István Hegedűs: “Mafia state and the party”

One of the readers of Hungarian Spectrum suggested that we should discuss István Hegedűs’s article in Élet  és Irodalom which also deals with the Bálint Magyar thesis of the post-communist mafia state. First a few words about István Hegedűs. As opposed to Bálint Magyar and Gábor Horn, Hegedűs was one of the leading members of Fidesz prior to 1993, when he and others became disillusioned with the direction in which Viktor Orbán and László Kövér were leading the party. Some of the more important “dissidents” besides Hegedűs were Gábor Fodor, Klára Ungár, Péter Molnár, and Zsuzsanna Szelényi. At that time only Gábor Fodor continued a political career (in SZDSZ) while the others abandoned politics altogether. In the last few weeks, however, Zsuzsanna Szelényi has reappeared in Együtt 2014-PM as a spokesperson on matters of education. Hegedűs is a sociologist with a long list of publications, some of which are available in English. He is especially interested in the media, political parties, and the European Union. He teaches at École Supérieure des Sciences Commerciales d’Angers (ESSCA)’s English-language division in Budapest. In 2001 these five dissidents wrote a fairly lengthy book about the early years of Fidesz. I started rereading it this afternoon and came to the conclusion that it is perhaps even more valuable today than it was twelve years ago. After all, since then we have found out a great deal about the Fidesz leadership and the mechanics of the party’s inner workings. So, what does Hegedűs think of Bálint Magyar’s thesis? As opposed to Gábor Horn, he considers Magyar’s “conception a systematically elucidated, comprehensive and convincing construction.” However, Hegedűs points out that there are many other observable characteristics that cannot be explained solely by the mafia-state mentality. The mafia-state might be a perfect description in the economic sphere but not necessarily in the political realm. Age-old concepts like one-man leadership, a system of political clientele, interpenetration of party and state, plunder, populism, nationalism, and authoritarian worldview are all still present in Orbán’s system. One can also contemplate to what extent Orbán’s Hungary is really the result of  the “dear leader’s” personality. Hegedűs, as opposed to Magyar, concentrates more on ideology and politics as opposed to societal organization by mafia-like methods and finds the Fidesz regime’s political philosophy “barren.” Hegedűs points out that “behind the two-thirds majority there is no new vision despite the transcendent phraseology of the constitution.” The rhetoric of anti-communism, anti-liberalism, growing anti-European sentiments, nationalism, and the opponent-enemy linkage is nothing new in Fidesz political discourse. Unfortunately, this rhetoric kindles only a negative identity, although Hegedűs admits that turning to ultra-conservative ideas might promote cohesion within the group. Fidesz’s emphasis on strengthening the middle classes is not new either. MDF also based its politics on the idea. Yet Hegedűs is convinced that in addition to the “inner motivation of missionary zeal” one must take into account the role of ideology, “This inner driving force cannot be seen from the outside … because individual political groupings live in their own alternative reality and they judge or condemn the aspirations of their opponents exclusively on moral grounds.”

Source: oneline.wsj.com

Source: oneline.wsj.com

Hegedűs was once part of the Fidesz party elite. He assumes that at the very top there are still most likely mechanisms that allow members of the inner circle to disagree and to think independently, but only within the framework of certain axioms that cannot be questioned. It is most likely very difficult to find one’s way in the jungle of intrigue, infighting, favoritism, compromise, and alliances that any leader faces. That is why “a pragmatic, completely mafia-like regime … is not as clear-cut inside a party or a political organization” as in businesses dealing of the party. What further complicates any assessment of the workings of the party leadership is the arrival of newcomers who are not party members and whose only connection to Fidesz is Viktor Orbán. Infiltration from the outside began already in the early 1990s but became massive with the arrival of members of the political cells (polgári körök) created by Viktor Orbán after the 2002 lost elections. Yet Hegedűs claims that the workings of the Fidesz top leadership most likely haven’t changed fundamentally since the early 1990s, which eventually led to the split between followers of Viktor Orbán and Gábor Fodor. Even my superficial reading of bits and pieces of the participants’ remembrances of that split in 1993 reinforces the notion that Viktor Orbán, László Kövér and Zsolt Németh didn’t change as much in the intervening years as outsiders think. I tend to agree with István Hegedűs, who says that “as far as the methods of inner power relations are concerned, we don’t know of any such changes that would distinguish the present time from the situation of 1993-1994 when Orbán and his close associates turned to the right.”

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22 comments

  1. Csak a pontosság kedvéért: Ungár és Molnár, Fodorhoz hasonlóan, az SZDSZ-ben folytatta a politizálást miután otthagyták a Fideszt. Hegedüs és Szelényi valóban nem léptek be az SZDSZbe, de ők csak egy évvel később, a 94-es válásztás után hagyták ott a Fideszt. A 94-es választáson még indultak a Fidesz listáján, noha nagyon hátul, mert Orbán meg akart tőlük szabadulni, és nem is kerültek be a parlamentbe. (Emlékezzünk, hogy akkor a Fidesz is felülről súrolta az 5 %-os küszöböt.)

  2. Akos Rona-Tas :
    Csak a pontosság kedvéért: Ungár és Molnár, Fodorhoz hasonlóan, az SZDSZ-ben folytatta a politizálást miután otthagyták a Fideszt. Hegedüs és Szelényi valóban nem léptek be az SZDSZbe, de ők csak egy évvel később, a 94-es válásztás után hagyták ott a Fideszt. A 94-es választáson még indultak a Fidesz listáján, noha nagyon hátul, mert Orbán meg akart tőlük szabadulni, és nem is kerültek be a parlamentbe. (Emlékezzünk, hogy akkor a Fidesz is felülről súrolta az 5 %-os küszöböt.)

    Que?

  3. Akos Rona-Tas :
    Csak a pontosság kedvéért: Ungár és Molnár, Fodorhoz hasonlóan, az SZDSZ-ben folytatta a politizálást miután otthagyták a Fideszt. Hegedüs és Szelényi valóban nem léptek be az SZDSZbe, de ők csak egy évvel később, a 94-es válásztás után hagyták ott a Fideszt. A 94-es választáson még indultak a Fidesz listáján, noha nagyon hátul, mert Orbán meg akart tőlük szabadulni, és nem is kerültek be a parlamentbe. (Emlékezzünk, hogy akkor a Fidesz is felülről súrolta az 5 %-os küszöböt.)

    English, please…

  4. Magyar Bálint, whatever his credentials are, wrote his article as a kind of pundit.

    Hegedűs “Hege” István criticized Magyar’s findings from the point of view of political science which operates with certain conceptions and categories which Magyar did not use and does not know of probably. I think Hege’s article was just a reminder in that sense.

    In addition, István Hegedűs still knows a lot about Fidesz first hand. He knows the top people personally (even if I guess he does not meet them) but certainly a lot of mid-ranking people, so at least from second hand he has up to date information about the very top. That is true even though Hege left Fidesz almost 20 years ago, but the top and in many ways the middle has not changed that much in two decades — and likely will not in the foreseeable future. As a result, Hege is much better informed about the inner workings of Fidesz than Magyar can ever be: Magyar has no history with Fidesz and SZDSZ people have long been simply shut out from any information from inside Fidesz — SZDSZ being the main enemy of Fidesz. And that was, among other important reasons, because Fidesz could always deal with MSZP and deal with them successfully (so that MSZP often never even realized its loss), but SZDSZ always made Fidesz’s life difficult.

    Fidesz, being an extremely complex power/social structure, cannot be described simply in any article, it cannot be comprehended through formulas, like Magyar’s neat analogy. It is too complex for that, it almost defies any linguistic reduction.

    I was kinda reminded by Mikhail Friedman’s, a Russian arch-oligarch’s statement in the wake of the BP-TNK-Rosneft maneuvers: “No foreign company can possibly understand Russian politics, it’s too complicated.”. Similarly, to understand Fidesz you almost have to be a politician working for Fidesz (for decades), but then you cannot really explain it, because by definition Fidesz’ politicians are selected for loyalty (not talking to outsiders) and cannot see Fidesz, that is actually themselves as subjects of any description.

    Hege, given his history and situation, is on the borderline who can still talk about Fidesz meaningfully, Magyar may unfortunately only remain an outsider (that said, I agree that the mafia analogy has merits for everyday use). Also Prof. Balogh can successfully talk about Hungary as she is bicultural, but I guess no foreigner (certainly no politician) can ever really understand what’s happening in Hungary. Though this blog will surely help them.

  5. Vladi: “I guess no foreigner (certainly no politician) can ever really understand what’s happening in Hungary.”

    Neither can the Hungarians.

  6. Akos Rona-Tas :
    Csak a pontosság kedvéért: Ungár és Molnár, Fodorhoz hasonlóan, az SZDSZ-ben folytatta a politizálást miután otthagyták a Fideszt. Hegedüs és Szelényi valóban nem léptek be az SZDSZbe, de ők csak egy évvel később, a 94-es válásztás után hagyták ott a Fideszt. A 94-es választáson még indultak a Fidesz listáján, noha nagyon hátul, mert Orbán meg akart tőlük szabadulni, és nem is kerültek be a parlamentbe. (Emlékezzünk, hogy akkor a Fidesz is felülről súrolta az 5 %-os küszöböt.)

    A quick translation for those poor souls who do not read Hungarian:
    “For the sake of accuracy, Ungár and Molnár, like Fodor, carried on their politics in SZDSZ, after leaving Fidesz. Hegedüs and Szelényi didn’t actually enter SZDSZ, they only left Fidesz after the 94 elections. They actually were on the Fidesz lists in the 94 elections, but way down as Orbán wanted to get rid of them and they didn’t get into parliament then. (Remeber that in those days Fidesz barely cleared the 5% for getting into parliament.)”

  7. Jean P :
    Vladi: “I guess no foreigner (certainly no politician) can ever really understand what’s happening in Hungary.”
    Neither can the Hungarians.

    I think that today is another period in the world (Hungary especially) when undwerstanding what happens around you is a lot easier if you are not immediately in it. A certain distance is useful, which is why foreigners occasionally have an insight that Hungarians lack. Mind you, the real asset in grasping historical and political processes is a world view which gives you a handle in dealing with weird happenings. I often said before that Hungarians are on the whole are so full of their own importance that are incapable and unwilling to see that there is nothing new under the sun and a lot, even most of what is happening in Hungary today has already happened before somwhere and sometime in other parts of the world. You need to read history and have an overarching view of history to help you understand. Processes, not minutiae are the key.

  8. Every time this subject comes up I see an obvious effort to define the regime by some new names, or some new methods and all these efforts appear to me as desperate attempts to avoid calling the spade a spade: Orban is building a fascist regime. I have written about this before here to boundless derision. Apart from the derision, nothing convinced me to change my mind, least of all the anemic arguments about the courts being still in business and the ombudsman still riding high. (High, of course, became lately a very relative term.)
    So let me point you, my dear friends and collegues, not to say comrades, to my related article in the KMH (Kanadai Magyar Hirlap: http://kanadaihirlap.com/2013/03/21/fasiszta-e-az-orban-kormany/), or to the actual source of my conviction, Emilio Gentile’s list of criteria; how to build a fascist state. (http://www.oslo2000.uio.no/program/papers/s12/s12-gentile.pdf)
    And before the poo-pooing rolls in let me agree hastily with he last sentence of JGrant’s admonishment above: it is the process that goes on relentlessly, and not the state of affairs at the moment, that matters.

  9. The “outsider” should be listened to, or a kind of siege mentality takes over – the silencing of the outsider, the superiority of those supposedly in the know. Uniquely in Hungary, due to a combination of linguistic isolation (which can also be a cultural glory!) and a carefully misguided drip-feed of “information” that preys on ignorance from the national media, the outside view-point is shunned and dismissed.

    On this “national day” Hungarians should be urged to remember that “The Greatest Hungarian”, Istvan Szechenyi, transformed his country economically, industrially and culturally after formative years researching in England. He wasn’t afraid to take wholesale influence from abroad, so why are his descendants so unwilling to listen to outside norms?

    In my experience, it is outsiders who have lived in Hungary for a number of years who really do understand, analytically and emotionally, why things are as they are, and how they have come to pass as they have since about 2002. But they won’t be listened to; that’s the fundamental of the new discourse – dissent will not be engaged with.

    Just a look at this blog reveals the remarkable agreement amongst foreigners living in Hungary as to what has happened. Paul, Jean, Charlie, Wolfi – and many others – might disagree in the style of their presentations, but their essential understanding is incisive, clear and shared. They understand Hungary. They are not enemies of Hungary. Quite the opposite. They have a strong attachment to Hungary and are aghast at what is happening.

    And the situation is actually much simpler than political analysts might try and make out: an ill-informed, though often highly educated, electorate, have been wilfully misled (often under the guise of spurious nationalism) in all the key areas of their lives, for the enrichment of the few. Only those who have travelled and returned, in my experience, have the tools to question anything like, for example, the insanely unfair Hungarian tax system, or the sidelining of culture. But the returners are few, and though they may have replicated Count Szechenyi’s travels and thoughts, they have neither platform, power, inclination nor energy to inform everyone else.

    So, IMHO Fidesz supporters are not to blame for this state of affairs (though Jobbik supporters have much less excuse, given the openly expressed emphasis on ‘bloodline’ and ‘xenophobia’ of that ‘party’). But their contemptuous leaders/gurus most emphatically ARE.

  10. tappanch :
    International money laundering, legalized by Fidesz is about to start.
    The law cannot be changed without a 2/3 super majority in Parliament.
    http://www.penzcentrum.hu/ongondoskodas/indul_az_allami_penzmosoda_teljes_inkognito_a_gazdagoknak.1037423.html

    WTF? (Excuse my French.) I can’t believe the EU will agree wit this. I guess Orban had to “legalize” the millions made by his troopers and his family. With an option like this, there is no way that you can legally go after anyone for tax evasion. If it is legally allowed to “invest” your illegal money, then it is not illegal any more, is it?

  11. Abou the blog entries an articles on Orban’s psyche.. We can guess, and analyze him as much as we want, but honestly, what is the point? As Steve Martin said “Mathematicians say Pi rounds off to 3.14159265359. But what’s your opinion?”
    The last thing I want that when the time comes Orban will not be persecuted as he is not criminally responsible because of a mental disorder. Smart or stupid, calculative or not, and whatever his reasons are, he and those who surround him, and allow this man run free why taking advantage of the situation should be prosecuted.
    I hope the EU is working in overtime to figure out how a new government go to the courts of the EU to throw out all the crap this madman and his buddies embedded, and remove all the phoney, unqualified people from all the jobs and position whose only real “value” is to carry on the nightmare of Orban.

  12. Some1 :

    tappanch :
    International money laundering, legalized by Fidesz is about to start.
    The law cannot be changed without a 2/3 super majority in Parliament.
    http://www.penzcentrum.hu/ongondoskodas/indul_az_allami_penzmosoda_teljes_inkognito_a_gazdagoknak.1037423.html

    WTF? (Excuse my French.) I can’t believe the EU will agree wit this. I guess Orban had to “legalize” the millions made by his troopers and his family. With an option like this, there is no way that you can legally go after anyone for tax evasion. If it is legally allowed to “invest” your illegal money, then it is not illegal any more, is it?

    Not to mention being a conduit for dirty, Russian funds…

  13. tappanch :
    International money laundering, legalized by Fidesz is about to start.
    The law cannot be changed without a 2/3 super majority in Parliament.
    http://www.penzcentrum.hu/ongondoskodas/indul_az_allami_penzmosoda_teljes_inkognito_a_gazdagoknak.1037423.html

    Who’s gonna believe them? Will Gabi Selmeczi (Fidesz spokesperson) promise to protect the accounts, like they protected the private pension founds?

    Small time corruption monies don’t need this. The just need a cash business like a tobacco store.

  14. Mutt :

    tappanch :
    International money laundering, legalized by Fidesz is about to start.
    The law cannot be changed without a 2/3 super majority in Parliament.
    http://www.penzcentrum.hu/ongondoskodas/indul_az_allami_penzmosoda_teljes_inkognito_a_gazdagoknak.1037423.html

    Who’s gonna believe them? Will Gabi Selmeczi (Fidesz spokesperson) promise to protect the accounts, like they protected the private pension founds?

    Yes, Gabriella Slemeczi who in 2002 was arrested in the Budaors TESCO for shoplifting. She stole some kifli (bun like baked good). By the way, Selmeczi was the head of the Pest County Fidesz at the time. No, she did not have to o to jail, like a homeless man for sleeping on the streets of Budapest, and as a reward her career never stopped until she became the Minister of “Pension Protection” (literally translation). Now the thief became the protector of other people’s money, and we all know how did that turned out.

  15. Ivan :
    The “outsider” should be listened to, or a kind of siege mentality takes over – the silencing of the outsider, the superiority of those supposedly in the know. Uniquely in Hungary, due to a combination of linguistic isolation (which can also be a cultural glory!) and a carefully misguided drip-feed of “information” that preys on ignorance from the national media, the outside view-point is shunned and dismissed.
    On this “national day” Hungarians should be urged to remember that “The Greatest Hungarian”, Istvan Szechenyi, transformed his country economically, industrially and culturally after formative years researching in England. He wasn’t afraid to take wholesale influence from abroad, so why are his descendants so unwilling to listen to outside norms?
    In my experience, it is outsiders who have lived in Hungary for a number of years who really do understand, analytically and emotionally, why things are as they are, and how they have come to pass as they have since about 2002. But they won’t be listened to; that’s the fundamental of the new discourse – dissent will not be engaged with.
    Just a look at this blog reveals the remarkable agreement amongst foreigners living in Hungary as to what has happened. Paul, Jean, Charlie, Wolfi – and many others – might disagree in the style of their presentations, but their essential understanding is incisive, clear and shared. They understand Hungary. They are not enemies of Hungary. Quite the opposite. They have a strong attachment to Hungary and are aghast at what is happening.
    And the situation is actually much simpler than political analysts might try and make out: an ill-informed, though often highly educated, electorate, have been wilfully misled (often under the guise of spurious nationalism) in all the key areas of their lives, for the enrichment of the few. Only those who have travelled and returned, in my experience, have the tools to question anything like, for example, the insanely unfair Hungarian tax system, or the sidelining of culture. But the returners are few, and though they may have replicated Count Szechenyi’s travels and thoughts, they have neither platform, power, inclination nor energy to inform everyone else.
    So, IMHO Fidesz supporters are not to blame for this state of affairs (though Jobbik supporters have much less excuse, given the openly expressed emphasis on ‘bloodline’ and ‘xenophobia’ of that ‘party’). But their contemptuous leaders/gurus most emphatically ARE.

    Spot on. I’ve had this ‘outsiders don’t know what’s really going on’ nonsense for years.

    Even the most casual glance at history will reveal that insiders NEVER actually know what’s going on. Outsiders have more information, less built-in bias, and a much better perspective.

    One of my golden rules when things are happening at home is to read/watch the news from outside sources to get their take on things. No matter how up to date you are, or politically aware, It’s never quite what you thought was going on.

  16. Orban shook hands with a fan in Szekesfehervar today. The lady said that she would not wash hands for at least a week.

    A commenter remarked that s/he would count her/his fingers first 🙂 after a handshake with Orban, then would disinfect her/his arm up to the elbow.

    “…Orbán odébb lépett, s már egy hatvanas éveiben járó asszony kezét szorította meg, aki aztán üdvözült mosollyal jelentette ki: Legalább egy hétig nem mosok kezet!”

    Fene tudja, Randacsökött Viktorjánnal való kézfogás után én először is megszámolnám az ujjaimat, utána könyékig fertőtleníteném a kezem.

    http://nol.hu/belfold/orban_szekesfehervaron__unnepnek_latszo_kampany

    ————

    Today Ader appointed Orban’s choice to be the Chief Censor for nine years, without raising any questions, e.g. her nine-year stint with Csurka, the anti-Semite.

  17. @tappanch

    That ‘fan’ is typical of what we’ve been talking about. Typical of millions. There’s an almost religious fervour at work, a crusade of ‘respectability’ and ‘normalis’ and ‘nation’. The ‘fan’ , by the way, may very well not be able to AFFORD the soap before too long. But, anyway, they’re not exactly open to policy debate, I’d imagine. And there’s the problem. Simple.

  18. There is no policy debate in Hungary.

    When I first came here, 12 years ago, one of the things that impressed me was the amount, and sophistication, of political debate. Coming from the UK, where politics was ‘uncool’ and no one was interested in debating anything, this was a wonderful breath of fresh air. But these days, absolutely no one talks about politics, certainly not openly.

    It reminds me in a way of the lack of reaction to the rounding up of the Jews during the war. Everyone knows what’s going on, some people even agree with it, more people simply accept it as inevitable, or possibly even necessary, most people just keep their heads down and pretend nothing is happening.

  19. Tappanch:

    Áder is party of the family, he is also a party commissioner.

    He has exactly the same goals as Schmidt: to serve the system. Period.

    Only his image is that of a “moderate” and he is smarter than Schmidt. He can probably sell that image to many people, not to us.

  20. It is clear from the introduction of András Bozóki to the volume on Fidesz’s first few years that János Áder was one of the three most important leaders of the party beside Orbán and Kövér. He was with these two through thick and thin.

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