractual obligations are not worth the paper they are written on when FIDESZ is in power.

Important as the above is, we should be careful not to conclude that RCA Viktor’s secret attachment to Canada is only driven by financial considerations. There are collateral political benefits one can gain from the cultivation of good relationships with Homo Economicus – a.k.a. Bay Street. The excellent relationship between Toronto`s financial and corporate establishment and the Harper Government has not escaped the attention of Orbán’s political marketers. One of Orbán`s top policy objectives is to achieve recognition for his Party within the TAC as a representative of Christian Conservatism. This is the reason he quit the Liberal International and joined the European People`s Party years ago. At the moment, FIDESZ is engaged in a massive propaganda exercise to convince American and Canadian Conservatives, that it is one of them, and should be embraced as a long lost relative. Parallel to this con-artistry, Orbán’s comrade in arms, his hand picked President, János Áder – the man who is is the author of Hungary’s new electoral law – is heavily engaged in proving that he is Al Gore`s most devoted Hungarian Liberal environmentalist. Áder is being pushed out of the Presidency and is angling for the highest environmental post within the United Nations. According to pundits a massive shuffle is under way as these lines are being written, that is very similar to the kind of musical chairs Putin and Medvedev made famous in the Kremlin. Orbán’s desire for the Presidency is well known – after all, it worked well for Putin, it should work equally well for Putin’s best Hungarian disciple. Taking himself out of the 2018 national election, and holding down the Presidency would probably give FIDESZ a much better leverage on power than if he stayed in for another term as PM. Getting a well paying international job for his current President and securing a blue chip Conservative accreditation for himself are key element of this power shuffle.

Securing the endorsement of Canada’s Conservative Party for Orbán’s Conservative pretensions is a critical chip in this game of high-stakes political poker. The Canadian Conservative embrace is a coveted prize, and is seen as the key to winning the support of Conservative Republicans in America. Millions of of dollars of public money is being currently poured into this partisan political lobbying on both sides of the 49th parallel. Once again, the main threat to the realization of this goal stems not from articles such as this one, but from RCA Viktor’s own design flaws. The sound-system does not possess the qualities that its spin-doctors claim. In the next section we shall illustrate the fatal disconnect between reality and the spin. The fact is, that behind Orbán’s Conservative facade lives the TAC’s most interventionist, anti-market, politically uncompetitive, and corrupt political regime. If Orbán is a Conservative, then the Republicans are a bunch of star-gazing Liberals dressed in tutu. RCA Viktor’s systemic pretension to be something it is not, will be its own undoing.

But there are still additional factors to consider why Canada matters for RCA Viktor. One of these I have already mentioned in passing. Canada is important to RCA Viktor because of a potentially very important block of voters, whose support is vital not only for the survival of the regime, but as a lobby voice in the Canadian public arena. After gaining power in 2010, the Orbán regime quickly passed a new electoral act – written by currebt country President János Áder – that gave voting rights for the first time to non-residents with ethnic roots in greater Hungary. There are close to 3 million such people world wide – 300,000, roughly 10% of the total are living in Canada. By its own admission, the Orbán government wants at least one million non-residents to participate in the next national elections, scheduled for 2018. The Party is hard at work to ensure that the vast majority of these non-residential voters should cast their ballots overwhelmingly in favour of FIDESZ. Canada is a battleground “State” for these votes.

While the Orbán regime claims that it has the mandate of the vast majority of Hungarians the fact is, that in the last national elections 73% of eligible voters in Hungary proper did not vote in favour of Orbán’s party. Hungary’s corrupted electoral law ensures that with as little as 23% support the incumbent can attain two thirds of the seats in Hungary`s parliament. As far as non-residential voting data is concerned, the situation is exactly the reverse of this. In 2014, 97% of the off-shore votes went to FIDESZ, 2% to Hungary’s neo-fascist Party, Jobbik. The democratic opposition received barely 1%. According to Orbán`s it was the non-resident voting block that helped him to his second two-thirds majority in 2014. He is hoping that in 2018 this massively inflated block of voters will keep his Party in power for a third four year term. The 3oo,ooo potential voters in Canada and another 1.3 million in the US are absolutely vital pieces in RCA Viktor’s political marketing strategy. Massive amounts of public funds are being invested to keep this community in a pro-FIDESZ mood. Since these voters are not taxpayers and do not feel any of the policy effects of the FIDESZ government on their skins, they can be manipulated almost entirely by emotionally charged channels. We shall demonstrate how RCA Viktor`s sound system is attempting to manipulate these emotional strings.

Last but not least, Canada is a must win-market for RCA Viktor, because it is led by a government, that by most accounts is the friendliest of all TAC governments to the State of Israel, and is the most supportive of the Ukranian`s desire to free themselves of Russian encroachment. RCA Viktor faces a very formidable challenge as a consequence of these two situational variables. It’s new sound system must be particularly well equipped to spin-out messages that disguise Hungary`s duplicitous behaviour on both of these issues. It has to demonstrate to the Tories that it’s “holier than the Pope” in its fight against anti-Semitism. It also has to hide its flirtatious relationship with the power that is raping the Ukraine as these lines are being written. In the next sections we shall examine His Master’s Voice in Canada as far as these tricky subjects are concerned. We shall examine, how RCA Viktor uses its tongue and its voice to maneuver Canadians into an emotional state, a mind-frame, that accepts anything the sound-system churns out.

Having looked at why Canada matters so much for RCA Viktor, let us now turn to the design of the sound-system that it operates in this country. How is this sound system structured, wired, positioned to overcome the potential acoustic pitfalls we have alluded to in the first instalment of this series? How can it secure acceptance for the diplomatic maneuvers that according to us, are contrary to proper diplomatic conduct within the TAC? How is RCA Viktor trying to maximize its market potential in Canada? How does its sound system mask, or filter out the anti-Semitic static that forced one of Hungary’s best known Jewish authors to seek refuge in this country last year, or forced Nobel Laurate Elie Weisel to give all his earlier awards back to RCA Viktor? How does the machinery of political deception work? It’s time to look at the system and the play list that RCA Viktor is operating with in this country. It’s time to examine from close range, how Geryon moves its tongue in Canada.

To be continued…

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