Corruption is a feature, not a bug

Oligarchs don’t buy politicians here – It’s the other way around

The foreign minister was caught on an oligarch’s yacht on the Adriatic. Nothing will happen to him, of course, and it is not what you think it is.

The Hungarian foreign minister was caught on an oligarch’s 21M euro yacht sunbathing in Croatia while his social media was churning out routine lies about the official calls he was supposedly making from his office. 

Why the unnecessary lies, you might ask. After all, a minister is entitled to a holiday. And we agree. No one would have been bothered by the fact that he took a holiday or made those work calls from his holiday. 

But routine lying for no reason appears to be the hallmark of a habitual liar – i.e. someone who lies as a way of life, and for whom communication is just a tool to say whatever benefits him regardless of truth content.

For average people, lying is something to be kept to a minimum. Do it when necessary, but make sure to hide it in an ocean of factually correct statements and social media posts as it were, in preparation of getting caught and scrutinized. For a habitual liar, however, preparing for getting caught is not a consideration. And when the habitual liar holds power, not being found out is not even a priority. 

Hence the routine social media lies of a foreign minister’s office, even when he didn’t need them. If he ever gets caught, that’s just another teachable moment for the plebs: we get another lesson on how our outrage doesn’t matter and doesn’t change anything. How lies and theft and corruption do not end a loyalist’s career – if anything, it makes his position stronger because Orbán wants to teach us that he won’t remove a loyalist because of public pressure. Demolishing people’s sense of agency and instilling learned helplessness is their #2 priority (#1 is stealing). 

The foreign minister lying about working from his office is not something that matters here any more. And neither is the fact that he was caught on a yacht that would cost two years’ of his salary to rent for a week, and that it belongs to an oligarch who has a habit of hosting politicians and their families on his vessel – and also of winning gigantic public work tenders at a pace no one can keep up with. 

Let it stand here that the vessel was re-christened by him to ‘Lady MRD’, which is an abbreviation of the word ‘billion’ in Hungarian – which also happens to be the smallest unit of public money he bothers to pick up from the ground if he happens upon it on a sidewalk. So much class. 

The ‘Lady Billion’ was thus hosting the foreign minister this time and investigative journalists from átlátszó.hu simply tracked it (as well as the Party’s favorite private jet) and found him there. It tells everything about the state of Orbánist media that one of the Orbánist “security experts” went on TV to say that they “should have sunk” the motorboat the journalists used because apparently they totally have the right to kill people that annoy them. This is the normal state of public discourse now. 

But instead, a bunch of bodyguards gave chase of jet skis and the locator of the vessel was switched off. Fuck maritime rules (on top of all other rules and laws). 

Now the average first world reader might think that this is corruption because the oligarch wins public money in exchange for treating politicians for yacht holidays. But that would be wrong.

Deutsche Welle summarized the situation like this: “The yacht in question — a 42-meter (137-foot), €21 million ($25 million) luxury cruiser — also happens to belong to Laszlo Szijj, a Hungarian businessman who has amassed great wealth over the past several years thanks to lucrative government contracts. During that time, Szijj has become one of the wealthiest men in the country and is among the club known as the “Orban oligarchs.” According to Hungarian media reports, the weekly rental price for Szijj’s “Lady MRD” yacht is estimated to be at least €170,000. Parliamentarians and ministers like Szijjarto earn a gross monthly income of around €8,500. It thus seems unlikely that he could afford such a vacation. Yet, should it turn out that he had vacationed on the yacht at Szijj’s invitation, it would be a violation of federal anti-corruption regulations.” 

Then Deutsche Welle went on to discuss how it is illegal to accept gifts from businessmen – especially ones whose “business” is getting public money and nothing else. And that is what it would be in the first world. But over here, eastern rules apply. 

Said oligarch can’t ask for favors and the foreign minister can’t ask one from him either. They are all just props in the story. The boat is widely considered to be in an oligarch’s name for convenience, and he is widely considered to be a hand-picked beneficiary of the king, keeping some of the money flowing in his direction, but mostly just being an avatar for it.

Much like Russia’s Putin has created a loyalist group of oligarchs that are dependent on him but not a challenge to his power in any way, Hungary also has oligarchs that are created by politics, down to the last cent of EU cohesion fund money thrown at them. They don’t try to entice politicians. They are owned by them. They front for them. (But yes, they probably all genuinely believe that they are self-made men.) 

This guy’s yacht, for instance, is routinely used by members of the top connected fronts and family, and  the private jet that brought the foreign minister to Croatia appears to have ferried the crème de la crème to their Mediterranean holidays and back in the last couple of days. There are even a private jets that even Orbán routinely uses to attend football matches. 

And now you know why the last, tiny outlets of investigative journalism will be in Orbán’s crosshairs now that he has taken over everything else

When Orbán was questioned why he used multiple private jets for private purposes in 2018 and 2019 his answer was that it’s alright because they belong to assorted rich people. Like that’s OK. But of course, he was denying that those jets were his – he still maintains the legal fiction of being a poor and humble politician, a thing that’s required from a Hungarian prime minister ever since János Kádár, the last pre-1989 autocrat who serves as a political role model for Orbán. His wealth disclosure is so blatantly unrealistic, cheeky dissenters keep organizing fundraising campaigns to help him pay for a new suit – his official wealth would not allow him. 

So he denied what no one was accusing him of, that he owned those jets. And then he added that he will continue to do so. Because, you know, #2. 

Because why amass unlimited power if you’re not allowed to kill those annoying journalists? And why amass unlimited wealth if you’re not allowed to show it off? Why have it if you can’t flaunt it? The nouveau riche always lacks the class or the tact to hide their riches – why would it be any different with politicians who got rich on suckling on public money? 

But since we have no tools to hold politicians accountable or make consequences happen, since the prosecution is blind deaf and paralyzed when it comes to OfFidesz cases, Hungarians have come to resign to blatant corruption like this. If you can’t do anything about it, you can only change your mind about it. Being helpless but still getting outraged hurts. So you don’t get outraged. And the fake news government propaganda helps you with it. They don’t report about such affairs, they dilute the discourse with so much disinformation that one resigns from ever knowing what really happened, and they top it off with menacing threats like the boat-sinking “analysis” of their expert on TV. And some of their columnists openly wondering how are non-loyalists allowed to, like, live without bodily injury… If that doesn’t make you work furiously on dismissing and minimizing corruption, nothing does. 

Featured image: Szarvas / Index.hu

 

 

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