Today I will finish my summary of the lengthy interview with Bálint Magyar about the nature of the post-communist mafia state developed by Viktor Orbán in the last three years. After Magyar described its characteristics, the interviewer, Eszter Rádai, inquired about the unusual unity in the Fidesz political elite. There are no splinter groups, there are no dissenters. But, as Magyar emphasized, there is nothing terribly surprising about that. After all, in traditional mafia families there is only one thing members of the group cannot tolerate: disloyalty. It is the same with the mafia state. Once a person is inside the charmed circle, getting out is extremely difficult because punishment can be severe. Not only would he experience a loss of privileges and almost limitless possibilities for achieving a comfortable life for himself and his family, but other dangers might be in store for him. Like being accused of illegal activities and finding himself in jail.
Although there are expressions of regret over the high rate of emigration, in fact the current political power doesn’t really mind the departure of certain people whom they consider to be troublemakers. Without them the system is more stable.
As for the poor and the downtrodden, what will happen to them? Clearly, said Magyar, the “upperworld” doesn’t care about them. “After all, they don’t vote.” On the other hand, there is an ever-growing well-to-do stratum that is the winner of the regime. Then there is another rather large group of people who are worried about their jobs: teachers, doctors, civil servants. They are unlikely to turn against the regime because they depend entirely on the goodwill of the state. Even small entrepreneurs who depend on large corporations must fall in line.
Chances for the preservation of the mafia state are pretty good because it is an admissive system. Therefore, those who think that a victory by the anti-Fidesz forces might be more likely in 2018 than in 2014 are wrong. Moreover, that kind of talk harms the prospects of winning the elections next year. Those who don’t want to live in a mafia state must organize themselves.
Some people might accuse Bálint Magyar of creating a conspiracy theory, but in 2001 when he first wrote his article on the political “upperworld” he simply described what he saw and since then he hasn’t had any reason to change his mind. Those who don’t want to accept this mafia state must first be able to understand the nature of the regime. “If we are unable to do so, our lot will not only be a lack of freedom but we will also be the objects of ridicule. And that would be unworthy of us.”
Éva, this “trilogy” by Bálint Magyar was more than worth it.
I see one contradiction (or is it some unclarity?), though. “Chances for the preservation of the mafia state are pretty good because it is an admissive system. Therefore, those who think that a victory by the anti-Fidesz forces might be more likely in 2018 than in 2014 are wrong.” But perhaps we mean the same. I have a bet going over a very good bottle of wine that Orbán will still be in power in 2018.
Orbán said he wants to stay 10-20 years. Never mind elections – if there are any: He will. Unless, of course, he hits the same fate as the great Spanish artist Gaudí who – stepping backwards into the street to admire one of his great works in Barcelona (a palazzo) – was run over by a tramway…
Will the conservative Hungarian class agree with it? Hardly.
They are filled pain, and they are not ready to admit any errors of their political heroes, Istvan Tisza, Istvan Bethlen, and now Orban.
Orban is a cockoo in the nest of conservatism. A convert. A former KISZ secretary, from a famuly with red party book.
Even so, warmly welcome, because he is so respectful to the Horthy-Prohaszka era.
The conservative Hungarians are nurturing a sick philosophy of death.
We did not get a purge of the Kadar officials, and worse, the surviving Csatarys flocked back from the exile to their homes in Hungary after 1989.
God save us from them.
It might be helpful if someone with sufficient insight would fill in the mafia organisational diagram with the appropriate names of the Fidesz mafiosi.
Very interesting but also very depressing analysis!
Please don’t compare Gaudi (one of my favourites …) with Orbán or any of his henchmen! But of course, accidents can and will happen.
Great idea. Perhaps Mutt. He is good at such things
@ wolfi. Gaudí is also one of my favourites, by all means. I only wanted to point out what can happen if you step back inadvertently to marvel at your own work…
I partly disagree.
The basis of this Fidesz mafia is not the vertical hierarhy, important though it is, but the horizontal one: Orbán, Áder, Handó, Polt, the Constitutional Court Judges, the head of the media authority, the head of the election board, SImicska and Nyerges (Nyerges is from Szolnok where Orbán’s wife, a fellow Bibo college member, comes from,she is part of the orgaisnation, not just a simple wife) with the “finance aspects” etc.
This power front, the core of which is made up of almost childhood best friends (these people got into Bibó college when they were 18-19 and now they are 50-51) is impossible to break from the outside.
It is the strongest unity of such powerful people anywhere in Europe, perhaps in the world. Surely there were more disagreement and competition among Kadar-era power figures.
Sure, there is a hierarchy amongst these people as well (Orbán is still the undisputed head), but the fact is that they all manage and control their own hierarchies mean that they control the essential orgnasitaions of the state, especailly those which are important to the functioning of the “rule of law”.
I agree with those who say that until these people retire or die out, there is no way a normal Western-oriented state can be built or that they could be defeated for a longer term (i.e. if MSZP won in 2014 this power front would shred the government into pieces in two years especially as Mesterházy would act also dictatorially under pressure like Orbán, like Obama does the same things like W did, or more).
These people essentially sacrificed their life to serve Orbán and his vision whatever it is (it is now that of a small town boss) and they can only value themselves in this realm. They have no separate or individual identity neitheir politically nor personally outside the Orbán/Fidesz realm (they have no friends outside of these small group, there are hangers-on, but not real friends they can really trust).
The battle of Treasure Island (In German)
Thank you. A brilliant article. It just underlines that, against all the odds, the standard of liberal journalism is still very high in Hungary (is there a sense that the govt is somehow afraid to invoke the full extent of the draconian ‘new’ media law?).
It would be good to read a similarly thorough analysis of the complete failure of SZDSZ. I remember attending their ‘liberal discussion tent’ on Deak Ter in the summer of 2007. At most there were only ever four or five other people there, though a considerable amount had clearly been invested in decor, full bar, PA etc. I recall putting our addresses in their tombola, as people who wanted to join up. We never heard another word, which is clearly absurd. Koka has to be one of the most disastrous leaders of any liberal party anywhere ever. It’s quite tragic that due to his mismanagement Hungary is now one of the very few ‘democracies’ that doesn’t actually have a liberal party (the poorly supported GyDK aside).
Those were important days. The new fascist paramilitaries had just hit the streets, there was teargas in the air, anti-Roma sentiment was at a murderous high. But there was an utter failure of imagination and common sense amongst reasonable folk.
@Szabi: “It is the strongest unity of such powerful people anywhere in Europe, perhaps in the world.”
Maybe. But I think the Osborne-Johnson-Cameron-Etc Tory-Oxford-Eton mafia in Britain , presently, is comparable. They will almost certainly be gone in a couple of years, though they will also almost certainly be back after a few years break massaging their business interests. Perhaps what makes Hungary unique is the daily massaging of business interests through blatant official government policy
Indeed it would be hepful, for up to this point I’m rather sceptical of the whole demonstration.
As far as I know a mafia-like system is based on allegiances, tributes (both from ‘civilians’ and mafia members) and redistribution of business from top to bottom. Surely, a few facts have been mentioned in the last three blog posts that seem to fit this canvas, but in my opinion there’s a lack of global perspective and, most of all, a lack of appreciation of the economic weight of all this.
Moreover, I tend to think that an efficient political financing/corruption system doesn’t affect only one side of the aisle, usually some spoils are left for the opposition party(ies)…
I find it depressing that in 2013, with the internet presenting an open window to the world…dictators of the stripe of Putin and Orban can still rely on the old-line media of television and print to control their respective citizenry; and thus, quite similarly, their early moves were to secure control of those two fields.
GW. Politics is politics, even in Hungary or especially in Hungary. Show me a country where it is not so. In the US, politics and business are inherently intertwined. In Hungary all of that corruption is still somewhat rough, not as sophisticated as elsewhere. Look at Obama, a great democrat, defending universal spying on every one. I rest my case. You are all not very objective, with Eva leading the way.
Joe Simon, you’re using an argument that I would never accept from a child. If an action is mistaken or wrong, the excuse that others have done it as well is not an acceptable excuse. Our interest here is not that Hungary be as badly run as another country, but that it gets better. Or do you really hate Hungary so much that you accept, indeed support, the mediocrity, mismanagement, and kleptocracy that we now see on an unprecedented scale? Do you really accept the fact that the government made it impossible for me or you to donate to the Red Cross during the recent flooding and instead channeled the donated funds to non-transparent accounts?
I will go further, and bet a good bottle of wine that Orban keeps his 2/3 majority in Parliament in 2014.
Barring a disaster on the scale of an alien invasion, there is no way the current opposition can dislodge the Dear Leader in 2014 — especially given the nature of the new electoral system. The opposition simply has not organized well enough. They seem to think that voters are eager to support a bunch of intellectual/economic elites who don’t offer anything attractive. “Liberal democracy” is not attractive to the average Hungarian voter.
One of Orban’s key secrets to popularity is his hidden message: “I am going to create a mafia-style system that’s going to make me and my buddies rich. And as for you… I kinda like you. Ya know what? I’m going to give you a cut. Yessirree, don’t you worry one bit. You just cast your votes for me and I’ll cut you in. You’ll be gorging yourself on the finest szalonna and hazi palinka until the day you die.” THIS IS THE KIND OF MESSAGE HUNGARIANS RESPOND TO!!!!
Today in Élet és Irodalom Dr. Király is astonished that not one of the speakers of government or Fidesz have anything to say about this excellent interview of Bálint Magyar.
So from now on one can say Hungary is a mafia state.
No. As the saying goes, “The eagle does not catch flies.”
Who cares for an anti-Hungarian, a hasbeen “politician”, whose luckily already non-existent party SZDSZ was always widely regarded as the most corrupt party in Hungary since the regime change?
Since when is the fox an independent counselor for protecting rabbits?
The analysis of Mr Magyar has a bit of a conspiracy theory. In particular the part that it all has worked out so smoothly! All comments made by Ivan on these three parts contain points that should be considered also when thinking about the current state of Hungary. Mafia state is really awe-inspiring! But these post Communist networks have been active in all ex-Communist countries including Poland, so the question is why it has been possible for this specific group to take hostage of the whole country and experience so little resistance. Certainly a very attractive explanation is that OV is so exceptionally clever (“incomprehensible for the rest of the world!!”). It is however also possible that the other parties have been unable to put Hungary on a path towards a modern democratic state without constant austerity pressures owing to social spending AND spending for party and personal interests of the political class. Just as Ivan reminded us. Then it gets difficult to mobilise the broad public in opposition to the ‘Mafia’ activities, if people cannot even imagine that another, cleaner political sphere is possible in Hungarian circumstances. At least equally important as the specifics of the Orban network is the current fatalism of Hungarians, the still quite substantial willingness to swallow what is being done by Fidesz in the name of some national duty, the belief on the part of critics of OV that he is ‘much more clever than foreigners can imagine’, and also the missing interest to work on an alternative idea what Hungary should be about.
Re admissive system. My understanding is that the mafia will welcome anyone who is ready to join and therefore the ranks may be growing attracting more and more followers.
Yes, agreed. There is a special catch, though: You can’t leave the “Godfather’s family” without the danger of losing your existence or even your life.
To join the ranks of the mafia in Sicily a person firstly has to carry out a given extreme act in order to prove their loyalty. This is what made infiltration so difficult for so long – whistleblowers were themselves highly guilty and involved in what they were informing on. State immunity and personal courage were good weapons against this in the long term. The very long term.
@ Ivan. True, too. But the “Godfather” system seems to be able to exist without these extremes in Hungary.
Dozens agree here with this analysis, you may have noticed it. So we are all anti-Hungarian, ex-SZDSZ, corrupt hasbeens? Is this how eagles argue Johnny?
An eagle with and ‘eye-patch’…maybe two.
It fascinates me to no end that these defenders of the status quo revel in the main talent of Hungarians–‘gyulolet’, ie. hatred. Give them a chance to shit on someone or something and they’ll take no end of satisfaction from it.
Of course, they are somewhat dim: they’ve yet to realize that the joke is on THEM…as the powers that be turns 9,000, 000 citizens into 9,000,000 slaves.
There will be wailing and beating of breasts as these people will finally come to realize that they’ve been ‘had’…in a big way.
Of course Johnny Boy meant to say, that only those are Hungarians, who like Orbán & Co came out of the belly of the Turul. Those who critizise the mafia are all anti-Hungarians.
Karl, I am sorry, but you don’t get it. Fidesz does not do “fringe media”; dealing with ÉS and Magyar would legitimize ÉS as an important outlet and Magyar as a important person in politics, worthy of Fidesz’ attention.
I doubt that anybody within Fidesz took the effort to read Magyar (or read ÉS in general), I believe if his name comes up, it is an occasion for a hearty lough.
Fideszniks know exactly – and you should know it was well and never forget it – that whatever is written in ÉS and HVG and Magyar Narancs will not reach more than 50-100 thousand people in aggregate (these papers have the same readers and such readers would never vote for Fidesz anyway) and as such it is completely irrelevant what is written in them.
See, even if you have a recorded convesartion like in the case of Szekszárd tobacco licenses, the story dies, nothing changes — Fidesz owns and controls Hungarian media like noone else, except for Puting and Lukashenko. Why? For a host of reasons, but including the impotence and visionlessness of the Hungarian left.
For those who read Hungarian, I suggest reading Péter Tölgyessy’s long analysis in Origo.I think he has a pretty good picture of both the Hungarian right and the left.
In Italy the mafia at least the N’Drangetha and the Camorra are stronger than ever. They are extremely smart and provide and alternative state and structure against modernity (that is as modernity affects the South). So don’t count on Fidesz’s destruction until its leaders are there, who would literally die for each other. Loyalty is such among them, that you could not possibly imagine it.
So far there has been no bidders on my suggestion that somebody who know more about the personalities involved than I do should add appropriate names from the Fidesez circle into the standard mafia diagram shown in the post. I did not mean it as a stunt but as a way to probe whether there is a similarity between the power structure of the Fidesz government and the power structure of an Italian mafia family. In other words: Is the Hungarian government a typical mafia or is it something else? An innovation?
Szabi (comment #7) has addressed the question I was aiming at. He/she thinks that the structure of the Fidesz clique is horizontal, not a vertical hierarchy. It would be interesting to see a graphic representation of his/her view.
I tend to believe that historical bonds between the members of the Fidesz clique, as describes by Szabi, should not be confused with the power structure. Nothing else than a hierarchical power structure will work. Although my knowledge of personalities is limited I shall attempt to put in names in the standard mafia diagram. The boss is Orbán and the consigliere is Simicska. I do not know who the underboss is but the caporegime boxes (more than three) should be filled in with the names of those who control the “soldiers“, i.e. Áder (presidential guard), Kövér (parliamentary guard), NN (TEK), NN2 (The Fidesz judges), NN3 (The freedom marchers), NN4 (The government media), NN5 (The Fidesz clergy) and so on. If I am right the Fidesz power structure is not an innovation.
An alternative worth considering: Simicska is the boss and Orbán is the underboss.
@ Jean P. I think you come pretty close to an organisational chart for the Fidesz mafia. And I also agree that this is not a lean horizontal organisation, but a ruling clique with Orbán as godfather and a very strictly controlled vertical power structure.
Slightly OT: I just read an article about the coming elections in Albania. The lack of political culture, the degree of corruption and nepotism all seem to be very similar to those of Hungary. Only the history of how both countries came to this point is a little different.
Antoni Gaudí’s accident happened when, in poor health and exhausted by troublesome client’s and the constant pressure of raising money for his masterpiece, he was returning from church.
He was the last person to ‘admire’ his work.
He was so unrecognised – that he lay in a poor hospital, believed to be an itinerant, for some time before he was identified and an appropriate funeral arranged. (He was living in his unconsecrated cathedral with few basic facilities – which btw was not started by him; he took over the ‘design’.)
Having had so much trouble with previous clients and commissions he was asked when his cathedral would be finished. He replied “My client is in no hurry”.
And of course we all know the cathedral is still unfinished (the tram ran him over in 1926) because its progress is dependent on visitors’ entrance fees and donations – a ‘tradition’ insisted upon by Gaudi.
So some of the cathedral is now ‘Virtual Gaudi’.
The contrast with Orban could not be starker.
Magyar’s article grabbed the essence of how the Orban’s mafia-state can work without any hitches, and moreover it also cast light on how a handful, previously Orbán-grouped university students of jurisprudence were and are capable of misuse their expertise against all of the major social interests of the Hungarian society. Certainly I am not the only one who is convinced that all of the Europeans should learn the lessons from this sorrowful and unprecedented social derailing of our modern era.
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