In the past few years I’ve often written about Bálint Magyar (SZDSZ), one of the few active opposition leaders during the Kádár regime. After the change of regime he became a member of parliament and served twice as minister of education in the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition governments. The Fidesz-Christian Democrats who are now running the Hungarian educational establishment have singled him out as their bête noire, responsible for the “deplorable” state of Hungarian education. Magyar stood for everything Rózsa Hoffmann finds wrong with Hungarian education. He tried to bring Hungarian education closer to western models by liberating it from its nineteenth-century shackles. He also had the “temerity” to focus on the child.
But here I don’t want to talk about Magyar’s educational philosophy but rather his latest analysis of the Orbán regime. He began writing about the nature of the Orbán government as early as 2001–that is, during the first Orbán government. This first article in a series over the years showed that Bálint Magyar has a very sharp eye. Already then he noticed that Fidesz functioned as “an organized upperworld” as opposed to an underworld. He called it the “Hungarian octopus.”
His latest thoughts on the subject were published just a few days ago in Élet és Irodalom (June 14, 2013) available only to subscribers. The article is actually an interview he gave to Eszter Rádai. Once again the topic is the nature of the Orbán regime, now full-blown. According to Magyar, the present Hungarian regime is “a post-communist mafia state.”
What are the antecedents of this regime? Some political scientists and historians try to find its archetype in the past but, according to Magyar, such comparisons are futile because it is an entirely new phenomenon. In vain can we look to the Horthy regime, to Mussolini’s corporative state, or to Franco’s Spain. We will not find Viktor Orbán’s real inspiration for his regime in any of these systems. None of these earlier models can describe in a comprehensive way the nature of today’s Hungary. It is an entirely new system because, after all, it is post-communist. It cannot be analyzed along the lines of democracy versus dictatorship. Trying to place it along the coordinates of corruption is also mistaken because the Hungarian government’s corruption cannot be measured simply by its degree. It is qualitatively different from the ordinary, garden variety of corruption.
After describing the different stages and degrees of corruption, Magyar arrives at the current Hungarian situation “which the West cannot comprehend and handle.” It is an intricate matrix of a centralized monopoly of corruption by a mafia-like political elite. This elite manages to end the anarchic world of the oligarchs and make them dependent on them. Western observers are not familiar with this kind of mafia state where “a political enterprise becomes an economic enterprise which captures the world of politics as well as the economy with the help of the complete arsenal of the power of the state.”
Magyar shows the difference between ordinary corruption and the mafia-state’s corruption by comparing the building of a football stadium in the 1990s by József Stadler, who became a billionaire by tax evasion, with Orbán’s personal football “empire”. Stadler’s dream was to build a stadium in the middle of nowhere, but eventually he was caught and jailed. The stadium still stands unused. But in today’s Hungary state-owned land is passed on to a middleman called the Ferenc Puskás Football Academy; the parliament sanctions a law allowing tax-free contributions to sports clubs, and, behold, three-quarters of the gifts go to the fourth-rate team of the godfather, i.e. Viktor Orbán. The rich contributors naturally know that if they want to receive state orders and EU monies they’d better support the club of the godfather.
How is this mafia-like political elite organized? Very much like its non-political counterpart. It is based on family and loyalty. It is a clan-like organization in which the family adopts its members. One can see in the latest scandals of the tobacconist shops or the land lease program that loyalty is mixed with family relations. One loyal Fidesz member’s whole extended family gets a piece of the pie.
As for the members of the civil service, their relation to the “family” is somewhat similar to the “service nobility” of Russia. Those of you who studied Russian history are familiar with the tsarist practice of demanding either military or some other kind of state service from members of the lower nobility.
How do these people build the mafia state? First, they make sure that local governments become powerless. Second, they transform parliament into a pseudo-representative body where laws are enacted serving the needs of the “political family.” Third, they limit the power of the opposition parties by not allowing them to campaign, withdrawing financial support, and depriving them of media exposure. Fourth, they put “family members” into important positions. After all this, everything runs smoothly. For the time being they have managed to tame only some of the judges, but it is clear that they are making a serious effort at cleansing their ranks.
According to Magyar, this mafia-state as long as it still belongs to the European Union cannot introduce dictatorship outright. But it doesn’t even need to. Political observers go wrong when they talk about a “concentration of power” on the one hand and corruption on the other. Because these two cannot be divided in this new mafia state since “the system is a centrally directed, rationally executed robbery.”
To be continued
Good report. What a sad state of the affairs.
We can watch as the numbers of the spineless Hungarians are growing.
The self-liberation advice of Gene Sharp, should be spread as the new samizdat in Hungary, with preface by Kim Scheppele.
Orbán as “Godfather”: a very good description of the whole system!
But the classic Italian mafia in the States or in Italy is (or was) not only hogging the economy. Their influence or dominance in politics is/was – to varying degrees – just as visible as in Hungary now.
Orbán’s mafia has reached a degree of perfection and impertinence that from another point of view could be said to be admirable…
Calling the system “post-communist” and “entirely new” doesn’t really make sense. Calling x post-y implies a relationship between the two. Hungary is post communist, meaning that it has developed out of the communist past. That goes for Fidesz as well as for virtually every aspect of Hungarian life.
I agree with Minusio, Orban’s sytem is not that unique… I’m sure we could find similar examples of autocratic mafia groups running countries for the enrichment of themselves in Latin-America or in Africa. The dictatorships may be more open in those countries, though, as they don’t have to pretend to be “democratic” as they are not part of the EU.
No need to wrack one’s brains: the closest to the Hungarian system is Putin’s Russia. In fact,
the similarities may even suggest a blueprint…
Report just in: “Russians sell one billion dollars worth of arms to Azerbadjian.”
What a surprise!
Anyone smell a little ‘triangulation’ here…?
@ Dan. I beg to disagree. A post-communist country – which Hungary is like many other Eastern European countries, and this is just a historical fact – does not automatically lead to a mafia structure. You have mafia structures in rather democratic countries (the ones I mentioned). And you may have a country like Poland whose present prime minister is probably the best European around.
So I don’t see the unescapable relationship you seem to imply.
What is true, though, is that the times of dictatorship of which communism was the last for many countries destroyed the civic society and the bourgeoisie, the “citoyen”, i.e, the pillars of any society with a sense of self-determination – which is the basis of democracy. And this lack of a civic conscience makes it easier for a whole state structure to be taken over by a “godfather”.
I wonder when our Bálint is going to write about the SZDSZ-mafia.
It does not make sense to say that mafia-like behavior is a direct outgrowth of communism as it existed in Hungary and elsewhere before 1990. In 1930s America, the mob enjoyed tremendous power with the collusion of the political and law enforcement elites.
@ Johnny Boy. Actually I don’t like to feed trolls. But I’ll try anyway. You don’t seem to understand: Orbán’s regime is a “real” mafia organisation covering the whole country from corner to corner – except a few Budapest cafes where some intellectuals meet – whereas some other parties are just more or less corrupt. What is mostly forgotten is that the irrationally much hated Gyurcsány was the one who wanted to drain the swamp. And he is still the only one who can hold a brilliant, analytical speech without a manuscript. To understand that is probably too much of a challenge for blockheads.
Love it! Succinctly put.
@ Minusio taking your point one step further you could argue that not every country with a communist past is post-communist and that post-communist refers to a certain type of system existing in a country emerging from communism – the so called transition state. But I think Johny Boy has a point. It was Medgyessy – who in retrospect from these troubled times seems like a decent and concilatory man – who pointed out the corruption in the SZDSZ. I believe the phrase he used was ‘Az SZDSZ tele van korrupcios ugyekkel’. One wonders if Fidesz, as with so many other things, are just way better at clientelism than anybody has been so far. I also wonder what would have happened to the MSZP if they hadn’t got rid of Medgyessy. What’s Medgyessy doing now?
What a nonsense. HS is becoming rather pathological in its hatred of VO. Listen to Gyurcsány’s speech on June 16th. With that kind of democratic opposition, Orbán will be easily reeelected.
Anyone who is not a sycophantic sickie…hates Orban.
By the way, a timorous tip of the hat to VO for finally ordering action against Csatary. Of course, we must wait and see how it plays out: Viktor is the archetypal
‘tuna fisherman’….letting the politicos, in and out of the country, have some slack for a while, before wrenching the catch and reeling in…So, let’s wait.
Prosecutors did not want to extradite Csatary to Slovakia, that is why they had to start the legal proceedings against him in Hungary. He will stay free, Fidesz wants good relations with its coalition-partner-de-facto called Jobbik.
Overnight my hard drive gave up the ghost. Right now I’m working on someone else’s computer. So, the next few days will be bumpy.
Reading the comments, it is justified to hate the Orban system, because it stole another opportunity of freedom in Hungary.
The real sinner is not even Orban.
He is now a hostage of a dark maffia clique, which is not accountable to anybody.
There is no exit from it alive.
The cleanup will be difficult.
The recovery of the stolen money and property will be a tough task.
The losses of the nation are huge.
Thank you for the heads-up, Éva. I/we hope transitions go smoothly!
Re: mafia state
Meszaroses of Felcsut won 10 tobacco concessions. They will provide 10 out 19 Auchan hypermarkets with cigarettes in the entire country. This will give them a state guaranteed profit of several hundred million forints.
@Paul, @An, @Stevan … – Gyurcsany speech as music piece:
Jol alszik Victor – do you sleep well, Victor – someone already made a piece of music out of parts of the öszöd speech, quoted on index (http://index.hu/belfold/2013/06/19/gyurcsany_egyre_kemenyebb_leszek/).
The amount of media coverage he got would have been impossible without the strong language. And I suppose gy knew that very well.
Dear Éva, I would advise you to have your system thorougly checked to find out whether it was a victim of a targeted virus/break-in. I am sure there are people who would love to read your private emails and docs and some would even take actions. Hope the transition will work out.
Do you deny that the government sent out opinion surveys with bar codes? Do you deny that the government allows homeless people to be jailed while setting an ax murderer free? Do you deny that the government has set up at least four new police or security units with minimal public oversight? Do you deny that the government purchased MOL shares in a non-transparent manner? Do you deny that the government has awarded long term agricultural leases to politically favored bidders? Do you deny that the government has awarded tobacco retail licenses to politically favored bidders? Do you deny that there has been massive government spending on unnecessary projects in the Prime Minister’s own home town? Do you deny that the government kept people from donating to the Red Cross during the recent flooding? Do you deny that the government has massively redirected government advertising to politically friendly newspapers?
Do you really hate Hungary and the Hungarian people so much that you wish this massive kleptocracy to continue?
@ GW. Hear! Hear!
OT: tobacco licences,
a little extra information from our local shops: The new licencees did get some extra benefits: The percentage of the sales volume you are allowed to keep as tobacco shop owner increased drastically (to be effective concurrently with the new licences), and if that is not enough, the insurance conditions in case of a break-in have been altered in favour of tobacco shop owners. One previous tobacco shop owner said she didn’t apply for a new licence, because with that much tobacco products lying around you are a favorite target for break-ins and the insurance will pay next to nothing…
Breaking news: The LIBE Commission approved Rui Tavares’s report. They recommend it for adoption by the European Parliament.
Yesterday Free Hungary interviewed Gyurcsany, and the report of the interview can be found at the following link:
I hope you find this interview interesting. He probably did not say much that you don’t already know!
Being driven by witless hate… makes you a sycophantic sickie.
The real sinner IS “godfather” Orbán.
Otherwise, I totally agree with you.
Ad Johnny Boy: Don’t feed the trolls!
Thank you for your concern but I don’t think. It was a day ago that I ran a full scan on viruses and the day before a malware program. Last night when I turned the computer off all was fine. This morning when I turned it on it informed that it was hard disk failure.
In whole or in part, the timing of the too-long-delayed Csatary indictment is undoubtedly a smoke-screen for the spate of international verdicts on Fidesz governance: Venice Commission, UN, LIBE, CoE, US… Yet the worldwide press is choked with Csatary…
Éva, sudden HD failures are rather rare, but they do happen. Have you ever checked at what temperature your HD runs? It shouldn’t be more than 40 degrees centigrade even in summer. Obviously a reliable back-up is a must. I tried a RAID-0 setup for a while, but have changed to an external USB 3.0 2TB Harddisk with a programme that incrementally backs up my 1 TB internal HD every hour. But I also learned the hard way…
However, sometimes the computer will rethink it’s opinion if you just restart it. And always give a computer enough time to start up. (My girlfriend is always too impatient and problems occur which disappear after a leisurely restart.)
I think, what makes Orbán’s system unique is that he managed to establish it in a country where the population experienced some twenty years of (near) democracy – as opposed to Russia just to name one.
The really shocking isn’t Orbán’s personality – there is not much new, only much more of it manifests recently – but the reactions of the people. Or better put, the lack of: they gladly allow to this con-man to rob them dry, then hold their other cheek for more!
I have nothing against the gospels, but its getting rather out of measures, don’t you think?
If you’ve read my stuff, you would’ve certainly found ‘hate’, but I daresay myself, it’s not witless.
But I see I can count you among the Bekemenet types of whom I met a sterling example this past weekend–a middle-aged couple, both teachers to whom I put the question: “Is it more important to be good Hungarians, or good Europeans?” Naturally, they beat their breasts and declared what good Hungarians they were.
“But doesn’t Europe support Hungary with a lot of money?”
And their answer for that….wait for it…was this: “Well, why not?
They OWE us! After all, we stopped the Turks!”
Now, try bending that kind of thinking around to sanity…
@Minusio, unfortunately with the kind of computer I have sudden crash can occur without any forewarning. By the way, if anything it is cold here. I have long pants and pullover on. I followed your advice and tried to reboot. No luck! The new computer is on its way. Apparently it will be here Friday and then at least two days for setting it up.
I just backed up the whole system on Sunday, including e-mails and all the documents. I also have an external drive that seems to work quite well..
Eva, we all wish you luck! Hope you haven’t lost any important data.
Please keep up the good work! Without HS I might think of leaving Hungary – my wife also is very disappointed with the situation, she often asks: Why don’t we stay in Germany ? Maybe visit the family once a year …
But we have so many friends and I really like Hungary, sigh …
I agree with Minusio, it can happen but mostly with forewarning. If you have a laptop the fan and hard disk are more crucial than with a desk top. The fan is always the first to go. This due to the one way channeling of air, and this will include dust.
Two freeware programs that I find helpful are:
Speedfan (temparature check)
Hard Disk Sentinel (hard disk check)
@ Ron. I once had a small external harddisk (USB 2.0) that gave up from one minute to the other. It wasn’t a head crash or disk-quality deterioation which can normally be monitored and repaired – for a while. It was just that the motor conked out and would create a short-circuit if you tried to make it run again.
For everybody who uses Thunderbird and/or Firefox (Opera is much better) I recommend MozBackup to save your emails, addressbook, settings etc. on a non-system drive (internal or external). It is the first backup system I ever had that really works.
Bálint Magyar as one of the few active opposition leaders during the Kádár regime? Okay, then some facts: let’s not forget that in 1994 he became a traitor and he and his party called SZDSZ betrayed his own mission and turned 180° and slept together with MSZP. Maybe you are all too young or read too much blogs of hate on the internet and you do not remember that MSZP is the child of MSZMP, they just RENAMED their marxist-leninst party (that ruled Hungary during Kádár’s regime) on their last congress.
Take a minute to think about these historical facts before you swallow the hateful words of this fallen politician.
On the last election the SZDSZ mafia finally got discarded from the Parliament for good. Their free robbery and together with MSZP has ended so i understand that these people are angry now because they lost their power and they do everything to spread thir only weapon: the precious hate and lies. Good to see that this kind of neverending hate propaganda works less and less.
And here Eva is my two-penneth! If it’s not the power problem – then it could be a read problem.
Sticking the cpu into the freezer for a couple of hours sometimes gives the fine tolerances that make the difference between a read or mis-read.
And may buy you time to check you really do have all the files!
you can remove the drive and put that in, of course!
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