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).

77 comments

  1. Bálint Magyar writes: “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.” I don’t disagree with that analysis, I prefer to call it gangster capitalism.

    We have seen similar but not identically regimes in Latin America that have evolved out of military dictatorships. I think Russia is very similar, possibly with less ruling family ties in the elite. But that has to do with the overall size of Russia and Putin’s détente with the criminal class in his own society.

    I think the essay reflects the perspective of SZDSZ or what is left of it. But the critical difference I might have with Bálint Magyar’s essay is that this form of rule, i.e. what he calls the mafia state and I call gangster capitalism is l believe sustainable and Magyar does not appear to think so. While it sucks money out of the economy and wastes capital it also imposes order and structure on society. It also pays off its debts, it allows foreign capital penetration, and allows foreign firms to relatively freely export their profits as long as they pay off the boss via both taxes and bribes. The problem with the model is leadership transition, meaning once either Orban or Putin are gone who takes the power?

    Again thanks to Eva for posting this thought provoking essay.

  2. Are many Hungarians understanding it that they have landed in a small post-communist disgraceful banana republic?

    Is Szent Istvan part of this deal?

  3. @Istvan

    “Putin’s détente with the criminal class in his own society.”

    Just a quibble, but the detente came before Putin’s step-up to importance. I believe that during the disintigration of the Soviet state–sometime after 1990–and the shrinking of the bureacracy,
    I seem to remember reports about all the KGB members losing paychecks and how they were
    joining up with the chief criminal families in the land. So, the thrust for the creation of the Mafia State originates with the Russian mafia; but it evolved in the KGB head quarters. I suspect that
    Putin, as the most eligible KGB rep, was hoisted on Yeltsin. One can now best understand how
    the Russian oligarchy works–complete obeisance to Putin while ever circling one another
    for signs of weakness. This state of affairs doesn’t seem to trouble Putin one bit. Moreover,
    when need be, these KGB/oligarchos are available for state business as Abramovitz, Prokhorov, and a certain Ahkmadinulov have shown already.

  4. The big question which Magyar fails to contemplate is: WHY has been Orban so successful?

    He is popular as ever and he still controls his party with an iron grip. Moreover, nobody who calls themselves conservative or right wing ever dared to criticize Orban, except from Jobbik, these people are all in line with Orban and love what they are having.

    In addition, I contend that people are generally OK with the system, the lack of a huge resistance is a prima facie evidence for that. If they really hated the system people would be protesting and setting shit afire, like the extreme right wingers did in 2006 (granted, they were supported by Fidesz which was already the most powerful party and supported by state security elements), but they do not.

    (Are not foreign observers surprised that all of the their beloved ‘moderate’ Fideszniks from Zoltan Illes to Jozsef Szajer to Tibor Navracsics to Janos Martonyi to Janos Ader all, without exception, assist and defend Orban?)

    (Why is the opposition anemic and can’t get no traction? What if it is not just a management or personality issue?)

    It is clear that Orban built out an unparalleled media empire, a similarly unparalleled system of cronies all over the constitutional system and in state-related businesses, a huge wealth for himself (I am beginning to think that he may be one of the wealthiest persons in Hungary if one also includes his fronts), but nobody can deny that he has the diehard support of at least 1/3 of the nation who will follow him everywhere. That 1/3 can translate into 50% of the voters in any election, which in turn may result in 70% of the mandates in the Parliament.

    So, again, why is he still popular, even revered all around Hungary (perhaps less so in Budapest)?

    Nazism as an ideology was still popular in Germany even after the destruction of Germany (perhaps not so much 10 years later). Extreme-right wing ideologies, parties had been very popular all over Hungary for decades before 1945, it was not just an upheaval around WWII. The emergence of these ideologies are not sudden events, but take decades to take root and exert influence, so why are these ideologies so successful in Hungary?

    I think Orban’s system is just like that of Ukraine which is also an oil dictatorship without oil, where the family of every president gets filthy rich pretty soon, and one of the biggest wealths comes from taking cuts from the gas flow (ie. Firtas, and it turns out that MET, Olajterv, ‘Garancsi’ and others do exactly the same). By the way, former Ukrainian president V. Kuchma’s son-in-law who himself surprise-surprise got to be a billionaire is now a personal friend of the Clintons. It’s not like dirty money is a big problem for the global elites. But that is a side-issue.

    Magyar’s points may be true, but he fails to dig deep enough. I suspect he fails to do so because he is afraid that he might find something that would be fundamentally contrary to his world view, his values. But without finding the roots of the problems, we will never really know what caused Orban’s so successful takeover of Hungary.

  5. Tavadian :
    The big question which Magyar fails to contemplate is: WHY has been Orban so successful?
    He is popular as ever and he still controls his party with an iron grip. Moreover, nobody who calls themselves conservative or right wing ever dared to criticize Orban, except from Jobbik, these people are all in line with Orban and love what they are having.
    So, again, why is he still popular, even revered all around Hungary (perhaps less so in Budapest)?
    Magyar’s points may be true, but he fails to dig deep enough. I suspect he fails to do so because he is afraid that he might find something that would be fundamentally contrary to his world view, his values. But without finding the roots of the problems, we will never really know what caused Orban’s so successful takeover of Hungary.

    Tavadian you raise some good points here and I think they can be answered with answers in this very post. Orban is so successful because he has opponents like Balint Magyar.

    Let us take this book for an example: How does it appear in the public eye? Balint Magyar’s book about the Fidesz corruption and methods to legally steal public money. It was a collaborative effort and it runs under Balint Magyar’s name. Why is this extremely stupid and weak? The answer is simple because Balint Magyar was one of the leaders of SZDSZ which is synonmous with corruption in Hungary ever since the Prime Minister in office at the time, Péter Medgyessy said:

    ‘”SZDSZ is completely full of corruption “‘

    Now Medgyessy was Prime Minister of the Socialist party so he was on the same side as SZDSZ. This is key because accusations coming from the other side are more easy to dismiss than those coming from the same side. If Balint Magyar had any understanding of his own role in Hungarian politics he would never ever publish this book under his own name. He would ask someone else to give a name to the book.

    For example Magyar could have asked Éva S. Balogh to publish this book as her own. Or any other intellectual. A scholar. Someone who is not a member of a political party, let alone former leader of it. Someone who is not easy to attack or dismiss. Someone who was never involnved in political corruption.

    Ghost writing is a known concept, once the book was already written anyone, literally anyone could have stuck their name on it and it would have better effect in the Hungarian press as a former SZDSZ leader.

    Let’s take one of the latest news items, that everyone heard about SZDSZ that it left behind 1.5 billion in unpaid debts. What does this mean? It means for example that SZDSZ people went to a restaurant, went to the electricity company, went to the service sector and said: just write this to our bill, the SZDSZ party will pay for this. And then they took the services, they took the food, the electricity and whatever else and they never paid for it, ever.

    Taking things from others without payment in this way is completely legal, you can’t pay the debts then you can’t pay it, nothing can be done. But for the restaurant owner, or the service provider it may feel quite similar to simple theft.

    But let’s forget Magyar for a second. Let’s say MSZP wants to build a campaign around this issue. Not Paks, not foreign policy, not schools, not health care, not the boycott, but using corruption and Mafia as campaign slogans.

    What would be the main message of such campaign? Vote for MSZP and abolish the corruption all the country will be better off in the end. The book supports this nicely.

    But then comes Gabor Simon the number two in the MSZP party. MSZP rules: He has to be completely stripped of all party functions and kicked out because of corruption allegations. And this is the problem again, it is the MSZP party that rules this way. The friends of Simon on the same side as he is. A week ago Simon was one of the candidates. One of the people, tasked with ensuring that the corruption comes to an end.

    And now we can come back to your original question:
    “The big question which Magyar fails to contemplate is: WHY has been Orban so successful?”

    The quality of the opposition is lacking.
    A party cannot run an effective anti-corruption campaign from a position of appearing to be corrupt itself.

  6. ““The big question which Magyar fails to contemplate is: WHY has been Orban so successful?”

    The quality of the opposition is lacking.
    A party cannot run an effective anti-corruption campaign from a position of appearing to be corrupt itself.”

    I will add two more reasons:

    The typical Hungarian (or those still left in the country) lacks even rudimentary critical thinking facilities and as such need or demand a Godfather figure who they perceive as “looking after” them as long as they don’t step out of line. The real mafia delivers free groceries to the old dears in the village, Orban cuts their leccky bills. The real mafia *encourage* their people not to worry too much about the bigger picture. So does Orban.

    The EU, US, democracies generally don’t care what happens here as long as he doesn’t start disappearing journalists or beating up students. And he won’t because there are really not that many brave journalists or students for Orban to worry about

  7. 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?

    A real critical thinking is needed which is directed at the ideologies (preferences, values) of the Western-leaning elite. Magyar and his friends are simply not critical enough.

    I think it is not a coincidence that Sandor Radnoti is dissatisfied with Magyar’s level of sophistication. He studied with Georg Lukacs, who must have been an extremely demanding critical thinker (among others).

  8. Mr. Paul: your ideas also remain on the level of one party vs. another party. One appears corrupt but other does not or less so, so second party wins.

    But what if Fidesz is held just as, maybe even more corrupt than MSZP and still people vote for Fidesz? Why would that be?

    Do not say because of the media (well, you would not), I talk about people who say that they get it that Fidesz is bad and corrupt, but they love it regardless. They get it that the reszicsökkentés is unsustainable or bad for the economy, that Fidesz is controlling every position of power, it is dictatoric, which is not ‘nice’, but they vote for Orban regardless. Why would that be? What makes people consciously forgive for all and still love and vote for Orban and Fidesz?

  9. Here is a new example of the mafia nature of the state:

    Selection of bankruptcy administrators:

    In the old system, 3/4 of a tender were graded by objective criteria.
    In the Fidesz system, less than half (80/170).

    About 1/10 of the winners could not have won even according to this highly
    subjective scoring system.

    There is no way to appeal the decision of the governmental ministry.

    The market that was newly privatized to Fidesz friends and family is worth 400 billion forints yearly.

    Source:
    http://hvg.hu/gazdasag/20140214_Orbanek_atrajzoltak_a_felszamolopiacot

  10. Why has Orban been so successful? I don’t think it’s to do with a third of the electorate being stupid, and certainly that Hungary is ‘getting better’ (although for a few people at the top of the ladder, things definitely are).

    Fidesz is nothing more than a cult, with Orban as its leader. He has cultivated a benign aura of integrity and goodwill around himself. It’s a matter of faith and trust. Belong to this group, and we will look after you, even if you have doubts. But if you don’t, then you will be persona non grata.

    From where else are this 1/3 of Hungarians supposed to feel a sense belonging, of being together? From a confused opposition, whose name changes every week, and is being led by whom, exactly? From foreigners?

  11. Let us think together:
    what steps will Orban do after the election?

    My instant thoughts: He will

    1. move his office to the Royal Castle
    2. parcel out parts of Margit Island to friends & family.

  12. No. 1 is spot on. No. 2: not the Margit island, but Hajogyari sziget, it’s pretty good too.

    Orban will redistribute the alcohol business, the plans have been ready for long. But that is natural, as even in the US and Sweden the business is restricted. So Hungary will just follow Western practice. It would have been too messy before the elections, but he will do it.

  13. @palm
    I do not think you need to show the “correct” party affiliation to run a licensed liquor store in the US or in Sweden.

    By the way, not all states are semi-dry in the States:

    Beer is state controlled in Utah only.

    Wine is state controlled in Pennsylvania, Utah and Wyoming only. (3/50)

    Distilled spirits are state controlled in 18 out of 50 states.

  14. Multiple factors. More than Balint acknowledges, for sure.

    It should be said that the further one progresses through the Hungarian education system, the more obvious its shortcomings. So from a very good basis up to the age of 8 years old, it slowly tails off, until you get to the standard of the most populated universities. Which aren’t, frankly, very good. So there is a problem with critical thinking in many cases, which is really a striking indictment of post-1989 government, as much as anything.

    With the benefit of hindsight I think the opposition made a mistake this time in attempting to unify before really establishing what the dominant themes of a united opposition were. Fodor’s Liberals are there for the money they bring, I presume, whilst DK saw a mini-blip in polls before being given their proper weight, at the behest of MSZP bigwigs. What a rubbish way to conduct affairs. In other words, the kind of discourse which was required after 2010 only briefly appeared, and the last couple of years have been a highly indulgent exercise in navel-gazing. This is an election where they could have all competed, and individuals could have voted tactically if necessary. They all need to finish the sentence ‘I don’t like the Fidesz regime because…’ – and who knows, perhaps someone will vomit up something which resonates with a wider population.

    Bear in mind that Ferenc Gyurcsany came to office in 2004 on the back of the 2002 manifesto, which was quite different to where he currently stands politically. The ‘left’ has to be much more honest with itself before it can do anything beyond anti-Orbanism (which in a weird way, often mirrors Orbanism in a flattering way). Perhaps the best outcome now is a historical burying of the MSZP, but even this, I suspect, would lead only to where the Italian left now stands, resulting in a somewhat vague anti-Berlusconi alliance, the Democratic Party.

    I think we also need to look at how the other countries in the region are negotiating the challenges of the Great Financial Crash. All of them have been damaged, with any sense of a liberal project buried by the resulting drops in levels of investment. But not all of them have veered so far to the right. Ultimately one would also have to highlight the significance of the events of 2006. They changed Hungarian politics for a long time – the equivalent of a stroke, and the patient shows very few signs of a return to any kind of health.

    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?
    A real critical thinking is needed which is directed at the ideologies (preferences, values) of the Western-leaning elite. Magyar and his friends are simply not critical enough.
    I think it is not a coincidence that Sandor Radnoti is dissatisfied with Magyar’s level of sophistication. He studied with Georg Lukacs, who must have been an extremely demanding critical thinker (among others).

  15. In Europe you can find state control only in some Nordic countries, like Finland (> 4.7%), Norway (>4.8%) and Sweden (>3.5%). No restrictions in Denmark.

  16. @ Éva

    There is a new article that came out today from Átlátszo on the topic of corruption

    http://atlatszo.hu/2014/02/14/debreczeni-jozsef-nem-velunk-van

    It is very long and deals with many topics, but It has a lot of completly new (at least to me) information about corruption in Hungary. For example if you just read the section on the chief prosecutor (legfőbb ügyész) in this article, it claims that in 2006 there was a deal made between Péter Polt and Gyurcsány which was negotiated by György Szilvássy the tennis partner of Polt. As a result a completely new position was created for Polt with a dream salary among other things. This was very surprising to me because previously, I was convinced that Gyurcsany hated Polt.

    Anyway the whole article is way too long to go through but I think it is very interesting, just in general, as Átlátszó articles often are.

  17. The author was a founding father and had been a leading representative of the Free Democrats party. This was a liberal party gaining the second largest chunk of votes in 1990. It aimed to spread Western liberal values in a post-Communist country.

    Instead, voters increasingly realised that it is a deeply corrupt and arrogant bunch and have rightly sent them to hell.

    They have left USD 200 million debt on Earth to the HU taxpayers and there is now a raging debate on who should pay the party’s arrears?

    Pathetic and outraging story, indeed. Shame on them!

  18. tappanch,

    does not matter what is the situation in the US or in Scandinavia. If Orban can point to at least one other Western country, he is OK. That means it had been OK in the Western world, and nobody can criticize him. End of story. Everything else is for the “intellectuals”, ie. nobody gets it because it is too complicated.

    According to PISA, currently 28-29% of fifteen year olds are currently below passing grade in maths and reading. They effectively do not know how many pieces of rolls a family needs to buy if there are four members and each wants to eat two pieces. With this I do not want to imply that all voters are hopelessly stupid, but rather that many simply do not get sophisticated arguments, details. They get the logic of a utility rate cut (it is good for me now), but to weigh competing arguments, long term vs. shot term, deliberate as liberals imagine it etc. those are not possible with the majority.

    By the way, I completely agree with Gabor Bruck who said that utility rate cuts are not popular because people then have 1500 forints more to spend a month, but it is a very strong message that the government cares about them. People desperately want get cared about, because it feels good, because life sucks. How do you know the left cares about the people?

    Today’s article in HVG about an MSZP campaign meeting was frightening. In Salgotarjan, a desolate county centre of 37,000 people, MSZP could come up with 35-40 very old sympathizers, who all wanted to hear about Simon’s scandal. Compare that to any of Fidesz’ rezsicsökkentes meeting where there are 300-400 animated people who would never want to ask about trafikumtyi (people forgot about it), or Simicska or whoever. They want to be enthusiastic and are hungry for a fight against the communists, until the last bullet. I guess if any local Fidesz party activist would come with less than 300 people, they would be fired instantly. Salgotarjan used to be a leftist place but apparently not any more. If these are normal campaign meetings of the left then they are doomed. It may even be that Fidesz could get 55-60% of the votes overall, which would mean something like 85% in the Parliament.

  19. Max, it is OK to hate SZDSZ, but like it was said Fidesz is similarly corrupt (of course way more corrupt, when could SZDSZ every get close to oil monies) and is acknowledged as such by many of its own sympathizers I know. Not by liberals, by Fidesz’ very voters.

    Yet, they love Fidesz and do not care about Fidesz’ corruption. They think it is justified or not, but will vote Fidesz no matter what.

    That is what is needed to be answered. And here Magyar and most of us fail.

    If this is a religion, which I can agree with to a certain extent, then the question is why people need this religion and why are they so faithful?

  20. palm :
    Orban will redistribute the alcohol business, the plans have been ready for long. But that is natural, as even in the US and Sweden the business is restricted. So Hungary will just follow Western practice. It would have been too messy before the elections, but he will do it.

    I don’t know, people like their drinks. If the prices goes up too much or it will be not accessible easily, it would be a very risky move. Drinking has a completly different dynamic than smoking. Nobody wants to deal with second-hand smoke if they are a non-smoker. Even if someone smokes a single cigarette there is that annoying second hand smoke it goes into the clothes and everything.

    But creating new laws against drinking would be almost impossible to sell to the public. It would have to be very gradual and very limited.

  21. All that nonsense about SZDSZ being the most corrupt party is absolutely ridiculous. And then comes the great proof: Medgyessy said so. Medgyessy was booted out of office by his own party because he was an incompetent prime minister. And lazy to boot. MSZP had a choice: either Medgyessy or the coalition with SZDSZ. They chose the latter. So, no wonder that Medgyessy hated the SZDSZ politicians who caused his downfall.

    As for Atlatszo’s nonsense about Peter Polt and Gurcsány. It is not worth spending a minute contemplating it. Atlatszo often goes overboard. To hear some story from someone and print it is not investigating journalism.

  22. It was explained I don’t know how many times that SZSZ’s headquarters was the collateral for the loan which the bank now owns. One doesn’t have to fall for all sort malicious nonsense coming from Fidesz or from a vindictive Medgyessy,

  23. octopussy: I do not question for a moment that Fidesz is as corrupt as the Free Dems used to be and think that in its current form it should disappear from the public life of this country.

    About their high-flying popularity: In my mind it has very much to do with the Zeitgeist globally. The Western civilisation has been shaken to the core in autumn 2008 by the fall of Lehman Brothers. The Western establishment has been trying to save the system by flooding the economies with fiat money (perpetual QEs), but most of the experts realise that it is a only short-term solution and by now it is running out of steam.

    History is returning with a vengeance in countries, like Japan, Russia, Turkey, Hungary, etc. and we witness the re-emergence of traditional power-structures in these countries, along with (long forgotten) internal and external disputes, which were buried 70 years ago.

  24. octopussy, that doesn’t surprise me – after 2000 I understand the MSZP has increasingly been relying upon ‘professional’ activists, a process which speeded up when Gyurcsany became leader. What this means is that the strength of the underlying volunteer network – the non-paid activist base – has atrophied.

  25. Max, on what basis you are saying such things that SZDSZ was as corrupt as Fidesz. You must be joking. Do leading SZDSZ politicians become billionaires? Show me just one.

  26. Of course, it is nonsense that SZDSZ were more corrupt that Fidesz. But because so many of its supporters were decent, intelligent people (a generalisation but one could have a perfectly normal conversation with SZDSZ supporters on political matters because they generally had a western outlook), many of us, myself included, tended to assume that the party itself was squeeky clean. It simply wasn’t and was infiltrated by dubious characters (not least Kóka who Gyurcsány imposed upon them effectively) and they were up to their necks in the Tocsisk affair and others.

    It is worth asking why entirely decent and intelligent people like Péter Hack abandoned the SZDSZ.

  27. Éva: As you surely know, the Free Dems had two billionaire treasurers: Gábor Horn and Ernő Mesterházi.

    “Normal” Free Dem politicians who had accumulated their billions during their tenure include János Kóka, Gábor Demszky and Kálmán Kovács (former telecommunications minister).

  28. Eva S. Balogh :
    It was explained I don’t know how many times that SZDSZ’s headquarters was the collateral for the loan which the bank now owns.

    That is fair but the real problem is not the bank loan. The problem is all the debt towards the companies that provided services to SZDSZ. The electricity company, the post office, the heating company that gave the gas to heat the buildings, the security company that guarded the properties. SZDSZ did have debt towards companies for unpaid services not just the bank. Yes the bank has now the headquaters but the bank had a colletarized loan contract. All the other companies did not have such a contract and they received no money as far as I know. But it is true that a large chunk of the debt must have been the bank loan, so the problematic(uncovered) part of the SZDSZ debt is probably much smaller than I first thought. Not over a billion, maybe a hundred million or few hundred million forints at most.

  29. The pseudo scholarly pro-fidesz defense is a disgrace.
    Accept the Balint study.
    Deal with the until now unseen real oppression and corruption by the fidesz.
    Distance yourself from the real enemy of Hungary. It is the fidesz.
    End the disgraceful whitewash efforts on behalf of the Orban-Finkelstein propaganda machine.
    Bring out the info on the enrichment of the fidesz guard.
    Advocate an quick pro-EU turnover.
    Disconnect from Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela.

  30. Koka was perhaps the only legitimate Hungarian dotcom millionaire.

    He set up an internet service provider and sold it to some hotshot American company which went duly bust a couple of years later at the end of the dot com boom.

    But before that the Americans paid cash to Koka and others who owned the company. I am not sure about his present or past businesses other than that, but he may be the only one who got his first billion legitimately.

    He certainly never was close to businesses like Közgép (HUF 400bn and counting) or gas and oil monies (HUF 50bn per annum).

  31. Max :

    Éva: As you surely know, the Free Dems had two billionaire treasurers: Gábor Horn and Ernő Mesterházi.

    “Normal” Free Dem politicians who had accumulated their billions during their tenure include János Kóka, Gábor Demszky and Kálmán Kovács (former telecommunications minister).

    Gábor Horn? You must be kidding. Demszky? He can hardly make ends meet at the moment.

  32. All this irresponsible talk about SZDSZ’s so-called billionaires. I’m familiar with some of these people’s current situation and believe me that they are outright poor. No one dares to employ them.

    On the other hand, I just heard Ferenc Gyurcsány outlining the present financial situation of Orbán. Right now he is worth at least 310-330 millions just in real estate. And what about those strawmen in Felcsút like Lőrinc Mészáros? There is good reason to believe that Mészáros’s wealth is only on paper. If I were you I would concentrate on them.

  33. Eva S. Balogh :
    All that nonsense about SZDSZ being the most corrupt party is absolutely ridiculous. And then comes the great proof: Medgyessy said so. Medgyessy was booted out of office by his own party because he was an incompetent prime minister. And lazy to boot. MSZP had a choice: either Medgyessy or the coalition with SZDSZ. They chose the latter. So, no wonder that Medgyessy hated the SZDSZ politicians who caused his downfall.

    OK Medgyessy was vindictive, the Tocsik case not so serious, the so called Kakaóbiztos (Liquid proof) computers were really necessary, the Strabag and Alstom contracts were just bad negotiating. It does not matter so long as the electorate believes them. It is all about perception.

    My main point was that it is very stupid to use Balint Magyar, a former leader of SZDSZ as the author/PR person/poster person for this book, when they could have used literally anyone else. And then the book and the issue and the message instantly becomes more believable, more effective, more focused. And it costs nothing literally nothing to take the finished text, bring it to an intellectual and say:

    Hey dear Professor/Journalist/Expert do you hate Fidesz as much as we do? Yes? Are you willing to read this book and put your name on it? It’s a well researched book and it will help us greatly in the campaign? yes? Excellent.

    If that does not work out? Then go to someone else and say:

    Dear Professor, we have a book here. Everyone wrote a chapter and everyone’s chapter will have their own name on it. Are you willing to write a short chapter and say that you edited the book? This way you will become the Editor and the face of the book for PR purposes. Since the book is about corruption we don’t want to use someone who can be tied to corruption in ANY way. Your reputation is crystal clean it would be a big help to us if you accept.

    Boom. Done. Problem solved.

    Even without any corruption angle, Balint Magyar was still the leader of SZDSZ an opposing political party to Fidesz. If random KDNP politician were to write a book about MSZP, what would be everyone’s first thought? He is trying to blacken them as much as he can because of the hatred between the political sides. Right?

    To me this is a no-brainer, but maybe I don’t see some aspect of this?

  34. I think it is a bit insulting to suggest that Magyar didn’t write this book himself. Clearly he did. But MrPaul’s final point (“If random KDNP politician …”) is a fair one I think.

  35. @Mr.Paul: Not everybody is writing with the purpose to score in a campaign or to manipulate public opinion. I appreciate that Magyar Balint published what he thinks and doesn’t try to hide behind somebody’s back.

  36. HiBoM :
    I think it is a bit insulting to suggest that Magyar didn’t write this book himself. Clearly he did. But MrPaul’s final point (“If random KDNP politician …”) is a fair one I think.

    Just a correction, Bálint Magyar is the editor of the book. (Szerkesztő)

    http://www.libri.hu/konyv/magyar_balint.magyar-polip.html

    It has contributions from multiple people each writing a separate chapter(I can’t give a source for this because my only source is that I heard this on Klubrádió).

  37. It may be time to ask Mr. Paul (and perhaps other hardliner Fideszniks who do not contribute, but are here only to reshape the discourse and sow the seeds of doubt, or as they were taught in their vocational schools: to sabotage) to take a well-deserved rest. He is clearly here only to enter the discourse on behalf of Fidesz and comment about off-topic issues, which somehow always end up showing that the opposition, people associated with the opposition (past and present) are terrible, and Fidesz is actually right. Sometimes, he acknowledges some points written by others to look more reasonable which is condition to get taken seriously.

    For example SZDSZ has been defunct now for years and Mr. Paul, just like many in Fidesz, is still obsessing about SZDSZ (substitute: Jews or bankers or Brussels). It is actually a bit weird. Why is this mania? I think it is because, besides that fact that but for SZDSZ, Fidesz could have won the elections both in 2002 and 2006, SZDSZ understood the threat posed by Fidesz all along, while MSZP never did. MSZP was always a divided party without real leadership whose members were naive, were always apologizing for their existence and open to corruption, exactly the type of adversary Fidesz wants to succeed.

    But why has Magyar’s political past or the existence of SZDSZ got anything to do with his theses in his book?

    You may think Heidegger was a Nazi, but that is not argument if you want to preempt his philosophical points.

    Magyar’s and his co-writers’ points are very valid. Fact. Fidesz is reshaping the country into a mafia-state. There is no question about it.

    But as a matter of political science the question is whether Magyar’s model is a unique model (probably not) and more importantly, what is the reason why people are OK with this transformation, in fact many people are outright enthusiastic about it (even though many see the dark side of this transformation)?

  38. 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.

    The annual GDP growth was a preliminatry 1.1% for the entire calendear year 2013. That is not something to brag about, I guess.

    But Index is owned by Fidesznik arch-oligarch Zoltan Speder, whose FHB Bank is in the process of purchasing Takarekbank, the cooperative bank which always existed but which was enlarged last year by the nationalization of dozens of cooperative banks (ie. surprizingly, or not, now the whole thing is privatized).

    Just so people now how independent Index is.

  39. Re Mr. Paul and Magyar Polip. Again one can argue on the basis of gut feelings but such opinion is usually not well founded. Especially if one is not even familiar with the facts. I very much doubt that Mr. Paul even cursorily looked at the book about which he talks so authoratively. Because Bálint Magyar’s name doesn’t even appear on the front page of the book. Only on the reverse side one can read that he edited it and wrote the introduction to it. It also mentions the name of the co-editor (same size letters) who was Júlia Vásárhelyi.

    As for the introduction. It is 80 pages long while the other articles are about ten pages in length. But that’s not the important issue here. It was Magyar who came out with the concept of the mafia state way back in 2002.So, all articles are there to support his thesis, You might disagree with it but attacking the author’s integrity and bringing up issues which have nothing to do with corruption is simply not fair. People make wrong decisions right and left but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are corrupt.

    I hate all this talk about “all politicians are crooks.” First of all, it is not true and second, such talk is destructive.

  40. @crill: I haven’t been reading Index for a while because some of their reporting was a suspect… but it is really getting hard to find a truly Fidesz-independent media in Hungary nowadays. Even those that profess to be independent are being manipulated by Fidesz in so many ways.

  41. Mr. Paul :

    HiBoM :
    I think it is a bit insulting to suggest that Magyar didn’t write this book himself. Clearly he did. But MrPaul’s final point (“If random KDNP politician …”) is a fair one I think.

    Just a correction, Bálint Magyar is the editor of the book. (Szerkesztő)

    http://www.libri.hu/konyv/magyar_balint.magyar-polip.html

    It has contributions from multiple people each writing a separate chapter(I can’t give a source for this because my only source is that I heard this on Klubrádió).

    So, I was right. You didn’t set eye on the book. Typical

  42. An :

    @crill: I haven’t been reading Index for a while because some of their reporting was a suspect… but it is really getting hard to find a truly Fidesz-independent media in Hungary nowadays. Even those that profess to be independent are being manipulated by Fidesz in so many ways.

    Even Népszabadság. They leek all sorts of untrue stories to Ildikó Csuhaj who dutifully reports them.

Comments are closed.