“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.