“Is Hungary being ruined by a scoundrel or a fanatic?” A debate

Bálint Magyar’s interview describing the Orbán regime as a post communist mafia state made a big splash in Hungary. The phrases “mafia government” and “mafia state” spread like wildfire. Readers may recall that I gave a fairly detailed summary of this interview in three parts under the title “Bálint Magyar: Viktor Orbán’s post-communist mafia state.”

Given the Hungarian penchant for open discussion it was not surprising that soon enough a critique of Magyar’s thesis appeared in the same publication, Élet és Irodalom, in which the original interview had been published. Gábor Horn, the author of the critique, is, like Magyar, a former SZDSZ politician. Horn disagrees with Magyar in fundamental ways. A week later, Horn’s article was analyzed by Mihály Andor, a journalist whose articles and short pieces often appear on the Internet site Galamus.

I will leave a discussion of  the merits of Horn’s arguments to the readers. I’m sure that an animated debate of his and Arnold’s arguments will follow. Here I will merely add a few new pieces of information that might be relevant to the discussion.

Gábor Horn considers Magyar’s analysis a good starting point, but he himself sees Viktor Orbán and his regime “fundamentally differently.” After briefly outlining Magyar’s thesis, Horn says that Magyar is on the “wrong track.” His findings are the “result of wrong perception.” Because “the situation is worse.” It would be better if Hungary were a well organized mafia state. Mafias work rationally.  Mafia leaders want to gain maximum profit, they leave those who don’t break the rules alone, they are interested in prosperity.

But, Horn claims, “the government of Orbán is anything but rational. … Viktor Orbán is not a godfather, not an anti-Semite, not a racist as so many people want to portray him. None of that is true.” He is not a mafioso, although Horn admits that people close to him “managed to receive considerable economic advantages.”

Instead, “Viktor Orbán truly believes in his own version of a unique third road for Hungarian economic development.” Here Orbán echoes those populist/narordnik/népies writers and ideologists of the 1930s who thought in terms of a third road, something between socialism and capitalism, that would make Hungary a prosperous, mostly agrarian state.

Source: artsjournal.com

Source: artsjournal.com

So, Horn continues, the “mafia-like signs” are not the bases of Orbán’s system; they are only “collateral expenses” of the real goal. After all, Orbán knows that politics costs money. He “tolerates these political expenses but neither individual enrichment, money in general, nor economic gain is the goal of his politics.” This (I guess the mafia-like behavior) is “an important instrument in the service of the GREAT BELIEF.”

In Horn’s opinion it this zealous belief in an ideal economic and social system that drives him to take on the European Union, the IMF, the multinational companies, the banks, and everything else that stands in his way. Just as he truly believes that the old-fashioned school system serves his vision because it will lay the foundations for a better world. He is doing all this not because of dictatorial impulses but because he is convinced that “individual ideas are common fallacies and fallacies lead to blind alleys.” Orbán truly believes that the steps he is taking will lead to “the salvation of the country.” They are “not for his individual enrichment and his family’s economic supremacy.” Horn quickly adds that naturally Orbán has no objection to “doing well himself, but that is only a secondary question for him.”

Horn is also certain that “not for a moment does Orbán think that we don’t live in a democratic country. He just thinks that interpreting the law according to his will also serves the interests of the people. As all followers of the third-road ideology, he moves in a system completely outside the realm of reality, except in his case he manages to receive unlimited authority to execute his ideas.”

This is more or less the gist of Gábor Horn’s argument which, it seems, didn’t convince everyone. It certainly didn’t convince Mihály Andor. After reading Bálint Magyar’s interview and Gábor Horn’s article, he posed the question whether “the country is being ruined by a scoundrel or a fanatic.” That question can be answered definitively only by looking into Viktor Orbán’s head. Since we cannot do that, we have to judge from his actions, and from his actions “a cynical picture emerges of a man who wants to grab and hold onto power at any price.”

Andor outlines a number of Orbán’s moves that aim at sowing hatred between different groups in order to ensure his own unlimited power. If it were only great faith that motivates him, he wouldn’t have to turn man against man. When it comes to ideology, the originally atheist Orbán “paid off the churches that would take up the work of educating obedient servants of the state.”

If Orbán is not primarily interested in his own enrichment, what should we do with all the information that has been gathered over the last ten or fifteen years about the shady dealings of the extended family? Andor finds it difficult to believe that Orbán’s attitude toward money is no more than “collateral expenses in the service of politics.” Andor, like so many others, including Ferenc Gyurcsány and Mátyás Eörsi, believes that the Orbán family’s enrichment is one of the principal aims of the prime minister of Hungary.

Andor brings up a recent news item. Lőrinc Mészáros, mayor of Felcsút and chairman of the Puskás Academy, just took out 800 million forints worth of dividends from his construction company that employs 250 men. I wrote about this mysterious fellow who not so long ago worked as an artisan. He used to lay down gas pipes going from the main into the houses of Felcsút. Today he is obviously a billionaire. And, by the by, he also received 1,200 hectares of land through the land lease program of the Orbán government. Some people think that the connection between Orbán and Mészáros is more than meets the eye. They suspect that Mészáros is a “stróman” (the Hungarian spelling of the German Strohmann, dummy, front man) in Viktor Orbán’s service.

And more news about the strange financial dealings touching on the Orbán family appeared only yesterday. In 2008 Mrs. Orbán (Anikó Lévai) purchased a 90m² apartment on Gellért Hill where Ráhel (24), the oldest Orbán daughter, lives. Krisztina Ferenczi, an investigative journalist who has been looking into the Orbán family’s enrichment for at least ten years, found out lately that the apartment right next door was purchased by István Garancsi, who just happens to be the owner of Viktor Orbán’s favorite  football team, Videoton. He is also the man who owns the only credit union that will not be nationalized, ostensibly because he is in the middle of converting it into a full-fledged bank. Most likely Orbán told Garancsi about the impending nationalization and advised him to begin converting his credit union into a bank to save his business. By the way, it was Garancsi’s credit union that lent a considerable amount of money to the Puskás Academy.

It turns out that Orbán’s only son, who plays for Videoton, has been living in Garancsi’s apartment ever since 2011. Apparently the young Orbán is neither a good football player nor a particularly enthusiastic one. He played only once last season. But Garancsi doesn’t seem to hold that against him. He is renting out his apartment to the young Orbán. The financial details are of course not a matter of public record.

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Minusio
Guest

I am siding with Andor: ‘…from his actions “a cynical picture emerges of a man who wants to grab and hold onto power at any price.”‘

To my mind only this perception of the man fully explains his actions. Why this is so is a matter for psychiatrists to explain. It looks like short men are more dangerous than taller ones. According to Shakespeare, Cesar wanted to have fat men around him because he wouldn’t have to fear them as much. And Brutus, by all accounts, was lean. But the people around Orbán are boorish or square.

Ivan
Guest

Where the “mafia structure” argument wins out of course, is the spellbound devotion of his followers (who are not in the slightest bit interested in debate, policy detail etc) and the almost total lack of dissent – at even the most extreme policies – amongst senior colleagues. There has not been one truly notable defection, or even expression of differing opinion (aside from a minor argument over education between Hoffmann and Pokorni quite some time ago), which is extraordinary.

gybognarjr
Guest

Dear Ms. Balogh,
I always learn a lot from your articles, you select excellent publications to analyze.
I just had an idea. Instead of guessing what the viktor is all about from various articles, asking, if he is a mafioso or is he a stupid dictator, why aren’t we try to get the answers from him. Arrest him for his enormous crimes, confiscate his and his family’s possessions, put him in jail an interrogate him for 5-6 years, daily. We are patient. At the end we may get a better understanding who he was and what did he try to accomplish. Some people still may be interested to read about him, at that time. But meanwhile Hungary can have a chance to get a better government (a chance only, not a guarantee) and people can get on with their lives with much less fear and trepidations. As it is, meanwhile, it makes no difference what anyone thinks about him, until the 2014 elections, which he will alter to his benefit.

An
Guest
I, too, agree with Andor’s description, that the key to Orban’s character is his need for power. I’d also add that the only thing Orban truly believes in is that he is somehow chosen to accomplish great things… and he is set out to prove that, no matter what. In this sense he is a fanatic, but all the other stuff, (independence from “foreign powers”. a special Hungarian way, religion, traditional values..) these are all tools to achieve the main goal (power and to prove that he is chosen for great things). He doesn’t really believe in anything else other than his own greatness. Of course, if you believe in your own greatness, then you feel entitled to material things, as well. Hence the word “corruption” doesn’t even make sense in Orban’s world. He is chosen, therefore he is entitled. And because he is chosen, he is entitled to reward those who are loyal. And if he is entitled, so are those who support him. Orban alone doesn’t represent Fidesz, though. Not everybody is a fanatic in Fidesz. Many are opportunists. I think one of the most important background figures, without whom Orban probably would still be nobody, is Simicska.… Read more »
Member
Maybe we are giving the guy too much credit by debating about his personality… According to my theory there is now 3rd way here. The reason behind this fuzzy politics that sometimes so blatantly goes against common sense is simple: is the lack of talent. His not a fanatic. Fanatics are going in a certain direction. This guy isn’t. He simply doesn’t know what to do. Imagine if he steered the Fidesz into a normal christian democratic direction. Nothing spectacular, just run the country. He has no talent to do that. He is just doing the prime minister things. Driving cargo vans with the minister of interior, giving speeches here and there and when he gets depressed he builds another stadium. Stadium is the new chocolate in Hungary. For Orban at least. His life wasn’t that complicated. In 82, after being discharged from the army, the dumbo country bumpkin went up to Budapest. His daddy had probably high hopes. Vick can be a famous football player or something because he doesn’t seem to be neither industrious or smart. So he was farting around in college for 5 years and still had no idea. He dabbled in the KISZ, the Communist… Read more »
Kettő Narancs
Guest
Garancsi is simply one of Orbán’s stróman. CD Hungary’s privatisation, which established Garancsi’s wealth on paper, was a step similar to the famous Tiszti Kaszino transaction in the early nineties which was the first deal made by Fidesz from which Orbán, Simicska, possibly Deutsch directly benefited, although the party as well. CD Hungary was a huge real estate holding company which owned and managed real estate, mostly in the burbs of the Buda side, and mostly big villas in which foreign diplomats and high ranking Hungarian government officials lived, embassies operated (perhaps in many cases still do, pursuant to long term leases). Needless to say, that it was a company that had wide-ranging connections to the security organisations and so you don’t just simply privatize such a company. But when Fidesz (or OTP for that matter) does anything, you don’t have to look too far for these connections. Eventually, with the help of OTP, who else, the holding company ended up in the hands of a special purpose vehicle owned by istván Garancsi and Zsolt Hernádi (CEO of MOL), although I think there were others as well. Of course, you would be a bloody fool to assume that certain people… Read more »
gdfxx
Guest

I wonder whether the two characteristics exclude each other…

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest
gdfxx : I wonder whether the two characteristics exclude each other… I agree. First, organized crime bosses and fanatical leaders murder people. I believe such ad hominem arguments to be useless in a political debate. That said, if we focus on the characteristics of the regime itself, both Magyar and Horn may be right. Yes, the current Government is a populist, ‘national-Christian’ avatar. It pretends to rule the country from the top down, close the debates about the nation’s identity and social issues. It aims at subjugating the judiciary and the legislative. It resents civil society, and reduces cultural expression to folk festivals. Fanatical? No. Promoting an despotic ideology? Certainly. I’ll follow Horn on this. Now, Oligarchies, corruption and favoritism are obviously not specific to despotic, or would-be despotic, regimes. Yet, those regimes present a huge design flaw when it comes to fighting them. The top-down dynamics do not provide a favourable environment for any control systems that may be put in place. I wouldn’t say this is deliberate from the ideologues of despotic systems; rather, from the start they just don’t understand that the exact powers they want to numb (the judiciary and civil society) in order to maintain… Read more »
petofi
Guest

@ Marcel De

“The bad news is that it seems that’s the point we’re at. The good news is it shouldn’t last long…”

I wouldn’t bet on that. Corruption is endemic in Hungarian politics. If one follows MSZP with the ‘third eye’…one can detect, by their various actions and Mesterhazy’s statements, that the fat is already in the fire–that is, the boys are only waiting for Orban’s offer and agreement on dividing the spoils post-2014. Bajnai is awfully naive to throw in with them.
All that has done is improve MSZP’s bargaining position with Fidesz.

The country, now, is in the hands of a perfect Machiavellian, and there’s little to be done except to hold on to sides of the raft as we careen down the onrushing rapids.

We–Hungary, that is–is a pawn in a major power play between the EU and Russia. As well,
having noted the silence of the US government (Hillary) on what is happening here, the yanks don’t seem to mind the Hungarian irritant for the EU, either.

tappanch
Guest

The FTC-MTK soccer match was shown in public television yesterday.

FTC [or Ferencvaros or Fradi] was identified with the Arrow Cross in the 1930s and 1940s. Its chairman was Andor Jaross in 1944, who oversaw the deportations of the Jews as interior minister. He was hanged in 1946. Its hard-core fans were used in the 2006 disturbances. The current chairman of the club is the Fidesz party chairman Kubatov.

MTK was identified with the Budapest Jewry. The club was banned in 1941-1942. Its chairman, Alfred Brull was murdered in 1944.

http://magyarnarancs.hu/egotripp/palya_a_magasban_arjak_a_palyan-69222

Back to yesterday’s match. The FTC fans held up a huge banner with the text
“In memoriam Csatary Laszlo”. Csatary was the cruel commander of the Kosice or Kassa ghetto, who died a few days ago.

The banner was shown to hundreds of thousands of Hungarians by Orban’s “public” television,

http://index.hu/bloghu/comment/2013/08/18/a_kassai_gettoparancsnokra_emlekezett_a_kozteve

Member

The FTC-MTK soccer match was shown in public television yesterday.

FTC [or Ferencvaros or Fradi] was identified with the Arrow Cross in the 1930s and 1940s. Its chairman was Andor Jaross in 1944, who oversaw the deportations of the Jews as interior minister. He was hanged in 1946. Its hard-core fans were used in the 2006 disturbances. The current chairman of the club is the Fidesz party chairman Kubatov.

MTK was identified with the Budapest Jewry. The club was banned in 1941-1942. Its chairman, Alfred Brull was murdered in 1944.

http://magyarnarancs.hu/egotripp/palya_a_magasban_arjak_a_palyan-69222

Back to yesterday’s match. The FTC fans held up a huge banner with the text
“In memoriam Csatary Laszlo”. Csatary was the cruel commander of the Kosice or Kassa ghetto, who died a few days ago.

The banner was shown to hundreds of thousands of Hungarians by Orban’s “public” television,

http://index.hu/bloghu/comment/2013/08/18/a_kassai_gettoparancsnokra_emlekezett_a_kozteve

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@ petofi : I agree it was also endemic in previous administrations. The difference in my eyes tough is that previous administrations did allow for the possibility of a judicial and civil society response, or should I say, empowerment. There were grounds for improvement from the bottom up, however slow.

The current emperor’s ideological clothes are being eaten bare by the moths. The ruhamolyok have long mutated, they are insensitive to the generous spreading of interwar period naphthalene in a building whose doors and windows have been shut.

Member
Sociopathy Says It All I think we can safely reject the hypothesis that Orban and Fidesz are not driven by greed but by ideology. Orban is a thin-skinned (but rather thick) sociopath in whom successful domination and power engender the usual megalomania along with increasingly paranoid and divisive vengefulness against “enemies,” including anyone who ventures (or is perceived as) to try to “diss” him. The Fidesz Family’s obvious opportunism, using whatever pretext (or its opposite) that works to achieve their ends is a give-away that it is not some sort of extremist or eccentric ideology that is driving its tactics but simple lust for power and (personal) wealth. But Orbanian Opportunism may yet (despite the pessimism of many commentators in this Forum!) prove to be sowing the seeds of its own destruction: Hungary, unlike Russia, is small and dependent, not big and independent. And although blaming every blunder on — and camouflaging ever dirty trick in dark finger-pointing at — the usual “enemy” scapegoats (be they former commies, prior governments or leaders, lib-lefties, the international banking conspiracy, eurocrats in suits, or when external bugaboos run out, the two ever-ready domestic culprit populations) plays well with much of the Hungarian populace… Read more »
Member

Whoops, sorry, there should have been a close-bold after “all” above:

…A psychopath depends on singing a song that successfully holds in thrall all parties on which his interests depend. Orban can do this with his self-deluded domestic constituency.

But not with the wider world without. And I don’t believe he can survive, as his crude double-dealing peacock dance becomes increasingly transparent to the world without.

The rest of the West does not share Hungarians’ delusion that there’s always someone on whom to blame everything that goes wrong in the Carpathian Basement. Whose fault it is will only become increasingly obvious as Orban’s duplicity becomes ever more flagrant and florid.

Member

To put it another way: populist demagoguery plays well only to the domestic populace…

sebt
Guest
“Viktor Orbán truly believes in his own version of a unique third road for Hungarian economic development.” (Horn) “…we have to judge from his actions, and from his actions “a cynical picture emerges of a man who wants to grab and hold onto power at any price.” (Andor) Horn and Andor’s analyses both sound fascinating. I wish I could read them in full – but my Hungarian reading skills so far probably only stretch to picking my way through a childrens’ book… (any recommendations welcome 😉 ). I like Horn’s view of Orbán as motivated by true belief, because it makes sense of two things about VO/Fidesz which have always puzzled me. First of all, there’s their obvious appeal to people. Evidently many milions of people in Hungary support VO – far more people than those who’ve benefited from Fidesz largesse. If he was nothing but a mafioso, rewarding his friends and either neglecting or exploiting everyone else, this couldn’t be the case. It’s the “vision thing” which makes the difference, and which also explains why Fidesz and their supporters react in such an affronted, personal way to criticism. (Personally I believe this is a better explanation, or a more… Read more »
whoever
Guest

@sept fantastic post – hitting the nail on the head.

However, to be less precise, Orban is all and none of the following, to different people:

a godfather, not an anti-Semite, not a racist

whilst he is also (all of and none of) the following:

a concerned patriot, the coolest member of the democratic opposition, a socially concerned Christian

and then we mix in the persistent rumours of mental instability, and we indeed have a picture of a child on a beach, stacking sand in a big pile. But we also have a picture of someone who in a strange way understands Hungary, and the particular mentality of its post-communist self, in a far deeper, more intuitive way than other (wooden) politicians of this era.

In truth, Orban may be the ruin of Hungary, over time, but if so, he is not so much the Pied Piper as the bandleader on the deck of the Titanic.

oneill
Guest
“If he was nothing but a mafioso, rewarding his friends and either neglecting or exploiting everyone else, this couldn’t be the case”. The most successful Mafioso are-were extremely popular in their own communities despite their own personal ostentatious wealth. Why? They understood exactly what made the “community” tick. Orban *does* know how to make enough Hungarians tick; the constant creation of strawmen and conspiracy theories to explain why the country isn’t as successful as it should be allows the typical citizen not to ask the searching questions of themselves and their nation. Blame the banks, blame the EU, the IMF, the Jews, the Roma but whatever you do, don’t ever take responsibility yourself for the crap state of your own pathetic joke of a life and a country Where he differs from the most successful Mafia Godfathers is the inability to separate his own personal hatreds and prejudices from what is needed to keep his *empire* in the best possible operational state. The Viktator simply doesn’t do detached pragmatism. Did he need to persecute Klubradio to the extent that he did? N ope, it posed absolutely no threat to his regime but his petulance succeeded in making it an international… Read more »
Paul
Guest

An, as so often, makes an excellent points:

“Of course, if you believe in your own greatness, then you feel entitled to material things, as well. Hence the word “corruption” doesn’t even make sense in Orban’s world. He is chosen, therefore he is entitled. And because he is chosen, he is entitled to reward those who are loyal. And if he is entitled, so are those who support him.”

That’s exactly the reaction I get from Fidesz supporters all the time. They don’t even bother to argue about the reduction of democracy or the amount of wealth Orbán and others are amassing. To them this is entirely to be expected/deserved. He is a great man saving Hungary, if he needs to do ‘unconventional’ things to achieve this, not only is that acceptable, it’s even lauded as cleverness. And if he makes a lot of money out of it, good for him, he deserves it.

And as sebt points out – we are dealing with belief here, not rational policies/argument. You can no more argue a Fidesznik out of their faith in Orbán than you can persuade a Christian that God doesn’t exist – they KNOW they are right.

tappanch
Guest

The Egyptians are writing the post-Muslim Brotherhood constitution:

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/77890/Egypt/Politics-/-constitutional-articles-revised-Amendments-commit.aspx

Is there anyone out there writing the post-Fidesz constitution?

tappanch
Guest

The Fidesz is our Muslim Brotherhood;
the Jobbik is our Salafist Nour party.

Paul
Guest
As for the two views of what motivates Orbán and what sort of state he is running – I think we are falling into the usual trap of accepting that there are only two options to choose from. Clearly Orbán is neither. He fits both theories in many ways, but he doesn’t match either fully. Orbán is not an intelligent man. He may be cunning, but he is not where he is through intelligence. He is a man driven entirely by his own needs – to hold absolute power and to exact revenge on all those he feels have slighted him. He is actually a very simple character, because everything else is subsumed to those two drivers. Everything else is secondary. He might make a lot of money while he’s at it, and he may make his friends and supporters rich, he might even indulge in a stadium or two and play at changing the country so it fits his vision of how Hungary should be. But power and revenge are all that really count. If he had to give everything else up in order to keep the power, he would do it without a second thought.
Paul
Guest

tappanch – but we have no army.

Member

BREAKING NEWS

Hawk Down

The only plane of the new Solyom Airlines (Hawk Airlines), the Sleepy (Álmos), the industrial waste category Boing 737 landed on Liszt Ferihegy (Franz Liszt Internatinal Airport).

Member
tappanch : The FTC-MTK soccer match was shown in public television yesterday. FTC [or Ferencvaros or Fradi] was identified with the Arrow Cross in the 1930s and 1940s. Its chairman was Andor Jaross in 1944, who oversaw the deportations of the Jews as interior minister. He was hanged in 1946. Its hard-core fans were used in the 2006 disturbances. The current chairman of the club is the Fidesz party chairman Kubatov. MTK was identified with the Budapest Jewry. The club was banned in 1941-1942. Its chairman, Alfred Brull was murdered in 1944. http://magyarnarancs.hu/egotripp/palya_a_magasban_arjak_a_palyan-69222 Back to yesterday’s match. The FTC fans held up a huge banner with the text “In memoriam Csatary Laszlo”. Csatary was the cruel commander of the Kosice or Kassa ghetto, who died a few days ago. The banner was shown to hundreds of thousands of Hungarians by Orban’s “public” television, http://index.hu/bloghu/comment/2013/08/18/a_kassai_gettoparancsnokra_emlekezett_a_kozteve FIFA have already made Hungary and Bulgaria stage behind-closed-doors matches T World Cup qualifiers as punishment for supporters’ abusive chanting back in March. I doubt that the Hungaroan Football Federation has the decency and/or the guts to go against Orban’s favourite team and force them to play behind closed doors for a few games. When it… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

@muttdamon

Their naming of the airplane is also unique, since Álmos, aka Szundi means Sleepy.

tappanch
Guest

@muttdamon

I am going to sleep: it escaped my attention that you already translated the name of chieftain Álmos.

Guest

tappanch: “Is there anyone out there writing the post-Fidesz constitution?”

No there are not. This has for a long time been the obvious thing for the opposition to do but they cannot agree about anything however obvious.

Bulisuli
Guest
Tappanch/Jean P: Actually, there exists both (A) a kind of minimum version to amend the current constitution containing only some new provisions which are the absolute bare minimum for the opposition to be able to govern if it ever gets to power and there is also (B) a full version draft for a completely new constitution. I suppose both versions are still available online at Haza és Haladás. Mind you, the full version is an extremely compromised one — as a first draft it must have been much more lefty and liberal, knowing that the first version of anything is always rejected by the other side, this how you bargain. But Bajnai’s party wanted to cross over to conservatives, so the first draft for their draft constitution already has been compromised, essentially meaning that as far as Bajnai and co. are concerned, they are OK with having a final version as a nice right wing constitution. But the left has never had any vision or real principles. They are kind technocrats at heart who want to Govern and don’t want to deal with values and symbols, they want to leave those to the people (nép). They are afraid to deal… Read more »
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