⇩ Use your ears. Click below to hear this post.
Political landscapes in Central Europe (CE) seem to be shifting in expected directions, which is somehow still surprising to the public at large
This week saw several revelations in CE. Starting with the largest economy of the group, Poland has been struggling for years with their reputation of xenophobic conservatism both within the EU and around the globe, and this week it suffered a few more setbacks.
At the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Poland’s Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki – while attempting to quell the media fire surrounding recent Polish legislation which criminalises even insinuations that members of the Polish nation were in any way responsible for the holocaust – threw petrol on the flames when he said that the WW2 genocide involved “Jewish perpetrators”.
In response to the comment, the Polish embassy in Tel Aviv was swiftly vandalised with swastikas. Through a spokesman, PM Morawiecki attempted to clarify that the Jewish victims were not responsible for “a Nazi German perpetrated genocide”, but the damage had already been done.
A little further south, news from Czechia confirmed that Jan Hamáček will take over the leadership of the Social Democrats, paving the way for a possible coalition with the embattled PM Babiš.
Babiš lost a vote of confidence in January when it was reported that the politician was under investigation regarding the fraudulent use of EU funds for his own private residence, the Stork’s Nest.
Since then, Babiš’ ANO party has struggled to form a minority government as the remaining Czech factions fear being tainted by the scandal. However, the PM won a victory when President Zeman, a close ally who had promised to give Babiš a second attempt at forming a government, was re-elected last month.
Unfortunately, the political events in Czechia have begun to bring into doubt the state of the rule of law in the once-lauded Central European country. Similar, though far more significant, concerns have been echoed by the EU and the US regarding their northern and southern neighbours, Poland and Hungary.
Last, but certainly not least, Viktor Orbán used his annual “state of the nation speech” to dial up the political rhetoric ahead of Hungary’s parliamentary election in April.
In the speech, Orbán replayed many of his greatest hits: denouncing EU politicians from Brussels, Paris, and Berlin; boasting about his attempts to tame regulatory control by the IMF; and then it pivoted to the ominous warning that “dark clouds were gathering”.
What the Hungarian PM felt compelled to caution his compatriots about was the growing threat of “Islamisation” on the continent. Hungary has been in the headlines for years for their harsh stance on immigration and their treatment of refugees, but this most recent speech dispelled any uncertainties of whether the Hungarian PM held severe prejudices.
Orbán went on to blame the West for opening the door to “Islamic expansion” which would lead to a decline of Christian European culture. Further still, Orbán claimed that Hungary was a bastion which is preventing Muslims from flooding in from the south.
When trying to convince their electorate of the merits of their racist policies, illiberal politicians like to evoke historical metaphors related to the centuries-old Ottoman invasions which were prevented from going further north by Polish and Hungarian armies.
This imagery is popular among illiberal conservatives from Budapest to Warsaw. For years, politicians across the CE have been using terminology related to these historical instances in an effort to reaffirm their versions of the past.
Illiberal propaganda is a formidable force in CE if the recent elections in the region are any indication as to whether these Islamophobic agendas are winning the minds of the public.
While none of us have the gift of clairvoyance, I believe most of us can be certain that CE will continue down this illiberal route for the foreseeable future.
Many across the Visegrad region have been clamouring for an illiberal revolution, though how and when this could manifest will depend on a mixture of economic pressures, the speed of cohesion with the EU, as well as the geopolitical and domestic position of the countries; which essentially means, probably not today or tomorrow, but perhaps someday soon.