Corruption is a feature, not a bug / I dare you to do business in Hungary...

The Orbán-government’s go-to excuse is that “it is a private business’ internal affair”

Orbán’s Fidesz has sent an explanation about the destruction of the biggest independent news portal, index.hu, to their fellow nationalists in EPP. It claimed that the Orbán-government can have nothing to do with it because index.hu is a private business and how could a government interfere in the internal affairs of a private business? How?

It-is-private has been their go-to excuse for every atrocity that took place in Orbán’s cronyist kleptocracy in the last ten years because the civilized world hasn’t developed intellectual immunity to this particular lie just yet.

Indeed, while the dramatic last hours of index.hu were unfolding in Hungary, our foreign minister was scoffing at journalists in Portugal, who were asking him about index.hu. It is a private company, you can check in the business registry, how could a government ever put pressure on it? Ever!

The same excuse was used when Orbán redirected hundreds of billions of corporate income tax into sports (read: football) by law. His loyalists trumpeted the while world full of the lie that the insane amount (2.6 billion euros by 2019) had nothing to do with taxpayers, companies sponsor football totally voluntarily. Even the court said it’s nonsense, that money is public money. But if it is your first time discussing football financing in Hungary, wouldn’t you believe them?

Nationalization is a bad word and people already know that. It’s enough to say something was nationalized and everyone seems to know what to think about it.

But cronification is not a word yet. Creating a legal and political environment and the consequent psychological atmosphere where every successful business just happens to be sold to a handful of politically favored guys, all loyalists to the prime minister, is not something to explain in one word. But then again, this is 20th century 2.0 – the same as the one before, just with new methods. Cronification hasn’t gone on the wall of shame yet – so we can’t denounce someone for doing it.

Telling someone that businesses just happen to go to well-connected and politically appointed cronies, serial tender-winners and nobodies who happen to have the cash to buy things that are not even sold raises a million questions – and natural disbelief. Am I sure I’m not overreacting? Am I sure they didn’t all just want to sell? Am I sure it is not better? For the country? The nation? To someone?

It takes thousands of words to explain and underscore it with documented examples whenever I am not believed. And even then, it may only be an isolated case. And again, am I sure?

But I’m kidding. No one listens to a thousand words. If it is not something simple like nationalization, better don’t start explaining it. Politicians’ fronts and family today take things straight home without the public-interest charade. It is cronification, and the world has no intellectual defense against it just yet – possibly because any effort to crack down on cronification of the economy would also crack down on good, old-fashioned (and proudly practiced) corporatism – which is the same thing, just with second generation beneficiaries. I am looking at you, Germany.

Index.hu may have been a private company, legally speaking. But its parent company has been bought by a literal nobody about a year ago – and no, no one asks anymore how he had the cash to buy something that wasn’t even for sale.

That index.hu could stay independent for so long was a side effect of a quirk in the kleptocracy. When Orbán set out to destroy the man who made him after the elections in 2014, said man took index.hu in the divorce because it happened to have been on his name. (An option to buy it, to be precise.) He bought it and put it in the trust of a foundation, just to fuck with Orbán and to make it a little more difficult to Orbanize. The journalists knew it, they raised the alarm, but there was nothing they could do about it. They set out to keep working as long as their independence was granted – even though the profit they made went to their new, Orbánist owner and they had to crowdfund their work on top of everything else.

Orbán’s loyalists chose July 2020 to make their move – and the entire editorial board has resigned en masse, down to the proofreader. Their other option, to stay and bend the backbone, was nasty.

Because these media takeovers are nasty. The country’s oldest daily broadsheet, Népszabadság, has been shut down overnight, the journalists not allowed back to their desks, its archives deleted with immediate effect in 2016.

Origo.hu, Index’ once biggest competitor was sold (again, by Germans) to someone’s nephew (don’t ask how the boy had the money) and turned into a zombie site, with anonymous editorials threatening dissenters by name, publishing fabricated lies, doxxing oppositioners and dissenters, and never having to answer for any of it. (In one court case they claimed that they can’t remember who posted one particular piece and there is no way to check it.) During the years of shrill migrant-hysteria, origo.hu went below and beyond, with up to two-third of its front page dedicated to real or imagined atrocities committed by nasty, non-white, migrant men. If you only read Orbánist media, you can hardly believe how migrants and oppositioners are still allowed to live.

No, I am not exaggerating. The decline happened so fast and it was so deep that it beggars belief – and that disbelief works for Orbán’s advantage.

If you have just heard for the first time that these zombified media outlets are technically not even in Orbán’s hand, you will believe that it is all just a terrible misunderstanding. That Orbán is attacked by evil liberal-bolshevik, Soros-mercenary, migrant-hugging, politically correct communist background powers.

You may even come to believe that Orbán and his loyalists may have spent the last decade hissing between their teeth the words “index journalists” and sworn publicly over and over again to eliminate index.hu – but they have nothing to do with the fact that it finally happened. Because it was a totally private company. Owned by whats-his-name. Who just happens to do all this for business rationalization. Yes, that must be it, the whiny journalists just don’t like market-logic. Look, self-described “conservatives” of the world, they are just communists! There, explained. You can now hug your Orbán – your Moscow overlord ordered you to.

But remember this every time an Orbán-government employee claims that something is totally private. Their definition of private is “crony-owned and legally extorted”. Crony-owned enterprises and other curiosities may legally look like private market players but they are detached from the logic of the markets, and attempt to defy the forces of supply and demand by relying on political connections, laws written for them, and other legal but unfair means. When misbehaving or failing in their core business, these entities are sheltered by the same political connections – both legally and financially.

These are not just the old state-mandated monopolies – new forms of crony-owned enterprises also include licensed industries. But everything is always perfectly legal – to silence watchdogs and critics who are yearning for an excuse to avoid confrontation.

And of course, they also deliver political services to their benefactor. If it is destroying the biggest independent news outlet of the country – so be it. The godfather pays better than the market – he has the EU’s money to distribute all by himself.

 

 

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