Tue, Sep 13, 2016 - Page 9 News List

Orban and Kaczynski seeking to spread illiberal democracy

By Slawomir Sierakowski

Joseph Stalin, in the first decade of Soviet power, backed the idea of “socialism in one country,” meaning that, until conditions ripened, socialism was for the USSR alone. When Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared, in July 2014, his intention to build an “illiberal democracy,” it was widely assumed that he was creating “illiberalism in one country.” Now, Orban and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, and puppet-master of the Polish government (though he holds no office), have proclaimed a counterrevolution aimed at turning the EU into an illiberal project.

After a day of grinning, backslapping bonhomie at this year’s Economic Forum in Krynica, Poland — which styles itself a regional Davos and which named Orban its Man of the Year — Kaczynski and Orban announced that they would lead 100 million Europeans in a bid to remake the EU along nationalist/religious lines. One might imagine former Czech president Vaclav Havel, a previous honoree, rolling over in his grave at the pronouncement. Former Ukrainian prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, another previous winner, must be aghast: Her country is being ravaged by Russia under President Vladimir Putin, the pope of illiberalism and role model for Kaczynski and Orban.

The two men intend to seize the opportunity presented by the UK’s Brexit referendum, which demonstrated that, in today’s EU, illiberal democrats’ preferred mode of discourse — lies and smears — can be politically and professionally rewarding (just ask British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a leading Brexiteer). The fusion of the two men’s skills could make them a more potent threat than many Europeans would like to believe.

What Orban brings to the partnership is clear: a strain of “pragmatic” populism. He has aligned his Fidesz party with the European People’s Party, which keeps him formally within the political mainstream and makes German Chancellor Angela Merkel an ally who provides political protection, despite his illiberal governance.

However, Kaczynski chose to ally the PiS with the marginal Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, and quarrels almost ceaselessly with Germany and the EU Commission.

Moreover, Orban has more of the common touch than his Polish partner. Like European Council President and former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, he plays soccer with other politicians. Kaczynski, by contrast, is something of a hermit: He lives alone and spends his evenings watching Spanish rodeo on TV. He seems to live outside of society, whereas his supporters seem to place him above it — the ascetic messiah of a Poland reborn.

It is this mystical fervor that Kaczynski brings to his partnership with the opportunistic Orban. It is a messianism forged from Polish history — a sense that the nation has a special mission for which God has chosen it, with the proof to be found in Poland’s especially tragic history. Uprisings, war, partitions: These are the things a Pole should think about every day.

A messianic identity favors a certain type of leader — one who, like Putin, appears to be animated by a sense of mission (in Putin’s case, it is the same mission proclaimed by the czars: Orthodoxy, autocracy and nationality). So, whereas Orban is a cynic, Kaczynski is a fanatic, for whom pragmatism is a sign of weakness. Orban would never act against his own interests; Kaczynski has done so many times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top