Editorial: On János Zuschlag and corrupt nostalgia
This week, János Zuschlag walked out of prison having served his six-year sentence, bringing back images of a nearly-forgotten time of almost comedic corruption.
For those who may need a recap: Zuschlag was the wacky-looking guy with the glasses who was nurtured as a prospective new titan of the left wing. He became one of the leaders of the socialist youth organization and was a representative in parliament. He earned himself a name when he made fun of the holocaust on camera.
Most notably, he featured in the public domain for repeatedly emerging in suspicious cases, like founding fictive party organizations that were linked to accepting bribes in return for instigating a more favorable evaluation of grants. The court found he altogether caused HUF 72 million in damages through fraudulent acts.
Of course, Fidesz pounced on the opportunity to note that Zuschlag didn’t act alone and instead was only taking the fall for Attila Mesterházy and Gordon Bajnai, who are Fidesz’ main political challengers right now.
Zuschlag as a scapegoat, being the only prominent person convicted in an organized scheme, doesn’t seem far-fetched and it’s certainly an easy political shot to take. It also reminds the public and hopefully the political left of the tarnish that piled up on their reputations and how it led to the crushing defeat of 2010 and the demise of their former liberal allies.
The corruption within the ranks of the socialist government was one of the key reasons the electorate chose to punish them. If the disastrous state of the economy wasn’t enough, the likes of György Hunvald or Miklós Hagyó of the left-liberal side ending up in prison didn’t exactly help to improve the public image.
Of course, those were times when the corrupt, at least some of them, were taken to court and then to jail, even though they were in government.
Nowadays, with Fidesz in power, the consequences seem to be altogether missing. The government is repeatedly charged of corruption by its political opponents for the same two business spheres winning conspicuously large volumes of public procurements, for people with ties to government party circles winning farmland and applicants with similar backgrounds carving out major chunks of the highly profitable tobacco monopoly deal.
The authorities don’t seem to be particularly concerned with any of these matters, so the face of what the public recognizes as corruption may have changed, but it’s still here, with a far stronger establishment in support.
The bumbling and the ruthless kind of corruption are derided in the collective perception of the Hungarian public, but because of the given nature of grift, being seen as an everyday element in our lives, we have grown to accept it.
A political side that had the will and the means to genuinely put an end to corruption of any kind would be the country’s biggest benefactor. However, it would first have to make various promises to get there, and there’s a good chance we wouldn’t believe a word of it.
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