On nearly all sides, Mr. Horvath had a new neighbor, Lorinc Meszaros, a childhood friend of Mr. Orban and former pipe-fitter who is now a billionaire. Fences sprung up overnight, and the stench of pig manure fell over the area.
Mr. Meszaros, along with his relatives, has bought more than 3,800 acres in Fejer County alone, according to a Times analysis of land data compiled by Mr. Angyan and other sources, and confirmed by visits to the farm. Mr. Orban’s son-in-law and another friend of the prime minister’s have also bought large estates a short drive away, The Times found.
The prediction made by Mr. Angyan — that Mr. Orban’s policies would make the countryside beholden to Fidesz and his allies — was being realized.
It is a type of modern feudalism, where small farmers live in the shadows of huge, politically powerful interests — and European Union subsidies help finance it. In recent years, according to a Times analysis of Hungarian payment data, the largest private recipients of farm subsidies were companies controlled by Mr. Meszaros and Sandor Csanyi, an influential businessman in Budapest.
Last year alone, companies controlled by the two men received a total of $28 million in subsidies.
The two men have radically different relationships with Mr. Orban and his party.
Mr. Csanyi is seen as someone Mr. Orban cannot afford to antagonize. He is chairman of OTP Bank, one of the nation’s most important financial institutions, and has a reputation for outlasting mercurial leaders. He has hired out-of-work politicians from all parties, and his farming conglomerate, led by his son, now controls two of the “Dirty Dozen” companies privatized by Mr. Orban.
Mr. Meszaros’s fortune, by contrast, is tightly bound to the prime minister. He has built an empire by winning government contracts for projects largely financed by the European Union and has recently snapped up companies that once belonged to a business tycoon who had fallen out of favor with Mr. Orban.
They are eligible for a range of subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy, whether direct payments based on acreage, subsidies directed at livestock and dairy farming or rural development programs — all of which is distributed at the national level by the Fidesz government.
“I’m always accused, and I am very angry about it, that I got the biggest subsidies,” Mr. Csanyi said in an interview. The reason, he said, is not politics. It is pigs. “I produce about one-sixth of the Hungarian pig production.”
On paper, landowners should face restrictions. The Hungarian government has capped subsidy payments to the biggest farms, a seemingly progressive policy advocated by reformers. But farmers say it is easy to skirt the rule by dividing plots and registering the land to different owners.
Rajmund Fekete, a spokesman for Mr. Orban, said that Hungarian subsidy procedures “fully satisfy” European regulations but declined to answer specific questions about Mr. Angyan, or about land sales that benefited Mr. Orban’s relatives and allies.
“Hungary is also fully compliant in the sale of state land, which is regulated by law,” he said.
In Brussels, European officials were specifically warned about problems in Hungary even before the auctions. A May 2015 report, commissioned by the European Parliament, investigated land grabbing and cited “dubious land deals” in Hungary. The report even cited Mr. Orban’s home of Fejer County.
More broadly, the investigators found that wealthy, politically connected landowners had the power to annex land across Central and Eastern Europe. “This is particularly so when they conspire with government authorities,” the report said.
In Bulgaria, for example, land brokers had pushed for laws allowing them to effectively annex small farms.
Investigators pointed to the farm subsidy program as a major factor, saying it encouraged companies to acquire more and more land.
“The C.A.P. in this sense has clearly failed to live up to its declared objectives,” said the report, which was prepared by the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute.
In a written response, European agricultural officials denounced the findings as unreliable, and in bold letters declared that it was up to the countries’ leaders to set and enforce national land use policies.
That deference to national governments is a hallmark of the European Union. But it has left the bloc unable or unwilling to confront leaders who try to undermine its efforts, said Tomás García Azcárate, a longtime European agriculture official who now trains the Continent’s policymakers.
“The European Union has very limited instruments for dealing with gangster member states,” he said. “It’s true on policy, on agriculture, on immigration. It’s a real problem.”
As Mr. Orban’s government began auctioning off thousands of acres to his allies, Mr. Angyan began his own project. Out of government, he meticulously studied the land sales, compiling a record that officials could not easily purge. He interviewed farmers who had been abandoned by the government and mapped political connections among the buyers — findings now supported by the Times analysis.
Beyond the biggest oligarchs like Mr. Meszaros, other supporters and sympathizers of Mr. Orban got blocks of public land.
In Csongrad County, for example, family members and associates of Janos Lazar, a Fidesz lawmaker, were among the biggest buyers, obtaining about 1,300 acres. In Bacs-Kiskun County, associates and family members of a former business partner of Mr. Meszaros bought big chunks of land. And in Jasz-Nagykun-Szolnok County, associates and relatives of current and former Orban government officials were among the biggest winners in the land auctions. Many have since leased the plots, with a markup, to big agricultural firms that receive European subsidies.
“This is what the European Union resources do, and the revenues from the land do,” said Mihaly Borbiro, a former mayor of Obarok, a tiny village in Fejer County, a short drive from Mr. Orban’s hometown.
While political patrons get rich, many small farmers count on the subsidies to survive. That discourages them from criticizing the system too loudly, many of the farmers said, especially in the face of retribution.
Ferenc Gal, who raises cows, alfalfa and a few pigs on his family farm, said he applied to lease about 320 acres because the European subsidies alone would have made it profitable before he even planted anything. Local farmers were supposed to get preference, but the land went to wealthy out-of-town investors.
When he complained, he quickly found himself a pariah. He said government inspectors showed up at his farm, suddenly concerned about environmental and water quality. He said local officials told him not to bother applying for future rural grants.
“Once you’re on a black list,” Mr. Gal said, “that’s it.”
A Policy of Fear
Months after he quit the cabinet, government officials retracted the lease on Kishantos, the organic farm he had helped operate for 20 years. They gave the land to political loyalists, who plowed over the fields and sprayed the cropland with chemicals.
Then school officials shuttered Mr. Angyan’s department at Szent Istvan University, destroying his legacy.
“Orban understands when to keep people in fear,” Mr. Angyan said.
In interviews in Hungary, some agricultural scientists and economists refused to discuss land ownership or asked to not be identified when discussing their research. Farmers, too, saw what happened to the man who spoke up for them.
Retribution also found Jozsef Angyan.
“If Angyan can’t do anything, what can I do?” said Mr. Teichel, the family farmer near Mr. Orban’s hometown.
Mr. Orban’s control of the European subsidies helps prevent another rural uprising, Mr. Angyan said. As long as the government administers the grants, nobody can afford to speak up. “If you’re critical of the system,” he said, “you get nothing.”
Besides, he added, there is no real opposition in the countryside. Mr. Angyan’s small farmers’ association forged an alliance with Mr. Orban’s far-right party to get the prime minister re-elected. That relationship has outlasted Mr. Angyan, and those in charge of the farming group now hold powerful government positions.
Mr. Angyan has receded from public life. This year, he met twice with The Times, providing the data he had been compiling.
After the second meeting, Mr. Angyan stopped returning phone calls.
When Mr. Teichel saw him recently at a funeral, he looked defeated. “He’s given up the fight,” Mr. Teichel said. As usual, Mr. Angyan asked how the farmer and his family were doing.
“I don’t matter,” Mr. Teichel replied. “I’m just a soldier. How are you doing? You are the general.”
Mr. Angyan replied: “How should I continue when nobody is behind me?”