Bálint Magyar: The Hungarian post-communist mafia state (from a critique of the government to a critique of the system)*

After the collapse of the Soviet Empire, many of us lived under the illusion that communist dictatorships were going to be replaced by liberal democracies. Although the road ahead appeared to be bumpy, there was consensus that we were going through a process of a linear progression. Deviances from the norms of liberal democracies seemed to be children’s diseases rather than characteristics of adulthood. However, the chronic symptoms of such deviances caused analysts to interpret the political processes of certain post-communist states and describe their systems, which got stalled and even turned back on the road, along the liberal democracy-autocracy axis.

Having gained entry into the European Union, certain countries of Central and Eastern Europe passed the entrance test, albeit the exam requirements of the crash courses had been relaxed owing to geopolitical considerations. Those responsible for the enlargement believed that the new member states were inspired not only by the compulsion to pass the test, which entitled them to join the rank of consumer societies, but also by the desire to belong to a network with shared values. As the frustration of old member states grew, so did the literature of transitology become richer and richer. There was disagreement among transitologists, however, as to the extent post-communist countries differed from one another in terms of their deviation from liberal democracies.They sometimes added an adjective to restrict the meaning of democracy, such as illiberal, directed or pseudo, along different institutional indicators, and endeavored to produce a measure of “composite” deviation, which was supposed to assess whether the system under investigation was to be found democratic or not. Others characterized these systems as variants of autocracy by using softening labels, such as semi-autocratic, soft dictatorship or electoral authoritarianism. Still others attached the label “hybrid” to denote such systems.

When reference was made to the subjects of the regime, the phrase “majority democracy” or “dominant party system” was used. When the concept of power concentration cum wealth accumulation was mentioned, “clientalist regime,” “crony capitalism” or “post-accession hooliganism” were the terms suited to stress the illegitimate beneficiaries of power.

Transitional systems or terminal station?

Perceiving the conceptual framework of deviations, Hungarian analysts searched for historical analogies. The process of centralization and nationalization were suggestive of the soft-communist stages of the Kádár regime until 1989. The reincarnation of the ideology, cultural models and language of the Horthy regime between the two world wars gave way to fascist and corporative interpretations whereas the loss of personal integrity in administration and governance was reminiscent of feudal systems.

After 2010, Fidesz annihilated the system of liberal democracy and created an entirely new system. In his speech at Kötcse before the 2010 election, Orbán declared that he would not simply change the government but create a new model of governance, which would be completely different from “the messy period of the past two decades.” This new model was based on an ideology of “national war of independence,” which he called “The System of National Cooperation,” and, true to his promise, he established this system as a “central field.”

Meanwhile, his critics from the opposition – in self-disarmament, as it were – got stuck in a paradigm of mere government criticism, instead of finding a conceptual framework capable of interpreting this novel type of political predator.

The post-communist mafia state

The mafia state, the organised overworld is far removed from the world of anomalies of party funding and the organised underworld’s attempts to influence political decisions – the relationships have now been reversed: it is no longer the case that private wealth is acquired to help a party’s need for financial support to be gained from illegitimate sources; rather a political party’s decision-making potential is used here to requisition private property. It is no longer the case that a hidden underworld seeks to corrupt decision-making processes; rather inherently purposeful illegitimate special interests are aligned here with legislative measures and governance. There are hardly any areas where activities would not be subject to power and wealth accumulation considerations of the adopted political family. The mafia state is a privatized form of a parasite state.

The authoritarianism of the post-communist mafia state as established after 2010 has particular characteristics, and cannot be classified as being any form seen up to now. Although it may share a few characteristic similarities with other autocratic forms, its unique traits define a unique type. It is nothing else than a sub-type of autocratic regimes, and the conceptual framework into which it is cached describes not only the techniques of power concentration but the nature of the elite in power.

The epithet post-communist not merely refers to a historical period, but also to that it came into being from the carcass of communist dictatorship, what was characterized by the state monopoly of ownership. The designation “mafia state” is by no means emotional or journalistic in nature, but rather refers to the new power elite’s essential trait: to its organisational nature and to its order. Here, in considering the characteristics of the relatively narrow authoritarian new elite, the mafia state differs greatly from the various analogies referred to in elites in authoritarian regimes. Above all that it is made up of – as is usual in the mafia – joint businesses founded principally by the family, as well as by sworn adopted political family members through the family’s network of relationships. The organization’s kinship and loyalty are connected by threads linking ever more families, which radiate from the family patriarch in strongly hierarchical divisions of pyramid-like order of obedience.

The traditional mafia, the organized underworld is no more than a violent, illegitimate attempt by a head of the premodern patriarchal family to exercise its power of enforcement within a society based on the equal rights of citizens and the rule of law. An attempt that the state’s public authority agencies are attempting to thwart. The mafia is an adopted family in which “relatives without any blood ties make a strict and solemn commitment to provide unconditional mutual assistance to all parties” (Eric Hobsbawm). The mafia is an illegitimate neo-archaism.

In the mafia state, in the organized overworld the patriarch’s  powers of enforcement works at a national level under the disguise of the institutions of democracy by occupying state power and acquiring the tools to achieve it. It can be considered as a kind of political enterprise. For the head of the adopted political family, reigning in terms of the patterns of leadership, the patriarchal family, the home, one’s estate and one’s country are isomorphic concepts. The same culture follows the same pattern for the exercise of power at each level: the nation is his household’s members. Just like the patriarch, who once had the right to decide in personal and wealth-related matters, as well as in any issue concerning the individual roles and competencies of his “household,” this new type of patriarch reigns supreme in a country where the nation becomes his “household.” He does not expropriate – he merely disposes. It is his due to serve justice according to status and alleged merit.

The distinctiveness of the mafia state as a subtype of autocracy

The post-communist mafia state is not merely a deviant form of liberal democracy, nor is it a transient formation, rather it is an independent subtype of autocracy. The specific features of the regime can be summarized as follows:

  1. The concentration of political power and the accumulation of personal/family wealth occur in unison.
  2. The alternation of the political elites’ systematic replacement takes place in parallel with that of the economic elite, driving such change not with the instruments of democracy and market economy. This elite replacement is centrally organised into a hierarchy dependent on the adopted political family. This cannot be called a traditional form of primitive accumulation of capital, because herein there is no flow of capital between the premodern and modern sectors or between the agrarian and industrial sectors, accompanied by a change of ownership. What happens is merely the implementation of the  change of owners of accumulated capital. Due to their socialization, however, the new body of owners do not become real entrepreneurs, but merely tax collectors in an entrepreneurial disguise, fortified by the head of the adopted political family with political monopolies.
  3. It is not incidental that public interest is subverted to private interest; it occurs systematically and relentlessly. Public policy objectives, such as the motives for policy decisions, remain in the background, unaccounted for. Decisions are tainted with power and wealth motivations. Every decision concerns power and wealth at the same time: “brainwash and money laundering” (Mária Vásárhelyi).
  4. The organised underworld’s illegal physical coercion, characteristic of the mafia, is replaced by legalized public authority/state sponsored coercion. The intention of this is to serve not only to maintain power, but also to further extend the wealth of the adopted political family.
  5. With the legalized instruments of state monopoly of coercion, the mafia state coercively extracts personal fortunes – sometimes indirectly through (transit)nationalization – to serve its own interests and redistributes this amongst the adopted political family members. In this respect, too, such corruption differs from “established” forms, in which merely the illegitimate diversion of revenues takes place. Just as private banditry is abolished by classical mafia, the mafia state eliminates individual and anarchic forms of corruption, and replaces them with ransom levied from above, in a centralized and largely legalized form.
  6. The personal wealth, resulting from the accumulation of political power of the adopted political family’s fortune, and public/state property inevitably overlap with each other. This is in contrast to, for example, constitutional monarchies, where the two are clearly distinct from one another.
  7. Key players in the authoritarian mafia state:
    • the poligarch (Tamás Frei) is someone who uses legitimate political power to secure illegitimate economic wealth – their political power is visible, whilst the economic power remains hidden;
    • the oligarch is someone who from legitimate economic wealth builds political power for themselves – their economic power is visible, whilst the political power, if any, remains hidden;
    • the strawman is someone who has no real power – whether in politics, or in the economic sphere. In the gap between the legitimate and illegitimate spheres, they formally serve as go-between for the public. In fact, the majority of those in different posts of governance are strawmen, and so are those in the economic sphere, especially if they are dependent on the state.
  1. Decisions are taken outside the competence of formalized and legitimate organizations. It is not the model of the communist parties’ “politburo.” but the “polipburo” (Sándor Révész) run by the adopted political family. (The phrase polip is the Hungarian equivalent of the phrase octopus.) However, the polipburo does not possess the legitimacy demanded by the nature of its operation. It is not Fidesz that has a transmission belt to enforce its decisions, but it is the party itself that has become the major transmission belt of the adopted political family.
  2. In place of the class structures, a patron-client chain of vassal relationships comes into being. The adopted political family is built around the patriarch, the head of the family. It is centralised and hierarchically made up of personal and family relationships structured in an authoritarian formation. Under the protection of institutional guarantees, a strong democratic society with a wide range of weak ties is replaced, alongside the abolition of institutional guarantees, by a weak society with limited but strong ties. There is no free entry into the adopted political family; one may enter only if  accepted, admitted and ready to give up one’s integrity. Nor is there a free exit – one may only be expelled.
  3. Formalized and legal procedures give way to material and arbitrary actions. The head of the government does not govern, but illegitimately disposes of   the country as if he owned it. State institutions, including the Parliament, the government, the tax offices and the Chief Prosecutor’s Office, do no more than rubberstamp and do the bookkeeping. The “law of rule” substitutes for the “the rule of law.” Proper jurisdiction is replaced by an arbitrary practice of justice.
  4. The topdown destruction of bureaucracy a la Max Weber implies the takeover of the leading positions of administration by “party commissars,” who they are loyal not to the party, but to the head of the adopted political family directly or through personal links. These commissars play various roles in the legitimate spheres of bureaucracy: strawmen, governors, commissars, supervisors, cashiers – labels that give a more precise sociological definition of their actual functions than the official designations of management positions.
  5. This new form of vassal dependency should not be called feudal, because the sociological/material nature of power and its legal/formal legitimacy do not converge. The gap between them is bridged by state coercion and hypocrisy. The mafia state is compelled to bridge the gap between the sociological nature and legitimacy of autocratic rule with quasi-democratic procedures by restricting civil rights and electoral democracy. It is neither a liberal democracy, nor a dictatorship based purely on coercion.

Pyramid scheme

In the wake of the massive and aggressive transformation of wealth structure, the expenses incurred by the power restructuring of the mafia state impose a heavy strain on the economy and at a time of crisis the mafia state resembles an oil dictatorship without oil revenues. New sources are needed to generate revenues that reinforce the power and wealth of the adopted political family. These include flat rate tax, reduction of social expenditure, ransom levied on banks and public utility providers, and above all channelling European Union sources into the coffers of the adopted political family.  This, in some sense, is an economic pyramid scheme, because there are three losers per one winner (Balázs Krémer); it is moot point how long taxpayers of West Europe are willing to directly finance the enrichment of the Hungarian mafia, the adopted political family.

Pyramid

However, in addition to the economic pyramid scheme, there is a political pyramid scheme as well, which in foreign policy may be characterized as a strategy of “drifting in a Western boat propelled by an Eastern wind” (Miklós Haraszti). The policy that runs in the face of our European Union and Transatlantic commitments goes hand in hand with begging for alms in terms of legitimacy and finances, at autocrats in the East. In domestic policy some form of cold civil war and the subjection of citizens are under way. Alternate periods of mobilization and demobilization under the slogan of a national war of independence are part of an ideological pyramid scheme, which serves as a tool of suspending moral and legal justice.

The nationalism of the mafia state is not targeted at other nations, but rather the expulsion of all from their own nation who are not part of the adopted political family, or are not built into the order of vassals. Since they are not part of the “patriarch’s household,” they must face all the consequences of being outsiders. For Orbán the nation consists of the adopted political family and their in-laws, from the head of the family down to the servants. The Hungarian octopus creates a collectivist, nationalistic ideology under the pretext of the so-called national and social justice, which is just a tool to justify their egotistic aspirations for concentrating power and wealth. Short of assets, the losers are offered a feeling of belonging, as well as the right to pass positive and negative judgments: the right to cherish “true patriotism” on the one hand, and to contempt the enemies (“aliens” and “traitors”) and parasites (Gypsies, homeless, jobless) of the motherland on the other. Whereas the leaders of Fidesz are not anti-Semites and their target is not “the Jew,” they pander to anti-Semites. They hate the bank sector not because it is run by “the Jew,” but rather because it is not theirs. Nor are they racists – but their target audience is. However, it is their inexcusable sin that they have legitimized feelings of antisemitism and racism as well as allowed to use the language that expresses such feelings. In a campaign to reach out to extremist voters they reproduce them in expanded numbers and occasionally build the representatives of radical right-wing ideology into state institutions. One wonders if the escalation of this economic, political and ideological pyramid scheme can be curbed and what tragedy may befall the society should the pyramid implode one day.

This being the case, it boggles the mind that the main dilemma of the opposition still is whether to regard Viktor Orbán’s reign as a legitimate government or an illegitimate system. Although the manipulative and one-sided transformation of the election law urged the coalition of the democratic opposition to unite, but this unity exists only in a technical sense. They are still between the devil and the deep blue sea: should they be the opposition of only the government or rather of the whole system?

——

*This is an edited version of a talk delivered on February 2, 2014 at a conference of the István Bibó Public Society (Népszabadság, February 15, 2014).

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77 comments

  1. Index may be owned by a crook but I really don’t think that is reflected in its content. The trouble is that the standard of journalism in Hungary is so poor that it is easy to point to misleading headlines etc. But that is true of all outlets.

    I do agree with Eva that Népszabadság has gone downhill. But Index and Origo do a good job.

  2. Hümer / Éva: Concerning poor Demszky. It was 10 years ago when he built his 130 square meter villa on the Croatioan seashore. This alone is worth a couple of hunderds of millions of forints:

    http://www.blikk.hu/blikk_aktualis/20040723/szazmilliot_is_erhet_demszky_nyaraloja

    On other comments: I am definitely not here to spread Fidesz propaganda, whose mentaliity and corruption drive I abhor. My point is that Bálint Magyar is NOT a credible person to lead a campaign against Simicska and his cohorts.

  3. @Max: He bought the villa for an equivalent of 5 million forints, so not a huge amount at that point… then there were all kind of charges that he used public money to renovate it but these were allegations, he was never official charged with anything as far as I know, even after fIdesz took over the mayor’s office (publicly being charged is actually a good thing in that you have a chance to clear yourself of the allegations).

    Anyways, what is the point of focusing on Demszky? Is he running for any kind of office? Not that I know of. This whole talk about Demszky and other former SZDSZ members only serves the purpose to implicate the whole opposition movement in shady deals (regardless of the individuals who were part of these or regardless if any of the allegations are true or not) and to divert attention from the mess Fidesz is throwing the country into.

  4. Interesting read, especially for people like me whose level in Hungarian isn’t good enough to go through the book. That said, I maintain my earlier reservations.

    First, I doubt on principle that a political phenomenon can be described through the prism of a single ‘system’. Second, and this pertains in partticular to the paragraph on nationalism, I do believe that a lot of Fidesz officials and appointees, as well as many Fidesz voters, are sincerely convinced they are acting for the greater good. Which actually makes it worse…

  5. The advice of Turulmadar #45 was good.
    Our objective is to send fidesz into retirement.
    Any intelligent reader of this blog should understand it.
    Any defense of fidesz is equal with repeating the lies of the fidesz leadership.

  6. Max :

    Hümer / Éva: Concerning poor Demszky. It was 10 years ago when he built his 130 square meter villa on the Croatioan seashore. This alone is worth a couple of hunderds of millions of forints:

    http://www.blikk.hu/blikk_aktualis/20040723/szazmilliot_is_erhet_demszky_nyaraloja

    On other comments: I am definitely not here to spread Fidesz propaganda, whose mentaliity and corruption drive I abhor. My point is that Bálint Magyar is NOT a credible person to lead a campaign against Simicska and his cohorts.

    Tell me what Magyar did which made him unfit to lead a campaign against Simicska. I want facts!!!!

  7. crill :
    It is nice to see all day on Index.hu that Hungary’s GDP growth was “2.7%”. That has been on the home page.
    Of course that is only the fourth quarter figure and in Hungary the quartely growth figures are not as important as in the US. In Hungary people historically care about the annual figures.
    Just so people now how independent Index is.

    I went to index.hu home page and looked for the GDP data that you are talking about. Nothing. No article on the quarterly no article on the annual data. I was looking for about 5 minutes double checking everything.

    Finally I did a search for the term “GDP” and only at the very very bottom in the so called “Portfolio section” did I find articles on the GDP: None of these claimed that the annual growth rate is 2.7%. They only said that “Surprise: the GDP growth was better than expected”.

  8. Éva: Magyar had served all along a party, which was rightly sent to oblivion by the voters because of their partipation in huge corruption cases (M6 highway and 4th metro line constructions, informatics developments, BKV etc) and because of their relativistic attitude to democratic values and morale.

    Their last chance as a party was in 2002 when Medgyessy’s D-209 commie intel officer case broke out. The caucus was openly enraged and most of them advocated to leave the coalition. But at the end they remained, because allegedly MSzP treasurer Puch had transferred a couple of billions.

    It was clear at that time for everyone in this country that the so-called liberal party betrayed the goals of the change of regime.

  9. Well Max, I know only too well what is happening when it comes to those “corruption cases.” Most of them were the figments of Viktor Orbán’s imagination. No, I’m too kind. They besmirched the name of innocent men. The dragged them from court to court for years. They ruined them with trumped up charges. This “strategy” worked beautifully just as the “shooting at” and “blowing up” people worked in 1998. These are crooks. It is time to take everything they say with a grain of salt. No, that is too kind. They are vicious and have no conscience.

  10. Magyar’s essay can be viewed as an attempt to systematize the many observations on Orbán and Fidesz in a language that may be spoken by social scientists. To characterize it as a political manifesto of a defunct party is ridiculous.

    The essay has a general introduction but it soon narrows its focus onto Hungary alone. I prefer to take this as a sign that we are dealing with a sample of “work in progress”, and a wider discussion of comparable developments in comparable countries is on the way. I believe that there is much to be learned by seeing the situation in Hungary in a wider framework. Is Orbán a genuine Hungaricum? This theme has not been overplayed in HS.

    Anyway Magyar’s analysis makes it depressingly clear that whoever owns something in Hungary and is not inclined to paying tribute to Orbán should swiftly sell and get out of the country.

  11. octopussy :
    Oneill: please try harder.
    I agree with what you say, but those are not really the root causes.
    What if people really are not satisfied with the life after 1990? With the opportunities? With the obligations and demands of this world? Why would that be?

    OK, let me try. The majority of the population were not satisfied with life after 1990. Why? Because they believed they could combine the benefits of the capitalist system (German fridges, weekly shops at Tescos, crap American TV etc) with the benefits they had enjoyed under the socialist system eg (job security in return for the for very little effort employed in their meaningless job;, free university places for their kids regardless of the intellectuial ability of afore-mentioned brats; two weeks at the Balaton for their grumpy OAP parents paid by the state etc, etc).

    Were the normal apparatus of a democratic state- free media, lack of economic corruption, judicial independence of any concern to average bloke in the street? Not at all- then or now.

    It was not in the interest of the political elite at the time and most certainly now to inform them of the harsh reality of life in the modern free market. And that applies as much to the so-called socialist elite ( very few of which are actually residing in the panel-house hell holes of Kobanya and Miskolc) as it does to Orban and his oligarchs.

    Where Orban wins over the opposition is that he knows:

    1. The average voter couldn’t give a toss about a free media, independent judiciary etc
    2. That if he can, at least, give a pretence that he can guarantee the security benefits of the socialist system, the majority of the non-thinking voter will give him the benefit of the doubt.
    3, That too big a segment of the Hungarian electorate are simple enough to believe the martians have landed and are giving out free palinka in the Varosliget if a *strong* enough leader were to tell them.

    How’s that?

  12. Fascinating overview.

    Magyar is obviously at great pains to distinguish what he calls the ‘mafia state’ from the ordinary workings of capitalism (a system which of course always has its ‘local’ features). The only problem is the shining icon of democratic/free-market capitalism he holds up – in contrast to the terrible Hungarian perversion – exists only in EU and American propaganda.

    Liberal illusions of the 90s are no longer needed by the new ruling class, and have been cast aside (this blog mostly excluded ;-). The capitalist counterrevolution throughout Eastern Europe and the former USSR was fueled by reactionary nationalist and fascistic undercurrents in each country – the very same toilet from which Fidesz and Jobbik draw their nourishment to this day.

    A lot of blame for this can certainly be laid at the door of the former Stalinist bureaucracies, but that doesn’t make the capitalist regimes any better.

  13. Oneill, totally agree with you!

    Our brothers and sisters in East Germany had similar ideas – but most of them learned very fast!
    OK, man people knew that democracy aka capitalism is hard, but some repressed that (Freud’s idea).

    @lumpy: You really mean, you believe what you wrote?

  14. The number of ethnic Hungarian “new citizens” with no Hungarian address
    who asked to vote grew by 10% in a single week.

    Their number was 153,711 on February 13, 2014.

    The number of fake (and a few real) parties who registered to run
    has reached 78.

  15. Here’s an interview with a banker from Denmark who is very critical on the Hungarian government’s and the MNB’s “unorthodox policies:
    http://www.bbj.hu/economy/saxo-bank-cio-ive-seen-the-future-and-its-bleak_75857
    The Resumée of Mr. Jakobsen:
    “This country has tremendous potential. The people are traditionally excellent traders, it has a great location within Europe and there is immense potential within the high-level education system. Still, this will only remain a potential as long as there isn’t a better system of taxation, extensive reforms and an end to deconstructing the constitutional framework.”

  16. It keeps fascinating me, that whenever the Fidesz sympathists ran out of argument, they always focusing on discrediting the person who said something what they have nothing to answer.
    Max above the obvious example, according to him it is not Magyar, who supposed to say something, because of his previous position, or whatever, really.

    Why don’t you people ever try to answer to the substantial part of the subject?
    Have no argument?

    And anyway, just how dare any Fidesz supporter mention someone’s previous statements, while their living God – the name Orbán – changing his- and hereby their opinion, ideological and political alignment in every few months, as we have it documented even?

    Is it perfectly alright of Orbán to take 180 degrees of turn at such frequency what nearly equals of a weather cock, while Magyar’s right to present an otherwise hard to dispute, well grounded analyse has to be questioned, because some years ago he held a position?

    Prove him wrong, if you can, it’s that easy.
    Otherwise you have the right to remain silent, you know…

  17. Eva, It shouldn’t really come as a surprise – after all, he dumber the better nowadays.
    And what a better way to enshure, that the coming generation will be stupid, than providing stupid teachers?
    Anyway, as it always happens in such ideologically turbulent and culturally confused times, people turns to the occult, the religion and to Fidesz-lookalikes – which has nearly the same effect in my opinion – just not to face reality at any price, teachers aren’t exception.

    Must be some – even if not a pleasant – but a bearable way to oblivion, particularly if the EU get its way to ban the homebrewn moonshine, mustn’t it?

  18. Oneill was quite outspoken but I think he has a point. Balint Magyar’s analysis is too keen on identifying the main problem in Fidesz and specific persons and behaviours. But the fact that the opposition is so weak, in ideas and staff, is of importance too and is not only the consequence of Fidesz – which is not even a specifically able political club. Looking at its staff, it is quite mediocre, and that they have such a grip over Hungary is also because the “intellectual elite” indulges in the search for new labels such as some polipbyro or parasite or mafia state. Whatever the “liberal elite” expected after 1990 about some “linear development”, they have done too little to make it happen. For instance because of wrong ideas about the state of Hungarian society (overestimating its “maturity”) or because of too little effort in educating the public about democracy. Even assuming there is now a specific post-Communist mafia state (which I do not consider to be a good description of current Fidesz Hungary), it has been introduced 20 years after Communism and after “Western oriented democrats” such as Balint Magyar were in government. I think it is not asked too much to expect that these democrats will search for their own contribution to this disaster. It is a loss of time to search for the best description of why OV is evil, as it does nothing for the identification of a future programme for Hungary, and at least as important, for reconciliation. It needs an inclusive, COMMON idea for Hungary and Hungarians, instead also the “elite” is preoccupied with the continuation of divisiveness and conflict.

  19. oneill: closer. But I think we need to dig deeper. Lumpy Lang’s views are a bit extreme, but it does not mean he has no points. Just as, I am afraid, had Fortuyn or Le Pen or even Jobbik. Just because these parties seem to be or branded as extremists (and in many way are) they might raise important issues, because a party does not equal to its voters. Voters are ordinary folks who want to express something which they cannot otherwise. The question is what?

    My issue is also with free trade, globalized capitalism as it played out in Hungary. The opening of the markets as promoted by Brussels (and now comes a further agreement with the US) which transformed everything into a commodity, even personal data, as well as genes, what have you.

    I am not against capitalism, but as it played out in Hungary which was clearly not ready for a full opening it had terrible consequences. And while it is true that people are contradictory (many want to have German consumption with Azeri work ethic), people do feel the stress capitalism caused to them.

    They are the voters, like it or not, so they decide. Now, my suspicion is that they do not care about the left or the liberals because these ideologies can not possibly offer anything many people in rural areas need or for those who were not the winners of the system. They see the lefties as conformists, who promote abstract ideas and people just do not care about those anymore, been there, done that. Thank you very much.

    Budapest and the metro area has been quite successful, but the rest, even Western Hungary, not. Population has been constantly decreasing, people are moving away, relative population growth comes from the roma, who remain illiterate (and as they are they represent the younger generation in many places not surprisingly they commit more visible crimes) and so on. These things should be improved, but are proving too complex and controversial for any government to solve, so the governments rather build stuff (highways, stadiums, swimming pools etc.) which are nice big and can be stolen from.

    But the point still is that the people hate the system and can’t find their places in it. Jobbik seem to hear them but is not government quality and like it or not Fidesz. I would even venture that human rights are only important to wealthier people. Small town people can never live with these rights, because the power structure in any small place (and even Debrecen is a small town in this respect) is such that without a stable existence one cannot live with his or her rights. People see that and they do not care about the rights, because they know they will never have the money to take advantage of them. What they care about is work, subsidies, pension, some respect. Not some smart message why Brussels is right or we need the EU. They long time ago gave up on those matters.

    But to face the problems of capitalism and the criticism of the EU would be counter to the life’s work of Magyar and his colleagues. It is not like they were wrong completely, but much more would have needed that just introducing these to Hungary blindly, uncritically.

    I mean just think about it for a sec. Brussels sends, I dunno, 4-5bn euros as subsidies to Hungary annually under the new budget. That amount will be stolen in huge part and a crony system is being built out (all such procurements are decided by Fidesz HQ based on party loyalty and they also take the kickback) which in turn supports the corrupt regime. The very regime that makes a mockery about the EU. The EU knew about this all along, this has been going on for decades in Italy. Now would it have been very difficult to say that Hungary (other CEE countries) do not get any subsidies, but are able to have import duties and subsidize, on a normative basis, some industries for a period of say 30 years (during which under some strategy those industries could have gotten stronger or get resructured?). I don’t know. But people are unhappy and they will vote for Fidesz, they did for Putin too (sure he did not give many chances, but even the middle class made a compromise and eventually was OK with him). It is high time for the left and liberals to make a thorough soul searching if they every want to get to power and avoid ending up like the Polish or Japanese left. Until then, I suspect Hungary will lag behind, but with the full support of the people.

  20. While I mostly agree with ‘octopussy’ above, I have few complementary remark.

    The ruling elite indeed mislead the people, or maybe better to say, wrongly estimated the readiness to jump into full-fledged capitalism, market economy and western democracy at the same time. But the eagerness to throw out everything – regardless if it even worked well – what has been considered “communist” solution was just too strong, and the result lead to try to invent the wheel again and again. Never mind, that it couldn’t roll, nit even turn sometimes, but it was ‘ours’, a Hungarian National Wheel, not some functioning though but a leftover nonetheless from ‘communist’ times.

    Yes, Magyar and his political and ideological associates too were part of the political elite during the last decades, but so was Orbán’s Fidesz. Having a wider perspective now as an outsider in my opinion does help to assess the situation differently than from the inside.
    However, I rather read and valuate his present work that mull over what- and why he has- or has not done during his time in active politics. After all, time goes only one way, “should have – would have” never changed anything as much as I know.

    One more thing I recommend considering:
    While some elements around Fidesz and his prominent politicians may happen on the spur of the moment, main part of their program following the guide-lines of the grand design, “Orbán’s battle” if you like, in my opinion. (Any resemblance to something else, particularly in German, strictly imagination…)
    Just look at the timelines of the events and the steps taken to ensure, they will get the power and they will be able to keep it as long as they will. Destroying the existing power-structures and rebuilding them according to their purpose, placing home-breed key figures to strategical positions just as important part of the game as the manipulation of the people, the ruthless usage of national- racial- or/and religious sentiments is all parts of the same equation, believe me, just as well as first putting the people in misery and truly dependent, desperate situation, then throwing morsels to gain their gratitude, and so on. Think it over, please, before you conclude I exaggerating.

    Maybe the “mafia state” label isn’t the correct one, but at least Magyar managed to call the attention to the fact, that what here is happening right now is – beside hijacking the nation – is the industrial level of robbing the whole country on the behalf of a few, for their personal gain, and it has nothing or very little to do with ideology or politics at the end.

    Unfortunately the opposition didn’t realized it in time, (I wonder, if at all) they let the things advance even when in power, and even today they seemingly have no idea, what to do about it, and be honest, with each passing day they have less and less possibility, hence chance to anything, even if they will.

    Not a pretty picture, is it?

  21. Eva S. Balogh :

    Max :
    Hümer / Éva: Concerning poor Demszky. It was 10 years ago when he built his 130 square meter villa on the Croatioan seashore. This alone is worth a couple of hunderds of millions of forints:
    http://www.blikk.hu/blikk_aktualis/20040723/szazmilliot_is_erhet_demszky_nyaraloja
    On other comments: I am definitely not here to spread Fidesz propaganda, whose mentaliity and corruption drive I abhor. My point is that Bálint Magyar is NOT a credible person to lead a campaign against Simicska and his cohorts.

    Tell me what Magyar did which made him unfit to lead a campaign against Simicska. I want facts!!!!

    Eva/Max –FACTS ABOUT BALINT’s shortcomngs. Lack of accountability and transparency reflect his thinking and also his leadership, very similar to the criticisms of his essay. IF in the USA the SAT exams were stolen, sold at 25 dollars per copy, and then put on the internet the night before, the aggression this represented for students driven insane or to suicide would hold the most serious consequences. ETS would be investigated, and heads would roll. Especially if concerned parents by the hundreds gathered to protest/picket. Balint’s lame excuse, “I was robbed. What does that have to do with me?” He is merely another resurrection of the Grateful Dead, literally with bloodied hand, and one of the strongest arguments for a populace seeking order from the chaos the Left loosed.

  22. Dr. Petrovics,

    What does this story of yours have to do with the substantive arguments Magyar puts forward in his book?

    What does it have to do with Max’s ludicrous ‘arguments’ that Demszky (let alone Magyar) was a ‘billionaire’?

    I take it that you wrote about some shortcoming of Magyar when he was responsible for education/culture. Does this story, shortcoming imply that his arguments cannot be plausible or that he stole as Max tried to imply?

    This is post is not about how much somebody likes the Liberals, Leftists, Magyar himself or the SZDSZ.

    It is about the truth of Magyar’s theses.

    I will have to disappoint you if you understood it otherwise from Ms. Maria Schmidt or Mr. Zoltan Balogh: Magyar’s theses are true. This is the reality in Hungary.

  23. Very interesting comments by octopussy and spectator. I would only mind a bit the idea that Hungary “jump[ed] into full-fledged capitalism, market economy and western democracy at the same time” in the early 1990s or that what the “West” necessarily means is “capitalism as it turned out in the 1990s in Hungary” plus the “abstract messages” of the so-called intellectual elite. This is for me part of the misunderstanding. (Which was present in other countries, too, but then even more it would be interesting to understand why they have not – so far – ended in a “mafia state” while Hungary has.) It is wrong to believe that democracy and a functioning society are independent from what people do and how they participate in the political process. Simply there is no “linear development”, what a mechanical idea of society! The ideas that the West stands for are not “abstract”, if these have been understood in Hungary this way, it is part of the problem. Freedom and rights are the BASIS of a good life because then people can count on their own resources and of those of the society; to believe that political rights are for the “wealthy” while the “poor” will be content with some (small) goodies from the state is paternalistic, a quite popular line of thought in Hungary left and right, but it is NOT what the “West” necessarily relates with “democracy”. For me this misunderstanding is quite important because it is repeated so often that people in Hungary apparently believe that political participation and relative material well-being are entirely different (perhaps even contradictory) things.

  24. Plutarch :
    Dr. Petrovics,
    What does this story of yours have to do with the substantive arguments Magyar puts forward in his book?
    What does it have to do with Max’s ludicrous ‘arguments’ that Demszky (let alone Magyar) was a ‘billionaire’?
    I take it that you wrote about some shortcoming of Magyar when he was responsible for education/culture. Does this story, shortcoming imply that his arguments cannot be plausible or that he stole as Max tried to imply?
    This is post is not about how much somebody likes the Liberals, Leftists, Magyar himself or the SZDSZ.
    It is about the truth of Magyar’s theses.
    I will have to disappoint you if you understood it otherwise from Ms. Maria Schmidt or Mr. Zoltan Balogh: Magyar’s theses are true. This is the reality in Hungary.

    Plutarch. Thanks for reading/responding. Wish it were a “story,” but it is fact. The “mafia” which Balint targets is largely post-2010, ie. aims at Fidesz. Yet, the abuse of authority serving self-interest, mafia-like, however, characterized Balint’s own tenure in politics, in fact, nearly all of politics since 1989. His thesis addresses a general abuse of power, a form of bullying, which he reinforced by the same denial of accountability of which he complains in what IMHO is a meaningless diatribe as it leads to no solutions, but a listing of problems –of which he was and remains a central figure. Such personal “shortcomings,” of all Godfathers, as you put it, are generally also criminal activities. Balint’s shortcomings are even now experienced in flesh by the students I treated, and who fell into the Hungarian black hole of psychiatry. In the US, he would not be running some form of research institute, but sitting in jail.

  25. Kristen, why I used “western” democracy is only for the reason to distinguish it from the so far commonly used “people’s democracy” (népi demokrácia) which was – in spite the name – a far cry from the one we call democracy.

    Please, keep in mind, that prior to ‘89 there wasn’t ever real democracy in Hungary, so the only reference the people had before the referendum were some vague images from Western Europe, mostly from Austria, assuming democracy automatically comes with welfare and elevated life-quality right away.

    I dare to say, that the true meaning of democracy still elude the most, the “majority rules” maybe the only thing what comes to ind if you ask. The word has no real meaning to the majority, nothing more than abstract concept with no relation to their life. Likewise with the freedom of speech, “I do/say what I want”, throwing stone agains the other as the free expression of “opinion” and such, as the obvious absence of comprehension.

    Unfortunately the bitter disappointments also attached to the introduction of democracy and capitalism, so it’s relatively easy to heat up sentiments against all, what can be connected in any way.
    I’m afraid, that there is no shortcut, there is no easy way, sometimes we must face reality regardless of the packaging of truth, its inevitable in eventually, whatever consequences it will bring along.

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