When Noel Field, State Department official turned Soviet spy, settled down in Budapest in 1955 to spend his twilight years under the Communist totalitarianism he adored, he was given a job as translator and editor at New Hungarian Quarterly, an English-language publication that was distributed abroad to show off new Hungarian writing. He was surprised to discover that his colleagues at the magazine did not share his zealous devotion to Communism. On the contrary, as one of them would later tell biographer Kati Marton, Field was “the only pure Communist” in the office. Sophisticated intellectuals who knew the system for what it was, Field’s coworkers considered his (or anyone’s) devout Communism “a sign of intellectual backwardness.” For his part, whenever he overheard one of them saying things that weren’t entirely in line with Communist ideology, he rushed to inform on them, like any good Bolshevik, and they lost their jobs.
In mid 1956, aware that the Hungarian people were growing restive under the Soviet yoke, Field wrote an article in the Hungarian Communist Party newpaper insisting that Communism was still “fundamentally sound” and calling dissenters “enemies of progress.” Soon after came the Hungarian uprising – and a few short weeks of freedom, which came to an end when Soviet tanks rolled in and brutally put down the rebellion. The next year, when a friend in Warsaw complained about the brutality of the Soviet incursion, Field replied sharply: “I don’t want to hear this!”
In his view, the Soviet troops who marched into Hungary were “the real freedom fighters” and the Kremlin’s new puppet leader, János Kádár, had “saved Hungary from ‘White Terror.’” In 1960, four years after Khrushchev himself ardently denounced Stalin’s crimes, Field published an article in Mainstream, an American Communist Party periodical, calling those crimes “essential on the road to a Communism.” Of the men who had interrogated and tortured him years earlier, he wrote: “I approve their detestation.” When everyone around him had moved on from Stalin and embraced a somewhat softer totalitarianism, Field remained an uncompromising Stalinist.
Every time Field issued yet another pro-Communist public statement, such as his article in Mainstream, his family in the West were subjected to a new round of media attention – and public suspicion that they shared his sympathies. When Field’s brother, Hermann, wrote a letter pleading with Noel to try to keep a lower profile, Noel snapped back: “As you know, I have my convictions, and whenever these require me to speak out, I shall do so, however great the pain of causing unpleasantness to relatives I continue to hold dear.” This to someone who had been imprisoned and tortured for his sake.
The years went by. In 1968 the Kremlin again sent in tanks to crush an Eastern European revolt – this time in Czechoslovakia. Field was silent about it, but he did stop paying his Party dues. Is it possible that after so many decades of unshakable belief in the savage god of Communism, he finally lost his faith? There is no way of knowing for sure.
On this site, over the last year and a half, we’ve discussed scores of people who, out of either misguided devotion or pure self-interest, have put themselves at the service of tyrants. When it comes to unswerving ideological conviction, few if any could measure up to Noel Field. Kari Marton, Field’s biographer, sums it all up as follows: “His is the story of the sometimes terrible consequence of blind faith.”
On October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrates his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’re spending today and the next few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world. Today: a couple of Hungary’s top dogs.
It’s not every day that a prime minister publicly declares his determination to turn his country into an “illiberal” state. Granted, more than a few heads of government, as we’ve seen on this site, are working hard toward that very goal, but they usually don’t go out of their way to advertise it. Yet that’s precisely what Hungarian PM Viktor Orban did last year. And the reason he gave for wanting to make Hungary “illiberal” was that, in his view, Vladimir Putin has done such a terrific job of making Russia an “illiberal” success story.
Orban, you see, is a big fan of Putin. In fact, to quote the Telegraph, he’s done such an effective job of “harassing civil liberty groups, clamping down on the press and entrenching his grip on power” that critics have called him a “little Putin.” In February, the Russian president visited Orban in – as the Telegraph put it – “an attempt to show the world he still has a friend in the EU despite East-West tension over Ukraine.” The visit was marked by a sizable protest one of whose organizers warned that Hungary, which in the years after the fall of the Iron Curtain seemed like a solid democracy and U.S. ally in the making, is “getting ever closer to the Russian model and farther from the European one.” In short, Orban’s plans are working.
Orban announced his country’s new direction in a speech given on July 26 of last year. “The new state that we are building in Hungary today,” he declared, “is not a liberal state. It doesn’t deny liberalism’s basic values such as freedom but doesn’t make it a core element. It uses a particular, nationalist approach.” As Tim McNamara explained in Policy Review not long after the speech, Orban’s “populist nationalism” peddles the concept of Hungarian exceptionalism, depicts the EU and US as enemies, demonizes opponents of his ruling Fidesz Party, works to close down foreign-funded civil-society groups, and uses a combination of methods (described by McNamara as “remarkably similar…to what has happened in Russia”) to intimidate, bankrupt, buy off, seduce, or just plain crush opposition media. Yet leaders of the European Union (which Hungary joined in 2004) have been pretty much silent about this systematic violation of purported EU values.
And what about NATO, of which Hungary has been a member since 1999? In a time when other countries in Russia’s neighborhood are uneasy about Putin’s saber-rattling and are begging for a stronger NATO presence within their borders, how can Orban’s government possibly be seen as a reliable partner in the defense pact and not as the likely ally of a potential aggressor? As Keith Johnson wrote about Hungary in Foreign Policy last November, “While Europe and the United States are trying to build a common front to push back against Russian aggression…one member of the team seems to be switching jerseys.”
This April, the Economist brought what might have seemed like hopeful tidings: “a row with America over corruption, Mr Orban’s cosying up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the flashy lifestyles of some Fidesz leaders” were eroding the ruling party’s support among the Hungarian electorate. But in fact it looks more as if Hungary is jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire: for as Fidesz falters, more and more Hungarian voters are turning to another party, Jobbik, which has its own “paramilitary wing” and a platform that makes Fidesz look like Amnesty International. Jobbik doesn’t try to hide its savage contempt for (among much else) gays, Jews, and Israel. And let’s not forget the U.S., which, according to party leader Gábor Vona, is engaged in the vile business of “spread[ing] a subhuman culture” around the world.
Meanwhile, guess whom Vona is cozying up to? In the last couple of years, he’s lectured in Moscow on invitation from Putin intimate Aleksandr Dugin – who calls for “the restoration of the Russian Empire through the unification of Russian-speaking territories” and seeks to “hasten the ‘end of times’ with all out war” – and praised Putin’s Russia as a “Eurasian power that could spearhead a real political, economic and cultural resistance against the Euro-Atlantic block.” (It’s no coincidence that Vona was head of the Hungarian-Russian friendship group in the Hungarian Parliament.) Writing last year in Foreign Affairs, Mitchell A. Orenstein stated flatly that “Putin has taken the Jobbik party under his wing.”
What more do we need to know? The facts are clear: barring some thoroughly unforeseen development, Hungary will in all likelihood either continue to be governed by Fidesz during the next few years or pass into the hands of Jobbik. Which means that this strategically located member of the EU and NATO seems destined to become more and more of a satellite (and Xerox copy) of Putin’s Russia.
It’s a sad prospect for the Hungarian people – and a dangerous one for Europe and the West. In other words, just what Putin wants.
American journalist Liz Wahl, whose grandparents fled Hungary after the 1956 uprising was crushed by the Soviets, worked at the Russian TV network RT America for two years. Her job ended on March 5, 2014, when she quit live on-camera, denouncing her employers for serving up Kremlin propaganda about Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
Her resignation made headlines; she was widely interviewed. “RT is not about the truth,” she told Anderson Cooper on CNN. “It’s about promoting a Putinist agenda. And I can tell you firsthand, it’s also about bashing America.”
Her action drew predictable condemnation from her ex-bosses at RT America, who called it “a self-promotional stunt.” But that wasn’t all. The far-left website Truthdig.com ran a bizarre attack on Wahl co-authored by fanatical Israel-basher Max Blumenthal, son of longtime Clinton family bagman, consiglieri, and all-around political operative Sidney Blumenthal, and Rania Khalek, a freelancer for such unsavory outlets as Al Jazeera America and the anti-Israeli propaganda website Electronic Intifada.
In a staggeringly long article that read as if it had been dictated by Putin himself, Blumenthal and Khalek concocted a conspiracy scenario out of whole cloth, representing Wahl’s resignation not as an act of individual conscience but as a put-up job, orchestrated by a “cadre” of Putin-hating U.S. conservatives, chief among them journalist James Kirchick.
Kirchick had known Wahl for several months. In an interview with her posted at The Daily Beast shortly after her resignation, Kirchick wrote that he’d been aware of her growing ethical concerns about working for RT, and that he’d “encouraged her to follow her conscience in making a decision about her professional future.” Any decent human being who was even glancingly familiar with Kirchick’s record of courageous reporting from world trouble spots and of principled opposition to tyranny everywhere would have no trouble accepting his account at face value.
But Max Blumenthal, as he has already conclusively established, is far from the most decent of human beings. He’s made a career of slandering Israel and exculpating some of its most violent enemies. He’s also, as mentioned, the spawn of master manipulator and spinmeister Sidney (“Sid Vicious”) Blumenthal – the ultimate professional behind-the-scenes creep, the guy who gives pond scum a bad name, the man who was recently described by Reason editor Nick Gillespie as one of those “barely human” characters whose “rottenness ultimately overtakes and deforms whatever humanity they once might have possessed.” For Sidney’s scion, whose own oeuvre so far has demonstrated that he didn’t fall far from the tree, it’s only second nature, when confronted by an act of genuine moral principle on the part of an ideological opponent, to set about depicting it as a low scam, motivated by a lust for power, money, and/or attention. (To be fair, given Max’s family background, it’s fully possible that he’s incapable of believing there is such a thing as an act of genuine moral principle.)
Thus the argument, made at epic length by Blumenthal and Khalek, that Kirchick was behind Wahl’s on-air resignation – and that Kirchick, in turn, was acting as part of a vast right-wing conspiracy, motivated not by principle but by an iniquitous desire to rekindle the Cold War. After all, look at Kirchick’s repellent connections: he “worked for part of 2011 out of Prague for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a media network funded by Congress (formerly backed by the CIA) that functions like the American answer to RT in Russian-aligned Eastern European countries.” (This is really all you need to know about Max Blumenthal: he’s the kind of guy who can equate Radio Free Europe with RT.)
But he and Khalek were just warming up. Kirchick, they pointed out, is now a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which is linked to something called FPI, which has ties to something called ECI, among whose advisers is some guy who lobbies for the “U.S.-oriented” (horrors!) Republic of Georgia. Aha! See? Gotcha! Kirchick is opposed to Putin not on principle but because he’s on the Georgian payroll. Blumenthal and Khalek backed up their fairy tale with nasty quotes about Wahl from RT employees, who were risibly presented as reliable sources with “no particular affection for Russian President Vladimir Putin or his policies.”
Kirchick, by the way, wasn’t Blumenthal’s and Khalek’s only target. Also smeared was Rosie Gray, a writer for Buzzfeed, who’d committed the offense of writing a splendid, thoroughgoing exposéof RT entitled “How the Truth Is Made at Russia Today.” Like Kirchick, Gray – whose article on RT was as honest, fact-filled, and solidly reported as Blumenthal’s and Khalek’s was duplicitous and packed with innuendo – was also accused by them of being a Georgian tool.
Seth Mandel, writing in Commentary,summed up Blumenthal’s and Khalek’s piece quite aptly: “a textbook example of character assassination.” Indeed, their article made it crystal clear that Max has learned his father’s lessons well: namely, when you’re facing off against upstanding people who have the truth on their side, get to work misrepresenting the facts, inventing new ones, and throwing mud, confident that even the most outrageous lies, if repeated often enough, will convince at least some of your audience.
Although Blumenthal does, admittedly, devote more of his time to reviling Israel than to vilifying Putin’s enemies, the article he co-wrote with Khalek wasn’t his only effort in this genre. In a February 2014 piece, he faithfully echoed the Kremlin line that the Euromaidan revolution – which, it will be recalled, overthrew a despotic, Russia-friendly oligarch and replaced him with a democratic Western-leaning government – was engineered by fascists, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. Two months later, in a New York Times op-ed, Polish sociologist Slawomir Sierakowski gave Blumenthal’s vile charges the response they deserved:
True, such people were present at the square, but they were marginal figures, and slogans about ethnic purity never gained popularity. Yes, generally speaking, Ukraine has its skinheads and its anti-Semites and even serial killers, pedophiles and Satanists. They are not present in smaller or larger numbers than in any other country, even in the most mature European state.
None of which truths, needless to say, can be expected to deter Blumenthal in his efforts to serve Putin as loyally as his wily ol’ dad has served the Clintons.
Wahl, by the way, wasn’t the last RT reporter to resign for ethical reasons. Four months later, Sara Firth quit the network, admitting that she and her colleagues “work for Putin” and “are asked on a daily basis if not to totally ignore then to obscure the truth.” And just a few days ago, Konstantin Goldenzweig, the Berlin correspondent of Russia’s state-run domestic news channel, NTV, was fired after criticizing Putin in an interview with a German TV station. Goldenzweig said afterward that he was ashamed of having spread “propaganda,” which, he said, included being forced to report Kremlin-invented “news” that had no basis in fact and that had been concocted to defame Ukraine and its leaders.
Funny how some people are capable of being ashamed – while others make a career out of never feeling any shame whatsoever.
The left has made demons out of the wealthy Koch brothers, Charles and David, routinely depicting them as secretive right-wing fanatics who pour millions into reactionary causes. The demonization of these two men – who actually support same-sex marriage and opposed the Patriot Act, and most of whose philanthropy goes to mainstream causes such as the United Negro College Fund and to apolitical cultural institutions such as the the American Ballet Theater, New York City Ballet, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and American Museum of Natural History – has become a staple of left-wing propaganda and supposedly objective articles throughout the establishment media.
Meanwhile, the true extremist moneybags gets off almost scot-free. George Soros is the financial father of the American far left, but the American right – for whatever reason – has spent far less time examining and assessing his actual activities than the left has spent brutalizing the Kochs for imaginary offenses. As a result, Americans who have been brainwashed into thinking that the Kochs are buying elections for the religious right (in fact, they’re libertarians who have tried to counter the impact of the religious right on Republican politics) have no idea just how huge a behind-the-scenes role George Soros has played in the Democratic Party, serving as a veritable Wizard of Oz who’s back there pulling the strings almost everywhere you look.
While the Kochs “had $308 million tied up in their foundation and institute in 2011,” according to a January 2015 article in the Washington Times, “Soros’ two largest foundations manage almost $3 billion in assets per year.”
But let’s start at the beginning. It seems almost like a Rosebud-like key to George Soros’s character that his father was an enthusiast for the artificial language Esperanto, concocted by L.L. Zamenhof in the late nineteenth century in hopes that people around the world would exchange their native tongues for his invention and thus usher in a utopia of international post-Tower of Babel harmony. Soros’s father was such a devotee of Esperanto that he actually changed the family’s last name from Schwartz: Soros is in fact an Esperanto verb meaning “will soar.” Think about it: is it surprising that a boy brought up by such a tilter at windmills would grow up into a far-left utopian, putting his billions to work for “social justice” causes of the sort that only a radical nutjob could get behind?
So much for Soros’s father. What about his mother? He himself has described her as having been “quite anti-Semitic and ashamed of being Jewish.” She eventually converted to Catholicism. “Given the culture in which we lived,” Soros later told an interviewer, “being Jewish was a clear-cut stigma, a disadvantage, a handicap. And therefore, she always had the desire to transcend it, to escape it.” That’s some “therefore”: Soros acts as if it’s simply a matter of common sense, in such a situation, to ditch one’s pride, one’s principle, and one’s people and act out of pure expediency
There’s another detail from Soros’s early life that also seems illuminating – in a distinctly chilling way. During the Nazi occupation of his homeland, Hungary, Soros’s father paid a government official named Baumbach to take in George and to identify him as his Christian godson to keep the Jewish boy from getting nabbed by the Nazis. Baumbach’s job, as it happens, involved going from door to door, deporting Hungarian Jews and confiscating their property. The young Soros often tagged along with him while he was carrying out this task. Asked in 1998 whether he’d ever felt guilty about his involvement in this activity, Soros said: “I was only a spectator … I had no role in taking away that property. So I had no sense of guilt.” If that’s not unsettling enough for you, check this out: Soros has said that the Nazi occupation of Hungary was “probably the happiest year of my life… a happy-making, exhilarating experience.”
What we’re dealing with here, in short, is a very disturbing individual – a moral preacher who nonetheless comes off as chillingly amoral; a man who purports to be motivated by high ideals but who, during his formative years, encountered absolute evil and found it absolutely thrilling.