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