Warsaw versus Budapest

I read a fascinating article on Paraméter, a Hungarian-language site from Slovakia, by János Széky, an editor of Élet és Irodalom. Its title is “Warsaw will not become Budapest, and Budapest will not become Warsaw.” It addresses the widespread belief that the right-wing populism of Viktor Orbán has now reached Poland. Jarosław Kaczyński, chairman of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), discovered the magic formula of Orbanism, which with time will conquer the whole world. According to Széky, however, those who are familiar with the situations in Hungary and Poland reject this simplistic, misleading comparison.

What do Orbán and Kaczyński have in common? Both speak the language of “radical nationalism.” Both are representatives of a kind of political Catholicism that is no longer in fashion and that most closely resembles the value system of authoritarian Christian, mostly Catholic, parties between the two world wars. Both are euroskeptic and antiliberal. The rhetoric of both Fidesz and PiS is sharply anti-communist. Both men are inclined toward paranoia based on conspiracy theories.

But there is a fundamental difference between them: Kaczyński “believes in the conservative Christian-radical nationalist values.” He is that kind of politician. Orbán, on the other hand, follows this path not from conviction but because he realized that in today’s Hungary it is this kind of politics that is popular. The difference can be seen in Kaczyński’s decision to join the Alliance of  European Conservatives and Reformists, a party of right-wingers and euroskeptics, while Orbán kept Fidesz in the European People’s Party made up of moderate Christian Democrats, the largest party in the European Union that on several occasions saved his skin. The small and therefore ineffectual ECR will be of no help to Kaczyński when the European Parliament turns against his illiberal ways.

The real difference, however, between the Polish and the Hungarian situations is the Polish voters’ reactions to the anti-democratic legislative decisions of the Polish parliament and government. In Poland the challenge to the rule of law began by an attack on the Constitutional Court, but unlike in Hungary where the opposition politicians and liberal intellectuals passively watched events unfold, the Poles immediately established a Committee for the Defense of Democracy (Komitet Obrony Demokracji or KOD), which follows in the tradition of the earlier anti-communist Solidarity movement. In Hungary, ordinary citizens simply cannot be fired up by a call to restore the pre-2010 regime, which they find as distasteful as they do the Orbán regime. The large majority of Poles, on the other hand, “know what they have lost.” If elections were held today, a month after the government of Beata Szydło took office, “the liberal opposition would beat PiS to a pulp.” A liberal party called .Nowoczesna (Modern), established only in May 2015, would beat both PiS and the conservative Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska): 39% of active voters would vote for .Nowoczesna and only 27% for PiS and 15% for Civic Platform.

In Széky’s opinion, a similar situation would never have been possible in Hungary, for several reasons. First, because the majority of Polish voters are supporters of the market economy while the overwhelming majority of Hungarians are leery of capitalism and believe in an largely state-driven economy. Second, the Hungarian electoral system is such that a party can gain strength only if it recruits activists in all small electoral districts although its message resonates only in particular parts of the country. Third, the Hungarian media is not in a position to make a new party known to the majority of the electorate. It is under the thumb of either the government or of oligarchs. In Poland the media can stand on its own and is therefore a great deal more independent than the Hungarian media.

Jarosław Kaczyńsk and Beata Szydło

Jarosław Kaczyński and Beata Szydło

You may have noticed that although only a month has gone by since the Szydło government took office, the reaction in Brussels against the new Polish regime is already very strong. Much stronger than in the case of Hungary in 2010. The reason for this difference is that although both Kaczyński and Orbán provoke western public opinion as well as western politicians, the current Polish government made a series of mistakes that Orbán with his refined political sense would never have committed. For example, a couple of weeks ago senior aides of the Polish minister of defense accompanied by military police raided the NATO Counter Intelligence Center of Excellence. The night staff of the center called the director, but he was prevented from entering. This was the first but not the last act of the Polish government that caused astonishment abroad. For instance, the Szydło government accused former prime minister, Donald Tusk, of being involved in the so-called Smolensk affair. If you recall, former president Lech Kaczyński died in a plane crash near Smolensk in 2010. The accident was most likely caused by the president himself, who insisted on landing in inclement weather. But many in PiS are certain that it was Russian sabotage that killed him, his wife, and 96 others. According to a 2014 survey, 30% of Poles believe this story. PiS seems to want to drag the former prime minister into a show trial. A big mistake. After all, Tusk today is the president of the European Council.

It doesn’t bode well for the Szydło government that the European People’s Party already wanted to have a debate in the European Parliament on the state of Polish democracy and the rule of law. It was only the patriotic members of the Polish Civic Platform who sit in the EPP delegation who managed to dissuade other members of EPP from carrying out their plan. If the Polish government doesn’t change course, however, I am sure that EPP will not hesitate to turn against the Szydło government. And if that happens, the Szydło government will be in real trouble.

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Member

Two remarks:

it’s not clear from this (otherwise excellent) article what Eva considers worse: the opportunism of Orban or the fundamentalism of Kaczynski. Are slick opportunists more dangerous, or clumsy believers?
one difference between Hungary and Poland is surely that PiS won an election, while Fidesz won a landslide. This made effective opposition against Orban’s anti-democratic, anti-rule-of-law steps in 2010 much more difficult.

Member

It is not easy for the EU to handle the new eastern siblings’ thoughts. OV was the first, now the poles and then who knows who. It’s not just about the money stolen from the EU-funds, but the whole idea with the eurepean solidarity. The easteners doesn’t seem to have a place in a united Europe.

Member

Seems that the Balkan thinking is closer to the general Hungarian and Polish mentality that European thinking.

Guest

The dream of a politically united Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals has always been thoroughly delusional.

Because of the sharply differing self-interests of its members, my own best bet would be that for all practical intents and purposes the EU is more than likely to sooner or later politically fracture and disintegrate along its North versus South, East versus West, and Britain versus the Rest fault-lines, though face-saving appearances would no doubt be kept up and for probably quite a long while after all political substance had evaporated, leaving behind just a husk in place of the old EU.

With the extremely poor prospects of a Europe-wide genuine political union, a return to the idea and practice of a Europe-wide common market of politically strictly sovereign nation states is perhaps the best that can be hoped for in the future.

Guest

In Hungary, Orbán and all that he opportunistically stands for is a symptom of deep-seated malaise in the Hungarian psyche.

The Polish psyche is far less sick than the Hungarian, and the Kaczyński-style stuck in the mud, thoroughly narrow-minded Catholic Nationalism is by no means symptomatic of the majority of Poles.

Kaczyński is a true believer in a deeply flawed minority ideology, but he will sooner or later find out that nothing is more dangerous for a purveyor of suspect goods than believing his own sales b.s.

Turkmenbashi
Guest

There was a silence in Hungary on Poland’s new foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski’s visit to Bucharest on 21 December.

For those understanding diplomacy it has clearly indicated that the new Polish government is not interested in a forming an axis with Orban, but is rather coordinating its foreign politicy steps with the Romanians – against Moscow. Too bad.

Guest
Whater political ambitions and agenda Kaczyński might have, if he is a genuine Catholic then, unlike Orbán, he will have a fundamental set of ethical values, including Christian Charity, to adhere to, one would hope. Whereas Orbán has absolutely no ethical values of any sort, and is making sure that Hungary also does not. Any higher aims such as consideration for others, selflessness, and just plain kindness (all tenets of Christianity) have been replaced in Orbán’s newly invented Hungary by greed, aggression, racism, intolerance, lying, cheating and conflict. The majority of Catholic and Reform churches here remain shamefully silent on ethical matters which affect all of Hungarians, including their own flock, and are ethical cowards, afraid, or just plain too stupid, to acknowledge the immoral and often illegal antics of the government. I find it hard to believe that Orbán shows his face in any church, though I understand he belongs to the Reform one. Whatever that church stands for, Orbán has certainly blemished its credentials , in my eyes, and the Hungarian Reform church has lost credibility. We do not have a Pinochet or an Amin as leader, and Church leaders can speak out against wrongdoing, and have a… Read more »
Guest

Regarding Orban blemishing the HRF..

Reprehensible that the HRF let it happen. And let’s slide in the HRCC, the Hungarian Roman Catholic Church. Poor poor Christ. He has to be dejected in seeing his ‘Church’ having such poor poor representatives of the ‘Christian’ message. After Judas, it has to be a killer when it comes to projecting betrayal in its alleged ‘Catholic’ principles and moral rubrics. Personally, I have a very hard time with it.

Bereg
Guest
Poland, despite historic GDP data which showed Poland for a long time behind Hungary (in the 1980’s rationing of food etc.), is actually way more polgárosodottabb (more civic, bourgeoise, burgher) than Hungary is. This is key. Poland is part of the European North, the Polish people even rurally behave, cloth themselves, consume, act, react just differently. Anybody who thinks Hungary is like Poland or Poland will be like Hungary or Poland will copy Hungary is crazy and has zero idea about how Poland (or the Czech Republic or Slovakia for that matter) works. Hungary is a predominantly poor, rural country, it always was. The communists destroyed the state of the art, competitive economy and the right-wing killed the jews which almost solely represented modernity. Trying to participate in globalization without the necessary cultural, geographical, material/immaterial etc. assets is practically impossible now especially as the society ages and so more and more – inactive – people only care about their pension (welfare checks). Fidesz and Jobbik are a reaction to this failure to compete – of course the solutions they offer don’t work, but their better lawyers so they make up for this by entrenching themselves in a way even so… Read more »
Observer
Guest
The PiS success was something I has been afraid of ever since 2006/7, but not because of any “magic formula”, as there is nothing new in the Fidesz populist and power techniques. My frustration was with the Hungarian voters’ and then with the EU’s reaction, or rather the lack of it, which did not nip in the bud this politics and corruption, but let them seep into and poison the mainstream. It was to be expected that Orban’s cheap deception tricks will encourage others to cheat in the game I am cautiously pessimistic about the future. Hungary would have been easier to make an example of; enter Poland, with its 39 million population, and the game changes. How would “the Szydło government … be in real trouble. “ even if the EPP turns against it? There is no telling which is worse “the opportunism of Orban or the fundamentalism of Kaczynski”, although in my book Orban is a power junky, under both/all dictators the supporter/client crowd will plunder the public domain. I suspect PiS will find “relatively legal” ways to bend the electoral system in its favor and to exercise more influence over the media, I don’t want to list… Read more »
Guest

Sure looks as if Poland and Hungary are mad as hell and can’t take it anymore with the busybody EU. Lovely scene for Vlad to play in and with more points to muzzle in on. More room for maneuver and machinations on the European political chessboard. One of these days some Eastern European countries will be once again the happy happy suburbs of Vlad’s land.

As far as the happenings in Poland, the remark made by Petru, the leader of Modern, sort of sounds an ominous note. He said, ‘Everything’s moving through Parliament at a very fast pace, with a risk of making enormous mistakes’. Hmm…I think we all can know what bodes in the offing.

Guest

Sadly, that sound exactly like what was, and is, happening in Hungary- ie. “we don’t have time for checks and balances”. And the result is a lawless country in which the political elite can and do anything they like.

Istvan
Guest
I think Eva’s essay which summaries János Széky’s thinking and some of the posts on the blog over estimate the positive aspects of Poland’s economy. Poland has a development model based on low labor costs and low taxes, and it is running to its end. This in part explains the power shifts in Poland. I think to argue that the idea that the majority of Polish voters are supporters of the market economy while the overwhelming majority of Hungarians are leery of capitalism and believe in an largely state-driven economy needs to be developed at a much deeper level than Széky does in his article. Because there are reasons for this that in my opinion are based on an economic dynamism in Poland that is in part delusional. The part played by wages in Poland’s GNP is low and continues to fall. This means that Poland’s competitiveness is based on low labor costs and on low taxes, especially for small business owners and entrepreneurs. Poland has a huge problem relating to abuses in self-employment, or the phenomenon of what is called in Poland pseudo-entrepreneurship. In Poland even nurses or cleaners to set up their own businesses. This is a way… Read more »
Member
Agreeing with you on the issue of Poland’s exemplary military and security performance, I’m still amazed at the lengths people would go to diminish Poland’s (or, for that matter, Estonia’s) achievements and Hungary’s failure. Between 1989 and 2012, household consumption grew 148 pct in Poland with its free-market drive and “enterpreneurial craze” (surprassing that of Hungary now) and 9 pct in Hungary with its ineffective mixture of statism and crony capitalism during the same period; that is no delusion. The Polish education system is now among the best in the OECD and improving; its Hungarian counterpart is among the worst, and in utter decay. Yes, Poland’s growth is based on low wages and low taxes, as in all non-core-western countries in the initial period of rapid development; and sooner or later wages (and taxes) will rise as growth levels off (as in all countries which reach a certain level of development). But what can you say a about the prospects of a country like Hungary, where wages are significantly lower than in Poland (and the population is not even aware of the fact), while the overall taxation level is much higher? As for emigration, ever since the 1980s working abroad… Read more »
csubakka
Guest

Another elderly Jewish convert: Paul Lendvai praises the political genius of Orban.

Actually Orban must indeed know something, after all he succeeded to flip at least three famous Jews (i.e. liberals, in the Hungarian discourse) that is Lendvai, Kertész and Konrád while the entire Hungarian left-wing – despite the corruption worthy of African kleptocracies etc. – couldn’t flip a single well-known right-winger or well-known Fidesznik.

http://index.hu/belfold/2015/12/29/nahat_paul_lendvai_is_orbant_dicseri/

Istvan
Guest

Paul Lendvai is stating the obvious in relationship to Orban’s blockage of refugees into Hungary. As discussed before on this blog it has more to do with Merkel’s lack of understanding and disingenuousness relating to the dynamics of the refugee issue than with Orban’s brilliance as to the extent the refugee crisis would go.

Greco
Guest

A snap election in the making?

Remember that the Fidesznik lawyers (ie. everybody who is anybody in Fidesz) like to prepare for the future and have everything covered legally (lepapirozas) beforehand.

http://blog.atlatszo.hu/2015/12/masfelmillard-az-allami-nyomdanak-szavazolapokra-a-ciklus-kozepen/

Kirsten
Guest
Poland is and has been “younger” than Hungary, the last baby boom was in the 1980s, which makes the interest of the Polish average voter to differ a bit from that of the average Hungarian voter. The part of the society still firmly in the grip of “traditional” ideas (which includes that related to the respective “Communism” or “Socialism”) is larger in Hungary (also due to the emigration from Hungary, which appears to be quite systematic despite the sentimental talk about some exceptionalism). Otherwise postCommunist countries share quite a number of ideas that do not fit well into the 21st century. The question is only how dominant they can become and how strong the traditional embitterment will grow. I still believe that the extensive experience of Poles with active opposition in the 1980s will be beneficial in overcoming the Kaczynski period, even if exactly this generation has not managed to avoid the typical problems of deficient democracies and cronyism. Cooperation is difficult in Poland also, but probably it might be easier to achieve within the spectrum opposed to Kaczynski. In Hungary, cooperation and the identification of common strategical goals is an insurmountable obstacle even for people with nearly identical interests.… Read more »
petofi
Guest

The fact is that Hungarians have always wanted to belong to a small, preferred class from which to exploit, rule, and ‘lord it over’ their fellow citizens. It’s the Hungarian way: it’s what makes them unique…

petofi
Guest

Furthermore, it’s the heart of Orban’s political secret that he recognizes this Hungarian phenomenon, and nourishes it.

Member

Poland and Hungary have similarities with Germany in the 1920s. The center-right mainstream hasn’t really accepted democracy and the rule of law, it considers itself as the true representative of the nation, independent of what voters and the constitution say.

As long as the center-right AND the center-left mainstream haven’t accepted the nuts and bolts of modern pluralism, democracy and the rule of law are permanently at risk. Ironically, the center-left isn’t the problem in Eastern Europe, as anti-democratic leftism has been thoroughly disgraced by communism.

PiotrK
Guest
Interesting, gives me some hope (that Poland won’t sink as deep as Hungary…) but don’t overestimate Kaczynski sincerity. He’s not a part of our ultra-catholic right, he just uses them (they started pretty far in the 90ties, but after several electoral loses all the far-right forces combined joining Kaczynski’s L&J), and it will (hopefully, in the long run) destroy Church’s political influence, when the tides change. And some within the Church are wary of that risk, while the majority wants to closely cooperate with the regime. Personally I’m happy, lets group all the anachronistic leftovers together, and after next election they’ll disappear from the scene. Constitutional crisis intensifies with Tribunal’s president claiming that he will ignore the contents of latest Constitutional Tribunal Law and judge its constitutionality according to previous regulations. That will either limit L&J’s power enough so that the opposition will be able to build up in the midst of perpetual crisis, or L&J will decide to pursue some violent solution, like forceful removal of current judges – and that escalation will remove any doubts as to the nature of the regime. That would be costly, but ultimately L&J will be removed anyway. What I think is our… Read more »
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