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The EU’s Mafia State

Following the collapse of communism, many people in Central and Eastern Europe had hoped that the region would steadily move toward liberal democracy, and that any obstacles en route could be overcome. But as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's regime shows, older systems of patronage and corruption have survived.

BUDAPEST – Following the collapse of communism, many of us in Central and Eastern Europe had hoped that the region would steadily move toward liberal democracy, and that any obstacles en route to that goal could be overcome. But in many former communist countries, older systems of patronage and corruption have survived, and taken new forms. What we thought was a transitional phase has become a permanent state of affairs.

Consider Hungary, which has become a mafia state during the seven years of Viktor Orbán’s rule as prime minister. Hungary is unique in that it moved toward liberal democracy and joined the European Union before changing course and heading toward autocracy. The rest of the region’s mafia states, such as Russia, Azerbaijan, and other Central Asian former Soviet republics, either passed through a period of oligarchic flux, or took a direct path from communist dictatorship to criminal enterprise.

In these countries, oligarchs and the organized underworld have not captured the state; rather, an organized “upperworld” of elites have captured the economy, including the oligarchs themselves. The result is a mix between a criminal organization and a privatized, parasitic state.

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