Dog-whistle politics

Open expressions of antisemitism are not tolerated in post-Holocaust Europe. On the contrary, probably every single European leader has called for engagement against antisemitism. At the same time, prejudices against Jews, which have been part of Europe for centuries, have not disappeared. This is also true for

Hungary, whose adult population is as open to antisemitism as hardly any other in Europe - according to the Anti-Defamation League’s 2014 global survey, around 41 per cent of Hungarians hold antisemitic views. The most supported statement was that ‘Jews have too much power in the business world’, and 69 per cent agreed with this. Furthermore, 63 per cent shared the opinion that ‘Jews have too much power in international financial markets’, and 48 per cent also believed that ‘Jews have too much control over global affairs’. Nota bene, all of these mentioned antisemitic canards are compatible with the Soros conspiracy theories.

In Hungary, just like in other Eastern European countries, there is a widespread feeling that social insecurities are caused by opportunistic former Communist functionaries who are now working as managers and pro-market politicians. This educated and professional segment of society is perceived as the profiteer of the EU grants and Western-financed NGOs - and is often identified as Jewish (Kalmar, 2018: 397). This stereotype affects, first of all, Hungarians of Jewish origin, who are perceived as ‘cosmopolitans’ and disloyal to the country (Barna et al., 2018: 326).

Hungary today has a notable Jewish population - between 73,000 and 138,000 individuals - which concentrates in the capital, Budapest (Kovacs & Barna, 2017: 210-212). Approximately 5 per cent of the city’s population is Jewish. I believe that there might be some truth in the assumption that Hungarians of Jewish origin are in large measure more ‘cosmopolitan’ - i.e., urban and liberal - than Hungarians of non-Jewish origin, since the country’s Jewish population is almost entirely centred in the urban and fairly liberal Budapest. At the same time, 80 per cent of the country’s non-Jewish population lives outside of the capital, with one-third of them in rural areas. Partially as a result of this unequal geographical distribution, Jews have a higher educational status than non-Jews: 78 per cent ofjews in Hungary have a university degree (Kovacs & Barna, 2017: 212). Meanwhile, in the rest of the general population, that percentage is at 32 per cent (Hutter, 2018). Jews in Hungary also tend to vote liberal and for left-wing parties: Kovacs Andras and Barna Ildiko’s (2017: 223-224) survey reported that only 1 per cent ofjews supported Fidesz and 33 per cent voted for various liberal parties.

In the Western-like cultural and intellectual scene of Hungary, Jews are visible and certainly over-represented to their relative number in the country’s total population - though, probably not over-represented to their relative number in a Budapest context. As a result of this discrepancy, a modern, urban lifestyle is often associated with Jewishness, regardless of the individual’s actual heritage. According to the antisemites, as Laszlo Karsai (1999: 142) put it, ‘the Jews are over-represented in various leading positions anyway. With a little exaggeration we could say that the famous financial guru George Soros ... who comes from a Hungarian-Jewish family is worth several hundred thousand virtual Jews’.

In my opinion, this is the reason why the Hungarian government turned to dog-whistle politics. According to William Safire (2008: 190), dog-whistle politics means ‘ [tjhe use of messages embedded in speeches that seem innocent to a general audience but resonate with a specific public attuned to receive them’. The term uses the analogy of the dog-whistle used by shepherds, these whistle’s high-frequency sound is audible to dogs but not to sheep and humans. Dogwhistle politics uses antisemitic and racist code words - or ‘leitmotifs’, as László Karsai (1999: 143) described them - which empower antisemites and racists but might be overheard by those who are not familiar with these resentments and conspiracy theories. Ruth Wodak (2015: 13-20) has branded this strategy as ‘calculated ambivalence’.

Of course, the accusations of antisemitism are denied by the Hungarian Government (Balcer, 2019: 75). ‘This is not about George Soros’s origins and identity’, said Fidesz MP Janos Lazar. Foreign Minister Péter Szijjàrtó accused the accusers of antisemitism:

Yes, we are in open conflict [with Soros], but it has nothing to do with the religion of any of us, it has to do with that vision. And whoever includes religion in this debate is representing an antisemitic approach, because we don’t care about his religion.

(Keinon, 2019)

Làzàr, Szijjàrtó and other apologists for the anti-Soros campaigns are correct that the posters do not convey openly anti-Semitic messages. Nonetheless, we can see clear examples of dog-whistle politics in the 2017 posters’ depiction of the philanthropist as the old-school grinning Jew. The caption on the poster read: ‘Don’t let Soros have the last laugh’ (Balcer, 2019: 75; Withfield, 2018: 418). Wiley Feinstein (2003: 64) maintained that the image of the ‘laughing Jew’ was first introduced in the fourteenth century by Dante in his Divine Comedy. Here, Dante writes that the Jews living in the midst of ‘you’, Christians, will laugh at ‘you’, Christians. Jews are depicted in the play as if they would make fun of Christians and be pleased by Jesus’s death - Dante’s antisemitism is rooted in Christian anti-Judaism (Feinstein, 2003: 64-65). Later on, the image became a reoccurring element in Nazi propaganda (Caumanns & Ònnerfors, 2020: 440— 457). Hitler (1942) also used the element of the laughingjew, for example, in his speech on the nineteenth anniversary of the ‘Beer Hall Putsch’: ‘Those who are still laughing now, also will perhaps laugh no longer after a while ... will spread beyond Europe and over the whole world. International Jewry will be recognised in all its demoniac peril’.

Andras Heisler, president of the Magyarorszagi Zsidó Hitkòzségek Szdvetsége (MAZSIHISZ, ‘Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities’) warned that the anti-Soros campaign might resonate with antisemitic feelings and that it ‘brings up a lot of bad memories’. Heisler said that the ads make it possible to play the ‘Jewish card’ (Spike, 2017). This was not only because of using the imagery of antisemitic caricatures, but of other governmental narratives too which have been reproducing various elements of classical antisemitism, most notably those of a Jewish world conspiracy. By presenting Soros as the ‘mastermind’ behind Europe’s political elite, the long-established antisemitic myth of the Jew as the puppet master of politicians is reproduced (Onnerfors, 2019a). Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, Jews have been accused of plotting against non-Jews.

The first to envision conspiracies against Christian Europe was the French Jesuit priest Augustin Barruel who in 1797 published a four-volume work entitled Memoirs illustrating the history of Jacobinism (Benz, 2010: 164; Oberhauser, 2013). The books - which became best-sellers and got translated into several European languages - ascribed the French Revolution to a plot of the Freemasons trying to overthrow Christian civilisation. The work also reinforced previous Papal condemnations of Freemasonry (Modras, 1994: 47-48; Onnerfors, 2017: 108-113). In 1806, Barruel received a letter by Giovanni Battista Simonini, who introduced himself as a military captain from Florence, although his identity is not sure (Markner, 2014: 311). Simonini congratulated the priest for having unmasked the ‘infamous sects who prepare the ways of the antichrist’, but criticised him for neglecting the most powerful force of them all: the Jews. Even though Barruel (1995: 130) described the alleged conspirers as the ‘synagogue of impiety’ (1995: 171) and compared the philosophers of the Enlightenment to ‘blasphemous’ Jews, he did not put an emphasis on the Jews’ alleged role in the conspiracy. Simonini was not satisfied with Barruel’s antisemitic comparisons. He testified that both Freemasonry and the Illuminati were founded by Jews and eventually serve the Jewish land-grabbing. The author appealed at the end of his letter to Barruel to further this cause as much as he could. Simonini’s letter became known as one of the earliest examples of antisemitic world conspiracies (Markner, 2014: 311-312).

Many other authors followed who envisioned a secret ‘Jewish International’ (Benz, 2010: 165). The wave ofjewish emancipation in the 1860s and 70s contributed to the proliferation of antisemitic conspiracy theories as well. By the second half of the nineteenth century, the so-called Jewish international elite was considered a separate threat to that of the Freemasons (Byford, 2011:46). We can see this development, for example, in the German author Paul de Lagarde’s Deutsche Schriften (‘German Writings’), where de Lagarde (1881: 27) stated that ‘the Israelite alliance is nothing else than a Freemason-like international conspiracy with the aim ofjewish world domination, a Semitic version of the Jesuit order of Catholicism’. Antisemitic conspiracy theories were also popular in Russia where, in 1905, the most infamous antisemitic document of all time, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was published. The allegedly authentic writing exposes the secret plan by Jews to take over the world: although the origins of the Protocols are unclear, they were probably created by the secret police of the Tsar and soon translated into other languages and distributed all over Europe and the world. In the period between 1920, when the Protocols acquired international fame, and the defeat of the Nazis in 1945, the book was outsold merely by the Bible (Byford, 2011: 49-55). This hoax became eventually — with the words of Norman Cohn (1966) - a ‘warrant for genocide’.

The anti-Soros campaign of Fidesz is completely in accordance with these canards of a Jewish world conspiracy. Stephen J. Whitfield (2018: 417) also hinted at this continuity, claiming that if

one were looking to update the fantasy of a surreptitious Jewish stranglehold on the international economy, no candidate would fit better than the creator of the most adroit and prosperous hedge fund in the world, the canniest investor on the planet. More than anyone else, Soros can be held as inadvertently responsible for the persistence of the Protocols, or rather for the idea behind the Protocols, which is the sinister economic power of international Jewry.

One example that indicates this continuity is the new slur Soros-iigynok (‘Soros agent’) or Soros-berenc (‘Soros-mercenary’), in analogy to the widespread Hungarian slur zsidoberenc (‘Jew-mercenary’) which used to describe liberals and left-wingers who promote supranationalism and individual liberties instead of nation-states and traditions. A Hungarian antisemite does not face solely an external enemy (‘the international Jew’ and/or Soros) but also an internal one (‘the international Jews’ and/or Soros’s local agents). When green Lehet Mas a Politika (LMP, ‘Politics Can Be Different’) Member of Parliament Bernadett Szel wanted to participate in the Parliamentary Committee on National Security, Fidesz committee chairman Szilard Nemeth stopped her from attending. He argued that ‘those politicians who lie about the national consultation campaign and have been supporting the Soros plan all along, as LMP politicians do, cannot take part in the discussions of the National Security Committee, whose task is the prevention of the implementation of the Soros Plan’ (Hungarian Spectrum, 2018). Nemeth accused Szell of being a ‘Soros agent’ for having worked in an NGO supporting immigrant rights. Nemeth also referred to Szell’s personal assistant, Janan Mirwais. Mirwais was born in Kabul, and before starting to work for Szell, was engaged with a human rights organisation helping refugees.

Besides Szell and Mirwais, several other liberal and left-wing individuals and human rights NGOs were accused of being ‘Soros agents’ (Hungarian Spectrum, 2018). As Bartek Pytlas’ (2019: 21) research pointed out, Fidesz has been delegitimising the oppositional parties and NGOs by connecting them to Soros. In 2018, 66 per cent of all Fidesz-issued statements about the opposition involved a reference to Soros. In his speech at the twenty-seventh Congress of Fidesz, party leader Viktor Orban (2017) accused ‘Soros’s NGOs’ and the ‘politicians in their pay’ of betraying Hungarian interests:

It is only a question of time, and we shall prevail not only in Hungary, but in the whole of Europe; indeed, we shall prevail in the entire Western world. This is also well understood by globalist elites, the bureaucrats who serve them, the politicians in their pay, and the agents of the Soros-type networks that embody their interests ... We stand in the way of a plan which seeks to eliminate nations, and seeks to create a Europe with a mixed population. We stand in the way of a financial and political empire which seeks to implement this plan - at whatever cost. Let’s not beat about the bush: in order to implement the ‘Soros Plan’, across the whole of Europe they want to sweep away governments which represent national interests - including ours. In recent years Soros’s NGOs have penetrated all the influential forums of European decision-making. They are also present in the backyards of some Hungarian parties.

The demonisation of Soros does not stop by depicting him simply as a political threat. On 9 October 2017, Keresztenydemokrata Neppart (KDNP, ‘Christian Democratic People’s Party’) Member of the Hungarian Parliament Andras Aradszki, who since 2014 has served as Secretary of State for Energy, held a speech in the country’s parliament, the National Assembly, entitled ‘The Christian duty to fight against the Satan/Soros Plan’. In his address, Aradszki asserted that Europe’s traditions are under attack by the mercenaries of Soros on issues like ‘abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, and the forced politicisation of gender theory’. The mercenaries of Soros ‘do not cite the Holy Father’s thoughts on this’, and he continued:

We see the great European attacks against families ... Soros and his comrades want to destroy the independence and values of nation states ... watering down the Christian spirit of Europe.

(visegradpost.com, 2017)

Aradszki pointed out that Hungary was attacked ‘by Satan, who is also the angel of denial’. The attack on Hungary is ‘completely obvious’ since its wire-pullers ‘are denying what they are preparing to do’. Moreover, this denial was about proving that there is ‘no quota’, ‘no compulsory settlement’ and that the Soros Plan does not exist (visegradpost.com, 2017). In the same speech, Aradszki told that he even took part in a rosary pilgrimage and prayed ‘to the Holy Virgin Mary for Hungary, for Christian Europe’, because, as he believes, ‘the rosary is the strongest weapon against evil ... George Soros will also experience this’.

In these attacks, the canard of‘Judeo-Bolshevism’ plays a role as well. Orban (2017) associated the ‘Soros agents’ with communism:

They operate like the activists of the Department for Agitation and Propaganda of the old Soviet Communist Party. We old war horses recognise them by their smell. Although the Soros troops use somewhat more refined methods, they nonetheless want to tell us what to do, what to say, what to think - and even how we should see ourselves.

Blaming Soros for the destruction of Christian and ‘traditional’ European identities is very much in accordance with the fabrication of Judeo-Bolshevism’, according to which Jews are left-wing and intent on destroying Christian and traditional values. Adherents of this conspiracy theory claim that there is a Jewish-communist takeover of the western world. After the 1917 Soviet revolution, Polish Jews were accused by Catholic nationalists in the country of sympathising with the communist revolution, hence the term Zydokomuna (Judeo—Communism’). Indeed, several Eastern-European Jews expressed interest in left-wing ideas, because they believed in Communism’s promise of equality for all. These individual cases were often abused by antisemites to promote the idea of a ‘Judeo-Bolshevism’ (Caumanns & Onnerfors, 2020: 447).

After the Second World War, Jews were associated with the repressive state and ideological apparatuses in many Eastern bloc countries (Benz, 2010: 355-358). Even after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the association has not disappeared. When the World Jewish Congress was held in Budapest in 2013, the far-right Jobbik Magyarorszdgert Mozgalom (Jobbik, ‘Movement for a Better Hungary’) party was demonstrating for the ‘victims of Bolshevism and Zionism’. We can find examples for this conspiracy theory also outside of the former Communist countries in Europe. In the late 1910s, several British and American journalists and statemen emphasised the Jewish involvement in the Soviet revolution. Besides, Southern and Midwest white Protestant agrarians in the US have often associated the East Coast bankers with Jewry (Byford, 2011: 51-52). There are also current examples for the canard of Judeo-Bolshevism’ in the West: for example, according to the Greek far-right party

Xpvcrf| Avyf| (Chrysi Avgi, ‘Golden Dawn’), communism is part of the ‘Zionist world conspiracy’ (Hanebrink, 2018: 2).

Just like the formerly mentioned nationalist parties and movements spread the word of a Jewish-Communist conspiracy, Orban (2018b) denounced Soros and ‘his empire’ as ‘different from us. Their faces are not visible, but are hidden from view; they do not fight directly, but by stealth; they are not honourable, but unprincipled; they are not national, but international; they do not believe in work, but speculate with money; they have no homeland, but feel that the whole world is theirs. They are not generous, but vengeful’. Deputy Minister of the Office of Prime Minister Balazs Orban called Soros a ‘globalist’ (Harpin, 2019). The terms ‘internationalist’ and ‘globalist’ have been used as a euphemism for Jews for decades placing Europe in an ongoing tension between globalising - Jewish - and regionalising - Christian and/or white European - forces. The notion of Jews as internationally beholden to some world-wide conspiracy, rather than serving as loyal subjects of their home countries, was manifested for example in the formerly mentioned Protocols of the Elders of Zion or in its ‘U.S. American version’, Henry Ford’s 1920s pamphlet The International Jew (Lavin, 2018). The phrases ‘international Jew’ (der internationale Jude), ‘international Jewry’ {das internationale Judentum) and ‘world Jewry’ {das Weltjudentum) became established parts of the Hitlerian and Nazi narratives too (Benz, 2010: 165).

In 2017, Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen claimed in a radio interview that the ‘Soros plan’ was a branch of the ‘Jacobine, Bolshevik version of Freemasonry’ which ‘hates Christian values’ and ‘wishes nothing more than to eradicate nation states ... by importing millions of Muslims’. Due to this development, Semjen emphasised, many major European cities, such as London, Brussels, Marseille, Berlin, Stockholm and Malmo, became ‘no-go areas’ as a result of a high level of immigrants (Sereghy, 2018: 314). In the same month, the Hungarian Government issued a paper on these ‘no-go areas’. Thus, in addition to mining these antisemitic stereotypes, these depictions of the ‘Soros plan’ are consistent with Islamophobic narratives when they state that refugees and immigrants would ‘Islamise’ and take over the West. The motif of land-grabbing immigrants from the Middle East and Africa was also publicised by Prime Minister Orban who was envisioning ‘hordes of... up to 60 million immigrants ... raping Europe’ (Sereghy, 2018: 314). Besides, Orban said that ‘In Soros’s opinion, Europe will be saved and revived by Muslims, and that’s why they have to be let in. We do not believe in that but that Hungarian families have to be reinforced’ (Dull, 2019).

The notion of an Islamic takeover has been around for decades but has become especially visible in past years due to the emergence of anti-immigration parties speaking of a ‘clash of civilizations’ and envisioning the end of a ‘Christian West’. In the early 2000s, the British author Bat Ye’or popularised the Islamophobic conspiracy theory of‘Eurabia’ (see Bergmann in this volume) involving globalist entities to Islamise Europe (Marjan, 2010: 161). Or as Orban (2018a) expressed:

We must state that we do not want to be diverse and do not want to be mixed: we do not want our own colour, traditions and national culture to be mixed with those of others. We do not want that. We do not want that at all. We do not want to be a diverse country.

Besides the connections between and convergence of antisemitism and Islamophobia, Zsolt Sereghy (2018: 320) noted how the language of the Hungarian government’s Islamophobic discourse resembles tropes of anti-Roma racism (e.g., non-acceptance as part of the Hungarian collective, association with crime, the notion of an impossible integration, etc.). But, while by now, racism against Roma uttered openly is more or less considered to be taboo in mainstream discourses, anti-Muslim and anti-refugee rhetoric - both in a seemingly intellectual way, as well as in a vulgar style - have become acceptable throughout the mainstream public.

Many of these anti-Muslim narratives in East-Central Europe, including the narrative of an Islamic takeover, were imported from Western Europe. As Ivan Kalmar (2018: 390) explained, such dominant Islamophobic discourses are a fairly new development in East-Central Europe. It is only since the so-called refugee crisis of 2015, that politicians in this area exploit Islamophobic feelings for their own agendas. Kalmar noted how Islamophobia emerged in the moment when the four Visegrad-countries - Poland, Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary - stood up together against the EU suggestion of distributing refugees. These countries’ refusal of a symbolic number of asylum-seekers was mostly based on Islamophobia and Euroscepticism.

 
Source
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >