orban szydlo NurPhoto/Getty Images

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.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in

  1. China corruption Isaac Lawrence/Getty Images

    The Next Battle in China’s War on Corruption

    • Chinese President Xi Jinping knows well the threat that corruption poses to the authority of the Communist Party of China and the state it controls. 
    • But moving beyond Xi's anti-corruption purge to build robust and lasting anti-graft institutions will not be easy, owing to enduring opportunities for bureaucratic capture.
  2. Italy unemployed demonstration SalvatoreEsposito/Barcroftimages / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

    Putting Europe’s Long-Term Unemployed Back to Work

    Across the European Union, millions of people who are willing and able to work have been unemployed for a year or longer, at great cost to social cohesion and political stability. If the EU is serious about stopping the rise of populism, it will need to do more to ensure that labor markets are working for everyone.

  3. Latin America market Federico Parra/Getty Images

    A Belt and Road for the Americas?

    In a time of global uncertainty, a vision of “made in the Americas” prosperity provides a unifying agenda for the continent. If implemented, the US could reassert its historical leadership among a group of countries that share its fundamental values, as well as an interest in inclusive economic growth and rising living standards.

  4. Startup office Mladlen Antonov/Getty Images

    How Best to Promote Research and Development

    Clearly, there is something appealing about a start-up-based innovation strategy: it feels democratic, accessible, and so California. But it is definitely not the only way to boost research and development, or even the main way, and it is certainly not the way most major innovations in the US came about during the twentieth century.

  5. Trump Trade speech Bill Pugliano/Getty Images .

    Preparing for the Trump Trade Wars

    In the first 11 months of his presidency, Donald Trump has failed to back up his words – or tweets – with action on a variety of fronts. But the rest of the world's governments, and particularly those in Asia and Europe, would be mistaken to assume that he won't follow through on his promised "America First" trade agenda.