Tag Archives: mafia state

Masha Gessen and Susan Faludi on Orbán’s Hungary and Trump’s America

Below you will find excerpts from two fascinating articles in which Hungary’s current regime is compared with what might be coming to the United States under the presidency of Donald Trump.

The first excerpt is from Masha Gessen’s recent article, “The Putin Paradigm,” which appeared in the December issue of The New York Review of Books. Gessen is a Russian and American journalist, author, and activist known for her opposition to Vladimir Putin. Gessen discovered Bálint Magyar’s Post-Communist Mafia State: The Case of Hungary, published in English this year, which inspired her interpretation of Putin’s Russia and her fear that Trump may introduce the world to a post-democratic mafia state.

The second selection is from Susan Faludi’s “Hungary’s sharp rightward turn is a warning to America,” an opinion piece that appeared in the December 5 issue of The Guardian. Susan Faludi is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of several highly acclaimed books: Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, and The Terror Dream. Her most recent book, In the Darkroom (2016), was chosen by the editors of The New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of the year. Susan Faludi is a dual U.S.-Hungarian citizen.

Masha Gessen: “The Putin Paradigm”

“The best available definition of the kind of state Putin has built is provided by the Hungarian sociologist Bálint Magyar, who calls it a mafia state: it’s run like a family by a patriarch who distributes money, power, and favors. Magyar uses the word ‘family’ to mean a clan of people with longstanding associations; it is important that one cannot enter the family unless invited—’adopted,’ in Balint’s terminology—and one cannot leave the family voluntarily. In this model the family is built on loyalty, not blood relations, but Trump is bringing his literal family into the White House. By inviting a few hand-picked people into the areas that interest him personally, he may be creating a mafia state within a state. Like all mafias, this one is driven primarily by greed.

“The complete term Magyar uses is ‘the post-communist mafia state,’ and he argues that it can take root only on the ruins of a totalitarian state. But Trump may introduce the world to the post-democratic mafia state. In this model, he will still be the patriarch who distributes money and power. The patriarch’s immediate circle will comprise his actual family and a few favorites like General Flynn. They will concern themselves with issues of interest to the president, and with enrichment of themselves and their allies. The outer circle will be handed issues in which Trump is less interested. In practical terms, this will mean that the establishment Republicans in the cabinet will be able to pursue a radically conservative program on many areas of policy, without regard to views Trump may or may not hold, and this will keep the Republican Party satisfied with a president it once didn’t want.”

Susan Faludi: “Hungary’s sharp rightward turn is a warning to America”

“’American media should study Hungary’s record,’ Newt Gingrich declared approvingly after a visit to Hungary last summer, lauding a 13ft-high razor-wire border fence that Orban erected against the influx of ‘foreigners’, Syrian refugees. Gingrich tweeted that the nation has ‘proven a fence can stop illegal immigration’. Orban and Trump have established a mutual-admiration society, with the American retweeting the Magyar’s encomiums. The prime minister hailed Trump’s victory as ‘great news’ on Facebook.

“Anyone looking for a crystal ball for the coming Trump administration would do well to ‘study Hungary’s record’. And not just for clues about how a rightist strongman can permanently reorder a society and its institutions once it controls the legislature (as Trump and Orban do) and a judiciary (as Orban does and Trump is about to) – but also for how such a politician continues to consolidate power as his policies fail….

“Last week, Breitbart News, formerly run by Trump’s new chief strategist, Stephen K Bannon, announced that it ‘is preparing a multi-million dollar lawsuit against a major media company for its baseless and defamatory claim that Breitbart News is a “white nationalist website”’. This, despite its hosting articles such as ‘Hoist It High and Proud: the Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage’. Breitbart’s threatened litigation is especially ominous coming after a bevy of suits won by billionaire conservatives against news organizations, as Emily Bazelon chronicled in New York Times Magazine.

“The effects of such actions – presidential demonizing, threats of legal reprisal – are pernicious. As in Hungary, media repression thrives on self-censoring fear to accomplish its own ends. I won’t have to be fined in Hungary to worry about how a media excerpt of my book might be received by the Hungarian government. And I won’t have to be sued or slammed by anyone in the West Wing to know that I live in a less free world of speech. When I return from Hungary to the US next spring, it will be with a certain edge of trepidation. There is no island now.”

December 19, 2016

Viktor Orbán shut down Hungary’s leading opposition paper

By now the whole world knows that Hungary’s leading daily newspaper, Népszabadság, is no more. Although the Budapest correspondents of Reuters and the Associated Press pointed out that the newspaper has lost $18.4 million since 2007, don’t allow yourselves to be fooled. Mediaworks, which owns Népszabadság, makes plenty of money on its other publications, including several profitable regional papers and the popular Nemzeti Sport.

Fidesz may say that it considers “the suspension [of Népszabadság] a rational economic decision,” but ceasing publication altogether is not considered to be an economically sound choice for solving the financial woes of a business venture. Reorganization, restructuring, reducing the size of the workforce–these are some of the most often used instruments to salvage a company. Suspending publication, by contrast, can be a costly affair. There are most likely contracts in force to print the paper for the next few months, and what about the 30,000 some subscribers who will not receive their daily paper on Monday? No, closing the doors of Népszabadság has nothing to do with economics. It is a sordid political maneuver executed by the far-right, dictatorial leader of a country that can no longer be called a democracy.

The hypocritical prime minister wants us believe that “it would be a violation of the freedom of the press if [Fidesz] would intervene in the affairs of the owner of the media,” but it is almost certain that this sudden move was orchestrated by Viktor Orbán himself. Just as we learned only recently that he had been the one who handed down the order to investigate Ökotárs, the civic group responsible for the dispersion of the Norway Funds, two years ago. He lied then as he does now. At the time of the raid on Ökotárs, he was asked whether he played any role in that shameful affair. He denied it, adding that if he had done so, it would have been a crime. Now we have the proof. We know that the prime minister of Hungary, by his own admission, committed a crime in 2014. And I suspect that he did so again while working to eliminate a paper that must have nettled him, especially lately. I wonder what his next step will be in his quest to destroy all independent media outlets. He has been at it for some time, but earlier he didn’t use such heavy-handed and so openly dictatorial methods. By now, it seems, he no longer cares about even the semblance of legality and media freedom.

Darkness, Thomas Toft / flickr

Darkness, Thomas Toft / flickr

In the last few months rumors were flying that the government was trying to buy, through some middleman, Mediaworks, currently owned by Vienna Capital Partners, a private equity firm. In June 2016 Népszava, the oldest Hungarian socialist newspaper, learned that Heinrich Pecina, the majority owner, asked for a meeting with Viktor Orbán. Interestingly, the Hungarian prime minister had no compunctions about negotiating with the owner of Népszabadság concerning the possible sale of the paper. Népszava at that point believed that the “buyer” would be the mysterious “adviser” of Viktor Orbán, Árpád Habony, who is most likely Orbán’s “stróman,” as a front man is called in Hungarian. Others suspected Lőrinc Mészáros, who is usually described as the ultimate “stróman,” the alter ego of the prime minister whose newly acquired fabulous wealth is only partly his. The employees of Népszabadság were living under the constant threat that they would end up in the street and be replaced by a new pro-government owner, just as happened to Magyar Hírlap in 2004 when Ringier, an international media group with headquarters in Switzerland, sold the paper to Gábor Széles, a billionaire with far-right political views.

The journalists working for the paper might have had their forebodings, but I’m sure they never dreamed of such an abrupt and barbarous end to their paper. The question is what made Orbán set aside all niceties and finesse and show his true ruthless self. It seems that the straw that broke the camel’s back was a recent series of investigative articles that appeared in the paper about Hungarian National Bank Chairman György Matolcsy and Antal Rogán, the propaganda minister.

The paper reported that Matolcsy’s lover, while working for the bank, received an inordinately high salary. And once she left the bank, Matolcsy placed her in lucrative positions at some of the bank’s foundations, which serve as conduits to transform the “profits” of Hungary’s central bank from public to private funds.

As it turned out, that was not the end of the Matolcsy story. Since Matolcsy is in the middle of divorcing his wife, he needed an apartment. Soon enough he found just the right one. A lovely, very expensive apartment in the Castle District of Buda. The only problem is that the apartment belongs to the president of the Hungarian branch of Unicredit, Mihály Patai, who is currently the chairman of the Banking Association. Considering that György Matolcsy is heading the very institution that has a supervisory function over the Hungarian banking system, this whole arrangement is highly unethical and suggests a conflict of interest. Népszabadság had begun to investigate possible favors extended by the central bank to Unicredit.

That was bad enough, but then came another story, this time about Antal Rogán, whose extravagant lifestyle and questionable financial dealings have been the talk of the town for a long time. Népszabadság learned that Rogán, his wife, and one of their sons traveled in princely fashion to a wedding. They used a helicopter. Well, I guess nothing is wrong about traveling by helicopter to a wedding if you have enough money, but the story was not so simple. First, Rogán denied the whole thing–until he was confronted with a photo showing him heading toward the helicopter. At this point he switched his story and talked about a kind friend who generously gave him a ride back from the wedding. A day later it turned out that he had used the helicopter both to go to and to return from the wedding. Lies, lies, lies.

Well, these two or three embarrassing stories about people who are perhaps the closest associates of Viktor Orbán were too much for the mafia boss. He gave the order: shut them down! After all, he had no idea what else those two or three journalists who had worked on the stories know. And what paper that wants to live another day will hire them to continue their work? Shutting down Népszabadság doesn’t merely have a chilling effect; it puts Hungarian investigative journalism into a deep freeze.

Viktor Orbán is a vengeful, vindictive, malevolent man who doesn’t forget and who is ready to pursue his victims until they are utterly destroyed. There is no mercy once he decides that somebody is an enemy. At the top of his enemy list are Gábor Iványi, the kind minister of the Hungarian Methodists; Ibolya Dávid, whom he blames for his lost election in 2006; and Ferenc Gyurcsány, who had the temerity to win a television debate against him. And then there are the other lesser-known victims who at one time or the other stood in his way: they often languish in jail for months or years on trumped-up charges. One could go on and on.

Finally, let me quote a bitter Facebook note by Mária Vásárhely, a media expert: “Thank you, European Union. It matters not how painful it is, but it must be said that without you Hungary wouldn’t have ended up where it is now. If you didn’t finance the building and functioning of Orbán’s dictatorship, the whole edifice would have crumbled already. It doesn’t matter how painful it is to point out, but the destruction of Népszabadság, one of the last bastions of press freedom, was purchased with the immense amount of money you have poured into the country and which is now being used by the criminal oligarchs of a criminal state.”

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of truth in this bitter note.

October 8, 2016

Tamás Bauer on the task of the Hungarian opposition

I think I already mentioned a series of interviews that György Bolgár of Klubrádió initiated about a month ago. Four times a week he asks public figures critical of the present regime what advice they would offer the opposition parties to enhance their chances of winning the national election in 2018.

Until now none of the ideas of the well-known commentators or former politicians inspired me to summarize them here. But I thought the advice of Friday’s guest–Tamás Bauer, a professor of economics and former SZDSZ politician (1994-2002)–was well worth sharing.

First, I have the highest admiration for Tamás Bauer. He is a clear thinker and a man of the highest principles. Back when Zsófia Mihancsik’s Galamus was still in existence, Bauer wrote article upon article on vitally important topics, each of which was an intellectual delight. I don’t remember any of his articles I couldn’t agree with. Unfortunately, nowadays he writes only rarely, mostly on the pages of Népszabadság.

Bauer Tamas

He began the conversation by noting that Bolgár’s original question concerned only the 2018 election. But one has to widen one’s perspective, Bauer claimed. It is wrong to place the 2018 election at the center of the opposition’s thinking about Hungary’s political future. He would be a happy man if Viktor Orbán were to lose the next election. He would be even happier if he lost an early election this year, as Gyurcsány predicted. But Hungarians must first ask: “In what kind of country do we live?”

To win an election is the most normal goal for any opposition party in a parliamentary democracy. But to the question “Do we live in a democracy?” Bauer answers no. Even the functioning of the parliament is questionable. The reality the opposition parties must face and loudly proclaim is that “today there is no democracy” in Hungary. Democracy functioned for twenty years, but after 2010, on the basis of a “well-thought out, deliberate plan,” Viktor Orbán eradicated it.

The next task is to define the nature of the existing regime. Bálint Magyar calls it a “post-communist mafia state,” Rudolf Ungváry “a fascistoid mutation,” and László Bartus in his latest book a “fascist state” pure and simple. All three argue convincingly, but Bauer prefers to describe the regime as “tyranny” (önkényuralom) that is steadily moving toward dictatorship. Just to remind everybody of the dictionary definitions of “tyranny”: (1) “Unjust or oppressive governmental power”; (2) “A government in which a single ruler is vested with absolute power.” There is no question that, at the moment, Viktor Orbán has absolute power to single-handedly decide the fate of the country.

So, what’s the next step? Bauer can’t think of a tyrannical regime in the twentieth or twenty-first century that was removed as the result of a free election. What happens is that tyrannical regimes become weakened, spent, and are eventually forced to negotiate with the opposition forces. This is what happened in Greece, Spain, and Portugal. And, of course, this is what happened in the former Soviet satellite countries where the communist parties eventually had no choice but to sit down and negotiate. In all of these cases change occurred as the result of a negotiated settlement followed by election.

So, the task of the opposition parties is not to prepare their strategy for the election but to “create a situation that will lead to the possibility of holding an election” that can shake the foundation of the regime. A “freedom movement” (szabadságmozgalom) should be established that can fight the present tyrannical regime. The opposition forces must inculcate society with the realization that they don’t live in a democracy.

But to be able to do that, the opposition parties shouldn’t act as if they operated in a democracy. If the opposition parties don’t consider the new constitution legitimate, they shouldn’t offer amendments to it. If the constitution is illegitimate, the amendments are as well. And one shouldn’t submit amendments to the constitutional court for review because it too is an illegitimate body, filled with Fidesz functionaries who were appointed without consultation with the opposition.

On the day that thugs prevented MSZP’s István Nyakó from turning in his referendum question József Tóbiás, the party chairman, said something to the effect that “this morning when I woke up I thought I was living in a country of rule of law.” “Where does this man live?” asks Bauer.

These politicians behave as if they lived in a democratic country. The opposition parties (but Bauer is talking mostly about MSZP) shouldn’t initiate parliamentary debates. They shouldn’t interpellate. Under the circumstances the whole procedure is a mockery, especially when the member of parliament finishes his interpellation with the words: “I’m expecting your esteemed answer.” Or, when opposition politicians refer to Viktor Orbán as “miniszterelnök úr” when speaking with journalists.

At this point Bolgár interrupted Bauer and asked what he thought of boycotting parliament altogether. Boycotting parliament is something people are increasingly talking about as a possible answer to the present political situation. Ferenc Gyurcsány, for example, suggested it as a reaction to the referendum scandal at the National Election Office. Bauer very rightly pointed out that a boycott shouldn’t be introduced as an answer to one particular grievance. After all, if the regime buckled, it would do so only on one particular issue. The referendum case is only a symptom, the real problem is the whole tyrannical system. As for a total boycott, at the moment Bauer wouldn’t support it, although he added that it might be necessary in the future. On the other hand, he is convinced that the opposition members of the Budapest city council should have boycotted the body in 2014 because it was only a few weeks before the municipal elections that the government changed the rules of the game to ensure a Fidesz victory, without which the party would have lost the city.

What the opposition has to do is to let society know that “we are alive.” It is not true that the Orbán regime is a “mafia dictatorship.” There are two million people behind Fidesz, and the party has a distinct worldview with nationalism, anti-capitalism, and hostility toward the poor as its components. What the opposition should do is to take contrary stances on all of these issues, unlike now when the socialists in particular dread dealing with government positions they think their voters also support. “Such behavior must be rejected.” For example, MSZP endorsed voting rights for dual citizens just because they feared a backlash. They also must take a clear stand against all anti-capitalist measures–for example, lowering the cost of utilities because the whole scheme is economically and even morally wrong. The opposition should fight resolutely against nationalism and stress Hungary’s adherence to European integration. Finally, it should be a vocal defender of the poor and the downtrodden as opposed to Fidesz’s support of the upper middle class.

Finally, Bauer touched upon the question of cooperation among the parties on the left since almost every commentator stresses the necessity of such collaboration. Yes, Bauer says, these parties should work together, but not just before the election as they did last time and as they plan to do now. It is very difficult to forge cooperation in the middle of an election campaign. Collaboration should begin immediately. Every demonstration should be supported by all parties unlike in the past. For example, today’s demonstration outside the Várkert Bazár where Viktor Orbán delivered his yearly “state of the nation” speech was supported only by Együtt and PM. Even that way, they had about 2,000 vocal people demonstrating against the Orbán regime. Imagine how large the crowd would have been if both MSZP and DK had supported the demonstration.

If these parties listen to Bauer, which I doubt, they should start joint demonstrations against the proposed referendum on the quota system and against the fence that Orbán wants to extend along the Romanian-Hungarian border. They have to show that there is strength on their side. They have to show a political alternative on the basis of which one day they will most likely be able to negotiate with the weakened tyrannical regime of Viktor Orbán. But first, the opposition forces must weaken it until Orbán and company have to throw in the towel.

February 28, 2016

Bálint Magyar’s latest book: Post-Communist Mafia State: The Case of Hungary

At last Bálint Magyar’s groundbreaking book, A magyar maffiaállam anatómiája, published last year by Noran Libro, has been translated into English with the title Post-Communist Mafia State: The Case of Hungary. The publisher is the Central European University Press, and the book is available for pre-order through Amazon. The official release date is March 31. (Clicking on the thumbnail image of the book cover to the left will take you directly to Amazon.)

Bálint Magyar developed the concept of the post-communist mafia state 15 years ago when in an article he first called attention to the “organized over-world” as opposed to the “underworld” we are familiar with. The article appeared on February 22, 2001, during the last year of the first Orbán government, in Magyar Hírlap, then still a liberal daily. It elicited considerable interest, and Magyar followed it up with several lectures that further elucidated his theory.

Memories often fade with the passage of time, and many Hungarians who are interested in politics are convinced that the 1998-2002 period “wasn’t really all that bad,” especially in comparison to the situation today. But the sad truth is that the contours of the mafia state were already visible then, except very few people noticed it at the time. Admittedly, there was a fantastic HVG cover from December 1999 that portrayed the top Fidesz leaders in fedoras (sometimes called gangster hats) with the caption “team spirit.”

Meanwhile a lot has happened. Among other things, Magyar served as minister of education between 2002 and 2006 and was a member of parliament from 1990 until 2010. Since then he has had plenty of time to further develop his theory of the post-communist mafia state.

Magyar Balint2In the past I devoted several posts to Magyar’s theory. The first occasion was the appearance of a volume of essays edited by Bálint Magyar and Júlia Vásárhelyi titled Magyar Polip: A posztkommunista állam (Budapest: Noran Libro, 2013). The book became an instant bestseller. It had to be reprinted shortly after its appearance. Professor Charles Gati wrote in his review of the first volume that “after reading this book the West no longer can look at East-Central Europe the same as before.”

The following year a second edited volume appeared with new authors. Finally, last year a third volume was published. All books deal with the same general theme but analyze the impact of the mafia state on different aspects of society: the law, the economy, social policy, culture, banking, etc.

Bálint Magyar’s latest volume, Post-Communist Mafia State, of which he is the sole author, encapsulates his latest thoughts on the subject. The foreword to the book was written by Kim Lane Scheppele, who is well known to the readers of Hungarian Spectrum. She called Magyar’s volume “a very brave book” which is “an outreach to the audience beyond the borders and thus beyond the immediate control of the Orbán government. … The failure of a democratic state should be a cause for concern in the international community, especially when anti-liberalism is spreading and new autocrats are looking for models.”

Although the English edition has not yet reached bookstores, it looks as if in places where it counts the book has already created quite a stir. Bálint Magyar and Tamás Lattmann, a constitutional legal scholar, gave a summary of the book in Brussels. From an interview with Jozef Weidenholzer, deputy president of the Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, it seems that the book’s last chapter titled “Pyramid Schemes—the limits of the mafia state” made the greatest impact. In this chapter Magyar argues that the whole pyramid scheme can work only because the European Union is financing it. Weidenholzer, who being an Austrian most likely knows the Hungarian situation better than most of the other MEPs, was surprised after hearing the details of the Orbán system. He found Magyar’s theory of the mafia state convincing. He added that “it is time to say goodbye to emotional debates and instead we should look at the whole problem with a clear head…. We can’t accept the existence of a mafia state in Europe.”

The European Commission and Parliament have concentrated until now on the Charter of Basic Laws and the Copenhagen criteria. But this is the wrong approach, Weidenholzer said. One ought to concentrate on the economic side of the problem. States aspiring for membership promised the introduction of full-fledged capitalism, “but this corrupt system has nothing to do with the market economy.”

We will see whether Magyar’s compelling book will enlighten minds in Brussels and Washington. We can only hope so.

February 19, 2016

THE FIDESZ CRIME SYNDICATE: INTERVIEW WITH ÁKOS HADHÁZY

This is a translation of an interview with Ákos Hadházy (LMP) that originally appeared in Magyar Narancs  (February 4, 2016) under the headline “Who betrays Fidesz helps the country” (Aki a Fideszt elárulja az az országot segíti). The interview was translated by the staff of The Budapest Sentinel.

Hadházy began his political career as a Fidesz representative on the Szekszárd city council, where he soon discovered the large-scale corruption committed by Fidesz politicians. He quit the party and his position on the city council and went public with his revelations. Naturally, there was no follow-up investigation in Szekszárd. Since then, however, Hadházy has made some headway, especially in the scandalous Flórián Farkas embezzlement case. At least in this instance the police are investigating. I’m grateful to be able to make this translation available to the readers of Hungarian Spectrum.

♦  ♦  ♦

Anti-corruption crusader, former Fidesz city assemblyman Ákos Hadházy (LMP)

“A well-constructed criminal syndicate is stealing EU funds in Hungary. The rules were systematically changed by the Fidesz government over the past few years. They dismantled the system of checks and balances and created a state system for their corrupt matters. Not for a long time has it been the case that some 2 percent of EU funds end up in “the wrong hands” but a large multiple of that. The Fidesz government knows perfectly well that it can do this boldly, because there is no state apparatus that could control the expenditure of billions. (When the next tranche of EU funds runs out) there will be little point to controlling the government, as there will hardly be anything with which to finance the country. Destroying Hungarian education so that somebody could make a little money on the pointless use of EU funds was an enormous sin on the part of the political elite.”

Magyar Narancs: You launched your action at the end of January. Your plans are to make public matters of corruption every week. At your first press conference you said that criminal organizations were stealing EU money in Hungary, moreover, with the participation of the ministries. These are strong accusations. What is the proof of this?

Ákos Hadházy: Over the past few years LMP has discovered a number of shocking matters indicative of the theft and abuse of EU funds on which the current system is built. It’s enough to think only of the “traffikmutyi” [scandal involving the granting of lucrative tobacco retailing franchises to Fidesz friends and supporters] for which there were no consequences. And then there is the Öveges program in which around 50 schools received grants to produce ceramic goods. Only a fraction of the HUF 14 billion (USD 50 million) budgetary framework was spent on achieving the original goals, while billions wandered off to companies of questionable background. But I might mention the scandals surrounding the National Roma Local Government as well since there, too, EU funds were stolen in a manner that must have been apparent to the relevant ministry. And there is the Elios matter involving the prime minister’s son-in-law, István Tiborcz, and his successful LED lighting business which depends almost entirely on orders from local governments, which we also reported to the authorities. I have examined a number of public procurement procedures over the past few years, on the basis of which it is possible to conclude that a well-constructed criminal syndicate is stealing EU funds in Hungary. The rules were systematically changed by the Fidesz government over the past few years. They dismantled the system of checks and balances and created a state system for their corrupt matters. Not for a long time has it been the case that some 2 percent of EU funds end up in “the wrong hands” but a large multiple of that. The Fidesz government knows perfectly well that it can do this boldly, because there is no state apparatus that could control the expenditure of billions. If, by some miracle, prosecutors were to get all the criminally suspicious cases, they could only investigate a small fraction of them, because they do not have sufficient capacity.

MN: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in the middle of last December that he does not tolerate any kind of corruption. It is as though the head of government does not live in the same Hungary as you do.

ÁH: Or the majority of Hungarians. He doesn’t tolerate corruption? He should talk to his son-in-law! Imre Steindl prevented a mass catastrophe by designing parliament so carefully, because if they made even a small mistake, the roof would certainly collapse on the prime minister after making such statements.

MN: The “Korrupcióinfo” (Corruption information) has begun organizing press conferences on Thursdays. With this are you trying to hack János Lázár’s Thursday government information sessions?

ÁH: That’s a part of it, except they don’t broadcast me live on state televisions. By the way, János Lázár did partly give me the idea because, if I am not mistaken, the subtitle of the press material sent out before each session is “What is the government doing and why?” We could add to this subtitle almost without exaggeration that it is an attempt to provide an alibi for the fact that they are trying to pocket a substantial amount of EU money.

Anti-corruption crusader, former Fidesz city assemblyman Ákos Hadházy

MN: At the first corruption information session you played a sound recording from the time when you worked as a Fidesz city assemblyman.

ÁH: At first this might appear to be a petty matter. A Szekszárd kindergarten was expanded at a cost of HUF 130 million (USD 450,000) which realistically should have only cost HUF 60-70 million (USD 210,000-245,000). This is not going to completely scandalize public opinion. However, the recording features Fidesz city leaders discussing at a fraction meeting how they envision the corrupt division of EU money. The point was that a company shows up and says there is an overpriced project, they will organize everything, it is not even necessary for the local government to invest the 15 percent co-funding requirement, in exchange for which they will be the contractor. If the city leaders don’t like this, they can be assured that they will go one or two counties over, because they have a quota centrally assigned to them that guarantees them the necessary number of projects. Rezső Ács, the current city mayor, said at that time that this is the way the system works in Hungary.

MN: Were you at this meeting?

ÁK: Yes.

MN: Did you prepare this recording?

ÁK: Journalists do not reveal their sources, so figure it out. But I will say that a traitor prepared it.

MN: You are a rather large traitor in the eyes of Fidesz.

ÁH: I won’t say that it was me but that it was a traitor, that’s for sure. Here I would just like to note that, in my opinion, whoever belongs to Fidesz today, and sees something of such matters, and is not totally stupid, can do three things. One: be a traitor, but unfortunately there are rather few of these, even though whoever betrays Fidesz helps the country. The next category is the panderer. Quite a few choose this solution: they are the ones who say nothing about the corruption they see. And then there are the co-perpetrators who enjoy the advantages of the corrupt system.

MN: Why didn’t you stand up at the fraction meeting and say that this procedure is not clean, and that they shouldn’t agree to it?

ÁH: That is an important question but I was totally astonished. This incident also contributed to my decision to leave the fraction and the party. Later, I continuously followed the matter. For a long time, nothing happened. The expanded kindergarten was only delivered last year. In the meantime, I also discovered how they managed to turn the HUF 60 million planned budget into nearly double that.

MN: How?

ÁH: Among other things, the technical description given to the local government contained incorrect information with regard to material quantities. It contained far more than was warranted, for example when they calculated the cost of insulation. But it was strange that they planned to excavate the foundation by hand, when that was much more expensive than using a machine. It mentions five-meter scaffolds, when the height of the building was around 3 meters. And in a number of similar matters they pushed the prices higher than was necessary. After the delivery, I filed a formal complaint, but I do not know whether an investigation has been initiated for the time being.

MN: The Office of the Prime Minister also looked into this thoroughly.

ÁH: Yes, János Lázár’s office responded to this in a statement issued on Thursday, in which among other things they wrote that I myself might have committed a crime by not reporting this, and in this way violated my public oath of office. That didn’t work this time. By the way, when they talk about my being an “accessory to a crime” they acknowledge that a crime took place. If Orbán does not tolerate corruption, then the mayor of Szekszárd needs to go.

MN: You have been speaking of systematic corruption since the Szekszárd case and earlier cases. Can you briefly outline this system?

ÁH: Many believe, including local politicians, that the EU gives money for the development of, for example, the Szekszárd kindergarten, when this is not the case. The EU provides a framework amount and defines a general purpose within which each state organ can define the important projects. In this way, the Fidesz government men are the first tentacle in the system. The second tentacle is the body of companies that benefit from the manually controlled, corrupt, procurement mechanism. The third tentacle is the execution: there are a number of Fidesz local governments or state organs receiving EU sources which do not use them well. It is all about stealing a substantial part of the HUF 7 trillion (USD 24 billion) made available through 2015 and the HUF 12 trillion (USD 42 billion) that can be spent through 2020. But if the HUF 12 trillion package comes to an end, then from that time a state of bankruptcy will loom, because the sources have not been used to improve the economy. After that, it can be said almost without exaggeration that there will be little point to controlling the government, as there will hardly be anything with which to finance the country.

MN: András Lánczi, the president of the Fidesz-linked Századvég Foundation, said last December that strengthening domestic companies is important to the Orbán government, and what others call corruption is practically Fidesz’s main policy.

ÁH: That is a lie. When I was a naive little Fidesz member I also succumbed to this. At that time I could imagine that if, for example, a public tender results in two correct proposals, and it is possible to know that one of them is close to government circles, and the two offers are for the most part the same, then the Fidesz one will win. But it didn’t stop there. This has been taken too far today, as there is no control and no checks. I say with all seriousness that in such a world even Simicska should be respected.

MN: Why should he be respected?

ÁK: Because he has solid principles. Do you really believe that Lajos Simicska is so stupid as to allow Fidesz to create new construction giants, for example István Garancsi or Lőrinc Mészáros, without agreeing with them on some form of cooperation? When he joined Fidesz, he also had serious ideas about the direction in which the country should go, and when he saw that the country was again moving in the direction of Russia, and that the Orbán system does not differ that much from the Kádár one, then he upset the table. I believe him.

MN: Despite a series of corruption scandals, and the ever more frequent OLAF investigations or the increasingly depressing results of corruption research, it is as though they do not exceed the tolerance threshold of the majority.

ÁH: Everybody raises and complains about this issue. I even hear it from opposition politicians. We could ponder for hours whether this is actually the case, and if so, why this is the case. If the tolerance threshold is high, then a number of themes need to be included in the public discussion. This is also why we started the weekly corruption information sessions. There is plenty of water in the tap. The question is only how large the glass is, and at what point it overflows. Anger over corruption is slowly accumulating in the citizenry. And it is not only theft that will be the source of trouble and not merely because they are stealing the country before our eyes, but also because in the meantime people are being humiliated. Just look at the public work program, or what is happening in health care, or in education. Of course teachers are getting more money today, but at the same time they humiliated them with a control mechanism which monitors whether they taught the lesson well to the children. And then there is the writing of the portfolios, and the educational overseers, even as they have to teach stupidity to the children. I look at the textbooks of my children and am astonished by how they abound with cretinism. Moreover, the new educational system is full of corrupt abuses.

MN: For example?

ÁH: At this Thursday’s press conference I will present a number of cases illustrating how billions were spent on the scandalous reorganization of certain organizations belonging to the Ministry for Human Resources (EMMI), for example the Education Authority, the Education Research and Development Institution, or the Education Social Service Nonprofit Kft. Destroying education so that somebody could make a little money on the pointless use of EU funds is an enormous sin on the part of the political elite. Incredible amounts went to various programs from which money could be channeled in an uncontrolled manner. The programs included: Comprehensive quality development in public education, on which HUF 3.5 billion (USD 12.3 million) was spent; Teacher Training support on which more than HUF 11 billion (USD 28.5 million) was spent; the so-called XXI. century public education program on which HUF 6.8 billion (USD 24 million) was spent.

When inspecting these programs I found things that would make your hair stand on end. For example, when I saw that the Education Authority had paid a company HUF 564 million (USD 2 million) for so-called expert days, while Merkel Konzulent Zrt. helped the authority for the same amount. The problem is that the company has all of one employee, and it received the HUF 564 million order last September when there was only a few months remaining in which to provide the service, and it is practically impossible to control whether or not the work was actually performed. It is also incomprehensible how one of the ministry’s organizations used a company to prepare the high school leaving exams. But there were also public procurements in which the estimated price agreed with the amount bid by the winning company to perform the task.

I found very strange rental agreements as well: the Education Authority rented offices for 9 months in 2013 and 2014 from a company called Lokalfixer Kft. for HUF 25 million (USD 88,000). According to to the company information system, this company only has its own real estate, and its headquarters can be found just a few meters from the Ministry for Human Resources (EMMI), also in the Akadémia Street. Another rental agreement for HUF 60 million (USD 212,000) was signed with another company, which is strange because the company’s real estate appears to be completely unsuitable for the kind of on-site training provided for by the contract. Furthermore, the company has no other sources of revenue. Having seen these and a number of other similar suspicious contracts, I ask “Is this why it was necessary to destroy public education?” Outrageous!

MN: Do you put these together by sitting in front of the Public Procurement Bulletin and starting to surf contracts? Is there no expert group, investigative journalists, or staff members helping you?

ÁH: I do most of it on my own. I get help primarily when it comes to communications. You won’t believe it, but I started investigating the National Roma Local Government’s scandalous matters by writing “Roma” into the query field of the online bulletin. It did not take me long to see the overpriced car rental contracts, the pointless studies. The consequences of these are taking place before our eyes even to this day.

MN: With only a few exceptions, why aren’t other opposition representatives as active in this field?

ÁH: Because the government holds a number of opposition politicians in the palm of its hand: the parade is such that they jump up and down as much as they have to, and if they don’t exceed a certain limit, they are left in peace. The customary method of the current system is blackmail. I also had a role in it. And when the time comes, I will prove it, too.

MN: How much can the degree of corruption be decreased without the necessary opposition control?

ÁH: It does not primarily depend on that, because laws are needed that restore the checks and balances to their appropriate level. We cannot expect this from Fidesz. But it is also certain that this cannot continue indefinitely. Whether they can postpone their collapse for half a year or five years, I cannot say, but the end will come. No matter what, society will take care of it.

MN: Does Hungarian society want this?

ÁH: Of course. Sooner or later they will get rid of Fidesz. Would you have thought three months ago that the teachers of a Miskolc Academic High School would uncover all the dirt on the scandalous public education system for all to see, and that hundreds of institutions would join them?

February 12, 2016

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.

thief

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.

Ferenc Gyurcsány, the mafia state, and the future of MSZP

Today Ferenc Gyurcsány, the former prime minister of Hungary and chairman of the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), released a 20-page political pamphlet, gave a few interviews, and delivered a 45-minute speech, shown live on ATV. Instead of trying to summarize his political program, titled “Hungary of Many” (Sokak Magyarországa), I will focus on a couple of points that struck me as significant.

The title of the pamphlet is telling. Gyurcsány is convinced that people didn’t vote for Fidesz because they wanted to live under a regime of “Eastern despotism” but because they saw strength in Fidesz as opposed to the left, which proved to be weak. Gyurcsány would like to bring together liberals, social democrats, and moderate conservatives because all these people have something in common: a desire to put an end to Orbán’s regime and to live in a country with an effective government that would serve the majority of the people instead of the select few.

This is not a new message. What is new is that, after a lot of hesitation, Gyurcsány seems to have accepted Bálint Magyar’s description of the Orbán regime as a “mafia state.” As far as I know, he is the only opposition politician who has fully embraced Magyar’s concept. But that is not the only common thread in their thinking. Gyurcsány’s ideas on education also seem to echo Magyar’s. He cracked a few jokes about Orbán’s stuffing sausage while he doesn’t know what a “password” is. He elaborated on the essential role of computers in education, which would be a return to Magyar’s reforms between 2002 and 2006. Of course, one could ask why he buckled under MSZP pressure to relieve Magyar of his post and name István Hiller as his successor. Hiller, by the way, was praised by Orbán in his chat with the students of his former dormitory as the only talented politician on the left.

Gyurcsány offered an assessment of MSZP’s situation. As anyone who follows the Hungarian media knows, MSZP is in a serious crisis. Something of a palace revolution is underway. From what one can piece together from interviews with MSZP politicians who have pretty well disappeared from active politics, it looks as if under Attila Mesterházy’s chairmanship a conscious decision was made to push all the leading members of the older generation out of the party. I guess the new, younger politicians around Mesterházy believed that the older greats of MSZP were responsible for the party’s loss of popularity. Support for the party, they hoped, would soar once people saw all new faces running MSZP. Well, it didn’t work out that way. In fact, the party’s popularity has fallen. The MSZP parliamentary caucus, with very few exceptions, is comprised of inexperienced and unknown members whose performance, admittedly under adverse circumstances, is substandard.

Gyurcsány’s essay and speech were timed to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the founding of the Demokratikus Koalíció, but I’m sure that MSZP’s sorry state was also a serious consideration when it came to timing. In his essay Gyurcsány buried MSZP in its present form. As we know, the current thinking of the MSZP leaders is that the road to success lies in returning to truly “left” policies. Gyurcsány is convinced that they are wrong. A turn further to the left is not what Hungarians want. He also doubts MSZP’s ability to provide a candidate for the premiership who has any hope of winning because, as he put it, “ever since 2002 all successful prime ministers came from the world outside of MSZP.” In the last 15 years the socialists have been unable to attract or to produce a politically mature, suitable candidate for the post of prime minister. The appearance of PM, Együtt, and DK offered real competition, which will “make the transformation of our side more intensive. The final goal is unification, and the party of the future will barely resemble the MSZP we know.”

And now let me move on to a pretty dramatic conversation between Ferenc Gyurcsány and György Bolgár on Klubrádió’s “Let’s Talk It Over.” Bolgár began the 15-minute conversation by questioning the wisdom of Gyurcsány’s forceful call for unity. It might turn the other politicians on the left against him, warned Bolgár. After all, he is such a controversial character. Wouldn’t it have been better to remain quiet? he asked. Gyurcsány, who has been asked this kind of question many times before, even by Bolgár himself, normally answers in a measured way. But not this time. He lashed out at Bolgár. In his opinion, a democrat cannot possibly question the right of a politician to express his thoughts. He is the leader of a party that has about half a million voters. His followers want him to talk about the ideas that motivate them. When Bolgár brought up politicians like Viktor Szigetvári and Gergely Karácsony, who might be turned off by the hyperactive Gyurcsány’s latest political move, Gyurcsány responded that he didn’t care what Szigetvári or Karácsony think or say. He accused Bolgár of joining those who are sowing discord among the politicians of the left. In his opinion, this is a sin because with such an attitude they only lend a helping hand to Viktor Orbán’s regime.

I don’t know the reasons for this outburst, but I suspect that Gyurcsány believes that this is the right time to reassert himself publicly, either because of the discord within MSZP or perhaps because he has been getting closer to an understanding with some of the opposition politicians. If the latter, Bolgár’s criticism was not well timed.

What MSZP’s leading politicians will think of “Many for Hungary” I can well imagine. However, the party is in bad shape, and even the staunchest socialists have to admit that Gyurcsány’s decision to leave MSZP and establish DK was a terrible blow to the party. MSZP has to rethink its shrinking place among the opposition parties.