Corruption in Hungary yesterday and today

At the time Viktor Orbán became prime minister of Hungary in 2010 he talked a lot about his “war against corruption.” As we know by now, Orbán is always at war with absolutely everybody and everything. His war against corruption seems to be about as successful as his battles against the money markets and the credit rating organizations. According a new survey on corruption by Transparency International, corruption in Hungary grew last year. A year ago Hungary ranked forty-sixth out of 183 countries. Now Hungary has dropped to fiftieth.

 

A new book by József Debreczeni about political corruption appeared a few days ago, A politika fertője (Slough of Politics). Debreczeni, who started his professional career as a teacher of history, traces political corruption to post-1867 politics when the majority of Hungarians were not too keen on the Compromise of 1867. They would have preferred total independence. In order to uphold the constitutional arrangement worked out by Hungarian politicians and Emperor Franz Joseph, the only reasonable solution at the time, favors had to be given in exchange for political support.

To maintain the limited home rule achieved in 1867 against the wishes of the majority of the population all sorts of illegal tricks were necessary. One reason, for example, the voting laws had to be so restrictive was the fear that wider electoral rights would give a majority to the Party of Independence. Political corruption was widespread. Anyone who would like to refresh his or her memory of those days can read some of Kálmán Mikszáth’s books. He should have known. He was a member of parliament between 1887 and his death in 1910.

The prime ministers of the period, however, were never accused of any corruption. They knew what was going on, how the middle nobility had to be paid off with jobs and other favors to support the government, but they themselves were never the beneficiaries of any ill-gotten money. That was also true about the Horthy period. The Horthy family didn’t become rich as a result of Miklós Horthy’s position. Horthy himself had a very modest estate of a couple of hundred acres, and the family left the country close to penniless in 1944. The prime ministers of the interwar period were also honest men. The situation was the same after 1945. Neither Zoltán Tildy nor Ferenc Nagy, the two Smallholders prime ministers, was on the take.

After 1990, József Antall didn’t try to enrich himself while in office and no one could come up with any dirt as far as the Antall family was concerned. The same couldn’t be said of Gyula Horn. There was, for instance, the rather expensive villa he built while in office. When questioned where the money came from, Horn claimed that he covered the expenses from the money received from the German translation of his autobiography. Maybe yes, maybe no. Suspicion lingers to this day.

The Orbán family’s enrichment during his tenure in office between 1998 and 2002 was legendary. I will write about these shady dealings of the Orbán family, father and son, tomorrow because I think it is time to refresh people’s memory. Especially the memories of those non-Hungarian-speaking people who in those days were less well informed about Hungarian affairs.

As for the prime minister after Viktor Orbán, Péter Medgyessy, rumors of corruption were widespread. His son and the son of an important MSZP politician received all sorts of sweet deals with companies that had close ties to the Hungarian state. There were no charges of corruption that could be levelled against either Gordon Bajnai or Ferenc Gyurcsány.

But individual corruption cases are only one kind of political corruption. The other is the financing of the parties. By law only 386 million forints can be spent on election campaigns, but according to László Majtényi, former ombudsman, 90% of the money spent on elections is illegally obtained. According to some calculations the parties together spent as much as 4 billion forints on the 2006 campaign. The situation was even worse in 2010 when the ratio between “black” and “white” money was 95:5. Thus, out of every 20 forints 19 came to the parties illegally.

According to Debreczeni, the local elections are even more expensive than the national ones. Those who know the details claim these elections may cost three times as much as the general elections. And we mustn’t forget about the economic necessities of a well functioning party such as radio stations and newspapers. Debreczeni quotes Viktor Orbán after the lost elections of 2002 when he talked to him about the mistakes of József Antall. “He didn’t govern before so these mistakes can be forgiven. But what we have done cannot be forgiven. The problem is not that we are again in opposition but that we are in opposition absolutely naked with our behind uncovered. After forty years of left-wing governments … a right-wing government managed to win. And we were unable to use this opportunity. That was a terrible mistake. Not to be prepared in case we lose the elections. Here we are without a political infrastructure…. There is not one newspaper, not one radio or television station. Not one!”

How much did it cost Fidesz and through the party the taxpayers to gather financial support for this “infrastructure”? What had to be promised to those rich supporters to set up television stations, to put money into weeklies and dailies? I have the feeling the country is still paying these guys for services rendered.

Orbán may not have spent enough energy during his first premiership to develop a media infrastructure for his party, but he took good care of his and his family’s well being. I will talk about those “deals” tomorrow.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Ron
Guest

There are many types of corruption the most common one is that with the grants and subsidies of the EU.
A project that normally would cost HUF 100 mio. would cost officially HUF 300 mio. They would get 50% thus HUF 150 mio. And the HUF 50 mio. would go directly into their pockets.

Member

THis brings me back to the donated money that the government put its hands on after the Red Mud catastrophe. It is not corruption per see but plain steeling.

Paul
Guest

Well, if this doesn’t bring JB out of ‘retirement’ nothing will!

Member

I think it’s also a form of political corruption when the “fuck counters” aka. Media Council receives a 500 million year end bonus budget. Porno Panka (Annamaria Szalai is called “Porno Annie” for his porn magazine editor past) and her 400 media goons will take home nice Christmas bonus. One can wonder how and when will have to pay back the favor. It’s like the maffia.

GDF
Guest

All governments have been corrupt for a long time, the exception is rare.
My father used to quote one of his uncles, who was an adult before the first world war: ” A politika, az egy korva”. (politics, that’s a whore).
By the way, I am not quoting this to excuse Orban, I am just frustrated with my own government, especially when I read that stock trading bazsed on insider information by members of the US Congress is legal (and practiced quite often by many), while private citizens go to jail for it.

Wondercat
Guest
The year-to-year difference in ranking between 50th least “transparent” and 46th least “transparent” is very likely not of consequence in a dataset of 183 members. I infer this from these data: The “score” assigned Hungary (http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2011/results/) was 4.6, units unspecified, with a confidence range from 3.9 to 5.2 — which scores correspond, for other countries in the same tabulation, to rankings of 69th and 44th least “transparent” respectively. Within this acknowledged error band, then, Hungary’s ranking has not changed. If Hungary drops another four to five places by 2012, or if in 2009 Hungary was at 41st-least-transparent rank, a demonstrated trend would be of concern. Can we take a longer view? As it happens, in 2009 Hungary was at 46th rank; in 2008 at 47th; in 2007 at 39th; 2006, 41st; 2005, 40th. These data suggest a slight fall in rank. But do they mean that Hungary is more corrupt than it used to be, more corrupt in ABSOLUTE terms, or (since in a closed set, when rank order shifts one must fall for another to rise) do they mean that other countries are improving their “transparency” at speeds greater than Hungary’s? I don’t think that this question can be… Read more »
GW
Guest
It’s in the nature of the beast that corruption is hard to report on and hard to quantify. We have to go by voluntary reporting and a lot of hearsay. So we pay attention to how well politicians and civil servants appear to be living on their official salaries and we pay attention to unlikely construction permits, secret long-term lease agreements (an airport, for 75 years!!!) and stock purchases. For what it’s worth, my expat friends in Hungary now report that the routine stops of foreigners driving (made easy because foreigners are assigned a license plate that announces that the owner is not Hungarian) by off-duty police in uniform but without name plates, which ended when the MSzP-SzDSZz coalition started the name plate requirement in 2002, have started up again in the past year, and the old “requirement” that a foreigner always happen to have a 2000 HUF bill in their passport has been upped to 5000 HUF. I cannot say whether this practice is actually condoned by the current government or is the result of police feeling the pinch of the weakened forint, but it is corruption and it does now take place in Hungary although a past government… Read more »
Member
The TI report is about public sector corruption. What is the definition of that? When I payed off a cop when I was speeding – is that public sector? Kitty, It’s no use to spin the methodology. Yes, by definition of the error margin we can be 3 places higher. Or lower. Whatever. Our rank is really BAD. It also made me chuckle when you pointed out this is a “relative” position list. So even if we one day slip below the sub-saharan countries we maybe improving at the same time (I sound like the MTI). This will be the typical Hungarian success story: “Last year we were standing at the edge of the cliff, but since then we took a big step forward”. The questionnaires were probably a bunch of “on a scale from 1 to 10” questions. The “have you bribed somebody in the ministry lately” would raise serios privacy questions. Whether the net worth of these businessmen qualifies them to be the evil 1% or not – they were honest. Perhaps we should create a “Rich businessmen lying perception” report. Hungary may finish first … I just heard that Orban ordered the secret service to investigate who… Read more »
Ron
Guest

You also may want to read another article of Eva on the topic of corruption on May 27, 2011.
Interesting are some of the comments.
http://esbalogh.typepad.com/hungarianspectrum/2011/05/corruption-in-hungary-is-on-the-rise.html

Paul
Guest

Good post, Wondercat. It’s always good to be made to think about what these ‘stats’ really mean.

Paul
Guest
As for corruption – living in the UK you are taught to feel pretty smug as we (apparently) “don’t have corruption”. And, yes, it’s broadly true. For instance, I’ve never been expected to give money or any other gift to my doctor (who would probably be embarrassed if I did), and, whilst no doubt the odd £20 note does get passed over to the copper who’s just stopped you for speeding, it’s exceedingly rare, and it’s much more likely to get into deeper trouble if you try it than get you off the fine. But that’s just what we see in our daily lives – what goes on that we don’t see? How exactly do certain companies manage to win certain government or local authority contracts? Who pays so much towards political party’s expenses, especially at election times, and why? What exactly goes on during ‘government lobbying’, and how come so many MPs have highly lucrative ‘second’ (and third and fourth…) jobs as company ‘advisors’ or on company boards? Despite all this, I still think that corruption isn’t as endemic in the UK as it can be in many other countries – and at least the ‘petty’ every-day sort of… Read more »
GW
Guest

Paul,
You example of a retail development paying for community service facilities as part of a planning permission process is not corruption in the sense of this thread as no individual or group is personally enriched from the arrangement and the community, as a whole, is benefiting from the receipt of facilities and services that the community would otherwise be unable to afford.
Now, it may well be argued that such package deals corrupt a regulatory process which should be decided completely on the merits and according to an ideal zoning plan. There are certainly examples in which such corruption of the process has taken place, but, by and large, such packages reflect an efficient compromise between public and private interests as well as between a community’s needs and actual resources.

Paul
Guest

Say a new community centre costs £2m to build. Let Tesco build a new supermarket exactly as they wan to, and they include one for free.
How is that different from them giving you £2m to let them build as they want to?

GDF
Guest

Paul:
“Say a new community centre costs £2m to build. Let Tesco build a new supermarket exactly as they wan to, and they include one for free.
How is that different from them giving you £2m to let them build as they want to?”
It depends.
If Tesco builds a community center for the community, the money did not go to any politician. Those who allowed the supermarket to be built as Tesco wanted it can claim some credit during the next election.
On the other hand if allowing Tesco to build it as the want it includes any code violations those who allowed that are liable for any consequences.
And finally, if some of the 2 mills got into a politician’s pocket (for example by using his property by Tesco to build on), then it’s a criminal corruption case.

Ron
Guest

GW: For what it’s worth, my expat friends in Hungary now report that the routine stops of foreigners driving (made easy because foreigners are assigned a license plate that announces that the owner is not Hungarian).
Actually you are right that the Hungarian police stops foreign license plate cars more often recently.
The reason is the fact that a lot of Hungarians bought/leased their cars through foreign legal entities, such as: a Slovakian company bought/leased the car and provide this to their employee/managing director who happens to be Hungarian and lives in Hungary.
Hungary lost on VAT (2*), car duty, luxury tax, etc. Further, these cars are not regularly for safety checked according to the Hungarian rules (most of them are expensive new cars, so most likely there is no need for checking for the next few years).
The license plate cars that I have seen being checked on a regular basis were German, Slovakian and Switzerland.

GW
Guest

Ron,
I’m talking about cars driven by expats with Hungarian plates, which are coded to indicate either city of the owner, diplomatic license plate, or foreign owner, not cars with plates from foreign countries. And the main point is that they are being stopped by officers without their name plates on (so that no complaint can be filed) and being shaken down for immediate cash for some supposed traffic offense, not for control of licensing or safety issues on the cars themselves.

GW
Guest

Paul,
The difference is obvious. The two million goes directly — and transparently — into the community centre which the community has decided it wants and which all can use. In a bribe, the two million secretly and untaxed goes into someone’s pocket and the community receives nothing and the community centre they’d like to have never gets built.

Ron
Guest

GW: I’m talking about cars driven by expats with Hungarian plates, which are coded to indicate either city of the owner, diplomatic license plate, or foreign owner, not cars with plates from foreign countries.
I use to drive a car with a V plate (car bought abroad temporary imported into Hungary, typical expat car). But that was abolished in 2004 May (entering the EU), same with C, P plates. Now it is only Hungarian plates or diplomatic plates.
The police will never stop diplomatic plate as it is either ambassador or somebody high in an embassy or Hungarian politician, in other words, always trouble.
They will stop you if you did not check you car on time (safety material check), which you can spot via the color code sticker on the license plate, but otherwise I was not stopped recently.
When I had he V-plate I was stopped at the end of the year or in January/February at least three times per week.

Paul
Guest

GDF/GW – OK I was playing Devil’s advocate. It isn’t exactly the same, but it still has an uncomfortable feel about it.
Whatever the benefits to the community, or whether or not a community centre might have been built, or even if no one gets any money out of it, Tesco still effectively had to pay £2m to get planning permission – which is their right by law to receive for free (apart from normal admin charges).

Guest

Ron, I think I just saw some cars with P- and E-plates ?
Regarding cars with Slovak plates – there are a few in Héviz nad Keszthely (mainly SUVs) that obviously belong to local businessmen – but the police don’t care (or are not allowed to do anything …)
PS: And some of them drive like crazy – passing through villages at 100 km/h, overtaking anyone slower whether the roadis clear or not …

Odin's lost eye
Guest
One of the basic causes of this type of corruption is the opportunity for it to occur. This opportunity comes about because of the structure (and the traditions) of the government. A government should consist of three parts which are the Political, the Executive and what I will call the ‘umpires’. The Political is appointed by the ‘people (Voters). Its powers are both limited and unlimited. It is limited by previous legislation (the constitution etc) and to some extent by the ‘umpires’, but it is unlimited by the opinions of the elected members. The executive is limited in its powers and duties by the legislation (and general traditions). It is a profession with grades and ranks. It entry qualifications vary with entry rank (and subsequently passing internal exams – or being exempt by obtaining higher public qualifications). Promotion depends on record and ‘T’ and ‘C’s (testimonials and commendations). Their political masters (Ministers) are responsible for its conduct and ensuring that their various departments do their duty as specified by the law. They cannot interfere with the personnel nor stop their department from doing their duty nor can they dismiss or appoint new personnel . The umpire, who often have some… Read more »
Ron
Guest

Wolfi: And some of them drive like crazy – passing through villages at 100 km/h, overtaking anyone slower whether the road is clear or not …
Within the EU it is a law that all penalties over EUR 75 made by cars with foreign license plate can be collected in the country of origin.
However, the databases of Western Europe and Eastern Europe are not compatible, and therefore, no penalties are collected so far. And people can drive like maniacs until the police stops you and collect the fine or the databases will be compatible.
As to the P and E plates, the V and C were abolished, the P was relating to temporary registration, and E I do not know.

Paul
Guest
A strange little story concerning foreign cars in Hungary: Out East, where we live, you don’t see that many western cars, in fact I’d never seen a UK registered car in eight years. And there aren’t that many English people out there either, especially not out in the Debreceni suburbs. So, imagine my surprise one day, whilst sitting at the bus stop (on my own), waiting for the 19-es, when I see a car pulling over and am amazed to see my first ever (and so far only) UK number plate. The car stopped, the window wound down and the driver (apparently) asked for directions to Romania. I attempted to answer in Hungarian, but gave up almost immediately and fell back on my usual “bocsánot, nem beszélek Magyarul, Angol vagyok”. “Bloody hell”, he replied, “you’re English!” I don’t know who was the most surprised, me to see a UK registered car that far from Budapest, or him to find an Englishman sat at a suburban bus stop in Debrecen. As it happened, his amazing ‘luck’ did him no good at all, as I had no idea how to get to Romania from there! But, later on the bus, I noticed… Read more »
Guest
Since we’re OT already I can add two stories being connected to “England”. A few days ago when shopping at the Lidl supermarket in Keszthely I returned to my car and saw a nice BMW with British plates, so I remarked to the elderly couple that was coming to their car: You surely had a long way to drive. We had some smalltalk and I mentioned the closing of the FlyBalaton airport at Sármellék when he answered: Well, the airport was the main reason for our buying our house here … The second story happened while I was waiting near our local car repairman for my car – walking the dog when I saw a Hungarian car taking the temporaryly closed road to Keszthely. After a few minutes the driver, a middle aged man, returned and stopped near me, got out and started to talk to me in Hungarian. When I answered him that I didn’t speak Hungarian he looked at me and continued in perfect English: Do you speak English ? When I said yes he asked my if there was any ATM nearby and I told him I didn’t know any bank in the village – but, he… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Somebody was mad enough to buy a house based on the assumption that EvilAir would stay at a small, regional Hungarian airport?!
Get in there quick, Wolfi, and buy his house off him. Offer him half what it’s worth and explain that house prices locally have collapsed since the airport closed.
It’s got to be worth a try!

Paul
Guest
And a ‘mad Hungarian driver’ horror story for you: Back in 2002, I think, just after the last lot of really bad floods, we were trying to drive from Szeged to Pécs and were having problems crossing the Duna because all the crossings were shut due to the flooding. (I think we had to go as far as Dunaföldvár before we finally got across, and even then we had to wait hours.) At one point we’d tried to cross by ferry somewhere (Mohacs?) and had got lost afterwards, ending up driving along a narrow road on top of the flood embankment. We were toodling along, following another car, my wife driving and me trying to find out where he hell we were, when the car in front started behaving oddly. Odd driving was hardly unusual in Hungary in those days (at least some things have improved!), so we didn’t pay much attention to this, until suddenly he sped away very fast. I was just wondering why he had suddenly accelerated when I noticed him (by now in the distance) spin the car round and drive back towards us. He came at us at top speed, headlights full on and apparently… Read more »
Guest

Well, Paul, these people seem to like Héviz and its surroundings very much (just like me …) and told me that now they like to travel by car with one or several stops in Germany and Austria, which is also a good idea – if you’ve got the time (as pensioners no problem) and the money (driving a shiny BMW 530 …).

Paul
Guest

And that’s just ONE of my ‘mad Hungarian driver’ horror stories!
There are plenty more. Like the time we were driving along the original bit of the M0 (when that’s all there was of it and it still had no central crash barrier), when a car some distance in front decided to do a U turn! To this day, I don’t understand why there wasn’t a multiple pile-up both sides. He gave no warning of what he was doing, actually drove towards us in our lane for the first few meters, then crossed the central reservation and tried to join the fast lane at about 10kph, realised he couldn’t accelerate quickly enough and then cut right across both lanes onto the hard shoulder!
If this doesn’t sound hairy enough, it was at the height of the evening rush-hour…

Paul
Guest

Wolfi – you don’t know you’ve been born in Héviz! It’s a different world out East.
When we come over to Balaton or Héviz, or even just to Buda, it’s like being in an entirely different country. A sort of extension of Austria, not the Hungary we know at all.
I wouldn’t mind betting your local Lidl even stocks nicer things than our one in Nyíregyháza!

Wondercat
Guest

Ah, Paul… Graz and Becs are still there. And well-served by air.
Thanks for the kind words on my attempt to analyse the OP, by the way.

wpDiscuz