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What will the Euro elections tell us about Eastern Europe?

By Blog Admin, on 11 May 2014

Plakat do Parlamentu Europejskiego 2014 Platforma Obywatelska

Photo: Lukasz2 via Wikicommons

Seán Hanley looks ahead to the upcoming European elections and assesses what they may tell us about the enduring differences between voters and parties in Western and Eastern Europe.

The elections to the European Parliament which take place across the EU’s 28 member states between 22 and 25 May are widely seen a series of national contests, which voters use to vent their frustration and give incumbent and established parties a good kicking. Newspaper leader writers and think-tankers got this story and have been working overtime to tell us about a rising tide of populism driven by a range of non-standard protest parties.

The conventional wisdom is that the ‘populist threat’ is all eurosceptic (and usually of a right-wing persuasion) although in some cases the ‘eurosceptic surge’ is clearly a matter of whipping together  familiar narrative than careful analysis.

But, as a simultaneous EU-wide poll using similar (PR-based) electoral systems, the EP elections also provide a rough and ready yardstick of Europe-wide political trends, ably tracked by the LSE-based Pollwatch 2014 and others.

And, for those interested in comparison and convergence of the two halves of a once divided continent, they a window into the political differences and similarities between the ‘old’ pre-2004 of Western and Southern Europe and the newer members from Central and Eastern Europe (now including Croatia which joined in 2013). (more…)

The force that is Fidesz

By Blog Admin, on 25 March 2013

Peace March for Hungary 2012.01.21 (9)

Photo: Derzsi Elekes Andor via WikiMedia Commons

Hungary’s governing party Fidesz has recently consolidated changes to the constitution, media laws and electoral constituencies. Yet despite international criticism and tough economic times, Hungarian opposition forces are divided while Fidesz and the radical right party Jobbik remain electorally buoyant. Erin Marie Saltman examines the enduring strength of the Hungarian right and the obstacles facing its opponents.

In Hungary 15th March is a day with a deeply resonating political legacy. The day is a national holiday, created in remembrance of the 1848 revolution when Hungary’s iconic poet revolutionary Sándor Petőfi stood on the steps of the National Museum and read his Twelve Points demanding freedom of speech and national political liberties from the Habsburg Empire. Today Petőfi has become a malleable political symbol of revolution and change for government and opposition alike, with both groups moving to celebrate his legacy.

The conservative Fidesz government sees itself as personified in the Hungarian revolutionary tradition, calling the huge electoral majority that put it into power in 2010 a ‘voting revolution’ –  an opportunity for Hungary finally to rid itself of its history of oppressive powers, first the Habsburgs and then the Communists. In Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s national speeches, there is now wariness towards the assimilating and constricting measures of the EU and IMF, asking whether these international institutions bear the same hallmark of oppression. Backing the government, which still holds a strong lead in polls among decided voters, are throngs of dedicated supporters holding ‘peace marches’ and rallies to show their continued support.

The main concern of domestic opposition and international onlookers remains the increasingly enlarged capacity the Fidesz government to restructure the Hungarian state. Most recently on 11 March  President János Áder signed into law the Fourth Amendment  to the Hungarian constitution, adding a fifteen-page amendment to the forty-five-page document. The constitutional court had ruled against many of the proposed additions, which worryingly mirror some of the larger issues flagged in radical right party Jobbik’s 2010 Manifesto. (more…)

Romania’s Elections: Politics Can’t Be Different?

By Blog Admin, on 20 December 2012

2012-01-15-Romanian-protests-in-Bucgarest

Photo: Adriatikus

Romania’s recent parliamentary elections have done little to bring about the change needed to address the country’s ongoing political and economic crisis, argues Daniel Brett.

The Romanian elections of 9 December, which took place against a backdrop of economic crisis, austerity, political gamesmanship, polarisation, highly personalised politics, have produced a parliament with four main blocs:

  • The Social Liberal Union (USL), principally made up of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the National Liberals (PNL) but also includes the Conservative Party (PC) of businessman Dan Voiculescu and the UNPR, a small social democratic group. The Union won a two-thirds majority in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, with its seats divided 60/40 in favour of the PSD;
  • The main opposition Right Romania Alliance (ARD), which was dominated by President Traian Băsescu’s Party of Democratic Liberals (PDL) but also included Civic Force, the party of former Prime Minister Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu and a faction of National Peasant Party (PNŢ).  Following the election the ARD dissolved itself, although many believe that some form of new opposition coalition will emerge before the next.
  • The People’s Party of Dan Diaconescu (PPDD), owner of the OTV television channel.
  • The Union of Democratic Hungarians (UMDR), the long established party of Romania’s Hungarian minority.

 The outcome of the election will do little to address Romania’s chronic economic and political crisis, which has stretched back almost two years. Despite the economic crisis, the elections were not dominated by discussions about what should be done about the economy. The USL promises – primarily increasing pensions and wages, while at the same time securing an IMF loan – remain impossible to fulfil. The whole crisis has been marked by a failure to develop an alternative strategy. The ARD programme was very loose, saying little about economic policies but choosing instead to focus on corruption and threats to democracy to set itself in opposition to the USL. The Alliance also emphasized its closeness to the European Union and the USA and attempted in some senses to de-politicise itself by focussing upon links with NGOs and civil society. (more…)

‘Together 2014’ movement emerges in Hungary

By Blog Admin, on 27 November 2012

Together 2014 rally (Photo: Erin Marie Saltman)

A new opposition grouping has emergence in Hungary, calling for an electoral alliance of grassroots movements and political parties to challenge the dominance of right-wing party Fidesz. However, it may soon find its cohesion  testsed, writes Erin Marie Saltman.

‘Together 2014’ (Együtt 2014) was announced on 23  October  at the large opposition rally against the government, founded by three civil society organizations. With largely divided and conflicting opposition facets competing in Hungary the question remains: how together will Together 2014 be?

Together 2014 is the alliance of three civil organizations joining forces to win a two-thirds majority in the next national parliamentary elections. This is the majority needed to override many of Fidesz’s recent controversial laws. Leading the alliance is Gordon Bajnai, the interim Prime Minister in 2009 and 2010 for Socialist Party, MSZP. Bajnai remains one of the most popular politicians in Hungary as a non-partisan technocrat hoping to bring together disgruntled voters from the centre-left and centre-right. Bajnai brings with him the Patriotism and Progress Association (Haza és Haladás Közpolitikai Alapítvány), a public policy foundation he leads, formed after the 2010 elections developing biannual policy packages. (more…)

Hungary’s fractured opposition

By Blog Admin, on 30 October 2012

saubere Hände für unabhängige medien

Photo: Beate Firlinger. Creative Commons license via Flickr

Only time will tell if Hungary’s divided liberal and  left-wing opposition will be able to put aside differences and unite notes Erin Marie Saltman

Those less intimate with Hungarian political culture should be aware of the significance of March 15th and October 23rd, national memorial days for the 1848 and 1956 revolutions against Hapsburg and Soviet powers. These national holidays have been used increasingly to stage political speeches, demonstrations and protests in recent years, paralleling the rising discourse around Hungary’s ‘illiberal’ turn, as reported on by international news and human rights watchdogs.

As political forces in Hungary have polarised, so have the streets of Budapest, divided into an array of camps for and against the government. Since the parliamentary majority victory of the right wing party, Fidesz, and the significant electoral gains of the radical right party Jobbik, there has been increasing talk of Hungary’s movement away from liberal democratic values and the country’s increasing Euroscepticism. The lack of cohesion of liberal-left political forces for the past six years has turned political polarisation into political hegemony of the right.

But the events that took place on October 23rd may indicate a fundamental shift toward the development of a united liberal opposition movement. The national holiday was a litmus test for the failing of old opposition powers, the continued strength of right-wing forces, and potential new alliances’ strengthening unity among grassroots and political opposition. (more…)

Angry mainstream: Eastern Europe’s new ‘centrist populists’

By Blog Admin, on 20 January 2012

Allan Sikk and Sean Hanley detect a new breed of anti-establishment party emerging centre-stage in Eastern Europe.

Magyarországi választás 2010 Jobbik vadplakát Fidesz óriásplakát

Photo: Beroesz via Wikicommons

In both Western and Eastern Europe extremist populism and illiberal movements, we are told, are strong, politically influential and relentlessly on the rise.  In countries such Austria, Slovakia and Poland radical right parties have already held government office. Elsewhere they have sufficient parliamentary representation to influence government formation and help make the political weather. Recent electoral breakthroughs in countries without strong illiberal populist traditions by parties such the True Finns (2011), the Sweden Democrats (2010) or Hungary’s Jobbik (2010) seem to highlight the accelerated growth of such parties.

Given the greater impact of recession and reduced EU leverage in the region, the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) would seem to be especially vulnerable to such tendencies. However, notwithstanding the spectacular rise of far-right in Hungary, recent elections in key CEE states suggest that voters in the region are turning to new parties, which combine familiar anti-elite, anti-establishment populist rhetoric with mainstream pro-market policies, a liberal stance on social issues and calls for political reform.

 Poland’s October 2011 elections, for example, saw the wholly unexpected emergence as the country’s third force of a grouping led by maverick and political showman, Janusz Palikot, on a platform combining anti-clericalism and social liberalism with flat taxation and a slimmed down, citizen-friendly state. In May 2010 a new pro-market anti-corruption party, Public Affairs (VV), campaigning to kill off the ‘dinosaurs’ of the political establishment enjoyed a similarly meteoric rise in the Czech Republic, winning 10% of the vote. In Slovakia in elections a few weeks later the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party formed in 2009 by the economist and businessman Richard Sulík entered parliament with a similar vote share on a programme of fiscal conservatism and socially liberal reforms such as the introduction of gay marriage and decriminalisation of soft drugs. Hungary’s Green-ish  Politics Can Be Different Party (LMP) can, with some qualifications, be regarded in a similar light.

 Such centrist or (neo-) liberal populists, or as we prefer to call them anti-establishment reform parties (AERPs), are we believe, a growing and important phenomenon in Central and Eastern Europe and, perhaps Europe more generally.  A more careful and wider look at the CEE region over the last 10-15 years suggests that such AERPs are a widespread and common phenomenon which can, in some contexts, enjoy landslide electoral success: the Simeon II National Movement in Bulgaria (2001), New Era in Latvia (2002) and Res Publica in Estonia (2003) were all new, anti-establishment reformers, which topped – or came close to topping – the poll at their first attempt and headed new coalition governments. (more…)