Bálint Magyar’s book “A magyar maffiaállam anatómiája” (Anatomy of the Hungarian Mafia State) published last year has now been translated into English as “Post-Communist Mafia State: The Case of Hungary”. The author was minister of education from 2002 to 2006 and a member of parliament from 1990 until 2010. He developed his theory of the post-communist mafia state in an article in Magyar Hírlap in February 2001, during the last year of the first Orbán government, when he first drew attention to the “organised overworld” as opposed to the more familiar “underworld”.
A volume of essays edited by Bálint Magyar and Júlia Vásárhelyi titled “Magyar Polip: A posztkommunista állam” ((Hungarian Octopus: The Post-communist State) was pubished in 2013 and its popularity meant it had to be reprinted shortly after. Professor Charles Gati, Senior Research Professor of European and Eurasian Studies at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, wrote that “after reading this book the West no longer can look at East-Central Europe the same as before”.
Further volumes appeared in 2014 and 2015 with new authors, all analysing the impact of the mafia state on different aspects of society: the economy, the law, social policy, culture, banking, and so on.
Magyar’s new volume displays his latest thoughts. The foreword is by Kim Lane Scheppele, the Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Sociology and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and the University Center for Human Values in the US. She describes “a very brave book” that 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”.
Magyar puts forward a convincing theory of a mafia state in Europe controlled in every aspect by a prime minister who has openly renounced Western-style democracy. The nationalist authoritarianism regime established after 2010 in Hungary—unique within the EU—can be compared to those in the successor states of the former Soviet Union (Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, etc.) or to Macedonia and Montenegro in the Balkans.
The regime is one taken over at all levels by a group adopting the ways of the mafia. This group, designated throughout the book as “The family” or “mafia”, is constituted by relatives and close friends of the “Godfather”, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
They sit atop a hierarchical organisation bonded by shared material interests, utilising all the means available to use the resources of the country for their own profit. The great advantage of this group over a classical mafia is that, being in a ruling position, it can define its own legal rules.
For Magyar, the modifications introduced in the institutional system, in economic rules as well as the propaganda, are all aimed at maximising the profit of this group. This model of the mafia state attempts to capture the system in its entirety. Its nature is fundamentally different from other autocracies, the principal feature of its actions being an overriding focus on the joint operation of concentration of political power and expansion of wealth of the adopted political family.
The organised overworld is far removed from the world of anomalies of party funding and the criminal underworld’s attempts to influence political decisions—the relationships have now been reversed: it is no longer the case that private wealth is acquired to help a party’s need for financial support gained from illegitimate sources; rather a political party’s decision-making potential is used here to requisition private property.
A hidden underworld no longer seeks to corrupt decision-making processes; rather inherently purposeful illegitimate special interests are aligned with legislative measures and governance.
In the mafia state, the state-led invasion of private interests (tobacco shop concessions, land sales) has become systematic, and public interests are permanently subordinated to private interests. There are hardly any areas where activities would not be subject to power and wealth accumulation considerations. The mafia state is a privatised form of a parasite state.

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