András Göllner: Europe crosses the Rubicon in Hungary


When Julius Caesar and his troops crossed a shallow little stream, called the Rubicon, on January 10, 49 BC, they set the course of European history for centuries to come. The Rubicon was the official boundary between Italy and the province of Cisalpine Gaul. According to Italian law at the time, anyone who entered Italy at the head of an armed force, without the prior permission of the Roman Senate, was committing a capital offense. Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon was tantamount to a declaration of war. It precipitated the Roman Civil War, a period of protracted violence, and resulted in the appointment of Caesar as dictator for life. The rest is history. The impact of Viktor Orbán’s re-election to a third term of office in Hungary, on April 8, 2018, will have an impact on world affairs not dissimilar from that, which followed from Caesar’s bravado two thousand years earlier.

Hungary today is a small Central European country of 9 million people, with a big chip on its shoulders. It’s sitting at the crossroads between the East and the West. A hundred years ago it was a co-equal partner in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, one of the world’s great powers at the time, geographically the second-largest and the third most populous in Europe. Today, it’s ruled by a strong-man, who cannot forget the past.

Hungary is the place where WWI started, when a lone gunman in Sarajevo shot dead the next emperor to be, Franz Ferdinand. Hungary has also the distinction of introducing the first anti-Jewish laws in Europe during the 20th century, in June 1920, well before Hitler came to power. That small step” for Hungary in 1920, and the success of the so-called „White Terror” instituted by Admiral Horthy during the same year, was the „booster shotthat emboldened the fascists in Austria and Germany, and started the world onto a path that ended in the loss of more than 100 million lives during WWII. (The number includes the brutal murder of 6 million Jews, whose only crime was that they were non-Christian immigrants.)

One of Orbán’s favorite Hungarian authors, Nazi sympathiser and convicted war criminal, Albert Wass, depicted the migrant Jews as rats to be exterminated. (For a reading of this “children’s story” by Wass, please see this You Tube video.) Another one of his heroes, Catholic Bishop Ottokár Prohászka, published a pamphlet in 1920, that was translated into most European languages, including German in 1920, and is entitled On the Jewish Question. Prohászka’s pamphlet was bedtime reading for Hitler. The Hungarian bishop depicted the Jew as a vermin to be exterminated, because it’s hell bent on destroying Christian civilization. Under Orbán, Hungary’s countryside has become littered with memorials to the founder of modern day Hungarian anti-Semitism. (For those who are interested to know a bit more about Orbán and the Jews, perhaps my own study will be of some help). According to one of his recent comments, Orbán considers Admiral Horthy, the man who joined Hitler as an ally, who mobilized an army of close to 400,000 against the allies in WWII, who declared war on America, and shipped close to 500,000 Hungarian Jews to the gas chambers, as a great statesman in whose steps he would like to follow. (See this Index article.) 

Orbán’s latest electoral victory poses a serious new threat to Hungary’s fragile and fragmented democratic forceshe promised his supporters a few weeks ago, that “we will seek moral, legal and political recourse after the elections, we have a list of two thousand names (See: Wiener Zeitung, March 22, 2018 here.) More significantly, he is now even more firmly positioned to rattle the very foundations of the post-World War II international order. All those governments, that committed themselves to upholding the rule of law, after the destructive forces of Fascism, Nazism, and then Bolshevism passed over Europe, should fasten their seatbelts. When Gerald Knaus, chairman of the prestigious European Stability Initiative think tank stated recently, that Orbán is the most dangerous man in Europe today, he was not far off the mark. Before I turn to the analysis of Orbán’s obvious appeal with Hungary’s electorate, and the threat he poses to European security, some preliminary comments are in order.

Viktor Orbán on election night.

The Orbán phenomenon

Orbán, is recognized by most independent observers, as Putin’s Trojan horse within the Western alliance. Like his hero in Moscow, he also started his career climbing up the ladder of the communist hierarchy. His father was a Communist Party Secretary, Viktor was a Secretary of the Young Communist League. When Gorbachev pulled out the ladder under his feet, he turned to the language of liberalism, to bide his time.

Like his hero to the East, Orbán also amassed a vast personal fortune during the past eight years as Hungary’s PM, scattering his wealth in secret offshore bank accounts and with loyal cronies and friends in Hungary, so he would not appear to be too ostentatious. Much of this wealth is money stolen from the vast subsidies flowing through his office from EU headquarters. (See this HVG article.) Hungary is the only place in Europe where the billions of EU subsidies are funneled through the PMO. It is the only place in the West where the privatization of a bank is handled in the Prime Minister’s Office. Orbán is the living testimony to the adage, that the best way to rob a bank is to own one. According to recent reports, Hungary’s Foreign Trade bank, the one Orbán privatized recently, was the vehicle for laundering the billions of Euros skimmed off European grants by his office. (On the corrupt procedures used by the Orbán government to privatize the Hungarian Foreign Trade Bank, see Magyar NarancsOn the manner this bank then laundered the stolen billions from EU citizens, see Magyar Nemzet. On the report, recently published in the US by the Frontiers of Freedom, which raises the sceptre of Orban being barred from entry into the US for reasons of participating in global money laundering, see According to the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), Hungary leads the way among the EU’s 28 member states in defrauding European taxpayers of their hard earned cash.

Like Putin, Orbán also surrounds himself with members of the former Communist secret services, and has enabled Russia’s military intelligence to relocate from Sofia to Budapest, by selling them residency permits and Hungarian, i.e. globally valid EU passports. It may not be a fantasy to suggest, that the folks who poisoned Sergei Skripal and his daughter on a park bench in the UK, slipped in and out of that country on a Hungarian passport. Many of Putin’s oligarchs are doing the same thing, flying in and out of La Guardia airport on their private jets, holding EU passports they purchased for 300,000 Euros a pop from Orbán’s cronies, such as István Töröcskei, who also became famously rich through his association with Orbán. Only a few weeks ago, it was revealed by investigative journalists in Budapest, that a number of terrorists and criminals on the FBI’s most wanted list have been given EU passports by Hungary. (See this article.)

Orbán publicly idolizes the Russian, Chinese and Turkish “model” of governance, where transparency, checks and balances on centralized power have been eliminated. According to the last survey by Freedom House, the Orbán government engineered the sharpest retreat from the principles of Democratic governance among members of the EU. In fact, he is the political trailblazer for all of Europe’s neo-fascist political leaders. Many of them, like Holland’s Geert Wilders, have a residence in Hungary, in order to be closer to their Messiah. Sweden’s Kent Ekeroth has just announced he is looking for an apartment in Budapest. Neo-fascist parties sing Orbán’s praises in neighboring Poland, Austria, Slovakia, and now Italy. Orbán is the template for alt-right, white-supremacists in the United States, the UK, Germany, and Scandinavia.

Not only my own in depth reports (See: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3), but reports by The Atlantic Monthly, Politico, and a number of Hungarian language publications have also documented, that hundreds of American, European, pro-Russian white supremacists, many with close ties to Trump’s biggest sponsor, the father and daughter team of Robert and Rebekah Mercer, and to Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, holed up in Budapest while the last Presidential race was raging in the US. Under the protective umbrella of Orbán’s secret services, which, as pointed out, are thoroughly penetrated by the Russian GRU, these alt-right ex-pats actively participated in the Russian coordinated cyber-attacks that sought to undermine Hillary Clinton’s credibility during the Presidential race. Most were engaged in writing copy for the bot attacks, coordinated by Mercers’ Cambridge Analytica. (For an excellent review of the players within the US alt-right movement and their ties to the Mercers, and to Steve Bannon, please read Ben Schrekinger’s excellent piece in Politico. “The Alt-Right Comes to Washington”. January-February, 2017. Many of the people identified by Schrekinger were frequent flyers, or residents in Budapest, during the campaign.)

Many argue, based on Hungary’s GDP indicators for 2017, that none of the above matters if Hungary’s economy is growing at a good clip – or as Clinton’s hombre, James Carvile is frequently quoted to have said – it’s the economy stupid. Hungary’s economy had a reasonable year, largely due to Germany’s strong performance (car’s manufactured by German owned factories in Hungary are the engine of Hungary’s export driven economy) and because of the massive subsidies given to Hungary by the EU. Notwithstanding these two factors, the country’s overall economic performance under Orbán is worse than it was during the preceding decade (if we factor out the world recession that hit Hungary particularly hard in 2008). Hungary’s current economic performance is worse in fact, than the economic performance of all her surrounding neighbors. (See: HirTV report.) Two other analyses by the respected Hungarian economic journal, HVG, also paint the same picture. (See here and here.) The country’s best economists agree – without massive subsidies from Brussels, totalling more than 90% of the country’s annual state investments on economic development, the country would be flat broke. Orbán squandered most of his European subsidies on expensive sports facilities, grossly neglecting the country’s health and education sectors. Hungary’s performance in the realm of productivity, economic competitiveness, innovation is one of the lowest in Europe. The level of economic inequality is higher now than it was when he took over. According to OECD and EU figures, direct and indirect taxes take a bigger bite out of the wages of Hungarian workers than anywhere in Europe, and this is especially true in the case of those who are at the lowest end of the income scale. It is not a coincidence, that more than 600,000 people – roughly 15% of the able-bodied 21-45 year old cohort – left the country for Western Europe and North America since Orbán came to power in 2010. That is the largest exodus per capita among any central European nation, and is a greater exodus, than any experienced by Hungary for over a 100 years.

An election campaign built on fear

But let’s turn to the campaign that ended with Orbán’s return to power. He ran a campaign focused almost exclusively on the threat posed by immigration and refused to enter into debate with any of his opponents. Orbán is not only an opponent of illegal immigration but of any immigration whatsoever, because he sees that as a threat to Hungary’s ethnic purity. In a radio interview leading up to the campaign, he stated the following: “For my government, slowing down immigration is not enough: it must be stopped outright. To this end, we must build lines of defence; Hungary has set an example in this. And that is where we must stop – not just slow down, but stop – immigration”. In his final campaign speech on Friday, April 6, he was adamant. „If the levee breaks, if they open the borders, if migrants enter the country, there is no way back. They are going to take our country away from us.”

Canada’s Liberal Prime Minister should take note of what Orbán thinks of his creed: “Liberalism is an enemy of freedom, especially freedom of speech. Liberalism supresses all negative news associated with refugees or migrants. Liberals want to take in immigrants, thinking that it is a good thing. The bogey man, “the evil Jew” who figured so prominently in the scaremongering of Albert Wass and the bishop Prohászka, this time around is the American-Hungarian Jew, multi billionaire George Soros. The wrath of Orbán’s entire campaign was targeted at this man, who is over 80 years old, lives in New York, established one of Hungary’s best universities on his own money, and gave more of his money than anyone in the world to better the life of ordinary Hungarians. Viktor Orbán himself was a beneficiary of his largesse, when he was down and out. He spent a semester at Oxford on Soros’s money, skipping most of his classes including his exams. During the campaign which ended with his victory, the Hungarian countryside was covered with giant billboards, showing a portrait of the “Jewish financier”, who is allegedly plotting to rob Hungarians of their birthright. By now, anyone inside or outside of Hungary, who opposes Orbán, is ipso facto an agent of that Zionist financier, Soros. This author, who never met nor corresponded with Soros is frequently portrayed by Orbán’s followers as such a man.

How could Orbán win a third term in office, when close to two thirds of his countrymen showed a preference for change in opinion polls taken prior to this weekend’s national elections? How could this member of the Euro-Atlantic Community so blatantly contravene the guidelines of the Global Magnitsky Act, and the rule of law, which are compulsory for all member states in the Western alliance? What is the secret of Viktor Orbán’s electoral successes?

The secret of Orbán’s political appeal

The answer to the question posed above, defies easy generalization, but three important factors stand out amongst many. The first one may be the hardest one to swallow for Liberals and people on the Left. The fact is, that liberals and social democrats throughout the Western world, and especially in Hungary, are failing miserably to manage the changes that are transforming the lives of people under their domains. While this should not come as a surprise to anyone who has read Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation (first published in 1944 by Farar and Rinehart) it must be repeated now: Liberals and social democrats, not only in Hungary but all over the western world, are simply unable to manage market forces that run roughshod over the weak, the downtrodden, and the poor. The marriage between capitalism and democracy, a marriage that was to last for ever, has broken down. (It was bound to fail, since it was based on a fairy tale to begin with.) Postcapitalism is wreaking havoc with the lives of hundreds of millions in Europe, North America, and those living on the territories of the former Soviet Empire. Democracy, and globalization didn’t bring affluence but distress to the people of Central Europe. Leaders like Orbán, or political neophytes like Donald Trump in the USA are winning by default, because of the incompetence of their liberal democratic opponents in managing change.

The second reason for the rising neo-fascist tide is grounded in the increasing rapidity of technological change. For a growing number of people, especially in Europe and North America, the world is less and less understandable, reality is increasingly difficult to comprehend by strictly rational means. The most dramatic changes are in the realm of information technology. Canada’s two communications giants, Marshall McLuhan and Harold Innis were right. The medium is the message. For hundreds of millions, the message today is Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The form and content of modern information technologies are reshaping our minds, and who we are as a people. Just look around the next time you get into an elevator, a metro-car, or sit down for dinner with your children. People are no longer talking – they are texting. The entire transformation is driven by emotive rather than rational narratives, and subject to flagrant abuse.

Orbán, Trump, Putin, Steve Bannon, the leaders of ISIS, Xi jinping, Kim Jong-un, understand, and perhaps better than anyone, that the Homo sapiens masses prefer fictional, visceral language over factual discourse. One of America’s most successful political pranksters, Roger Stone, whose father happens to be a Hungarian (yes), provides the most succinct summary of this statement. For most people, according to Roger Stone, facts are simply boring. (Readers my wish to read Yuval Noah Harari’s scholarly proof of the veracity of Roger Stone’s political dictum.) Those who don’t want to listen to Roger Stone, or Harari, may want listen to Steve Bannon instead, before retiring for the night: “We’ll govern for 50 years. The Democrats have lost sight of what the world’s about. The media has no f***ing idea what’s going on. Donald communicates with people in a very visceral way.” (Michael Wolff, The Hollywood Reporter, November 18, 2016). Orbán, like his friend in the White House, owes his success to his refined use of the language of political deception, and his ability to build winning strategies on the basis of ignorance and our fear of the unknown. When he wants to get his way, he connects with people emotionally rather than rationally, largely ignoring, or distorting the increasingly impenetrable reality that surrounds us.

Orbán’s “visceral” language, is identical to the one used by Donald Trump. They both undermine the public’s capacity to distinguish reality from illusion, truth from fiction. It’s a language that is designed to ensure, that we all do as we’re told. (For those who may be interested in knowing more about how autocrats like Orbán use their tongue, their voice, to generate trust, loyalty and love, I recommend my own 5-part mini-series, that appeared on these pages in 2015 under the title of: RCA Viktor: His Master’s Voice. The ouverture to this series can be accessed by clicking on this URL.

It is the ability to manufacture messages that resonate with our emotions, the ability to combine these emotional messages with “fake news” – hearsay and innuendoes – and to transmit them through the internet, that is enabling a new breed of “political players”, to slip under the radar of rationality, and capture larger and larger shares of the public’s attention. It’s this uncanny “skill set”, exploited by Trump, by the Mullahs of Radical Islam, by the former KGB agent, Vladimir Putin and his Central European cohorts, like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, along with the new crop of right wing neo-fascist “players” in Western Europe, that is taking humanity for a ride it shall never forget.

The third, and most commonly cited reason for Orbán’s victory is the one that emphasizes the Hungarian autocrat’s genius for political engineering. We’re told, that Orbán created an electoral system for Hungary that makes it virtually impossible to replace him via the ballot box. They add, that Orbán’s ability to cross the line separating democracy from autocracy is based on his knowledge, that the EU has no mechanisms to stop his traffic violations. My esteemed US academic colleague and friend, Kim Lane Scheppele, Laurence S. Rockefeller Professor of Sociology and International Affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, is an advocate of this third explanation. She read the tea leaves weeks before the polls closed in Hungary, and concluded that the race was over even before it started: “The government has fixed the rules of the game.. Only one political party could possibly win, and that’s the current governing party Fidesz. The EU can do nothing but watch.” (Please check out her interview with the Budapest Beacon’s reporter.)

If the EU is so inept at enforcing its “house rules”, perhaps the job should be given to her big brother, across the Atlantic? Couldn’t the White House do something about the abuse of constitutional democracy by a strategically located NATO ally right next to Russia? From what I alluded to earlier, the answer to the last question is not at all encouraging, to put it mildly. Orbán scored big, by “liking” “The Donald”, when he took on Hillary in 2016, and by sharing the same political advisors who catapulted Trump into the White House. While the European Parliament in a massive, but largely symbolic vote, censured the Hungarian autocrat last year for his systematic rule of law and human rights violations, Donald Trump warmly embraces the Hungarian autocrat because of his support during his own race to the White House.

Why is there so little news about the love-fest between the autocratic leader of a small Central European country and the leader of the so-called “Free World”? Mainstream American media’s obsession with Russia’s meddling in the last Presidential election, largely explains why so little attention has been paid to Hungary’s own efforts to tilt the scales in favor of Trump, during the 2016 election campaign. I have written extensively about this subject earlier. Those who are interested may follow my reasoning by clicking on the next three URLs (1, 2 and 3).

My views on Trump’s affinity with the Hungarian autocrat can be briefly summarized. As I’ve stated earlier, Orbán was the first and only EU leader to publicly endorse Trump in his fight against Hillary Clinton. Orbán sent his own Party’s pro-Russian, “Data Analytics Chief” – Gábor Kubatov – to the US during the campaign, to help discredit Hillary Clinton. Kubatov and his team were stationed, and not at all coincidentally, at the same place – Florida – where many of the 13 Russians indicted by Robert Mueller hung out. Kubatov’s operatives reportedly bunked with Marco Rubio’s team, who later complained that someone hacked into their computers. Wonder who that could have been? Maybe a 400 pound Hungarian who’d rather be called Zsa Zsa, than Gábor?

The Hungarian autocrat shares the unique distinction of being a hero to Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke as well as to the President of the United States. In a meeting with Hungary’s Ambassador to America, Trump reportedly hailed the Hungarian autocrat as a “strong and brave leader”. David Duke shouted „Viva Orbán” for what he sees as „The Hungarian leader’s successful resistance to the Zionist conspiracy to destroy European civilization. Steve Bannon, Trumps chief campaign strategist, on a recent visit to Europe identified Orbán as his political hero. Jeff Session, who headed up Trump’s Foreign Policy and National Security Group during the campaign wrote this warm endorsement of Orbán during the home stretch of the American Presidential campaign:  “Hungary serves now as a global beacon for the power of freedom, democracy and human rights.” Hallo? (Letter from Jeff Sessions to Hungary’s Ambassador, Réka Szemerkényi, on September 20, 2016.) J.D. Gordon, deputy to Sessions on the Foreign Policy Group, and the de facto boss of Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, and Joe Schmitz, took the first plane to Budapest after Trump was elected to the White House in November, 2016 to publicly thank Trump’s pro-Russian Hungarian backers with the following words: “The team of President Elect Donald Trump deeply admires Hungary’s leader. With Mr. Trump in the White House, a new chapter will begin in American-Hungarian relations. Mr. Trump and Mr. Orbán will become great friends.” (See: December 1, 2016; The Budapest Business Journal. December 2, 2016 and The Budapest Beacon. December 18, 2016.)

Sebastian Gorka, another ex-Hungarian Trump insider, is also well known to those Hungarian democrats, who saw their democracy hijacked by people close to the Trump organization. Gorka is well known for his extremist political activities in Hungary before he left and joined the Trump team. He too owes his meteoric rise in US Republican circles to his connections to the Mercers, to Steve Bannon and to the folks at Cambridge Analytica.

And who can forget Carter Page? The latter admitted during his Congressional hearings, that it was the Hungarian ambassador to Washington, who approached him at the Republican Convention, where J.D. Gordon was busy loosening the sanctions on Russia, to arrange a special visit for him to Budapest during the campaign. Page reluctantly admitted under questioning, that he met with senior Hungarian government officials who pressed him on Soviet-American relations. He also admitted, under prodding by Sen. Adam Schiff, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, that there may have been some Russians in attendance at those meetings in Budapest. As to the substance of his conversations, or the people he met in Budapest, Carter Page could not elaborate, claiming a sudden loss of memory, brought on by all the media attention directed his way during the previous months. (See my take on this here.)

Trump’s affiliation with Orbán runs to a much deeper level, than where mainstream American media likes to descend. Trump’s favorite political trickster, Roger Stone, is a frequent flyer to the land of his ancestors, and is welcomed with open arms by the Hungarian autocrat whenever he comes calling. He and two other Trump associates, the late Arthur J. Finkelstein, and George Birnbaum, former cabinet secretary to Bibi Natenyahu, have played a critical role in Orbán’s rise to power in Hungary. Finkelstein, who spearheaded the Republican’s Get Hillary Campaign during the Democratic Senator’s race to be re-elected to the Senate in 2006, had an apartment in Budapest, which served as headquarters for his business ventures in the former Soviet Republics. Finkelstein served as Orbán’s chief political advisor for more than a decade, before his passing in 2017. He personally appointed many of his own associates to lucrative lobby contracts on behalf of Orbán in the US. (e.g. Jo Anne Barnhart, Connie Mack IV.) The „Orbán lobby” in America, is earning as well as spending millions to whitewash the Hungarian autocrats image in influential Republican circles. Trump’s pal, Finkie”, – this is how Orbán referred to him affectionately – was mentor to many of the petty dictators who are now closely allied with Putin in the East. Finkie helped Paul Manafort to his illicit millions in Eastern Europe, before the latter joined Trump as campaign manager. Where Finkie or any of the American lobbyists he appointed for Orbán are keeping the millions given to them by their master is anybody’s guess. I guess, it is up to agents of the FARA to ascertain if they are following Paul Manafort’s steps or not. The sad fate of journalists, like that of the late Daphne Caruana in Malta, who dug too deep into such questions suggest, that the answers to questions in this domain should be left to those who are better able to defend themselves.

A final note on the Trump-Orbán love-fest: it is now public knowledge, that an old and very close friend of Trump and Finkelstein, New York jeweler and diamond dealer David Cornstein will be Trump’s Ambassador to Hungary (aka back channel to Putin’s Trojan horse) if and when he gets his clearance from Congress. How this 78 year old “cat”, with Hungarian ancestors, will perform in Budapest is not hard to imagine. Just weeks before this weekend’s national election, an unnamed member of Orbán’s cabinet let the cat out of the bag. At a recent meeting of his cabinet, Orbán apparently reassured his colleagues, that they need not worry what happens after he crosses the Rubicon on April 8: his three friends, Trump, Putin and Xi Jinping are fully behind him. Trump’s new ambassador to Budapest is the icing on the cake.


The victory of Hungary’s neo-fascist leader on April 8, the European Union’s inability to stop his troops from crossing into the mainstream, and the active encouragement given to the Hungarian autocrat by the current American president is opening up a new chapter in world affairs. Within Hungary, the frustration of the silent majority with a government that continues to rob the poor, to feed the rich, is at the breaking point. For now, Hungary’s ruling white supremacist minority is in the saddle. How much longer will this country’s silent, cowered, majority put up with those who hijacked the country’s democracy, and turned this country away from the path leading to justice, the rule of law, and sustainable economic development is hard to predict. One thing is certain – politics has taken a decided turn towards neo-fascist rule at a place, where East meets West.

The impact of Hungary’s “crossing of the Rubicon”, will have a dramatic impact on all member states in the Western alliance. Lenin’s quip, that capitalists will sell the rope with which their opponents will hang them appears to be coming true. The only difference is, the leading buyers today are not the Bolsheviks, but their neo-fascist relatives in cyber-arms. They are the ones preparing that hanging that Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan was singing about in his unforgettable Desolation Row. It is time for all democrats to ponder what happens when the cyber-medium becomes the message, what happens when politicians develop languages, expressly for the purpose of ensuring, that voters have “no f***ing idea what’s going on”.

András Göllner

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