Foreign

Cover

And now Hungary and Netanyahu and odd alliances (maybe not so odd) - Anshel Pfeffer in Ha'aretz:

'Strangely, the government began a strident anti-migrant campaign already in April 2015, five months before the major wave of refugees began. The campaign in its early stages consisted mainly of posters (in Hungarian, which few if any refugees understand) saying that migrants would not be welcome in Hungary. There are various explanations for the government’s clairvoyance; for example, this effort could have been targeted originally at the much smaller numbers of migrants arriving from Kosovo.
The government’s critics believe that the effort was simply an attempt to incite nationalist voters during a period when the government’s popularity was waning. The actual wave of refugees that arrived five months later was just a lucky break for Orbán.
“We simply had good intelligence,” says Zoltán Kovács, the main government spokesman, described by Politico Europe as Orbán’s “veritable alter ego.” “You should be asking why other countries in Europe weren’t prepared as we were.” Some officials in Budapest theorize that Hungary had intelligence from Turkey and Israel, two countries with which Orbán has worked hard to improve relations, on the impending wave.
No less intriguing is the fact that nearly three years since the refugee crisis, the government’s migrant policy is still the central plank of its propaganda. It remains the main subject in both the government and private media, much of it controlled by businessmen with close ties to Fidesz. Even the government-owned television channel that broadcast every World Cup game featured a 60-second news bulletin at halftime, most of it always devoted to migrant-related “news” such as footage of troops patrolling the border fence and reports on violence and chaos related to foreigners elsewhere in Europe.'

(...)

'Hungary’s Muslim community is one of the smallest in Europe, yet a Pew Research Center survey in 2016 found that 76 percent of Hungarians feared a terrorist attack by refugees, the highest proportion in all of Europe. It’s no coincidence that once it latched on to the issue, Fidesz, which between October 2014 and the start of its anti-migrant campaign six months later had been losing popularity amid corruption scandals, didn’t let go. Since then the party has climbed back to record levels of support.'

(...)

'Soros was the perfect choice as a Mephistophelean hate figure – a man with unimaginable riches who makes no attempt to hide that he’s trying to use his money to influence the destiny of the country of his birth. The government and its media call him a “global capitalist.” Soros’ presence is felt right at the center of Budapest, where the Central European University (or as the pro-Orbán press prefers to call it, Soros University) he founded and funds, is situated. Soros’ pictures can be seen at the entrances to the CEU buildings – at one of them is also a quote of his – “Reality has the power to surprise thinking, and thinking has the power to create reality. But we must remember the unintended consequences – the outcome always differs from expectations.” Soros, the financial wizard who founded his fortune on his ability to anticipate and precipitate changes in the global currency markets, certainly didn’t intend that his investment in Hungarian liberal democracy would be manipulated against him in order to erode that democracy.
Many Jews, in Hungary and elsewhere, believe that another reason has made Soros such a devastatingly effective totem for all Orbán’s incitement against liberals at home and abroad. Soros conforms to a much older stereotype than the capitalist plutocrat. He’s the Jewish banker, the puppet master pulling the world’s strings from behind the screen.'

(...)

'The relationship with Orbán is so important to Netanyahu that he was willing to give him cover, despite the barely concealed anti-Semitic nature of the Soros campaign. In July 2017, Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, Yossi Amrani, at the request of the leadership of the Hungarian Jewish community, issued a statement urging the Orbán government to drop the anti-Soros campaign.
The very next day, in an unprecedented slap down to an ambassador, Netanyahu ordered the Foreign Ministry to retract Amrani’s statement and issue a clarification saying that it was “in no way meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself.” Not only had Netanyahu publicly undermined his own ambassador, he had broken all precedents by backing the leader of a foreign country against the local Jewish community. The shock waves of Netanyahu’s backing of Orbán, his guest this week in Jerusalem, are still shaking Hungarian Jewry.'

Read the complete article here.

Treason has become a popular word, the last couple of days. But surely, Netanyahu is ready, willing and able to betray Hungarian jewry to advance his own Trumpian agenda.
Tribalism, corruption, flirting with fascism, anti-humanism, après nous le déluge, that's what the new extreme-right (Orbàn, Erdoğan, Trump, Netanyahu, Putin et cetera have in common.) But in all fairness, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs appears to be ready to join to club.

S

Stages

Up the ante

Fintan O'Toole in The Irish Times on trial runs and the F-word:

'Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.

One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections – we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump, in the Brexit referendum and (less successfully) in the French presidential elections. Another is the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities. Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about 40 per cent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 per cent is fanatically committed. That’s been tested out too. And fascism of course needs a propaganda machine so effective that it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities. Again, the testing for this is very far advanced.

But when you’ve done all this, there is a crucial next step, usually the trickiest of all. You have to undermine moral boundaries, inure people to the acceptance of acts of extreme cruelty. Like hounds, people have to be blooded. They have to be given the taste for savagery. Fascism does this by building up the sense of threat from a despised out-group. This allows the members of that group to be dehumanised. Once that has been achieved, you can gradually up the ante, working through the stages from breaking windows to extermination.

It is this next step that is being test-marketed now. It is being done in Italy by the far-right leader and minister for the interior Matteo Salvini. How would it go down if we turn away boatloads of refugees? Let’s do a screening of the rough-cut of registering all the Roma and see what buttons the audience will press. And it has been trialled by Trump: let’s see how my fans feel about crying babies in cages. I wonder how it will go down with Rupert Murdoch.'

Read the article here.

40 per cent? 30 per cent is enough. And fanatically committed? Just moderately committed.

Society is the institution to protect moral boundaries and to break them. Or perhaps I should say, society likes to seduce its members to exchange one moral conviction for another one. Fake morality may be one of our biggest threats, but how do we define it?

S

Heavenly

Jailing

Moral clarity and soccer - Masha Gessen in Thew Yorker:

On Sunday, in the fifty-second minute of the final game of the World Cup, four women dressed in Russian-police uniforms charged the field, briefly disrupting the match. They were members of the Russian protest-art group Pussy Riot.

"Pussy Riot is often misidentified as a punk group, which is, in fact, only one of its many guises. The group, which was founded in 2011, is an open-membership collective that stages actions, documents them on video, and provides textual statements intended as clear and accessible explanations of their intentions and demands. The group’s best-known action was what they called a “punk prayer,” in which a group of women attempted to sing a political prayer of their own making inside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, in Moscow, in the lead-up to Russia’s 2012 Presidential election."

(...)

"The four women, by taking the field, demonstrated exactly how that happens: the beautiful world of sport has its bubble punctured by people running and flailing haphazardly, intent on destruction. The group’s statement concluded with a list of demands:

  1. Free all political prisoners.

  2. Stop jailing people for social-media “likes.”

  3. Stop illegal arrests at protests.

  4. Allow political competition.

  5. Stop fabricating criminal cases and putting people in jail for no reason.

  6. Turn the earthly policeman into a Heavenly Policeman.

And so Pussy Riot became the only people to make a meaningful statement about Russian politics during the World Cup—and it came on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s triumphant meeting with Donald Trump. They also created, on one of the biggest stages in the world, an image of unjust and arbitrary authority, the sort with which a hundred and forty-five million Russians live day to day."

Read the article here.

On television the incident was treated as a nonevent, in the tradition of repressive tolerance. Well, tolerance, the agents chasing the members of Pussy Riot made clear that we are dealing with the tradition of repressive repression in Russia.

On social media the French player Mbappe was praised for giving the double high five to one of the members of Pussy Riot. The Croatian player Lovren reacted a bit less humane, on pictures we can see him with an angry face trying to drag one of the women of the field.

The World Cup could have seduced quite a few of us to forget the repression and corruption of the Russian state. Needless to say that there many 'Putin-Versteher" in the West, more often than not they have sympathetic feelings for the extreme-right in their own countries as well.

Bread and games continue. A few games are over (Wimbledon, World Cup) - other games continue in full speed (Tour de France). I don't look down on people seeking oblivion. At best we can strive for something like part-time oblivion.

S

100 minutes

Unconditionally

Saturday night, the cute Minetta Lane Theatre, the play "Girls and boys" by Dennis Kelly with Carrey Mulligan, about whom Ben Brantley in NYT wrote: " For the more than 100 uninterrupted minutes that make up Dennis Kelly’s “Girls & Boys,” in which Ms. Mulligan is the entire cast, you are unconditionally hers." (Read the review here.)

Yes, I was hers for about 95 minutes. I may have drifted away during one scene, but this had more to do with Mr. Kelly's play that began fantastic and ended as a hybrid between a therapy session and a sermon. (The same could be said about Hannah Gadsby's highly praised comedy show "Nanette”, but stand-up comedy is by nature a sermon with a twist. And our hunger for sermons is as intense as it was when Jesus was born.)

Since Mr. Brantley revealed the violence in "Girls and Boys" it's fair to talk about it. Violence, suffering and pain on stage (and often in reality also) happen to offer meaning to the victims and the audience, I guess that's one of te reasons why they are so addictive. The weakness of 'Girls and boys", which could be the point of the monologue as well, is that it is so obvious that without the violence only the dreadful banality of being alive remains.

S