THE NEW YORKER: More than three hundred and eighty journalists have been studying an untold number of pages contained in millions of leaked files now known as the Paradise Papers, which detail the offshore assets and tax-avoidance mechanisms of a number of large corporations and super-rich individuals. These journalists are now producing dozens of stories, charts, and graphs that, among other things, connect various Russian businessmen and politicians not only to one another but also to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and American companies such as Facebook and Twitter. But, to understand fully what is being exposed, one must first understand what kind of state Vladimir Putin has created in Russia.
The Hungarian sociologist Bálint Magyar has a name for it: a mafia state. Magyar—who studied the Soviet Union as an academic in Communist Hungary, served in the Hungarian government, and returned to academia after the populist takeover of his country—argues that the mafia state is a new kind of regime, distinct from autocracies previously known to man. By Magyar’s definition, the mafia state is run by a clan—a political family—that consists of poligarchs, oligarchs, and stooges.
The topmost poligarch is the patriarch, the mafia boss. He has surrounded himself with what Magyar calls the patriarch’s “adopted political family”: people who have proven their loyalty, either by many years of close friendship and work or through the surrender of wealth and power. The patriarch is in charge of everything in the country; he distributes all goods and rights. “The reinterpreted nation signifies his ‘household,’ ” Magyar writes. “He does not appropriate, only disposes.” The word “poligarch” combines “political” and “oligarchy”; the poligarchs are first endowed with political power, which they use to procure material wealth… (more)