'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
This blog is a source for intellectual exploration. It includes a list of alternative resources and a source of free books. The placement of an article does not imply that I agree with it, merely that I found it thought-provoking. There are also poems and book reviews. Texts written by me are labelled. Readers are free to re-post anything they like.
Friday, January 20, 2017
Bálint Magyar: Systemic characteristics of the post-communist mafia state
Earlier I published
several reports on Bálint Magyar’s theory of the mafia state. In fact, I
devoted three consecutive posts, the first
of which appeared on June 18, 2013, to his description of Orbán’s
system of government as a new kind of autocratic regime. Magyar’s analysis of
the current Hungarian political system elicited widespread attention in Hungary
as well as hundreds of comments on Hungarian Spectrum.
A few months later
(November 2013) Bálint Magyar and Júlia Vásárhelyi published an edited volume
of essays written by twenty-two scholars from different disciplines who
embrace the theoretical framework Bálint Magyar worked out in the first decade
of the century. Its title was Hungarian Octopus: The Post-Communist
Mafia State. The book became an instant bestseller.
11,000 copies were sold within a few months. It had to be reprinted four times.
I wrote a
review of it on Hungarian Spectrum. Again the review
prompted a lively discussion, some people finding Magyar’s argument compelling
while others disagreed with him. In any case, since the appearance of Hungarian
Octopus, the concept has been widely accepted by scholars as well as
by the left-leaning Hungarian public. Those who are familiar with the workings
of the Orbán regime find Magyar’s description of it a perfect fit.
The second volume of Hungarian
Octopus has just been published, and it is fascinating. In his
introduction Magyar takes into consideration some of the criticisms and
additional observations he received during discussions of the contents of the
first volume. This introductory essay is so full of information and novel observations
that I will most likely have to devote another post to it. But let’s start.
describes the key actors of the mafia state. He begins with the
economic-political actors whom Magyar calls “poligarchs” whose ranks
include several subcategories: the oligarchs, the front men (in
Hungarian stróman/ok), corruption brokers, the family guard/the secret
service, and the family privatization of databases. Let me go into some of the
Who belong to the
class of poligarchs? These are people who attained illegitimate
wealth by being members of the political family. Their political power is
known but their economic power, their wealth is hidden. They use
front men; their money is often hidden in foundations. The chief poligarch is the
Godfather–in our case, the prime minister.
Beneath the poligarchs
comes the class of oligarchs who began their careers with
legitimate business activities and who, as a result of their
economic power, acquired political might. In ordinary post-communist states
their economic activities are legal, but the way in which they acquire business
opportunities often is not. They acquire advantages over their competitors by
illegal means. They are, however, more or less autonomous actors. But in
Hungary, Magyar argues, the mafia state makes these oligarchs’ autonomy
impossible or very limited. As he puts it, “it domesticates” them. They
are partly or wholly dependent on the good will of the state.
several type of oligarchs. There are the inner circle oligarchs. They
have been close to Fidesz from the early 1990s on, and in part they have
accumulated their wealth through their political connections. Currently, they
don’t have any political roles but they belong to the small circle of people
who are able to formulate policy. A good example of this sub-type is Lajos
Simicska. Of course, any of these oligarchs can lose their positions if the
Godfather finds their activities objectionable. A couple of the original
oligarchs actually ended up in jail when they got involved in illicit
of the oligarchic class is the adopted oligarchs. These people
made their wealth during the early murky days of mass privatization, and it was
only later that they were adopted by the political family. Their connection to
politics now enhances their financial position. Examples of this type
are Gábor Széles, owner of the extreme right-wing Magyar
Hírlap and Echo TV, and László Baldauf, owner of
the CBA chain of supermarkets. These people only serve the policies of the
Family; they can’t influence them.
The next category is
the capitulated oligarchs who earlier were quite independent;
some were even associated with the other political side. Their
capitulation is due to their dependence on state orders. Since they were not
considered to be affiliated with the Family in any way, they fell on hard
times after 2010. In addition to the lack of orders, the state has all sorts of
instruments to make them surrender: the internal revenue service, prosecutor’s
office, police. A typical representative of this group is Tamás
Leisztinger, who suffered economic hardship already during the first Orbán
administration and who by now is the willing or unwilling financier of the
prime minister’s hobby, football.
Then there are the fellow
traveler oligarchs. These men were the greatest economic
beneficiaries of the first twenty-year period after the change of regime.
They were sought after by both the left and the right, and they kept an equal
distance or equal friendship with both groups. After 2006 the equilibrium
between the two political sides shifted toward Fidesz, which forced them to be
fellow travelers unless they wanted to lose their preeminent economic
positions. Sándor Csányi of OTP and Sandor Demján of Trigánit are perfect
examples of this category.
The last two
sub-categories are the autonomous and the rival
oligarchs. Their numbers are rapidly decreasing. Some of these people
are so afraid of the chief poligarch that they dare not support liberal
causes at all. Although I thought I
would be able to describe the other key actors of the mafia state today,
the story is so intriguing that I don’t want to shortchange you by not covering
the details properly. We will continue tomorrow.