What Putin cre­ated, and what Kaczyn­ski and Or­ban are em­u­lat­ing, is more like a “sovereign dic­ta­tor­ship”

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

new ad­min­is­tra­tion re­cently passed sim­i­lar laws, en­abling, for ex­am­ple, the gov­ern­ment to ap­point the man­agers of tele­vi­sion sta­tions, thereby en­sur­ing broad­cast­ers’ po­lit­i­cal fealty.

The situation is no bet­ter in Hun­gary, where Vik­tor Or­ban has been push­ing his coun­try to­ward il­lib­er­al­ism since 2010, when he be­gan his sec­ond stint as the coun­try’s prime min­is­ter. In fact, he set to work al­most im­me­di­ately chang­ing the con­sti­tu­tion to con­sol­i­date the power of his Fidesz party and limit the in­de­pen­dence of the con­sti­tu­tional court.

Fur­ther­more, like Putin and Kaczyn­ski, Or­ban has as­serted con­trol over the me­dia, with new leg­is­la­tion em­pow­er­ing it to dic­tate con­tent and im­pose sanc­tions on me­dia out­lets, as well as to grant broad­cast li­censes to favoured sta­tions. These laws also en­sure pref­er­ence for Fidesz’s cam­paign ad­ver­tis­ing, in­clud­ing by re­strict­ing the lo­ca­tion of op­po­si­tion bill­boards and mes­sages by NGOs. The slo­gan “Only Fidesz!” ac­com­pa­nied by the im­age of a grinning Or­ban, are now plas­tered on 15-foot-high struts across the coun­try.

Of course, “fa­ther of the na­tion” wor­ship is noth­ing new in coun­tries with il­lib­eral gov­ern­ments. Sim­i­lar bill­boards, em­bla­zoned with por­traits lead­ers from

of Vladimir Lenin to Leonid Brezh­nev, once lined the roads of the Soviet Union. Like­wise, as one ob­server pointed out, in Ro­ma­nia in the 1980s, roads were lined with signs ex­tolling the virtues of com­mu­nist strong­man Ni­co­lae Ceaus­escu. Though Putin’s por­traits are ab­sent from Rus­sian roads today, inces­sant footage of him on na­tional tele­vi­sion is not. And images of Stalin, the spir­i­tual god­fa­ther of Putin’s regime, do line the roads, if spo­rad­i­cally.

In Putin’s early days in power, he pro­posed a regime based on “sovereign democ­racy,” claim­ing that Rus­sia needed a “spe­cial sys­tem” to pro­tect it­self from its many enemies, do­mes­tic and for­eign. Kaczyn­ski and Or­ban sub­scribe to the same no­tion, com­pletely miss­ing, ap­par­ently, the irony in the use of “sovereign” – a term typ­i­cally ap­plied to a monarch, not a demo­cratic leader. In­deed, what Putin cre­ated, and what Kaczyn­ski and Or­ban are em­u­lat­ing, is more like a “sovereign dic­ta­tor­ship.”

For the EU, han­dling Rus­sia, which has lately po­si­tioned it­self as the West’s neme­sis, would be hard enough. Now it has to ad­dress the anti-demo­cratic Putin em­u­la­tors within its own ranks, at a time when Euro­pean unity is be­ing un­der­mined at ev­ery turn. (The up­com­ing Bri­tish ref­er­en­dum on EU membership is one im­por­tant ex­am­ple.) The ques­tion is whether the EU will fol­low through on its threats to im­pose po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic sanc­tions on Poland and Hun­gary, or con­tinue, for the sake of unity, to avoid act­ing against nascent il­lib­eral regimes in coun­tries that were once bea­cons of postSoviet hope.

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