It’s not corruption. It’s national interest

“Political thinkers” are a dangerous lot at times. There was Gábor G. Fodor, the modern-day Macchiavelli of the Századvég Institute, who almost a year ago described Viktor Orbán’s political career as nothing more than a series of manipulative moves devised to improve his standing in the polls. No grand ideas, only mendacious slogans that his stupid followers believe. Here, in politico-speak, is what G. Fodor said: “There are many among the right-wing intelligentsia who have the mistaken notion that the concept of ‘polgári Magyarország’ [a democratic Hungary based on middle-class values] was a political reality, but it was no more than a political product.”

A few days ago another “political thinker,” András Lánczi, uttered a few revealing sentences about Fidesz and corruption.

I’m always surprised when I read the biographies of certain high-placed Hungarians whose road to their present position has taken interesting turns. Here is Lánczi, for example, who majored in English and history and taught high school for five years. Then for five years he was the editor of a philosophical journal called Világosság (Light). With this background he was invited to teach in the newly established political science department of Corvinus University. While teaching full time he received the Soviet-style degree of “kandidátus” in two years (1993), which was then converted into a Ph.D. in 2002. At that point his career took off. Today he is described as a “conservative” philosopher, political scientist, director of the Political Science Institute at Corvinus, chairman of the Századvég Foundation, chairman of the board of the pro-government Nézőpont Institute Foundation, and adviser to the XXI Century Institute, another Fidesz creation. His son Tamás, also a political scientist, is a fervent Fidesz supporter who lately has even been involved in the business activities of Arthur Finkelstein and Árpád Habony.

András Lánczi agreed to give an interview to Magyar Idők which, presumably because of the holiday season, did not make a big splash despite its, to me shocking, message. I guess other interviews, like those of László Kövér, János Lázár, and Ákos, were juicier and thus received greater coverage. Lánczi’s interview elicited only a handful of comments, although what he is talking about is of the utmost importance. Among other things, corruption. Or rather, the lack thereof.

The interview is quite long and most of it is a defense of Századvég, which has been attacked as a money laundering arm of Fidesz. As things stand now, there is a valid court order that obliges the government to make public the studies that Századvég prepared under government contract. Naturally, Lánczi insists that the billions and billions of forints the government has been paying to the think tank have been earned honestly. As for the Századvég Foundation’s possible involvement in the bribery charges filed by Bunge, the American firm that produces Vénusz cooking oil, he denied any such involvement. Századvég is a respectable institution whose roots go back to the late 1980s when László Kövér, Viktor Orbán, and István Stumpf launched a periodical and later a foundation under that name.

There is nothing new in these denials, and naturally for the time being we will know the veracity of neither the allegations nor their denial. When the conversation turned to corruption, however, this rather dull interview became charged. Given the importance of the following passages, a verbatim translation is in order.

Magyar Idők: Talking about the elections. It is already clear that the opposition’s main point of attack will be the alleged corruption. How can it handle that?

András Lánczi: Was the communist nationalization after 1948 or the privatization of the regime change after 1989 corruption? What is called corruption is in effect Fidesz’s most important political aim. What I mean is that the government set such goals as the formation of a class of domestic entrepreneurs, the pillars of a strong Hungary both in agriculture and in industry. … That is what people call corruption, which is a political point of view. The word “corruption” becomes something mythical.

Magyar Idők: Is this some kind of broadening of the term?

András Lánczi: Yes, just like the word “left-liberal” in the usage of the radical right opposition. There are thirteen or fourteen sociological meanings of corruption, but among them we cannot find one that says that if we do this or that in the national interest it is corruption. One can call it that, but that is deception. One doesn’t like to assist one’s adversaries, especially not one’s enemies, so I will not tell them that they are in the wrong. That’s why the expression “mafia state” is a mistake. What does one think when one hears the word “mafia”? The physical destruction of one’s adversaries. Who was killed here, I would like to know?

Lánczi’s very first sentence is shocking enough. Does he truly believe that the brutal nationalization by the Stalinist Rákosi regime was in the national interest and therefore justifiable? Well, we might not call it corruption, but surely we can call it robbery plain and simple. The Hungarian Nazis might have thought that the dispossession of Jewish Hungarians was in the national interest, but did this belief make it right? As for the privatizations of the 1989-1990 period, they cannot in any shape or form be compared to what happened either in 1944 or in 1948. Yes, some people with government connections received state properties for very little money, but some of these properties turned out to be worthless. I remember seeing a very fancy government publication describing some of the left-over properties the government was desperate to get rid of. They were run-down, hopelessly antiquated small factories whose worth converged on zero.


Well, if Lánczi insists, we can call what is going on in Hungary today “robbery” if he thinks that it is a more appropriate term than “corruption.” If I were Lánczi and his boss, I would prefer “corruption.” After all, corruption is considered to be a white-collar crime as opposed to “robbery,” which is normally committed by common thieves.

In fact, however, what we are talking about here is more than “corruption,” even more than common “thievery.” It is a political-economic strategy that the opposition will have to attack head on because it has led to a regime that has practically nothing to do with the third republic established on October 23, 1989.

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December 27, 2015 8:04 pm

Redistribution of Wealth

Robbing the Hungarian populace blind for the “formation of a class of domestic entrepreneurs” — consisting of the Fidesz MPs’ family and friends.

You know, we complain (rightly) about the concentration of wealth in the West in the hands of the ever fewer and richer rich and the resulting vast disparity with the vast majority, the ever poorer poor.. Those inequities presumably happen because of the blind “Matthew effect” of unfettered capitalism (“To him that has (wealth), everything will be given; from him that hath not, everything will be taken away”), perhaps with the help of the “Pareto Principle.” Western democratic governments are meant to be protecting the many from the few (fettered capitalism).

Socialism was presumably meant to be the antidote, the planned redistribution of the wealth of the few to the many, to make it all more equitable. (Of course corruption put paid to all that.)

But Fidesz has done that all one better: the planned redistribution of the wealth of the many to the few, for the “formation of a class of domestic entrepreneurs”: the Orban extended family.

So it need not even be called corruption.

December 27, 2015 8:39 pm

December 28, 2015 9:22 pm
@Stevan Harnad December 27, 2015 8:04 pm Redistribution of Wealth With all due respects, socialism has never produced any sustainable increase in the wealth and well-being for the poor anywhere in the world, except perhaps at the level of the lowest of low common denominators. Capitalism, on the other hand, most certainly did, and spectacularly so, first in Western Europe, America and Japan, and then, lately, in some Third World countries too, such as Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, China or India. It is empirically proven that socialisms of whatever type, by their very nature, are thoroughly unworkable, because instead of increasing the size of the economic pie, they focus on the redistribution of whatever there is, to the point of barefaced looting of the national treasury, other people’s money or the wealth of future generations. Furthermore, whilst socialisms of all types operate through the force of coercion, a successful capitalist accumulates wealth through the force of attraction: other people simply find it attractive and profitable to buy his offerings. Capitalism does of course have some admittedly undesirable by-products, just like anything else in life: a knife or a car can also be used to kill. The undesirable by-products of… Read more »
December 29, 2015 3:22 am

“. . . socialism has never produced any sustainable increase in the wealth and well-being for the poor anywhere in the world . . . . Capitalism, on the other hand, most certainly did . . .”

Socialism and capitalism in mutually respecting cooperation has worked wonders in many European countries. The main cause of success was fair taxation. This is now being undermined by multinationals that evade taxes.

December 29, 2015 7:18 am

Worked wonders? Yes, until the socialists ran out of other people’s money . . . .(e.g. Sweden) And it does of course keep working wonders as long as there are rich windfalls to be collected . . . . (e.g. Norway).

However, far be it from me to exclude or deny potential social benefits that can flow from prudent regulation and governance of capitalist enterprise (e.g. Germany, Holland or Denmark).

But first there has got to be a pie that can then be divided.

My point is simply that socialism by itself has proven catastrophically incapable of creating or growing the pie that it itches to divide among those perceived as indigent or victims of one sort or another (which tend to be a rubbery notion, since socialists are prone to continually push the envelope as to the definition of who is indigent or a victim).

December 29, 2015 11:05 am

If tax revenue is considered to be ”other people’s money” the only way out is to print banknotes.
Hardly sustainable.

December 29, 2015 12:05 pm

Mike, I certainly don’t agree with either your selection or your analysis of the evidence, but this is not the place to debate economics (and I’d rather leave that to the qualified economists and historians). Not sure why you focused on that throw-away line about socialism being “presumably meant to… make it all more equitable,” but instead being undone by corruption. That’s pretty non-committal on my part, it seems to me. No idea what inspired the lengthy reply.

The issue was the “redistribution” of public wealth to Orban’s cronies being spun as the “formation of a class of domestic entrepreneurs” by the Orbanites…

Gyula Bognar Jr
December 27, 2015 9:40 pm

Hungary became the private principality of “I. viktor of felcsut” and his extended family. They own it outright, so they are all “self-sufficient and “self-supporting” now (according to Ráhel princess, the faithful wife of Tiborcz) and they can distribute the extra wealth they don’t use or hide themselves. They give it as “payment for services rendered”, to the brown-nosing supporters. So it is not corruption.

Gyula Bognar Jr
December 27, 2015 8:42 pm

“The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerated the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism: ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Joseph Forgas
Joseph Forgas
December 27, 2015 9:28 pm

Among other things, this interview highlights Lanczi’s, and the entire Fidesz hierarchy’s complete lack of understanding of what democracy and the free-market economy is all about. Entrepreneurs, by definition, are NEVER made by the state, they always make themselves. An entrepreneur made by the state is no entrepreneur at all. This is not just a semantic distinction. As many economists, including Andras Inotai point out, the real problem with the new home-made entrepreneurial class is not only that they are thoroughly corrupt, but also that they are not fit for proper market competition. The ability to obtain corrupt government contracts is an entirely different ability from engaging in effective free-market competition. Once this corrupt system eventually collapses, Hungary will still not have any indigenous entrepreneurs, as the current lot will be swept away by the market in no time.

December 27, 2015 10:15 pm

Certainly lots and lots of ‘pork’ floating around in the barrel of Hungarian politics. A kleptocrat dream. With each swipe though figure in more hardening of the arteries in the ‘free-market’ sphere and it would be fact that potential entrepreneurs will be ‘swept away’.

At this point it would appear there’s too much ‘zsir’ being produced from all those corrupted transactions. But like the government attitude to health they just don’t care about all that dangerous congealed fat sticking around in the country’s body. Have to say the government is real ‘consistent’.

December 28, 2015 9:45 pm

Spot on.

December 27, 2015 9:39 pm

Just checked – Michigan State University lists no Social Science book series. The press does, of course, publish books in the social sciences, but if there is a series of that name I cannot find it.

December 27, 2015 10:06 pm

I said the above because Lanczi claims, in his bio (available online) that he is an editor for Michigan State University’s Social Science book series.

December 27, 2015 9:56 pm

I think András Lánczi is trying to argue that Fidesz is attempting to create a domestic bourgeoisie in Hungary because the historic bourgeois class had been destroyed by communism. But a bourgeois class created by corruption is not really a social class but an appendage of the State that gives it life.

The United States tried and failed to create an artificial capitalist class in Vietnam through encouraging the South Vietnam to subcontract many things, it just turned into a nightmare of corruption. The Communist government has done a better job of creating a bourgeois class in Vietnam in the last 15 years than we ever succeeded in doing. Ultimately these bourgeois industrial managers in Vietnam may take political control from inside the Communist Party itself.

The artificial Fidesz capitalist class, to the extent it exists, knows little of the meaning of competition, because it power is based on connections to Fidesz. In Vietnam this social class is being built on international competition within the world market of low cost production. I will say this, at least András Lánczi has to be given some credit for theoretical creativity, the idea that Fidesz corruption serves any higher purpose is indeed unique.

December 27, 2015 10:09 pm

There already is/was a domestic bourgeoisie in Hungary – small, but it came into being in the late 1980s and grew steadily.
Fidesz lies, again. What it has created is a new state-socialist elite, along the lines of Milovan Djilas’s New Class, only the Party this time is Fidesz.

December 28, 2015 10:22 am

Can’t help hearing the old refrain ‘meet the new boss same as the old boss’. ‘Fideszism’ is just again playing with resuscitation of claptrap ‘isms’ that were supposed to make a new humanity and glowing economies. If things go on the way they are the future of the latter will perhaps turn to a dessicated husk of ‘transactions.

December 28, 2015 2:48 am

” the idea that Fidesz corruption serves any higher purpose is indeed unique.”

It is jesuitic thinking: “The end justifies the means”.

December 28, 2015 9:55 pm

István, just a small point.

The domestic middle class was first smashed to smithereens in Hungary by the Jew Laws (1938-1941), which were then followed by mass murders (1944-45).

The communist looting and depredations (1947-1950 ) merely gave an already thoroughly decimated Hungarian middle class the coup de grâce.

December 28, 2015 1:00 pm
In the simplistic belief that if you acknowledge a political practice openly, then it isn’t corruption, András Lánczi and the other great minds of Fidesz every once in awhile mention this surreptitious policy that they refuse to document. If the government formally states that its policy is to channel all government income to party-linked individuals in order to create a politically loyal wealthy entrepreneurial class, then it isn’t corruption, it’s public policy. If the government states that its policy is to deprive those who oppose the party in power of income by using party allegiance as a criterion in awarding public tenders, and by using the tax authority as a tool to harass those who are not abjectly loyal, it’s not corruption since it is official policy. However, these are not documented policies because the government knows that such policies would violate EU public procurement legislation as well as numerous other ethical standards that they claim to adhere to. These are policies acted on in secrecy, which the government acknowledges behind closed doors (as mentioned by Ambassador Eleni Kounalakis in her book However, when light is shone in these policies, it’s clear by the scurrying to cover their traces,… Read more »
December 28, 2015 3:21 pm

Japan and Korea settled the issue of ‘comfort women’ [wartime sexslaves to service the Japanese Imperial Army] on the 28th of December. This issue divided Japan for decades, where the Japanese rightwing was deadset opposed to any agreement that might embarrass Japan.

There is an analogous issue in Hungary, where the current government (and others on the right) are trying to whitewash history by denying Hungarian culpability in the treatment of Jews leading up to World War II and during the war itself.

Hungarian history is being rewritten, major players [eg: Horthy] are being burnished. Obfuscation and mendacity are a part of the new curriculum.


December 28, 2015 9:43 pm

A magyar mafia-állam napkirálya: L’etat, cest moi! – miközben Lánczi, a magyar napkirály láncos kutyája, hevesen ugat védelmében.

(The Sun King of the Hungarian Mafia State: L’etat, cest moi! – whilst Lánczi, his chained dog, is fiercely barking in his defence.)

Couldn’t resist the cheap pun on Lánczi/láncos.

December 29, 2015 10:02 pm
Eva, you have misunderstood what happened in post 1989 Hungary. The people with government connections did not just pick up some virtually worthless pieces of property. Typically what happened was that the rather desirable homes of a class enemies were given to occupy by the new comrades when they took over in 1948. Comrade Antal Apro moved into a house confiscated from its former owner who happened like Apro to be a Jew. His grand daughter and her husband have lived in the same property. and as far as I know they still do as they did when he was Prime Minister.i do not know whether they have purchased it and from whom but what has happened time and time again was that the occupier, usually one of the privileged communist elite was given the opportunity to buy it after 1989. Buying in these cases meant acquisition at a fraction of the real value. Many ex communists got powerfully rich in the process. they picked for themselves and/or for the party a major part of the wealth of the nation. I have no reason to doubt your views of Lanczi are fully justified. However amongst the reasons for the electoral… Read more »