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Post-Communist Mafia State

The Case of Hungary

Bálint Magyar

Bálint Magyar is a liberal politician and independent sociologist

Having won a two-third majority in Parliament at the 2010 elections, the Hungarian political party Fidesz removed many of the institutional obstacles of exerting power. Just like the party, the state itself was placed under the control of a single individual, who since then has applied the techniques used within his party to enforce submission and obedience onto society as a whole. In a new approach the author characterizes the system as the ‘organized over-world’, the ‘state employing mafia methods’ and the ’adopted political family', applying these categories not as metaphors but elements of a coherent conceptual framework.

The actions of the post-communist mafia state model are closely aligned with the interests of power and wealth concentrated in the hands of a small group of insiders. While the traditional mafia channeled wealth and economic players into its spheres of influence by means of direct coercion, the mafia state does the same by means of parliamentary legislation, legal prosecution, tax authority, police forces and secret service. The innovative conceptual framework of the book is important and timely not only for Hungary, but also for other post-communist countries subjected to autocratic rules.

Seea also Twenty-five Sides of a Post-Communist Mafia State.

“This book is a major intellectual achievement that should reframe discussions about the politics of authoritarian systems in a post-global world. Magyar produced a brilliant, plausible, occasionally revelatory and coherent analysis of the Orbán regime in Hungary from a liberal perspective. The work is critical and not polemical as its focus is on explanation and understanding rather than political persuasion." - Akos Rona-Tas, Professor and Chair of Sociology, University of California, San Diego

"Those curious about the Hungarian democratic implosion have an excellent guide in Bálint Magyar. With the theoretical sophistication of an academic analyst but with the hands-on experience of someone who has been an important player in Hungarian politics for the last several decades, The Post-Communist Mafia State is the best analysis yet of the deep reasons why Hungarian constitutional democracy fell apart so fast. It explains what happened in Hungary but it does far more than this: Magyar gives us the tools to understand a new sort of political formation – the post-communist mafia state." - Kim Lane Scheppele, Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Sociology and International Affairs, Princeton University

A joint publication with Noran Libro, Budapest
336 pages, 2016
978-615-5513-54-1 paperback
$40.00 / €30.00 / £24.99
In Hungary the book is distributed by Kossuth Publishing Group. Order by Internet or buy at the Örkény or Móricz bookshops.

"An excellent analysis of how Fidesz under Orbán transformed Hungary from a poster child of post-communist democratic consolidation to a regional template for increasingly authoritarian rule.
This is an important book, a rigorous and compelling analysis of how the young democrats of 1989 became the middle-aged populist rulers of 2016. As countries from Poland to the Philippines to Great Britain to the United States fall under the sway of populists and demagogues, this analysis is more timely and urgent than ever. It shows the frailty of democratic institutions, and the power of demagogues seeking, and increasingly backed by, wealth. We would do well to learn its lessons." - Slavic Review

"The term 'mafia state' was pioneered by Bálint Magyar, a sociologist in Hungary, Russia’s closest ally in Europe. Magyar and his colleagues have elaborated on the concept in the last decade, as Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán has amassed power, eliminated political and economic rivals, and turned the institutions of his state into instruments of personal power. So important is this concept to Hungarian intellectuals’ understanding of what has happened to their society that an edited collection of twenty sociological articles on the topic sold 15,000 copies there—an almost unheard-of figure for an academic volume anywhere, especially in a country of 9.8 million people.
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." - New York Review of Books

"To understand fully what is being exposed, one must first understand what kind of state Vladimir Putin has created in Russia.
The Hungarian sociologist Bálint Magyar has a name for it: a mafia state. By Magyar’s definition, the mafia state is run by a clan—a political family—that consists of poligarchs, oligarchs, and stooges.
The topmost poligarch is the patriarch, the mafia boss. He has surrounded himself with what Magyar calls the patriarch’s “adopted political family”: people who have proven their loyalty, either by many years of close friendship and work or through the surrender of wealth and power. The patriarch is in charge of everything in the country; he distributes all goods and rights." - The New Yorker

"In terms of its theoretical framework, the book represents a new generation of the research into hybrid regimes characterised by a mixture of democratic and authoritarian features. The book contributes to this scholarship by analysing the fragility of post-communist democratic transitions and identifying factors behind their autocratic backsliding. The importance of the book can be seen in the fact that it inspires new debates and a further search for explanations of the failure of democratic consolidation in different post-communist countries." - East European Politics

"The aim of Post-Communist Mafia State written by the renowned sociologist and former liberal politician Bálint Magyar, is to provide a comprehensive analysis of why Hungary’s liberal democracy imploded so fast. Drawing on liberal theories of democratic transitions in post-authoritarian regimes, in particular Henry E. Hale’s Patronal Politics (2015), Magyar argues that the Orbán regime is a sui generis type of “post-communist mafia state,” even if similar traits can be found in a number of post-Soviet authoritarian regimes, including Putin’s Russia, Aliyev’s Azerbaijan and Nazarbayev’s Kazakhstan. According to Magyar, the origins of the Hungarian mafia state can be traced to the psychological and sociological 'legacies of communism.' As key factors he emphasizes the absence of a popular commitment to 'western' institutions, such as liberal democracy and a free-market economy, and the failure to create a new, domestic bourgeoisie (through foreign-led privatization) after the regime change in 1989–1990." - Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe

"Magyar's 336-page volume, meticulously referenced with hundreds of original sources, represents a unique (and brave) explanation of the country's recent history, and its people’s struggle to understand, value and implement democracy. Most critically of all, it details Orban's systematic, cynical (mis)use of power to enrich his 'family' of blood relations and cronies to the long-term detriment of the average citizen, vast numbers of whom earn far less than the official average of €850 per month.
And it's in English: as such, it is, or surely will become, a standard work for any serious student of the country not fluent in the local vernacular." - Intellinews

"One of the most perceptive interpreters of current political forms is not very well known outside his native country. His name is Bálint Magyar.
While other observers tried to define Orbanism in Hungary as a purely authoritarian-nationalistic phenomenon, Professor Magyar focused on its similarities with other post-communist regimes and gave particular attention to the ‘wealth-accumulation’ aspects thereof. Or maybe we should just call it ‘money grabbing’. He called this regime the ‘Mafia State’.
At the core of his description of the Mafia State are the twin figures of the Autocrat and the Oligarch. The autocrat and the oligarch live in symbiosis. They need one another for practical and symbolic purposes.
Europe will have to deal with the Mafia State hypothesis at three levels: the Member State level, the EU level and the global level". - Reconnecting Europe (A blog of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung)

"The actions of the post-communist mafia state are closely aligned with the interests of power and wealth concentrated in the hands of a small group of insiders. While the traditional mafia channeled wealth and economic players into its spheres of influence by means of direct coercion, the mafia state does the same by means of parliamentary legislation, legal prosecution, tax authority, police forces and secret service. The innovative conceptual framework of the book is important and timely not only for Hungary, but for other post-communist countries subjected to autocratic rulers." - Harry's place

"Auf der einen Seite erleben wir gegenwärtig in Ungarn die schöpferische Übertragung des Prinzips Mafia auf den öffentlichen Raum. Und das in dem Land, dessen Regierung 1989 seinen und anderen Bürgern den Weg in die Freiheit eröffnet hatte. Wie geht das zusammen?
Auf der anderen Seite wird dieser kriminelle Umbau zu großen Teilen – sicher unfreiwillig, aber bisher unwidersprochen – von den Bürgern der Europäischen Union finanziert." - der Freitag

"Man kan ikke forstå udviklingen i det ungarske samfund siden 2010 uden at have læst denne bog. Punktum.
Bogen er epokegørende, da den er det første gennemgribende forsøg på at karakterisere en udvikling, der kan ende med at omfatte flere Øst – og Centraleuropæiske lande i EU. Et område af Europa præget af ustabile magt – og ejendomsforhold i flere generationer. Skæver man til stater som f.eks. Makedonien og Montenegro, der begge forhandler om EU-medlemskab, vil man kunne genkende mangt og meget, der minder om dagens Ungarn. Bogens store force er, at den fører læseren ind bag en nyhedsstrøm, der ikke evner – og ikke har plads til – de dybere analyser. Man kan være enig eller uenig med forfatteren – eller Orbán – om en lang række konkrete standpunkter. Man kan forbande eller hylde det forkætrede grænsehegn. Man er dog nødt til at erkende, at Ungarn i dag ikke længere er et land, der lever op til det vestlige demokratiske værdigrundlag. Ej heller et land, hvis ledelse ønsker, at det skal efterleve dette grundlag. Så man er jo nødt til at kalde det for noget andet. Bogens forfatter forsøger på overbevisende måde at give læserne helt andre og nye begrebsmæssige redskaber." - Mr. East (