Don’t Call Them Illiberal Democrats

Viktor Orbán Vladimir Putin
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Russian president Vladimir Putin answer questions from reporters in Moscow, February 17, 2016 (Facebook/Viktor Orbán)

Michael Meyer-Resende of Democracy Reporting International argues for Carnegie Europe that applying the term “illiberal democracy” or “majoritarianism” to the politics of Hungary and Poland is a misnomer. The ruling parties there are not undermining democracy — by taking control of the (state) media, stacking the courts and rewriting election laws — for the sake of the majority, but rather to maintain their own power.

Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz and Jarosław Kaczyński’s Law and Justice party pretend to apply a majoritarian logic while colonizing the institutions of checks and balances:

For now, it means the majority can rule without constraints. Tomorrow, it means they can thwart another majority by using their control of the judiciary and state media. Read more “Don’t Call Them Illiberal Democrats”

Poland’s Opposition to Multispeed Europe Is Ill-Considered

Poland’s ruling party has come out against a proposal for more flexible integration in Europe that is supported by the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

“We cannot accept any announcements of a two-speed Europe,” Jarosław Kaczyński, the head of the conservative Law and Justice party, told the weekly W Sieci.

This would mean either pushing us out of the European Union or downgrading us to an inferior category of members.

This is hyperbole.

The whole idea of a multispeed Europe, as endorsed by the “Big Four” earlier this month, is to break through the false dichotomy of more or less Europe. It would allow countries to integrate at not just one or two but many speeds.

For example, countries that wish to pool their defense procurement could do so within the context of the EU without militarizing the union as a whole, which is something Poland opposes. Read more “Poland’s Opposition to Multispeed Europe Is Ill-Considered”

Brexit and Trump Force Poles to Shelve Suspicions of Germany

Berlin Germany
Skyline of Berlin, Germany, December 31, 2005 (Max Braun)

The first thing Poland’s Law and Justice party did when it returned to power a year ago was pick a fight with Germany.

Jarosław Kaczyński’s national-conservative party, which controls both the presidency and parliament, has yet to forgive Germany for what it did to Poland seventy years ago.

When Martin Schulz, then president of the European Parliament, accused the Poles of hypocrisy for expecting European solidarity in the face of Russian threats but refusing to help the rest of Europe cope with a refugee crisis, Mariusz Błaszczak, the interior minister, felt it necessary to invoke World War II. He called Schulz’ comments “another example of German arrogance” and pointed out, “We are talking in Warsaw. Warsaw was destroyed by the Germans.”

Now the prospect of Schulz coming to power in Berlin has Błaszczak’s party scrambling to repair Polish relations with his rival, Angela Merkel. Read more “Brexit and Trump Force Poles to Shelve Suspicions of Germany”

Poland’s Law and Justice Party Finally Went Too Far

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party backed away from controversial press reforms on Tuesday after several nights of street demonstrations in the capital Warsaw.

The concession is a rare victory for the liberal-minded opposition, which has otherwise been unable to stop Law and Justice from reversing the last twenty years of Poland’s democratization and liberalization.

Last week, the nationalist-conservative party proposed a law that would ban all recordings of parliamentary sessions except by a select few broadcasters. It also called for a limit on the number of journalists who are allowed in the building at all.

The bill became a focal point of protest against Law and Justice’s illiberal agenda, prompting even Lech Wałęsa to speak out. Read more “Poland’s Law and Justice Party Finally Went Too Far”

Poland’s Law and Justice Party Up to Its Old Tricks

This Law and Justice government was supposed to be different.

When Poland’s conservatives won the election last month after eight years of liberal party rule, it was on a promise to run the country better than they did last time.

But a law enacted on Thursday to remove justices from the Constitutional Court does not suggest they will govern very differently this time around.

“Law and Justice is over,” said former prime minister Ewa Kopacz, leader of the Civic Platform. “Today it’s Lawlessness and Injustice.” Read more “Poland’s Law and Justice Party Up to Its Old Tricks”

Poland Could Become More Difficult for Rest of Europe

Poland’s conservative Law and Justice party is expected to return to power this weekend after eight years of liberal Civic Platform rule. The right’s populist economic policies and assertive foreign policy are almost certain to cause some alarm in Berlin and Brussels.

Law and Justice promises to raise public spending, protect pensions and introduce a new tax on banks. None of its signature economic policies would be particularly popular in the rest of the European Union where German-inspired fiscal consolidation and liberal economic reform are now the norm.

Strategically, too, a Law and Justice-led Poland would likely distance itself from its western neighbor.

Politico reports that the Civic Platform — which is most popular in the western areas of Poland that used to be German — has cultivated close relations with Western Europe. The conservatives, on the other hand, believe that if Poland can become the main player in Central and Eastern Europe, it will have a stronger hand in its dealings with the rest of the European Union.

The political news website cautions against reading too much into the differences between the two major parties:

Warsaw will still defend the use of coal, resist accepting migrants, be suspicious of Russia and the euro and keen to rely on NATO and the United States for its security.

But if the past is any indication, the tone of Polish government could become very different. Read more “Poland Could Become More Difficult for Rest of Europe”