Post-Communist Mafia State

The Case of Hungary
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Publication date: 
336 pages

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.

See also Twenty-five Sides of a Post-Communist Mafia State


1. The system we live under

1.1. The post-communist mafia state

    1.2. Evolutionary forms of corruption

2. The disintegration of the Third Hungarian Republic in 2010

2.1. The value system of the Hungarian society

2.2. The political right and left: Two competing anachronisms

2.3. Spaces of rational public discourse in demise

2.4. The actors and the instability of the new ownership structure

2.5. The responsibility borne by the coalition government of the socialists and liberals

2.5.1. Lack in symbolic, community-building politics

2.5.2. Distributive politics and its exhaustion

2.5.3. The shoddiness of freedom and hopelessness of the dispossessed

2.5.4. Inefficacy in government, the incompatible attitudes of the two coalition parties

    2.6. Frailty of the institutions guaranteeing the system of checks and balances

    2.7. Fidesz as political apex predator

2.7.1. From the close college fraternity to the adopted political family, an alternative rebel turned Godfather

2.7.2. Socialist erosion, liberal vaporization and Fidesz’s accomplishment of social embeddedness

    2.8. Pre-2010 political cold war, and the erosion of the institutional, two-thirds constraint 

2.8.1. Political cold war

2.8.2. Economic trench truce: 70/30

2.8.3. Alternating corrupt regimes

3. Approaches of interpretation: from the functional disorders of democracy to a critique of the system

3.1. Trapped in an interpretation along the democracy-dictatorship axis

3.2. Moving on to substantive concepts of description

3.3. The limited validity of historical analogies

3.4. Proclamation of the Hungarian “illiberal state”

4. Definition of the post-communist mafia state

4.1. Post-communist

4.2. Mafia state

4.3. The expansion of the entitlements of the patriarchal head of the family: mafia, mafia state

5. Specific features of the mafia state: a subtype of autocratic regimes

    5.1. Concentration of power and accumulation of wealth         

    5.2. Key players of the mafia state: the ruling elite and its accessories

    5.2.1. The poligarch

    5.2.2. The oligarch Major entrepreneurs versus oligarchs A typology of the oligarch The Orbán–Simicska conflict: the first mafia war within the organized upperworld

    5.2.3. The Stooge The head of the political family and the family VIP box The business ventures of the poligarchs, the inner circle oligarchs, and their stooges

    5.2.4. The corruption broker

    5.2.5. The family security guard and the secret services

    5.3. The political family’s expropriation of databases ensuring democratic control

    5.4. Polipburo, in place of the former communist politburo

    5.4.1. Delineation of the mafia state’s ruling elite from other historical analogies

    5.5. “Law of rule” in place of the “rule of law”

    5.5.1. Constitutional coup d’état—the institutionalization of autocracy

    5.5.2. Hostile takeover of the institutions of public authority

    5.5.3. Government: not there to take decisions, but to manage decisions taken by the political family

    5.5.4. The lexes—custom tailored legislation

    5.5.5. Suppressing the control functions of other institutions of public authority

    5.6. Administration through confidants and personal governors of the adopted political family instead of a professional bureaucratic administration

    5.6.1. Array of devices employed to intimidate the professional administration

    5.6.2. Max Weber on the historical path to modern professional bureaucratic administration

    5.6.3. Dismantling the modern professional bureaucratic administration under the conditions created by the mafia state

    5.6.4. Why the mafia state cannot be considered a patrimonial system

    5.7. Liquidation of societal autonomies

    5.7.1. Liquidation of local autonomies: “caretakers” in place of local governments

    5.7.2. Liquidation of the autonomous positions of the intelligentsia in culture and education Culture Education and sciences

    5.7.3. Domestication of Non Government Organizations

    5.8. Patron-client relations in place of class relations

    5.8.1. The changing character of existential vulnerability

    5.8.2. The variety of the patron-client relations

    5.9. The middle strata of the mafia state power hierarchy: service gentry and court purveyors—the “new national middle class”

    5.9.1. The service gentry

    5.9.2. The court purveyors

    5.9.3. Cementing the “new national middle class”

    5.9.4. The sin above all sins: disloyalty

    5.10. Tributes exacted as economic policy: the system of special taxes

    5.10.1. Some forms of special taxes prior to 2010

    5.10.2. The systemic escalation of special taxes after 2010 Indirect special taxes

    5.10.3. State penalization of critical reactions called forth by special taxes

    5.10.4. The inverse of special taxes: strategic agreements and mutual benefits

    5.11. Takeover—replacement of the economic elite

    5.11.1. The alliance of Fidesz and the “Christian middle-class”

    5.11.2. The unique nature of property expropriation by the mafia state

    5.11.2. The unique nature of property expropriation by the mafia state

    5.11.4. The offer that could not be refused Ways of looting individual owners Ways of looting economic branches, networks and groups of owners

    5.11.5. Types of nationalization defined by function

    5.12. The rationale of power versus the irrationality of public policies


6. The legitimacy deficit faced by the mafia state and the means to overcome it

    6.1. Domestication of the media

    6.1.1. 2010–2014: Media control in the period of establishing the mafia state

    6.1.2. Media control in transformation after 2014, under conditions of the established mafia state

    6.2. Manipulation of the electoral system

    6.2.1. Changes to electoral law after 2010

    6.2.2. The Prosecutor’s Office as part of the campaign staff

    6.2.3. Establishing the institutional means of electoral fraud

    6.2.4. The 2014 spring parliamentary elections and autumn municipal elections

    6.2.5. Means of curbing election results retrospectively

7. Legitimizing the mafia state: the ideological arsenal

    7.1. Ideology-driven vs ideology-applying system

    7.2. Target-ideological templates: God, homeland, family, work-based society

    7.2.1. Nationalism, antisemitism, racism

    7.2.2. Ideological pyramid scheme

    7.2.3. Religion

    7.3. Instrument-ideological templates: the System of National Cooperation and the national freedom fight

    7.3.1. The System of National Cooperation (NER) The substantive, value-based justification of the NER—“the new principle of justice” The justification of NER in terms of handling power—“the art of friendship”

    7.4. The national freedom fight

8. The Criminal State

    8.1. Hungarian law on criminal organizations

    8.2. The Palermo Protocols

    8.3. The mafia state as a type of criminal state

    8.3.1. One example: criminal organizations expropriating property

    8.4. Classifying criminal organization actions

9. Pyramid schemes—the limits of the mafia state

    9.1. Economic pyramid scheme

    9.1.1. Autocracy and autarchy

    9.2. Foreign policy pyramid scheme—“peacock dance” and Hungarian-style cunning

    9.2.1. Dilemmas faced by the European Union

    9.2.2. Opening towards the East

    9.2.3. The disparate logic of EU and US sanctions



"Magyar’s analysis is fundamentally correct: corruption is systemic and is organized at the very top of the political elite. The most powerful figure is Orbán, who directly controls political institutions while also manipulating a widespread informal network behind the scenes. Post-Communist Mafia State gives readers a strong explanatory framework as metaphor as well as actual analogy between the organized under- and upper-worlds. I highly recommend reading this book, not just to learn more about bizarre political twists in a post-communist country, but to understand that the case of Hungary is pertinent in understanding recent autocratic trends in the West."
"While this text specifically investigates democratic backsliding in Hungary, its framework will surely prove crucial for understanding any former Communist states undergoing autocratic rule (e.g. Poland). Magyar’s latest text successfully tests his expanded theory of the mafia state, concretizing it and demonstrating how Hungary’s authoritarian government can masquerade as a ‘good’ state whilst eroding civil society and democratic institutions – even without exerting any physical mass violence. In just over 300 pages, Magyar manages to break through the multitudinous layers of rhetoric, excuses, and unfulfilled promises that obscure the truth of what is really happening in Hungary. No matter the exact causes of Hungary’s illiberal regression, Magyar’s Post-Communist Mafia State is a much¬ needed wake¬ up call for the Western world as a whole. It is an implicit plea for the Western community to realize that Hungary has chosen to reject its values; in order to restore them,... more
"The most detailed and systematic analysis of Hungary’s political economy can be found in Magyar’s book on the post-communist mafia state. His accusations find support in other sources. According to Transparency International, Hungary’s anti-corruption performance has “strikingly deteriorated” in the last years."
"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."
"Thanks to its accessible vocabulary, Post-Communist Mafia State has become highly popular within Hungary’s increasingly beleaguered liberal circles. The first volume sold more than 12,000 copies in Hungary, while a second volume, including contributions from the crème de la crème of liberal politicians and social scientists, and extending Magyar’s original theoretical framework, and has already sold more than 15,000 copies – an exceptional figure for an academic volume, especially in a country of 9.8 million people."
"There is a political logic: involving others in criminality binds them to the regime, compelling loyalty; mass clientelism – rewarding supporters with patronage – tends towards mass allegiance. And threatening those who may not support populist rule with losing jobs or benefits solves the problem of how to exert control over a society without too much direct repression. Such dynamics are what the sociologist Bálint Magyar has in mind when he refers to the rise of a ‘mafia state’ in Hungary. He isn’t talking about envelopes full of cash changing hands under the table, but the use of state structures and legal means for corrupt ends. A remarkable number of government contracts, for example, are awarded to an uncontested bidder. Mafia states are controlled by what Magyar calls ‘political families’. Since violating norms compromises members of the political family, they have to stick together for mutual protection, which helps establish reliability and trust – a defining feature of... more
"Ein Mafia-Staat muss nicht von der Unterwelt gekapert werden, um diesen Begriff zu verdienen. Der ungarische Soziologe und Ex-Bildungsminister Bálint Magyar argumentiert in seinem Buch «Post-Communist Mafia State», dass ein Gemeinwesen auch von oben zum Mafia-Staat umgewandelt werden könne: Eine organisierte «Überwelt» erobert sich die politische Macht und unterwirft sich den Staat und seine Institutionen."
"The Hungarian sociologist Bálint Magyar, who created the concept of the 'post-Communist mafia state,' has just finished editing a new collection of articles called 'Stubborn Structures: Reconceptualizing Post-Communist Regimes' (to be published by C.E.U. Press early this year). In one of his own pieces in the collection, using Russia as an example, Magyar describes the Mafia state as one run by a 'patron' and his 'court'—put another way, the boss and his clan—who appropriate public resources and the institutions of the state for their private use and profit."
"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."
"The term 'mafia state' was introduced by a Hungarian social scientist named Bálint Magyar. There’s nothing wrong with describing Russia as a fascist state; it’s just not very precise. A mafia state is a much more specific term, which was developed to describe a particular kind of post-communist regime. A fascist state, at this point, is such an expandable term that I don’t think it’s terribly informative. In the most general sense, a fascist state is a state that is run by a far-right, nationalist government on a basis of everything of the state and everything for the state. That’s pretty accurate when applied to Russia, although what you define as right and not right in a Russian context is a little tricky. And I wouldn’t call Russia a nationalist state—at this point, it’s an imperialist state. So 'fascist' is just not informative. Magyar is very precise about the fact that what has allowed these mafia states to flourish in Hungary and in Russia is that... more