Commentary / Guest Post

Europe’s most talented political con man celebrates his biggest triumph yet

If you want to understand Orbán, look at Bernie Madoff.

(Guest post)


Viktor Orbán has been labeled many things, ranging from freedom fighter to savior of Christian Europe, a neo-fascist dictator, and a populist. He is Europe’s most talented shape-shifter. Throughout his 30-year  political career he has been a long-haired liberal, a pro-EU conservative in a three-piece suit, and now a nationalist, immigrant-bashing grandfather, fighting what he calls the Brussels bureaucracy.

Newsweek has recently labeled him Mr (far) Right, and they are not alone with that mistake. But it is a fundamental misunderstanding arising from the fact that journalists and political scientists base their analysis on Orbán’s rhetoric. But in order to understand Orbán, one should look at his actions. And they clearly show what we are dealing with. He is a con man, running what is basically a political Ponzi-scheme.

In order to understand Orbán you have to look at Bernie Madoff

Madoff was a charismatic fund manager, who ran his scheme for decades. He promised big returns to investors, which were financed with payments from new ones. This secured him and his accomplices a lavish lifestyle. Besides his charisma, he was aided by exceptional luck and almost unbelievably incompetent authorities. He fooled some of the most intelligent people in American high society, who, in turn, were also acting as useful idiots, helping him recruit new victims. The bitter irony is that for those who paid attention, it was obvious that the high return was a result from either insider trading or fraud. During the 2008 financial crisis, when he was unable to secure funding, he turned himself in. (I highly recommend HBO’s The Wizard of Lies with Robert de Niro.)

Orbán also runs his political Ponzi-scheme with the help of  lies and deception. Like every great conman, he makes his victims want to believe him. He is charismatic and well-spoken, he knows what his victims want to hear.

His economic policy resembles a classic Ponzi-scheme mixed with mafia tactics, using parliamentary majority as his legal cover. His ‘early investors’ (selected businessmen, friends and  family members) receive businesses taken away from others (just look at the tobacco retail licensing and rigged public tenders).

Flat income tax and generous state subsidies to higher middle class are financed by cuts on welfare to the poorest, on education, and on healthcare. Private pension funds of the active workforce have been nationalized, while Orbán keeps handing out gift vouchers to pensioners before elections with his face and personal letter attached to them. The pensioners are thus the most loyal Orbán-supporters.

This is a classic rob Peter to pay Paul scheme. Those who finance today’s pension hand-outs will almost certainly receive almost no pension from the state when they retire. The poorest, who pay the world’s highest VAT, are also the most harmed by the income tax, and they also receive the worst public services. They finance the universities  that educate the higher middle class, while their own children will probably enter low-paid jobs.

The EU’s taxpayers finance Orbán’s oligarchs through rigged public tenders. The losers are Hungarian citizens who receive bad services at high cost, honest entrepreneurs who will go out of business, and the Hungarian taxpayers who will then pay the EU’s fines.

The ill-gotten gains are privatized – while the penalties socialized in Orbán’s system.

This system benefits the few at the expense of the many. This is not sustainable in the long run, as Orbán’s so called ‘national entrepreneurs’ base their business model not on competition and customer demand, but on state backing.

Orbán is not a patriot, the business deals like the Russian-built Paks2 nuclear power station and the Budapest-Belgrade railway are against the economic interest of Hungary. Under Orbán’s regime friendly multinationals have received more state subsidies and tax relief than Hungarian businesses, in fact, more than under the previous “cosmopolitan” socialist-liberal government. The victims of his policies of legalized state graft are Hungarians.

Orbán’s anti-immigration stance is a fraud as well

His claims that in 2015 his government “protected ” Western-Europe from the flow of refugees is a lie, the Hungarian authorities delivered thousands of them to the Austrian border.

His residency bond scheme also enriched private individuals with no profit for the Hungarian taxpayer. As an article by put it:

“Between 2013 and 2017, Hungary handed out nearly 20,000 permanent residence permits for residency bond investors and their family members. While most of the customers were Chinese nationals, permits were also issued to hundreds of Russians and dozens of immigrants from the Middle East and Africa. The Hungarian authorities, citing privacy concerns, have been resisting calls for disclosing the names of the bond buyers.”

And to talk about dangerous immigrants, one of the residency bond buyers was an FBI-wanted money-launderer of terrorist organisations (also Orbán’s friend), a suspected member of a criminal network, and the alleged money-man of the Assad-regime.

And another proof that Orbán’s immigrant-bashing is just a pose: the fact that the Hungarian government even admitted the quota-refugees of the EU. They really couldn’t care less whether those people are in Hungary or not. As the Budapest Beacon reports :

“Despite the government’s xenophobic anti-immigration propaganda of last year, Hungary secretly accepted 1,300 refugees in 2017.

“Deputy undersecretary with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Kristóf Altusz revealed the number in an interview published in the Times of Malta on January 10. According to Altusz, such cases were not publicised by the government as it could put the beneficiaries in danger.

In the interview, he also claimed that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s talk  about “Muslim invaders” is just political language and although it “might sound a bit hard for Western ears,” in Hungary it is “not all that striking.”

Just as Madoff, Orbán has played his gullible and naive supporters who desperately wanted to believe. Among Madoff’s victims were rich people and charities – Orbán’s victims include poor rural people and anti-immigration nationalists in Hungary and abroad. Madoff was aided by his family and a few employees, Orbán’s accomplices are posted at nominally independent institutions and control huge chunks of the economy and the media.

Madoff was unwittingly helped by incompetent authorities, while Orbán is helped by the  similarly incompetent EU, inept opposition politicians, and their intellectual fellow travelers.

Orbán has created a virtual reality, in which the majority of the Hungarian society has come to believe, regardless of whether they are supporters of Orbán or not. Orbán’s supporters believed they voted for an anti-immigration politician who protects Hungarian citizens and businesses. Opposition voters bought into the idea that Orbán can be voted out in an electoral system created by and for Fidesz. It’s all a lie.

For those who looked at the numbers and facts realized that Madoff’s business model was a fraud but they were ignored when they spoke up. So were leading economists and diplomats who were once close to Orbán and tried to sound the alarm. Or maybe the world has heard the alarm, but no one had the time and attention for Orbán and tiny Hungary – and now they will all pay the price.

Reality caught up with Madoff, his accomplices and victims when there was no money left, and the illusion couldn’t be maintained.

Orbán’s corrupt state is economically unsustainable, put on life support by the EU, but it doesn’t mean it cannot last for a long time. East Germany lasted for four decades, surviving with the help of the decadent West. And the West is now also funding Orbán’s survival. The majority of East-Germans had no illusions about their state, and when the geopolitical and economic circumstances changed, the system based on lies and fear ceased to exist.

As long as Orbán can secure funding for his corrupt system, as long as the majority of Hungarians accept the illusion he created, nothing will change.

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