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How Eastern European Populism is Different

in Conflicts 2018 · Crisis 2018 · Culture 2018 · Danube 2018 · Economics 2018 · EN · Europe 2018 · EX-USSR · Moldova 2018 · Nation 2018 · NATO 2018 · Person 2018 · Politics 2018 · Polska 2018 42 views / 6 comments

Balkans     Baltics      Danube      Europe    Ukraine        Polska

 GEOMETR.IT         project-syndicate.org

 

Only in Europe’s post-communist east do populists routinely beat traditional parties in elections. Of 15 Eastern European countries, populist parties currently hold power in seven, belong to the ruling coalition in two more, and are the main opposition force in three. 

WARSAW – In 2016, the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election to the US presidency created an impression that Eastern European-style populism was engulfing the West. In reality, the situation in Western Europe and the United States is starkly different.

As political scientists Martin Eiermann, Yascha Mounk, and Limor Goultchin of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change have shown, only in Europe’s post-communist east do populists routinely beat traditional parties in elections. Of 15 Eastern European countries, populist parties currently hold power in seven, belong to the ruling coalition in two more, and are the main opposition force in three.

Eiermann, Mounk, and Goultchin also point out that whereas populist parties captured 20% or more of the vote in only two Eastern European countries in 2000, today they have done so in ten countries. In Poland, populist parties have gone from winning a mere 0.1% of the vote in 2000 to holding a parliamentary majority under the Law and Justice (PiS) party’s current government. And in Hungary, support for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party has at times exceeded 70%.

Aside from hard data, we need to consider the underlying social and political factors that have made populism so much stronger in Eastern Europe. For starters, Eastern Europe lacks the tradition of checks and balances that has long safeguarded Western democracy. Unlike PiS Chairman Jarosław Kaczyński, Poland’s de facto ruler, Trump does not ignore judicial decisions or sic the security services on the opposition.

Or consider Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump and his campaign’s ties to Russia. Mueller was appointed by US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a government functionary who is subordinate to Trump within the executive branch. But while Trump has the authority to fire Mueller or Rosenstein, he wouldn’t dare do so. The same cannot be said for Kaczyński.

Another major difference is that Eastern Europeans tend to hold more materialist attitudes than Westerners, who have moved beyond concerns about physical security to embrace what sociologist Ronald Inglehart calls post-materialist values. One aspect of this difference is that Eastern European societies are more vulnerable to attacks on abstract liberal institutions such as freedom of speech and judicial independence.

This shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, liberalism in Eastern Europe is a Western import. Notwithstanding the Trump and Brexit phenomena, the US and the UK have deeply embedded cultures of political and social liberalism. In Eastern Europe, civil society is not just weaker; it is also more focused on areas such as charity, religion, leisure, and politics, rather than social issues.

Moreover, in the vastly different political landscape of Europe’s post-communist states, the left is either very weak or completely absent from the political mainstream. The political dividing line, then, is not between left and right, but between right and wrong. As a result, Eastern Europe is much more prone to the “friend or foe” dichotomy conceived by the anti-liberal German political and legal theorist Carl Schmitt. Each side conceives of itself as the only real representative of the nation, and treats its opponents as illegitimate alternatives, who should be disenfranchised, not merely defeated.

Another major difference between Eastern and Western European populists is that the former can count on support not only from the working class, but also from the middle class.

According to researchconducted by Maciej Gdula of the Institute of Advanced Study in Warsaw, political attitudes in Poland do not align with whether one benefited or lost out during the country’s post-communist economic transformation. The ruling party’s electorate includes many who are generally satisfied with their lives, and are keeping up with the country’s development.

For such voters, the appeal of the populist’s message lies in its provision of an overarching narrative in which to organize positive and negative experiences. This creates a sense of purpose, as it ties voters more strongly to the party. Voters do not develop their own opinions about the courts, refugees, or the opposition based on their own experiences. Instead, they listen to the leader, adjusting their views according to their political choices.

The success of the PiS, therefore, is rooted not in frustrated voters’ economic interests. For the working class, the desire for a sense of community is the major consideration. For their middle-class counterparts, it is the satisfaction that arises not from material wealth, but from pointing to someone who is perceived as inferior, from refugees to depraved elites to cliquish judges. Orbán and Kaczyński are experts in capitalizing on this longing.

It is worth asking if populism will come to define the true cultural – and, in turn, political – boundaries of the European Union.

If Polish or Hungarian politics proves more similar to the politics of Russia than of France or Austria, does that mean the EU’s borders are overextended? Could it be that their place is with Russia, rather than with Western Europe? Are the EU’s borders therefore impossible to maintain in the long run?

https://www.project-syndicate.org

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in Balkans 2018 · Baltics 2018 · Belarus 2018 · Danube 2018 · Economics 2018 · EN · Europe 2018 · EX-USSR · Finance 2018 · Moldova 2018 · Nation 2018 · NATO 2018 · Person 2018 · Politics 2018 · Skepticism 2018 · State 2018 · Ukraine 2018 · USA 2018 36 views / 6 comments

Balkans      Danube   Europe    Polska

GEOMETR.IT           ipg-journal.de

 

*A year ago, the EU’s gravest divisions appeared to run between the well-off North and the debt-plagued, economically struggling South.

But today the rift between the Union’s liberal, integration-minded West and a nationalistically oriented East – that encompasses some but not all of Central Europe — is now grounds for far greater concern.

Events at the tail end of 2017 in Brussels, Budapest, Warsaw, Prague and Vienna proffered stark, disturbing testimony that the EU faces an existential conundrum in confronting Central Europe’s nationalist, eurosceptic leaders, led by Poland and Hungary.

Pro-Europe observers such as Daniel Cohn-Bendit see the threat as so great, they argue that enabling contrarian countries to exit the union Brexit-style might be the best solution to keep the EU as we know it.

Though not the puppet master behind the fracturing, Russia has jockeyed to sow dissention between EU members for years – and is now savouring the fruits of its efforts.

A dark irony: a quarter of a century after the demise of the Moscow-enforced Eastern bloc of communist countries, which the Central Europeans endured unwillingly, a new post-Cold War East bloc has emerged in Mitteleuropa.

This time, though, it’s voluntary and mostly enamoured of Russia and its autocratic leader Vladimir Putin, whose authoritarian manner and nationalist ethos the Central Europeans admire over that of the liberal democracies of Western Europe. (Poland, an exception, may detest Putin for meddling in the region and Russia itself for historical reasons, but like the other Central Europeans it appreciates Putin’s unabashedly national, strong-arm style of governance.)

The new East bloc is a loose alliance of states – led by, but not confined to, the Visegrad Group (Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia) – with similar, nationally minded conceptions of the EU, human rights, parliamentary democracy, and relations with Russia.

Unlike the EU’s western states, which appear disunited and lost in facing the EU’s looming deficits, it has a vision for remaking the EU: Europe as a confederacy of independent nations that would possess few supranational functions beyond that of a free trade zone.

This ‘Europe of nations’, as it’s often referred to by the Central Europeans and far-right groups across the continent, envisions sovereign, Christian European states bound together by a rejection of Islam, on the one hand, and multiculturalism on the other.

Also called a Europe of fatherlands, it is strongly decentralised, leaving nation states abundant leeway to design their own laws – unencumbered by the EU – on media, the court system, civil liberties, migration, surveillance, among other categories.

Poland’s breach

The battle lines between the different conceptions of Europe’s future came more sharply into focus when on 20 December the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, announced proceedings against Poland for political tampering with its justice system.

Should worse come to worse, the Commission could deny Poland its voting rights in EU bodies, a first-ever penalty in the Union’s sixty-year history.

The Commission has accused Poland’s arch-conservative government of undermining the fundamental values of democratic states. It levelled the same charge against Budapest for interfering in the independence of its justice system and media, though the Commission stopped short of measures leading to the suspension of voting rights.

Under other statutes, the EU is taking Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to court over their refusal to accept EU mandatory quotas for asylum-seekers. Meanwhile, it’s suing Budapest for cracking down on universities and civil society groups that receive foreign funding.

The Commission charges that over the past two years, Poland’s ruling Party of Law and Justice (PiS) has passed 13 laws that open its courts to political interference from the executive.

‘It’s with a heavy heart that we’ve decided to trigger article 7 point 1 [of the EU treaty], but the facts leave us no choice,’ said the commission’s vice-president Frans Timmermans, referring to the option of denying a member state voting rights for the violations.

Poland, said Timmermans, had breached the separation of powers that defined the kind of democratic states in the EU. ‘Judicial reforms in Poland mean that the country’s judiciary is now under the political control of the ruling majority,’ he added.

Undaunted by the bombshell, Warsaw shot back that it was guilty of nothing and would continue with its ‘legitimate’ reforms of the judiciary. Even Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, who is no longer a PiS member, accuses EU leaders of ‘lying’ when they claim recent judicial changes threaten the rule of law and democratic standards.

Perhaps even more spectacular – and unexpected – Hungary immediately jumped to Warsaw’s defence. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has promised to veto EU sanctions against Poland should the proceedings get that far.

‘We shall defend Poland in the face of an unfair, fabricated political procedure,’ said Hungary’s deputy prime minister Zsolt Semjen.

The Czech Republic chimed in less contentiously: Andrej Babis, the eurosceptic billionaire prime minster said he was ‘convinced’ the Commission’s action ‘stems from a lack of communication’ and that sanctions would ‘have a negative impact on the whole region’.

The Commission needs only 22 of the 28 member states’ votes in order to issue Warsaw a formal warning, which is the plan. (Germany and France have already said they’d back it.)

But in order to actually suspend voting rights in the EU’s Council of Ministers, the unanimous approval of all EU states is needed, which Hungary, at the least, will block.

* The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at:          http://ecfr.eu

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