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Hungary’s Mafia State Fights for Impunity

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán presides over a political-economic clan that is indistinguishable from a private criminal organization. Orbán’s anti-EU stance does not reflect a different vision of Europe. Rather, it stems from his need to insulate himself and his clan from law enforcement.

BUDAPEST – Hungary has become a post-communist mafia state. It is led not by a party but by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s political-economic clan, which treats society as its private domain while formally maintaining a democratic façade. The Hungarian state’s actions are not impersonal but rather discretionary, aimed at taking down the clan’s opponents and redistributing wealth and assets to loyalists. Orbán uses the bloodless means of bureaucratic coercion, yet still acts illegally: corruption and politically selective law enforcement are central to his system.

The mafia-like character of Orbán’s regime explains his behavior. A criminal organization, whether private or public, has three crucial needs: sources of money, the ability to launder it, and impunity for its members. The last requires neutralizing law enforcement, which Orbán is finding much harder to do at the European Union level than at home.

Over the past decade, Hungary’s mafia state has mastered the first two imperatives – looting and laundering money. The Orbán clan’s oligarchs receive around 90% of their total revenue from EU-funded public procurement projects. According to the Corruption Research Center Budapest, the contracts for these projects are 1.7-10 times overpriced – which points to noncompetitive bidding processes and high corruption risk.