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Finkelstein, Birnbaum and the devil incarnate January 27, 2019

Posted by Citizen of Nowhere in Uncategorized.
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The citizen has often wondered at the depth of the connection between Orbán, Netanyahu and the demonisation of George Soros. Hannes Grassegger published his revelations about the political spin-doctors for the right – Arthur Finkelstein and his ‘child’ George Birnbaum – recently in the Swiss magazine under the title The evil Jew and an English version here at Buzzfeed.

Hannes Grassegger is a journalist with an understanding of how the internet functions politically, and was the source of the original investigations into the role of Cambridge Analytica and related data/propaganda outfits in the election of Trump and the Brexit referendum. His initial investigations were later taken up by people like Carole Cadwalladr in the Guardian.

The story goes back to an American ‘disruptive innovator’ in political campaigning called Arthur Finkelstein. Finkelstein was a Ayn Rand admirer who, most importantly, was highly numerate and able to spot polling patterns. Apart from his skill with data he pioneered what has become the standard modus operandi populist right-wing electioneering.

Finkelstein’s methods and doctrines include:

1) Very few elections are won by convincing supporters of other parties or candidate to support your candidates. Their minds are made up by the time the election begins. The trick instead is to discourage supporters of your opponents to vote.

2) To achieve this you run highly personalised negative campaigning against your opponent. Don’t demonise the party, demonise the candidate. People can be made to hate individuals more easily than institutions.

3) Your base must be charged up on an emotional level by fear and hatred of the opponent. Old hatreds grow stale as motivators, so new enemies must be discovered, and if necessary invented.

4) Make the opponent play on your territory by setting the agenda.

5) Facts matter little in the emotional landscape of an election.

Finkelstein applied these techniques successfully for an increasingly right wing Republican Party in domestic American elections. His star waned a little and then, seemingly miraculously, he got Netanyahu into power in Israel. How? By negative campaigning against Shimon Peres, falsely claiming that he intended to divide Jerusalem. Peres made the mistake responding to the fake issue set up by Finkelstein and Netanyahu won narrowly and Finkelstein and his accolytes never looked back.

Their international reputation were made, and Finkelsthein and Co. operated extensively in the Balkans and the former Soviet controlled Eastern Europe, using these same techniques.

However the campaign against Soros by Orbán took the black arts to a new level. The problem was that Orbán had defeated all his domestic opponents, and the old enemies of the IMF and ‘foreign capital’ were wearing thin. Where was he to find an enemy to continue to mobilise his base? Finkelstein’s disciple George Birnbaum, hit on a Hunagrian financier and philanthropist, George Soros.

As Grassegger tells it:

Finkelstein and Birnbaum saw something in Soros that would make him the perfect enemy. There’s a long history of criticism of Soros, dating back to 1992, when Soros earned $1 billion overnight betting against the British pound. For many on the left, Soros was a vulture. But Soros used his sudden prominence to push for liberal ideas. He supported everything the right was against: climate protection, equality, the Clintons. He opposed the second Iraq War in 2003, even comparing George W. Bush to the Nazis, and became a major donor for the Democrats. He was soon a hate figure for the Republicans.

But there was more. Finkelstein and Birnbaum had expanded their work into exactly those countries where the Open Society Foundations was trying to build liberal local elites and civil rights movements: Ukraine, Romania, the Czech Republic, Macedonia, Albania. Birnbaum believed Soros stood for “a socialism that is wrong for these areas.” According to Birnbaum, Finkelstein was more practical about his opposition to Soros, whom he saw as simply a means to an end: “It wasn’t an emotional thing.”

The construction of Soros as an enemy-figure worked magnificently. Orbán was re-elected handsomely, and Soros’ Central European University was driven out of Hungary, while swathes of oppositional NGOs were closed down.

Birnbaum is in denial about the anti-semitic nature of the attack on Soros. The widespread use by the extreme right of Soros as the devil incarnate – the Jewish finance capitalist pulling the strings of liberal leftists conspiracies – gives the lie to that.

And if a FG candidate bangs on your door for the European Elections, ask them why they still tolerate Orbán’s Fidesz as part of the EPP fraction in the European Parliament.

Comments»

1. WorldbyStorm - January 27, 2019

Great overview – it really is depressing to see how all this works.

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2. EWI - January 28, 2019

Their international reputation were made, and Finkelsthein and Co. operated extensively in the Balkans and the former Soviet controlled Eastern Europe, using these same techniques.

I would be interested in hearing more about this – the deployment of NGOs, consultants etc. by Western interests in places like the Balkans doesn’t receive the attention it deserves.

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yourcousin - January 28, 2019

From Birnbaum’s website,

“Since then, the two [Birnbaum and Finkelsthein] have consulted and managed campaigns throughout Europe and the Middle East. They are credited with having elected Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon, Chancellor of Austria Alfred Gussenbauer, Prime Minister of Bulgaria Sergey Stanishev, Prime Minister of Romania Colin Taricaneau, Prime Minister of Kosovo Hashim Thaci, and President of Serbia Boris Tadic”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Gusenbauer

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Stanishev

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C%C4%83lin_Popescu-T%C4%83riceanu

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hashim_Tha%C3%A7i

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Tadi%C4%87

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3. yourcousin - January 28, 2019

Having followed Hungary for quite awhile I must say that blaming these two for Orban is kind of stretching it. The understanding of Hungary in the article seems a little thin.

“Enemies were easy to find in Hungary. The country was an economic basket case and had to be bailed out in 2008. Austerity measures were demanded by their creditors at the World Bank, the EU, and the IMF. Finkelstein and Birnbaum told Orbán to target “the bureaucrats” and “foreign capital.”

Orbán won the 2010 election with a two-thirds majority as the country shifted to the right. Birnbaum is still amazed today how easy it was: “We blew the Socialist party off the table even before the election.”

Birnbaum and Finkelstein, now part of Orbán’s inner circle, found themselves with a problem. While the satisfied winner of the election started rewriting the constitution, they were now lacking an opponent. “There was no real political enemy … there was no one to have a fight with,” Birnbaum remembered. The ultra-right Jobbik party and the Socialist party were beaten, the rest in splinters. “We had had an incumbent with a historic majority, something that had never happened in Hungary before.”

You can go back to the release of the tape in 2005 and the imposition of austerity by the successor to the Cold War Socialist Party (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/5359574.stm,http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/5359546.stm) to see a party totally fall apart, and the idea that Orban just “beat Jobbik” is crazy as he tacked significantly to the right in order to counter the threat of the party which was founded in only 2003. The success of Jobbik is a cautionary tale and one that is ignored in this article.

The there is the very ahistorical throwaway, “Hungary, which had collaborated with the Nazis, was painted as a victim, surrounded by external enemies, under perpetual siege, first from the Ottomans, then the Nazis, and later the Communists

This is true and yet is so facile as to be useless.

Think back to the illiberal democracy speech. Telling how it was given in Romania. The very first paragraph references the effects of Trianon.

https://budapestbeacon.com/full-text-of-viktor-orbans-speech-at-baile-tusnad-tusnadfurdo-of-26-july-2014/

That speech is worth reading in its entirety and reflecting on as it preceded the rise of Brexit and Trump.

Also needing of unpacking is the reality that even during Kadar’s rein Communist Hungary was mired with debt (like most Warsaw Pact countries) and required over a billion dollars in hard currency just to pay to pay the interest in 1989.

There is also the uncomfortable truth that the strong authoritarian styling of the strong leader that Orban portray’s owes quite a great to Soviet era Communist bosses. This is an interesting article, but the issues with Hungary are not so neatly encapsulated as suggested.

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WorldbyStorm - January 28, 2019

That’s interesting re Jobbik, and if I’m not mistaken they’ve tacked a bit less far right in recent times (whatever their actual feelings)and seen some splits to their right.

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Citizen of Nowhere - January 28, 2019

I don’t think the author is asserting the Finkelstein and Birnbaum were the sole cause of Orbán’s success. But rather presenting an illustration of how this kind of election engineering works to get nationalist authoritarian figures like Orbán repeatedly elected.

On the question of austerity in the former Soviet block which led to authoritarian and xenophobic governments – this policy was imposed and inculcated deliberately by the victorious west as part of the shock doctrine.

Without a doubt Finkelstein and Co and their allies and imitators have contributed significantly to the rise of the authoritarian xenophobic nationalism in the former Soviet-dominated parts of Europe.

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yourcousin - January 28, 2019

CoN,
I’m not trying to present this as an “either/or” argument. I’m just saying that the author may be over egging the pudding vis a vis Hungary as it’s far more complex than presented in the article. This may be some of the more advanced use of this strategy, but it’s not new by any means.

We see this very mentality at play in British politics,

View at Medium.com

“Knownothingism” In pre civil war America.

The anti German hysteria/hyper patriotism of WWI America.

Fuck, even the USSR engaged in nationalist narratives in post war Eastern Europe, thinking of Poland off the top of my head.

And that’s just me pulling it out my ass without referencing the famous Herman Goring quote from Nuremberg.

Oh, and now that I’m actually thinking about it, there’s Milosevic’s speech in Kosovo which was staged to sound spontaneous, but was actually a planned speech.

Again, shitty economic practices were well and alive during the classic Warsaw Pact days. And that’s coupled with authoritarian governance. I mean FFS, how many years was Kadar in power?

Do we forget that piece meal work quota increases (ie a wage cut) led to the East Berlin uprising?

But this piece is important because it highlights the old Levi quote, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”

The idea of Anything For a Buck is so prevelant that this extreme example of it is mind boggling. So thanks for posting it up. It is good to be reminded, but also worth remembering that there are no easy answers.

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4. kestrel - January 29, 2019

may be a bit soon to say this, but that idea at 3) above, that “your base must be charged up ….”, may be being put into practice now; both s.f.; and, strangely, a major mobilisation of the f.f. population troops; seems to be happening.
this is in the waterford region. yipes.
dehh next stop, fr’frt.?

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