FYI: A documentary on Putin sheds light on Orbán’s Hungary

This is an extra post, actually just a note, calling readers’ attention to a fascinating documentary, Putin’s Way, aired on Public Broadcasting Corporation’s weekly program “Frontline” on January 13. PBS is the American public television station, funded for the most part by corporate donors, foundations, and ordinary viewers. It is, unlike MTV, decidedly not a state TV station.

The documentary is based on a recently released book by Karen Dawisha, Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014) which is hailed as brilliant. A review in The New York Times summarizes the main points of the book. Dawisha, who received her Ph.D. from the London School of Economics, is currently the Walter E. Havighurst Professor of Political Science and Director of the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.

The book has quite a history. Originally, it was supposed to be published by Cambridge University Press, but in the last moment the publisher, fearing stringent British libel laws, changed its mind. The details, including an exchange of letters between CUP and Dawisha, were published in The Economist.

The documentary is available on PBS’s website as well as on YouTube. The former is in larger format and, I think, of better quality.

Anyone who’s interested in the workings of the political system developed by Viktor Orbán should find this documentary educational. Russian kleptocracy and the Hungarian mafia state seem to have a lot in common.


  1. Coincidentally or not, Orban just announced a very similar law. Cable providers in Hungary must carry the existing and newly created state-TV channels which means that in lower-priced packages only state channels will be included and thus watched. Coincidentally or not, Orban’s main target is the rather poor, white, rural, uneducated demographic.

    “As the year wrapped up, the cabinet filed a bill in Parliament proposing to create a federally mandated list of the broadcasters to be carried by every cable provider. And the person who would be in charge of compiling that list, according to the bill, is the president of Russia.”

  2. It should indeed be read widely. Simply to stop believing that what has happened in Hungary is something that the world has never seen before.

  3. Whistle-Blowers and Fear of FUD

    As a past CUP author myself, I can’t say I felt proud of the style in which this case was handled, but in the end I have to agree that — what with UK libel law and the finiteness of CUP’s legal resources — CUP had no choice: CUP’s pockets are nowhere near as deep as those of the olligarchs, ready to capitalize on FUD in order to prevent public exposure of their machinations.

    But one alternative comes to mind: What is at issue — international corruption — is far too important and dangerous to reward it with immunity by default, simply because publishers are too poor to expose international multibillionaires. Why can the legal expense of publishers not be under-written by the UK government? This would still afford a fair trial, if it came to that, even without updating UK law, but it would enable UK publshers to do their job without fear of FUD.

  4. Ayn Rand’s looters in Atlas Shrugged have nothing on the Russians or Hungarians these days.

    In just a few years, the Russians and Hungarians have become absolute masters of corruption, who could show a thing or two even to the small timers in the Mafias in America, Columbia or Italy.

    In a matter of two decades or so, they evolved sophisticated perversions of capitalism, parasitic infestations on the market economies.

    Little Austria and little Hungary cheek by jowl – what a contrast!

  5. Russians and Hungarians seem to prefer strongmen to be in charge, no matter how corrupt they may be.

    In that, they are very similar to the Arabs or Turks.

  6. @Stevan Harnad, I would hate to see any organization be not be accountable. That said, there is a bigger problem, why do we have a system were people abandon a defensible position because the advisory has deeper pockets? My experiences here are limited but an organization I was involved with was able to get a larger adversary to back off with a simple letter from a lawyer. So, is the documentary defensible? This documentary looked a little too much like a witch hunt rather than the strong investigative journalism that Frontline typically produces. The counter sources and look at the sources was weak in this case. Not that I disbelieve any of the points made in the documentary. It’s just that one does have to question the motives of those interviewed.

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