Hungarian Octopus: The Post-Communist Mafia State

An important new book was published the other day in Hungary by Noran Libro: Hungarian Octopus: The Post-Communist Mafia State, ed. Bálint Magyar and Júlia Vásárhelyi. The idea of the Hungarian mafia state should be familiar to readers of this blog. Back in June I gave a detailed description over three consecutive days (June 18-20) of Bálint Magyar’s conceptual framework that describes the nature and functioning of the Orbán regime.

Magyar’s contention is that Viktor Orbán’s Hungary is an entirely new political phenomenon that cannot be compared to the authoritarian Horthy regime of the interwar period or to Mussolini’s corporative state, or even to Putin’s Russia. It functions the way any mafia does, but its job is made easy since “the family” has the power of the state behind it. We cannot combat this new formation unless we fully comprehend its inner workings. Most foreign observers don’t really understand the nature of Orbán’s regime, and therefore European politicians are on the wrong track when dealing with the problems Viktor Orbán creates within the European Union.

The Hungarian Octopus: The Post-Communist Mafia State

Hungarian Octopus: The Post-Communist Mafia State

The book’s contributors naturally approach their topics from the point of view of Magyar’s theory of the post-communist mafia state. Twenty-two scholars altogether, the cream of Hungary’s intellectual elite, contributed to the volume, which looks at all aspects of the mafia state, from law to economics to culture.

Since I’m planning to write about some of the studies in this volume at a later date, I will not go into details here. I couldn’t even if I wanted to. The book is 426 pages long and Magyar’s introductory essay is about 70 pages. So, instead let me quote the opinions of some of the advance readers. Charles Gati, historian, political scientist, and professor at Johns Hopkins University, is certain that “after this book, the West can never look at Central-Eastern Europe the same way as before.” Imre Vörös, former Supreme Court justice, calls it “a masterpiece cut with the laser blade of a brain surgeon, describing Hungarian society and its conditions at large in the autumn of 2013.” Pál Závada, writer, said that “this volume names the new political predator, the post-communist Hungarian octopus, and the privatized form of the parasite state with an air of linguistic sophistication.” According to Ferenc Pataki, social psychologist, “this volume is more than gripping: it is illuminating.” György Konrád, writer, called the authors of the book “the Budapest School of intellectuals” who “can invigorate thinking in the social sciences.” Mihály Andor, sociologist, described it as “the most important sociology volume of the last two decades.”

I will most likely be unable to write about all the essays in this volume, but let me here give a brief description of its contents. After Bálint Magyar’s introductory essay, the book is divided into four parts. The first deals with the “Systemic Structure of the Mafia State and Its Historical Specificity.” In this part Iván Szelényi writes about the different “capitalisms” that developed after communism in the region. Attila Ara-Kovács in “Prefigurations and Nightmares” compares Viktor Orbán to Silvio Berlusconi, the Kazyński brothers, and Vladimir Putin. Zsolt Pétervári analyzes the network of unlimited power, and finally György Csepeli in “The Mafia State’s Second-Hand Clothes” focuses on earlier attempts at identifying the nature of Orbán’s Hungary.

The second part is devoted to the legal aspects of the mafia state under the title “Legal Government in the Grip of the Octopus.” Four legal scholars–Zoltán Fleck (“Laws of the Mafia State”), Péter Bárándy and István Bihari (“State-Organized Crime”), and Tamás Lattmann (“Europe’s Impotence to Eliminate Deviations of Post-Communist States”)–and a sociologist, Ferenc Krémer (“Private Bodyguards at the Head of Power-Enforcement Bodies”), cover the field.

In the third part eight scholars write about “The Economic and Social Policy of the Mafia State: Mihály Laki, “The Weakness of the Strong,” Károly Attila Soós, “Plundering with Super-Taxation: Revenues, Populism and the Exclusion of ‘Aliens,'” István Csillag, “Mission: Getting Rich,” András Becker, “Orbán Ltd.,” Éva Várhegyi, “Banks in the Mafia State,” Iván Major, “Utility Cost Reductions and Super-Taxation in Networked Sectors,” Pál Juhász, “Historicizing Nonsense in Hungarian Agriculture,” and Balázs Krémer, “Social Picture and Social Politics in the Mafia State.”

And finally in the fourth part we can read about “The Symbolic and Cultural Context of the Mafia State.” This part includes four essays: György Gábor’s “Appropriation of God’s Country,” András Bozóki’s “Family Nest–Culture and Symbolic Political Captivity,” Mária Vásárhelyi’s “Functioning of the Media-Octopus–Brainwashing and Money Laundering,” and finally Márton Kozák’s ” Godfather’s Football.”

Anyone who is interested in the functioning of this monstrous system will find something in which he is particularly interested. But reading the book through gives the whole frightening picture. As Charles Gati suggested, this “pioneering work” should be translated into English and also into German. It should be a reference book for everyone whose work demands a thorough knowledge of Viktor Orbán’s system. Without this knowledge officials, politicians, and scholars will flounder and will arrive at a flawed assessment of the nature of this regime.

So, let us hope that this brilliantly cohesive volume will soon be available to a wider international public. Its translation really is a must because there is the danger that the mafia state dreamed up by Viktor Orbán and his college friends may spread throughout the post-communist world. Such an outcome would be a disaster for Europe.

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Pete H.
Guest

I am very interested in reading this book. However, an attempt to read the Hungarian version would be laborious at best.

So, I wrote the publisher (http://www.noranlibro.hu) to express my interest in seeing an English language version. I encourage Hungarian Spectrum readers to do the same.

andysomos
Guest

Living on the inside of this growing cancer I have a 1st row seat. One that is too close for the minimum of comfort…

The deceitful politics is serious enough without even considering a potential Eastren-European Domino Effect, something that is unlikely to pass wholesale as most of the other countries are not attracted by the same ‘carrots’. On the other hand the maffia may well spread like wild-fire within the political boundaries of Hungary. The result would be an archaic feudal kingdom led by none other his Highness King Orbán… !!!

Orbán’s vision is as creative as his political program and he knows his people and their weaknesses and makes full use of his creative truthbending reasoning which works on tickling the primal attitudes of a significant percentage of this country’s population.

God Save Hungary and Dump the King !!!

Kirsten
Guest

Pete H., I also hope that such translation will be available. I am very curious why this autocratic regime should be so different from all the other autocracies, and also whether this book contains thoughts about why Viktor Orban was so irresistible to the majority even of the Hungarian “elite” in 2010 that warnings were often dismissed as alarmist.

andy "no goggles"
Guest

We need to plough through this book – the standard agricultural type is just not goona do it…

andy "why"
Guest
Re Kirsten comment No 3: Why different?: In short because it uses a 2/3 elected majority to turn upside down the accepted status quo (constitutional and political-legal checks and blances) and leads the country by the nose stretching legality to past all previous intellectual limits and playing with power at the expense of the vast population while using clever PR lingo that rallies the population behind it by playing on basic instints inculcated during childhood regarding conservative norms of motherland, home, family, and historical precedents going back hundreds of years practically to the stone-age… The qucik reply to why some of the “elite” might have mistakently voted for Orban in 2010 is that the socialists did a pityable perfromance (Gyurcsány-Ösződ admittance to their illegal conduct ‘day and night’) and absolutely noone expected Fidesz to take a 2/3 majority as a ticket for wholesale robbery and maffia behavior by a select few. The essays in the book Magyar Polip are going to seem so convoluted that unless re-presented in simplified intellectual language they will just add to the intellectual fodder that has not allowed the opposition to move from ‘holt-pont’ (point of departure). You say one word: “haza” (motherland) and you… Read more »
Csaba K. Zoltani
Guest

A valid assessment of the structure and functioning of a society is only possible if the value judgments are based on certifiable facts and come from both ends of the political spectrum. The authors of this tome unfortunately only come from the left with preconceived hypotheses.

All societies benefit from objective scrutiny. This book is not one of them.

Ogallala
Guest

Kirsten: Great point — Hungary is probably not different at all.

As Istvan Hegedűs called attention to the fact, Bálint Magyar is not a political scientist and from the list of contributor it looks as if only András Bozóki was the only one (at least in the normal, professional sense of the word).

Hungary is probably very much like Serbia, Bulgaria, Russia, Southern-Italy, Ukraine, Liberia, Nigeria, Ethiopia or one could also invoke Hong-Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia etc.

The structures, trends, conditions which are described as regards Hungary do exist almost universally in the so-called low and middle-income countries, only lacking proper language skills, contacts, experience, appropriate education these analysts are unable to connect the dots.

The book may or may not be an important descriptive account, but one doubts that Hungary would be so unique. It may be the strange version of the “Hungarian uniqueness” bias at work or the usual scholarly bias according to which all scholars think that they found something new and unique. Probably not.

James Atkins
Guest

@Csaba Z – have you already read it? People on the left can also write with balance, insight and intelligence.

HiBoM
Guest
Although I suspect Csaba Z and I might belong to different parts of the political spectrum, he does make a good point. This is not a collection of essays by investigative journalists. The authors are largely intellectuals from the Hungarian left. And worse, some are ex-politicians! Bálint Magyar was part of the very administration whose corruption and incompetence led to Fidesz’s two thirds majority in the first place. So was Bozoki. Csillag was Medgyessy’s minister of economics. That sets alarm bells ringing. I haven’t read the book, so perhaps Bálint Magyar has explained in his 70 pages how the MSZP and SZDSZ’s corruption was different to the Fidesz corruption. But an objective description of what was going on in Hungary before Fidesz (and indeed before and after the first Fidesz government) is indispensable to put the current regime into context. But these people are hardly the authors to do that. Also, why isn’t there an essay by someone like Attila Mong, one of the few genuine investigative journalists in Hungary? Or Tamás Bozoki (also of Átlátszó)? I strongly suspect that they would describe the corruption landscape of Hungary in rather different terms to a compromised figure like Bálint Magyar. We… Read more »
latefor
Guest

Come on people…forget about this book…you will only get upset and angry….why don’t you read my recently released book on Amazon.com/kindle: The Gresham Symphony…..my book will make you smile……you will feel free……you will want to love again…please!

Guest

HiBoM: “Although I suspect Csaba Z and I might belong to different parts of the political spectrum, he does make a good point. This is not a collection of essays by investigative journalists. The authors are largely intellectuals from the Hungarian left. And worse, some are ex-politicians! Bálint Magyar was part of the very administration whose corruption and incompetence led to Fidesz’s two thirds majority in the first place. So was Bozoki. Csillag was Medgyessy’s minister of economics. That sets alarm bells ringing.”

You seem to mean that these people cannot possibly have any valid observations to relate. They should have kept their mouths shut.

Where are the investigative jounalists that you put your bet on?

andy "proposition"
Guest

Re the wave of four or so comments among the previous by non-leftist leaners above presume that an edited selection of studies require a balanced approach.

A book of studies of various aspects of an issue is entirely and logically at the control of the editors of the volume.

The reader has the option of also buying a book with an emphasis of other points of view if s/he would like another approach to the subject. A book of studies is not an encyclopaedia of options on the topic.

Each approach presented is an intellectual analysis of a particular aspect of an issue. A book such as this makes an effort to present a case for the proposition that is stated in the title.

HiBoM
Guest

andy, don’t you find it questionable that this book of essays about one party’s corruption is being edited and introduced by a politician who was a prominent member of the last government which was voted out of power precisely because the electorate perceived it as itself utterly corrupt?

This doesn’t invalidate the contributions and I’m sure there will be much that is of interest. But corruption in Hungary involves tacit backroom deals between the political parties and what is happening now cannot be truly understood without knowing honestly what was happening before 2010. And my worry is that these essays will rather ignore this embarrassing fact.

PistaSzebeni
Guest
HiBOM: Having read your comments, I think you are on the very same side on which Csaba Zoltani is, but this is OK. Corruption surely existed before Fidesz, and granted that explains Fidesz 2/3 at least in part (of course, these days nobody really cares about corruption, people accepted it as part of life, I guess top Fideszniks are loughing like crazy that again it is only the loser MSZP that sucks at everything, like corruption, Fidesz’s popularty is not affected by it at all), but it was of a completely different type and order of magnitude compared to what we have now. Fidesz’s corruption is thoroughly centralized (sanctioned at the top) and absolutely watertight. It is impossible for anyone who is not a proven loyal Fidesznik to receive any subsidies (whether from the EU, or with respect to land-grants, or trafik-rights, whatever it is). You probably have never worked for companies whose business depends (depended) on state-originated projects, I have. In addition, the money which the oligarchs (Simicska, Nyerges and their associates) strategically syphon off from the taxpayer’s budget remains firmly with party loyalist such as Orbán himself (through various stróman, naturally) and Simicska. That money is then gets… Read more »
HiBoM
Guest

PistaSzeben, I agree wholeheartedly with your diagnosis of how Fidesz works. I also would agree that the MSZP were not a centralised in their activities. But in terms of the amount of public money being stolen and misappropriated, i don’t think there is much in it. Are you seriously suggesting that when motorways and roads were built prior to 2010, the money was spent honestly????

I would certainly agree that Fidesz’s centralisation makes its corruption a good deal more dangerous. But I think you are quite out of touch with what MSZP were up to.

HiBoM
Guest

Just to give you an example to chew upon: consider the renovation of the Budapest Margít Híd. It cost vastly more than was originally estimated. Some of the work was done by Közgép. And the MSZP raised no objections while in office. And Fidesz, despite their public drive to bring the MSZP to justice, amazingly enough never once suggested examining why the Margit bridge restoration cost so much. I don’t think you need to be a genius to guess what was going on in the background. And why I continue to be unimpressed that a book about Fidesz corruption is edited and introduced by a Bálint Magyar, who at best, turned a blind eye to what his coalition partners were up to.

Louis Kovach
Guest

It is hard to be pushed away from the trough….

andy "pie"
Guest
The issue may not be “who did what to whom” or how hard one group or one individual hit another or how deep a hand went into the till and the goodies extracted from the “kincstár” (the available funds). In the above case, to be valid, you”d have to have a complete economic count of the briberies and misappropriateions by either side. I have, like everyone else, my own estimate. and list of semi-real and imagined misappropriated funds. That in itself, a comparison of the embezzled funds, would take many volumes of studies and approximations of calculations. And the results would be dependenet on which side was providing the funds for the very sizable study…. We are not going to find spick-and-span squeaky-clean persons in or around politics and decision-making around here. So there’s not much point in assasinating a thought progression by someone before reading it with a neutral approach. I do enjoy the Hungarian Spectrum not only for Éva’s thought provoking eidtorial articles but for watching the sling-shot nature of the melee in the courtyard below arter the appearance of these opinion-pieces. We all take a bit of the action and throw a cow-pie here and there, waiting… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest
I do doubt that “Hungarian autocracy” could be “unique” in the world, certainly there will be some specialties but the general system cannot deviate much from what has been documented for other countries also. But of course, it would be best to argue based on the knowledge of the text. For me this observation of Andy “You say one word: “haza” (motherland) and you are immediately going to get 1000s of Hungarians rallying behind you.” is what has so many unfortunate implications, one very relevant being that there is an unability to think of the Hungarian nation in terms of “internal diversity”. It is just black and white, good or bad, they or us, even if all sides are doing practically the same (being corrupt, believing in Hungarian “uniqueness” even if interpreted in a different manner, being “black and white” at the same time). I think I wrote this hypothesis already a number of times, but this constant fear of losing national uniqueness (if not the entire national existence) by consciously accepting that it could be useful to adopt what other people (nations) have devised is a dead end. Unconsciously it is possible only by claiming that all important ideas… Read more »
James Atkins
Guest

Within reason the political colour is much less important than whether or not there is corruption and whether or not the state treats people fairly.

A left and right debate in Hungary is a waste of time as long as both sides, in their own wily ways, fail the nation through promoting or conniving at corruption.

Kirsten
Guest

Eva, I really would need to read the book but in way also the Franco, Salazar, or a more contemporary example Kirchner systems are “unique”. And yet there are common elements, for instance in the opinions and behaviour of the people, which should not be disregarded.

Kirsten
Guest

But Eva what is “simple” autocracy. It is always a system where many elements come together. There must be a system of governing (the way how those in power relate to each other and to the rest of the public), an economic aspect (some exclusive source of income, dependencies), probably also an international aspect, and additionally (at least) also an aspect of perceptions of politics and society in general. If it were so unique, why do only so few Hungarians excel in it and the others are unable to grasp the system. But I will read the text of Magyar.

Joe Simon
Guest

It is rather amusing to see Eva`s enthusiasm for this one-sided work. Read Selling US Out by JR Martin or works by P Schweizer treating corruption in the US. Corruption in Hungary is not unique. More importantly, it produces no wide ranging economic impact on the world as US political corruption does.

HiBoM
Guest

@Eva Balogh, my argument is that Bálint Magyar is a questionable figure to write about corruption post 2010 since he was part of a corrupt political regime pre-2010. Your response is that he was a good minister of education. Glad that’s cleared up then …

You say it is ridiculous that investigative journalists should contribute to a theoretical discussion of a new political system. Well, the guys at Átlátszó are some guarantee that the starting point for such a discussion has some basis.

Why don’t you ask Attila Mong to write us a guest article, along the lines of “were the MSZP just “petty” crooks?”

Paul
Guest

I think (and hope) Hungary/Hungarians is/are unique in this respect. Hungary’s history and the culture/attitudes that has helped create make it (and it’s people) quite different from others in Central/Eastern Europe.

petofi
Guest
Joe Simon : It is rather amusing to see Eva`s enthusiasm for this one-sided work. Read Selling US Out by JR Martin or works by P Schweizer treating corruption in the US. Corruption in Hungary is not unique. More importantly, it produces no wide ranging economic impact on the world as US political corruption does. There’s always a schmuck comparing elephants and fleas… Let’s put this in its simplest terms: the difference between American and Hungarian landscape of corruption is that one harbours pockets of corruption and the other is completely corrupt–decent, law-abiding members are quickly marginalized or otherwise neutered. Guess which is which? Hungarian corruption is all-inclusive: MSZP and Fidesz work, and worked, together. This is generally known. What is different now with Fidesz is the creation of a long-term control of the levers of Power and Finance: if you’re not a member or sycophant of Fidesz, you’re business is as good as dead. Moreover, the supra-legal behaviour of government is unseen and unheard of–Fidesz cares not about models of legality or democracy. They have a ‘better’ way. What is mind-boggling is that the average Hungarian has so little grounding in true democracy; so little love of ‘rule of… Read more »
An
Guest
@Kirsten, Eva: I haven’t read the book, either, but the “uniqueness” of the Hungarian mafia state seems to be a sweeping generalization to me, too. In most autocracies corruption is rampant and ingrained in the regime (for the little I know about dictatorships in Africa, for example). It is also not unheard of that the mob gains controlling influence over the government (some examples in Latin American countries). If anything, I see it as a variation on a theme. Maybe the systematicity and the speed with which such system is being built in Hungary is unique. Also, more than in the case of other dictatorships, keeping certain democratic appearances are very important, being part of EU…. hence the convoluted and flood-like nature of the new legislation. And this is why law should support the robbery that’s going on to this extent because Fidesz wants to keep the appearance of a lawful country (it’s not stealing if the law allows it). They cannot just get away with “I’m just taking it because I’m in power” as most dictatorships can.. they need to do the “paperwork” to keep it looking legal. So if anything, being part of the EU makes this whole… Read more »
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