Tue, Sep 13, 2016 - Page 9 News List

Orban and Kaczynski seeking to spread illiberal democracy

By Slawomir Sierakowski

For example, by attacking members of his own coalition government, Kaczynski lost power in 2007, only two years after he had won it. He seems to have no plans. Instead, he has visions — not of fiscal reform or economic restructuring, but of a new type of Poland.

Orban seeks nothing of the kind. He does not want to create a new-model Hungary; his only aim is to remain, like Putin, in power for the rest of his life. Having governed as a liberal in the 1990s, paving the way for Hungary to join both NATO and the EU, and lost, Orban regards illiberalism as the means to win until he takes his last breath.

Kaczynski’s illiberalism is of the soul. He calls those outside his camp “the worst sort of Poles.” Homo Kaczynskius is a Pole preoccupied with his nation’s fate, and who bares his teeth at critics and dissenters, particularly foreign ones. Gays and lesbians cannot be true Poles. All non-Polish elements within Poland are viewed as a threat. The PiS government has not accepted a single refugee of the tiny number — just 7,500 — that Poland, a country of about 40 million, agreed with the EU to take in.

Despite their different motivations for embracing illiberalism, Kaczynski and Orban agree that, in practical terms, it means building a new national culture. State-funded media are no longer public, but rather “national.” By eliminating civil service exams, offices can be filled with loyalists and party hacks. The education system is being turned into a vehicle for fostering identification with a glorious and tragic past. Only cultural enterprises that praise the nation should receive public funding.

For Kaczynski, foreign policy is a function of historical policy. Here, the two men do differ: Whereas Orban’s pragmatism keeps him from antagonizing his European and US partners excessively, Kaczynski is uninterested in geopolitical calculation. After all, a messiah does not trim his beliefs or kowtow; he lives to proclaim the truth.

So, for the most part, Kaczynski’s foreign policy is a tendentious history seminar. Poland was betrayed by the West. Its strength — today and always — comes from pride, dignity, courage and absolute self-reliance. Its defeats are moral victories that prove the nation’s strength and courage, enabling it, like Christ, to return from the dead after 123 years of absence from the map of Europe.

The question for Europe now is whether the marriage of messianic and opportunistic populism will go mainstream and spread across the union, or remain confined to central Europe. Already, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, eyeing a return to power next year, is adopting some of the language and postures of the Kaczynski/Orban axis. Johnson, for his part, has shown an affinity for their methods. Will others follow?

Slawomir Sierakowski, founder of the Krytyka Polityczna movement, is director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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