An important new book was published the other day in Hungary by Noran Libro: Hungarian Octopus: The Post-Communist Mafia State, ed. Bálint Magyar and Júlia Vásárhelyi. The idea of the Hungarian mafia state should be familiar to readers of this blog. Back in June I gave a detailed description over three consecutive days (June 18-20) of Bálint Magyar’s conceptual framework that describes the nature and functioning of the Orbán regime.
Magyar’s contention is that Viktor Orbán’s Hungary is an entirely new political phenomenon that cannot be compared to the authoritarian Horthy regime of the interwar period or to Mussolini’s corporative state, or even to Putin’s Russia. It functions the way any mafia does, but its job is made easy since “the family” has the power of the state behind it. We cannot combat this new formation unless we fully comprehend its inner workings. Most foreign observers don’t really understand the nature of Orbán’s regime, and therefore European politicians are on the wrong track when dealing with the problems Viktor Orbán creates within the European Union.
The book’s contributors naturally approach their topics from the point of view of Magyar’s theory of the post-communist mafia state. Twenty-two scholars altogether, the cream of Hungary’s intellectual elite, contributed to the volume, which looks at all aspects of the mafia state, from law to economics to culture.
Since I’m planning to write about some of the studies in this volume at a later date, I will not go into details here. I couldn’t even if I wanted to. The book is 426 pages long and Magyar’s introductory essay is about 70 pages. So, instead let me quote the opinions of some of the advance readers. Charles Gati, historian, political scientist, and professor at Johns Hopkins University, is certain that “after this book, the West can never look at Central-Eastern Europe the same way as before.” Imre Vörös, former Supreme Court justice, calls it “a masterpiece cut with the laser blade of a brain surgeon, describing Hungarian society and its conditions at large in the autumn of 2013.” Pál Závada, writer, said that “this volume names the new political predator, the post-communist Hungarian octopus, and the privatized form of the parasite state with an air of linguistic sophistication.” According to Ferenc Pataki, social psychologist, “this volume is more than gripping: it is illuminating.” György Konrád, writer, called the authors of the book “the Budapest School of intellectuals” who “can invigorate thinking in the social sciences.” Mihály Andor, sociologist, described it as “the most important sociology volume of the last two decades.”
I will most likely be unable to write about all the essays in this volume, but let me here give a brief description of its contents. After Bálint Magyar’s introductory essay, the book is divided into four parts. The first deals with the “Systemic Structure of the Mafia State and Its Historical Specificity.” In this part Iván Szelényi writes about the different “capitalisms” that developed after communism in the region. Attila Ara-Kovács in “Prefigurations and Nightmares” compares Viktor Orbán to Silvio Berlusconi, the Kazyński brothers, and Vladimir Putin. Zsolt Pétervári analyzes the network of unlimited power, and finally György Csepeli in “The Mafia State’s Second-Hand Clothes” focuses on earlier attempts at identifying the nature of Orbán’s Hungary.
The second part is devoted to the legal aspects of the mafia state under the title “Legal Government in the Grip of the Octopus.” Four legal scholars–Zoltán Fleck (“Laws of the Mafia State”), Péter Bárándy and István Bihari (“State-Organized Crime”), and Tamás Lattmann (“Europe’s Impotence to Eliminate Deviations of Post-Communist States”)–and a sociologist, Ferenc Krémer (“Private Bodyguards at the Head of Power-Enforcement Bodies”), cover the field.
In the third part eight scholars write about “The Economic and Social Policy of the Mafia State: Mihály Laki, “The Weakness of the Strong,” Károly Attila Soós, “Plundering with Super-Taxation: Revenues, Populism and the Exclusion of ‘Aliens,'” István Csillag, “Mission: Getting Rich,” András Becker, “Orbán Ltd.,” Éva Várhegyi, “Banks in the Mafia State,” Iván Major, “Utility Cost Reductions and Super-Taxation in Networked Sectors,” Pál Juhász, “Historicizing Nonsense in Hungarian Agriculture,” and Balázs Krémer, “Social Picture and Social Politics in the Mafia State.”
And finally in the fourth part we can read about “The Symbolic and Cultural Context of the Mafia State.” This part includes four essays: György Gábor’s “Appropriation of God’s Country,” András Bozóki’s “Family Nest–Culture and Symbolic Political Captivity,” Mária Vásárhelyi’s “Functioning of the Media-Octopus–Brainwashing and Money Laundering,” and finally Márton Kozák’s ” Godfather’s Football.”
Anyone who is interested in the functioning of this monstrous system will find something in which he is particularly interested. But reading the book through gives the whole frightening picture. As Charles Gati suggested, this “pioneering work” should be translated into English and also into German. It should be a reference book for everyone whose work demands a thorough knowledge of Viktor Orbán’s system. Without this knowledge officials, politicians, and scholars will flounder and will arrive at a flawed assessment of the nature of this regime.
So, let us hope that this brilliantly cohesive volume will soon be available to a wider international public. Its translation really is a must because there is the danger that the mafia state dreamed up by Viktor Orbán and his college friends may spread throughout the post-communist world. Such an outcome would be a disaster for Europe.
I am very interested in reading this book. However, an attempt to read the Hungarian version would be laborious at best.
So, I wrote the publisher (http://www.noranlibro.hu) to express my interest in seeing an English language version. I encourage Hungarian Spectrum readers to do the same.
Living on the inside of this growing cancer I have a 1st row seat. One that is too close for the minimum of comfort…
The deceitful politics is serious enough without even considering a potential Eastren-European Domino Effect, something that is unlikely to pass wholesale as most of the other countries are not attracted by the same ‘carrots’. On the other hand the maffia may well spread like wild-fire within the political boundaries of Hungary. The result would be an archaic feudal kingdom led by none other his Highness King Orbán… !!!
Orbán’s vision is as creative as his political program and he knows his people and their weaknesses and makes full use of his creative truthbending reasoning which works on tickling the primal attitudes of a significant percentage of this country’s population.
God Save Hungary and Dump the King !!!
Pete H., I also hope that such translation will be available. I am very curious why this autocratic regime should be so different from all the other autocracies, and also whether this book contains thoughts about why Viktor Orban was so irresistible to the majority even of the Hungarian “elite” in 2010 that warnings were often dismissed as alarmist.
We need to plough through this book – the standard agricultural type is just not goona do it…
Re Kirsten comment No 3: Why different?:
In short because it uses a 2/3 elected majority to turn upside down the accepted status quo (constitutional and political-legal checks and blances) and leads the country by the nose stretching legality to past all previous intellectual limits and playing with power at the expense of the vast population while using clever PR lingo that rallies the population behind it by playing on basic instints inculcated during childhood regarding conservative norms of motherland, home, family, and historical precedents going back hundreds of years practically to the stone-age…
The qucik reply to why some of the “elite” might have mistakently voted for Orban in 2010 is that the socialists did a pityable perfromance (Gyurcsány-Ösződ admittance to their illegal conduct ‘day and night’) and absolutely noone expected Fidesz to take a 2/3 majority as a ticket for wholesale robbery and maffia behavior by a select few.
The essays in the book Magyar Polip are going to seem so convoluted that unless re-presented in simplified intellectual language they will just add to the intellectual fodder that has not allowed the opposition to move from ‘holt-pont’ (point of departure).
You say one word: “haza” (motherland) and you are immediately going to get 1000s of Hungarians rallying behind you. —
But if you say (even in Hungarian) “The Weakness of the Strong,” or “Plundering with Super-Taxation: Revenues, Populism and the Exclusion…’” and you will seee the voters running away from you ‘en masse’.
This is the short version. Good luck reading the 426 pages…
A valid assessment of the structure and functioning of a society is only possible if the value judgments are based on certifiable facts and come from both ends of the political spectrum. The authors of this tome unfortunately only come from the left with preconceived hypotheses.
All societies benefit from objective scrutiny. This book is not one of them.
Kirsten: Great point — Hungary is probably not different at all.
As Istvan Hegedűs called attention to the fact, Bálint Magyar is not a political scientist and from the list of contributor it looks as if only András Bozóki was the only one (at least in the normal, professional sense of the word).
Hungary is probably very much like Serbia, Bulgaria, Russia, Southern-Italy, Ukraine, Liberia, Nigeria, Ethiopia or one could also invoke Hong-Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia etc.
The structures, trends, conditions which are described as regards Hungary do exist almost universally in the so-called low and middle-income countries, only lacking proper language skills, contacts, experience, appropriate education these analysts are unable to connect the dots.
The book may or may not be an important descriptive account, but one doubts that Hungary would be so unique. It may be the strange version of the “Hungarian uniqueness” bias at work or the usual scholarly bias according to which all scholars think that they found something new and unique. Probably not.
@Csaba Z – have you already read it? People on the left can also write with balance, insight and intelligence.
Although I suspect Csaba Z and I might belong to different parts of the political spectrum, he does make a good point. This is not a collection of essays by investigative journalists. The authors are largely intellectuals from the Hungarian left. And worse, some are ex-politicians! Bálint Magyar was part of the very administration whose corruption and incompetence led to Fidesz’s two thirds majority in the first place. So was Bozoki. Csillag was Medgyessy’s minister of economics. That sets alarm bells ringing.
I haven’t read the book, so perhaps Bálint Magyar has explained in his 70 pages how the MSZP and SZDSZ’s corruption was different to the Fidesz corruption. But an objective description of what was going on in Hungary before Fidesz (and indeed before and after the first Fidesz government) is indispensable to put the current regime into context. But these people are hardly the authors to do that.
Also, why isn’t there an essay by someone like Attila Mong, one of the few genuine investigative journalists in Hungary? Or Tamás Bozoki (also of Átlátszó)? I strongly suspect that they would describe the corruption landscape of Hungary in rather different terms to a compromised figure like Bálint Magyar.
We shouldn’t be surprised though: switch on ATV or HirTV and you will find any discussion of political affairs explored in terms of people with largely identical ideologies and views chatting among themselves. It is a tribal approach to current affairs, it infects this blog at times, and is one of the most pernicious of Hungarian diseases.
Come on people…forget about this book…you will only get upset and angry….why don’t you read my recently released book on Amazon.com/kindle: The Gresham Symphony…..my book will make you smile……you will feel free……you will want to love again…please!
HiBoM: “Although I suspect Csaba Z and I might belong to different parts of the political spectrum, he does make a good point. This is not a collection of essays by investigative journalists. The authors are largely intellectuals from the Hungarian left. And worse, some are ex-politicians! Bálint Magyar was part of the very administration whose corruption and incompetence led to Fidesz’s two thirds majority in the first place. So was Bozoki. Csillag was Medgyessy’s minister of economics. That sets alarm bells ringing.”
You seem to mean that these people cannot possibly have any valid observations to relate. They should have kept their mouths shut.
Where are the investigative jounalists that you put your bet on?
Re the wave of four or so comments among the previous by non-leftist leaners above presume that an edited selection of studies require a balanced approach.
A book of studies of various aspects of an issue is entirely and logically at the control of the editors of the volume.
The reader has the option of also buying a book with an emphasis of other points of view if s/he would like another approach to the subject. A book of studies is not an encyclopaedia of options on the topic.
Each approach presented is an intellectual analysis of a particular aspect of an issue. A book such as this makes an effort to present a case for the proposition that is stated in the title.
andy, don’t you find it questionable that this book of essays about one party’s corruption is being edited and introduced by a politician who was a prominent member of the last government which was voted out of power precisely because the electorate perceived it as itself utterly corrupt?
This doesn’t invalidate the contributions and I’m sure there will be much that is of interest. But corruption in Hungary involves tacit backroom deals between the political parties and what is happening now cannot be truly understood without knowing honestly what was happening before 2010. And my worry is that these essays will rather ignore this embarrassing fact.
HiBOM: Having read your comments, I think you are on the very same side on which Csaba Zoltani is, but this is OK.
Corruption surely existed before Fidesz, and granted that explains Fidesz 2/3 at least in part (of course, these days nobody really cares about corruption, people accepted it as part of life, I guess top Fideszniks are loughing like crazy that again it is only the loser MSZP that sucks at everything, like corruption, Fidesz’s popularty is not affected by it at all), but it was of a completely different type and order of magnitude compared to what we have now.
Fidesz’s corruption is thoroughly centralized (sanctioned at the top) and absolutely watertight. It is impossible for anyone who is not a proven loyal Fidesznik to receive any subsidies (whether from the EU, or with respect to land-grants, or trafik-rights, whatever it is). You probably have never worked for companies whose business depends (depended) on state-originated projects, I have.
In addition, the money which the oligarchs (Simicska, Nyerges and their associates) strategically syphon off from the taxpayer’s budget remains firmly with party loyalist such as Orbán himself (through various stróman, naturally) and Simicska. That money is then gets reinvested, but is also used strategically for election and media purposes.
MSZP’s corruption was always ‘petty’ corruption (please don’t tell me that Zulschlag’s HUF 20m is a big amount to a teacher, it is big money, but it cannot be compared to the tens of billions stolen by Fidesz) played between the various factions and was decentralized. It never reached the proportions of these days, when Simicska’s construction business literally receives all major deals worth until now perhaps in aggregate HUF 300 billion. Or one can mention the media/advertisement deals also amounting to tens of billions until now (National Bank of Hungary just announced the biggest public procurement yet, amounting to HUF 6bn, I wonder who will get it, knowing that one of the biggest advertising agency is owned by Simicska and others companies by his friends).
MSZP, in another example of its relative weakness, always let other people (not affiliated with any party) to win mandates (without having to pay kickback), this does not happen. Fidesz is extremely tough and consistent with this.
It is absurd to say that MSZP’s corruption, however wide-spread it was, although the corruption cases before the court seemed to have fizzled out so far (despite Fidesz takover of the courts), can be mentioned on the same page as Fidesz’. It is exactly like saying that Jobbik’s fervent anti-semitism is just as extreme as the liberalism of weekly Élet és Irodalom on the leftist liberal side, that they are each other’s opposite. It is not true.
PistaSzeben, I agree wholeheartedly with your diagnosis of how Fidesz works. I also would agree that the MSZP were not a centralised in their activities. But in terms of the amount of public money being stolen and misappropriated, i don’t think there is much in it. Are you seriously suggesting that when motorways and roads were built prior to 2010, the money was spent honestly????
I would certainly agree that Fidesz’s centralisation makes its corruption a good deal more dangerous. But I think you are quite out of touch with what MSZP were up to.
Just to give you an example to chew upon: consider the renovation of the Budapest Margít Híd. It cost vastly more than was originally estimated. Some of the work was done by Közgép. And the MSZP raised no objections while in office. And Fidesz, despite their public drive to bring the MSZP to justice, amazingly enough never once suggested examining why the Margit bridge restoration cost so much. I don’t think you need to be a genius to guess what was going on in the background. And why I continue to be unimpressed that a book about Fidesz corruption is edited and introduced by a Bálint Magyar, who at best, turned a blind eye to what his coalition partners were up to.
HiBoM: “I haven’t read the book, so perhaps Bálint Magyar has explained in his 70 pages how the MSZP and SZDSZ’s corruption was different to the Fidesz corruption.”
If you had bothered to read my three-part summary of Magyar’s theory you should know in what way this “corruption” is different from the ordinary run-of-the-mill kind. I am astonished at your passing judgment about something you seem to know nothing about.
As for insisting that investigative journalists should write theoretical treatises on the nature of a new political system is truly ridiculous.
I find it also disturbing how you throw accusations around. Like Csillag being minister of economics under Medgyessy and that tells it all. Yes, and what happened? He dismissed him which within a few days sealed Medgyessy’s fate. I assume Csillag told Medgyessy in no uncertain terms what his policies were doing to the economy. Bálint Magyar tried to bring Hungarian education into the modern world. And yes, most of the teachers hated him for it, but the results were good. Hungarian kids did much better on the PISA tests within a few years.
All that crap about political scientists. Come on! I took enough political science courses to know that there is not much to this “science.” . By the way, the political scientist in question only a few months before the election of 2010 was most enthusiastic about the coming of the second Orbán government which will be itself the paradise. So much for his political acumen.
It is hard to be pushed away from the trough….
The issue may not be “who did what to whom” or how hard one group or one individual hit another or how deep a hand went into the till and the goodies extracted from the “kincstár” (the available funds). In the above case, to be valid, you”d have to have a complete economic count of the briberies and misappropriateions by either side.
I have, like everyone else, my own estimate. and list of semi-real and imagined misappropriated funds.
That in itself, a comparison of the embezzled funds, would take many volumes of studies and approximations of calculations. And the results would be dependenet on which side was providing the funds for the very sizable study….
We are not going to find spick-and-span squeaky-clean persons in or around politics and decision-making around here. So there’s not much point in assasinating a thought progression by someone before reading it with a neutral approach.
I do enjoy the Hungarian Spectrum not only for Éva’s thought provoking eidtorial articles but for watching the sling-shot nature of the melee in the courtyard below arter the appearance of these opinion-pieces.
We all take a bit of the action and throw a cow-pie here and there, waiting for the next load of ammunition to arrive from the editorial office.
I do doubt that “Hungarian autocracy” could be “unique” in the world, certainly there will be some specialties but the general system cannot deviate much from what has been documented for other countries also. But of course, it would be best to argue based on the knowledge of the text.
For me this observation of Andy “You say one word: “haza” (motherland) and you are immediately going to get 1000s of Hungarians rallying behind you.” is what has so many unfortunate implications, one very relevant being that there is an unability to think of the Hungarian nation in terms of “internal diversity”. It is just black and white, good or bad, they or us, even if all sides are doing practically the same (being corrupt, believing in Hungarian “uniqueness” even if interpreted in a different manner, being “black and white” at the same time). I think I wrote this hypothesis already a number of times, but this constant fear of losing national uniqueness (if not the entire national existence) by consciously accepting that it could be useful to adopt what other people (nations) have devised is a dead end. Unconsciously it is possible only by claiming that all important ideas were conceived by people who can directly or not be identified as Hungarians. That highly unfortunate element in the self-definition of the Hungarian nation is a stumbling block. Every effort to modernise the country must fail if the very existence of the “nation” is immediately felt to be threatened – because it could contain some “non-unique” element.
As regards the difference between MSzP and Fidesz corruption. The interest should be to have a state that is able to function without corruption. For that those people who are capable of such behaviour must come together, irrespective of political background. Thinking in this regard in terms of left and right cannot get to the essence of the problem. The difference between the more decentralised corruption of MSzP and Fidesz for me reflects the more democratic behaviour of MSzP. But it would still be more helpful to identify people who can work for the public interest without the need for side payments.
Kirsten: “I do doubt that “Hungarian autocracy” could be “unique” in the world, certainly there will be some specialties but the general system cannot deviate much from what has been documented for other countries also. But of course, it would be best to argue based on the knowledge of the text.”
I read the book and I’m convinced. It is unique.
Within reason the political colour is much less important than whether or not there is corruption and whether or not the state treats people fairly.
A left and right debate in Hungary is a waste of time as long as both sides, in their own wily ways, fail the nation through promoting or conniving at corruption.
Eva, I really would need to read the book but in way also the Franco, Salazar, or a more contemporary example Kirchner systems are “unique”. And yet there are common elements, for instance in the opinions and behaviour of the people, which should not be disregarded.
I’m afraid you all misunderstand the essence of the mafia state. It is not just corruption, pure and simple. And it is not just simple autocracy, as Kirsten thinks. Again, go and read again my summary of Magyar’s shorter essay.
But Eva what is “simple” autocracy. It is always a system where many elements come together. There must be a system of governing (the way how those in power relate to each other and to the rest of the public), an economic aspect (some exclusive source of income, dependencies), probably also an international aspect, and additionally (at least) also an aspect of perceptions of politics and society in general. If it were so unique, why do only so few Hungarians excel in it and the others are unable to grasp the system. But I will read the text of Magyar.
It is rather amusing to see Eva`s enthusiasm for this one-sided work. Read Selling US Out by JR Martin or works by P Schweizer treating corruption in the US. Corruption in Hungary is not unique. More importantly, it produces no wide ranging economic impact on the world as US political corruption does.
@Eva Balogh, my argument is that Bálint Magyar is a questionable figure to write about corruption post 2010 since he was part of a corrupt political regime pre-2010. Your response is that he was a good minister of education. Glad that’s cleared up then …
You say it is ridiculous that investigative journalists should contribute to a theoretical discussion of a new political system. Well, the guys at Átlátszó are some guarantee that the starting point for such a discussion has some basis.
Why don’t you ask Attila Mong to write us a guest article, along the lines of “were the MSZP just “petty” crooks?”
I think (and hope) Hungary/Hungarians is/are unique in this respect. Hungary’s history and the culture/attitudes that has helped create make it (and it’s people) quite different from others in Central/Eastern Europe.
HiBoM: ” Bálint Magyar is a questionable figure to write about corruption post 2010 since he was part of a corrupt political regime pre-2010.”
On what grounds do you consider Magyar a corrupt politician? I really would like to see what you can possibly come up with.
There’s always a schmuck comparing elephants and fleas…
Let’s put this in its simplest terms: the difference between American and Hungarian landscape of corruption is that one harbours pockets of corruption and the other is completely corrupt–decent, law-abiding members are quickly marginalized or otherwise neutered. Guess which is which?
Hungarian corruption is all-inclusive: MSZP and Fidesz work, and worked, together. This is generally known. What is different now with Fidesz is the creation of a long-term control of the levers of Power and Finance: if you’re not a member or sycophant of Fidesz, you’re business is as good as dead. Moreover, the supra-legal behaviour of government is unseen and unheard of–Fidesz cares not about models of legality or democracy. They have a ‘better’ way.
What is mind-boggling is that the average Hungarian has so little grounding in true democracy; so little love of ‘rule of law’ as it is internationally understood; so little respect for the proper conduct of a society….that a few hot-button terms like “NATION”, “FATHERLAND”, “CHRISTIAN HUNGARY”…is enough to dump the learning and experience of 2500 years of Western Civilization and follow blindly. It’s really quite disgusting.
@Kirsten, Eva: I haven’t read the book, either, but the “uniqueness” of the Hungarian mafia state seems to be a sweeping generalization to me, too. In most autocracies corruption is rampant and ingrained in the regime (for the little I know about dictatorships in Africa, for example). It is also not unheard of that the mob gains controlling influence over the government (some examples in Latin American countries). If anything, I see it as a variation on a theme. Maybe the systematicity and the speed with which such system is being built in Hungary is unique.
Also, more than in the case of other dictatorships, keeping certain democratic appearances are very important, being part of EU…. hence the convoluted and flood-like nature of the new legislation. And this is why law should support the robbery that’s going on to this extent because Fidesz wants to keep the appearance of a lawful country (it’s not stealing if the law allows it). They cannot just get away with “I’m just taking it because I’m in power” as most dictatorships can.. they need to do the “paperwork” to keep it looking legal. So if anything, being part of the EU makes this whole regime “unique.”
Kirsten: “But Eva what is “simple” autocracy. It is always a system where many elements come together.”
The essence of the system is very different from other autocracies. Believe me. The Orbán system does work like a mafia family.
Petőfi hit the nail on the head:
“Hungarian corruption is all-inclusive: MSZP and Fidesz work, and worked, together. This is generally known. What is different now with Fidesz is the creation of a long-term control of the levers of Power and Finance: if you’re not a member or sycophant of Fidesz, you’re business is as good as dead. Moreover, the supra-legal behaviour of government is unseen and unheard of–Fidesz cares not about models of legality or democracy. They have a ‘better’ way.”
“In conversations el País held in Washington that ranged from Congress to the State Department to the Pentagon and in London with officials of the government and members of the House of Lords, the words that kept on recurring to describe Zimbabwe’s ruling elite were “mafia”, “pillage” and “criminal”. The consensus, summed up by one congressional staffer in Washington, was that the Zimbabwean government was “a criminal organisation run for the benefit of Mugabe and his cronies”.
An, just a reminder, Magyar calls it a post-communist mafia state that makes it different from the Zimbabwean version.
I am not accusing Magyar Bálint of being personally corrupt. But he was a member of a corrupt government (three times!) and turned a blind eye to what his own party was up to, And he turned a blind eye to what the MSZP was doing left right and center. Don’t you think that detracts from his credibility?
I think Marx would call it “primitive accumulation of capital” aided by the state. 🙂
So, according to you SZDSZ was a thoroughly corrupt party and Magyar turned a blind eye to its corruption? That is a stretch.
Once again, you use an argument that I would never allow my children to use: that bad behavior is excused because others behave badly as well. If you really cared for Hungary and the Hungarian people, you would insist on Hungary being a less, rather than more corrupt player in the world. Do you really hate Hungary so much that you accept this criminality and mediocrity?
Juan Linz’s definition of authoritarianism:
“Political systems with limited, not responsible, political pluralism, without elaborate
and guiding ideology, but with distinctive mentalities, without extensive nor intensive
political mobilization, except at some points in their development, and in which a leader
or occasionally a small group exercises power within formally ill-defined limits but
actually quite predictable ones.”
For me Fidesz does not go beyond this. The fact that this is a post-Communist variation is a problem. In some way also for Balint Magyar, because this system has appeared after a period of 20 years where we are asked to believe that during that period there was “democracy”. So how can it be post-Communist and use these communist structures – was there no transformation in Hungary after all?! This abstraction from the state and its problems before 2010 is a problem. The idea that there could come people who “silently” create a mafia state to take over “developed” Hungary does not convince me. A large role is played by the relatively underdeveloped political skills and knowledge of the broad public, including the “elite”. I had not yet heard before that Hungary despite its neni/baci culture was so strongly organised along the family principle, so what is it then that could emerge so unexpectedly as a “mafia” (and if it were so, why is it “unexpected”). And why then have people who were in the government not tried to improve the functioning and independence of state institutions when they could – so that such easy takeover as Fidesz has staged would have been more difficult. Instead I had the impression that quite a number of people at least like the “ideology” of national self-determination as their basis of support, and the “mafia” element is given by the connections between the state and some private interests (no unique principle). If the alternative are people with an incoherent political programme and an unability to put something successful into practice, this is indeed the best time for autocrats to take their chance. But the weakness of the alternative is a highly relevant problem – in particular when there was no intervention from outside.
I think, it is time to at least publish here the English-language synopsis from the end of the book. Let’s hope that WordPress will not think that it is far too long:
The Post-Communist Mafia State
(Noran Libro, 2013)
In 2001, Bálint Magyar wrote an article under the title ’Hungarian polyp – the organised over-world.’ In this article, he analysed the way Fidesz was corrupting and destroying the institutional system of the rule of law. He showed how this party was spreading downward by employing mafia methods and misusing state support within the system of democratic rule.
At that time, many readers doubted the legitimacy of the new conceptual approach, whose key categories were the ‘organised over-world’, the ‘state employing mafia methods’ and the ’adopted political family’. Critics considered these categories
metaphors rather than elements of a coherent conceptual ramework describing the system. The 2002 election defeat of Fidesz partially took the question off the agenda. In
2010, however, with a two-third majority in Parliament, the institutional obstacles of exerting power were largely removed. Just like Fidesz, the state itself was placed under the control of a single individual, who since then has applied the techniques used within his party to enforce submission and obedience onto society as a whole.
The new conceptual framework describing the system had a revelatory effect on a significant segment of Hungarian intellectuals concerned with political science, sociology and economics. Some of them went as far as to suggest that it might be possible to interpret the current Hungarian political developments by using this creative language.
This theme, together with its conceptual framework, is important and timely not only for Hungary, but also for other Eastern European countries subjected to autocratic rules. Analysing this issue may also contribute to a better understanding of the processes underway in several countries of the former Soviet Union.
At the time of regime change, it all looked clear: a single-party dictatorship characterised by state ownership was replaced by a multi-party Parliamentary democracy based on private ownership and market economy. Set by Western democracies, this model is called ‘liberal democracy’. In well-functioning liberal
democracies, if the normative system is damaged, certain mechanisms through institutional control and power-sharing produce a healing effect, and these ‘deviancies’ will not reach the critical mass to endanger the system at its core. However, if they not only appear en masse, but also embody the mainstream values and objectives of the government, these dominant characteristics will constitute a new system.
Present-day Hungary is a post-Communist mafia state. In this expression, ‘post-Communist’ refers to the circumstances of its formation and its initial conditions, whereas ‘mafia state’ defines the nature of its functioning. What began under the first Fidesz government between 1998 and 2002 has been consummated since 2010, and this system can best be compared to those operating in the majority of countries that once
belonged to the Soviet Union. However, as opposed to the successor states of the Soviet Union, the up-and-coming Fidesz moves in a roundabout way towards the model that can be characterised by a joint concentration of power and personal wealth. While in the post-Communist systems of the former Soviet republics a certain segment of the Party and secret service became the elite in possession of not only political power but also of wealth, Fidesz, as a late-coming new political predator, was able to occupy this position
through an aggressive change of elite. To achieve its goal, it had to eliminate the institutional system of liberal democracy. It is a moot question whether the Hungarian example will trigger processes in the other Central-Eastern European countries too.
Thus Hungary is not a country where democracy manifests itself in a distorted, stunted or deficient form, because that could still be called democracy, albeit limited in scope. The present system, which we label as a mafia state equipped with distinctive system characterists, does not fit the traditional framework that defines the relationship between democracy and dictatorship; it can only be interpreted in a new kind of
What is called ‘the national cooperation system’ is nothing else than the vassal system first realised within Fidesz only to be imposed onto the entire society. But why call it an organised overworld or a mafia state? Because while the classical mafia as a well-oiled underworld channelling wealth and economic players into its spheres of interest by means of direct coercion, the Hungarian polyp does the same by acquiring and appropriating political power by means of Parliamentary legislation, legal
prosecution, tax authority, police forces and secret service, all tailored to satisfy the demands of Fidesz and its vassals. Following the constitutional coup, new laws were passed to create the conditions for a rapid change of elite, the ‘legitimate’ establishment of a feudal system, a new form of nationalisation due to a lack of privatisable state assets, the expulsion of foreigners under the pretext of national freedom fight, the confiscation of private assets outside the circles of vassals, as well as the extension of the power system.
The post-Communist mafia state model attempts to focus on the system in its entirety. Its actions are led by the logic of power and wealth concentration in the hands of the clan. This goal is achieved through monopolised aggression supported by a state arsenal and a mafia culture raised to the level of central politics. In this sense, the mafia state equals a privatised form of a parasite state.
Noran Publishing House has undertaken to publish this volume of essays, with an introduction written by Bálint Magyar, who, together with Júlia Vásárhelyi, is also the editor. The volume is an attempt to discuss current issues of present-day Hungary
within the new conceptual framework described above. The contributing authors are representatives of the Hungarian liberal intelligentsia: economists, sociologists, philosophers, lawyers and fact-finding journalists.
” the traditional framework that defines the relationship between democracy and dictatorship;”
Authoritarian regimes are defined as being neither democracies nor dictatorships or totalitarian systems.
Thanks, Eva, now it makes a lot more sense.
“Fidesz, as a late-coming new political predator, was able to occupy this position
through an aggressive change of elite. To achieve its goal, it had to eliminate the institutional system of liberal democracy.”
Mind you, one tragedy of the story is that the “old elite” Fidesz was so keen on replacing (and itself was corrupt) represented a lot more progressive line of ideas than Fidesz does. While the old elite privatized state assets, (and yes, they played the game in a way so that they come out as winners in this), they left further running of the economy on market forces, and the running of politics to the rules of democratic governance. The “new elite” sought to challenge the old one by resurrecting old ideologies: nationalism, the paternalistic state, restriction of the free market, the restricted democracy model of the Horthy system, xenophobia, and conservative Catholicism.
They also found allies among the parts of the society that could be turned against the status quo represented by the “old elite”. Those who lost property to the Communists in the 40s (a lot of them emigres) and who still considered the old elite of the descendants of the Communists, the religious conservatives who may have looked at the “modernist” Hungary with suspicion, the upcoming Hungarian entrepreneurs who sought ways of limiting the influence of foreign competition, and much of the general public that was disappointed in their illusions of rapid increase in the standard of living after the regime change of 1989. A lot of Fidesz “ideology” was formed to appeal to these groups. However, I do agree with the authors of the book that the main goal of Fidesz was an organized power and money-grab, and the ideology just happened to come handy to achieve this goal. Add to this Orban’s personal ambitions and hunger for power.. these ideologies serve an autocratic personality very well.
I do hope that some of the contributors will join this debate. I will urge those I know to do so.
So a ‘Post-Communist Mafia State’ then.
For me the analogy doesn’t go far enough – but it’s the best so far. Maybe the book details much more. I hope the English translation is available soon.
One of the reasons I have refrained from contributing is a realisation of how tiresome and depressing my contributions had become.
And a realisation that this ‘commocracy’ is just one huge deception. I don’t believe for one nano second that the likes of Szajer, Orban, Matolcsy etc really think this is democracy. The sneering evil Szajer giving evidence at Helsinki was, for me, testament to that.
In addition a realisation that only an outside agency can release the Mafia grip Hungary is in. But it won’t be the EU – they don’t give a tinker’s cuss about Hungary – well not until the ‘Hungarian’ disease spreads too far in the region.
The whole political edifice is a Mafioso network. The constant global ‘refutation’ machine is the autocracy equivalent of shootings by the ‘family’ to demonstrate their loyalty.
If anyone ‘wobbles’ ideologically they already know the consequenses so they have to continually up the ante in what must be a real boiling cauldron – and which must be becoming ever more difficult for Orban to keep the lid on.
As he pays off each devotion of loyalty it becomes increasingly difficult to balance out the spoils.
Orban has been known to express his wish to disengage with ‘politics’ – it’s no wonder. The stress and pressure of keeping this emotional ‘Ponzi’ scheme from exploding must be enormous.
What has not happened yet is a breakdown of the ‘family’ into factions.
‘Omerta’ is holding the ‘firm’ together – even if some may feel uncomfortable with what is occurring. But It can only be a matter of time before loyalties weaken and the ‘family’ breaks out into internecine warfare.
This ‘Omerta’ is evident too in all who are lucky to hold a job in Hungary. Nepotism can only be preserved if they all ‘see nothing’ and keep their heads down – and drown the fear with their homemade Palinka allowance.
Some of the people I have met here recently have been decidedly weird. My partner has been helping a couple get a job in England. They have lost their house which the bank can’t sell – yes a Forex mortgage; are still having to pay the mortgage; living in (v cold) rented accommodation; husband’s lost job – with three children to look after.
And yet they believe that the cause of their misfortune is Israel and the Jews – 500,000 wanting to move to Hungary – and the Banks need their house. I don’t know any further details about nuclear bombs because we suddenly had to leave – and I had lost the will to live.
At another dinner party with staunch Fideznicks – a couple in their 50s – the husbands jugular nearly burst when in response to their “who else can we vote for” – I challenged them to give me the top three points of the opposition parties. After a long silence and nam todoms (apologies for the Magyer mash) – I posited that the only person who understands democracy is Gy.
In answer to their counter-challenge “so what are his policies then?” – abolition of the constitution went relatively well. I even managed to articulate the disestablishment of the R/C church. However it was the abolition of the flat tax that caused the nuclear jugular response.
At this point we thought it prudent to leave – with still seven policies outstanding.
I am afraid I could give you a litany of Hungarian strangeness – and I can’t help feeling that maybe Hungarian’s deserve their ‘Mafia’ family.
And this contribution is far too long – but I may as well just add for completeness as regards the Mafia analogy. Just as in the Italian version the whole network is given a veneer of respectability by the Roman Catholics – ditto Hungary.
The Church gets the default 1% charity tax so they have to keep the silence in their symbiotic relationship – while giving ‘the Family’ respectability.
However this may not continue with the new ‘sackcloth and ashes’ pope.
I’m returning to my shell again now:
Good luck Hungary with the elections – my lips are sealed.
And I hope those book contributors join the debate too, Eva. I need a dose of sanity!
Why is the “Mafia” shortcut more relevant than the ideological mess on the part of the citizens – in whose interest politics should act – as just described by Charlie, or the fact that there was no news yet about dead former collaborators of Viktor Orban killed by the “mafia”?? That is dramatising instead of a sober assessment of the weaknesses of the 20 years of Hungarian democracy.
Jozsef Debreczeni’s new book, titled “The fidesznik robber economy” will come out soon. An abridged chapter about Simicska and Orban was published today:
I already received a copy of it and I’m planning to write about it. I will translate the title as “The Fidesz robber barons.”
@Charlie – your opinion is interesting reading material and very much appreciated so I hope you might consider un-sealing your lips. There is a saying that each country gets the government it deserves, so I guess the Hungarians deserve their maffia-government in a way. Hungarians do have a strong tendency of thinking in ‘we’ and ‘they’ and normal behavior to people regarded as ‘they’ is often out of the question, not to mention co-operating for the greater good. There is not much sense of community among Hungarians. Only in rare cases of floodings or heavy snowfall you see Hungarian pulling together, but otherwise people tend to ‘hide’ behind their own fence with the ever present barking dog.
The Fidesz-family will never break until Orbán is the leader. The vetting and recruitment process of the active personnel (not the sympathizers, but acting party members) have been very thorough. Very thorough.
Moreover, all of these people were encouraged to participate in the ‘spoils’, somewhat similarly to the rite of first kill at the mafia. Once the Fidesznik worked out OK, Fidesz has the file on him (they had the file before, but this item is now up-to-date and well-documented) and so he can’t break away, but of course why would he, it’s fun the be powerful.
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