Be­ware il­lib­eral al­liance of Poland and Hun­gary

Both gov­ern­ments re­sist im­mi­grants and pre­fer ‘con­ser­va­tive na­tion­al­ist’ states to democ­ra­cies. It is time for the Euro­pean Union to take a stand

The Guardian Weekly - - Comment & Debate - Will Hut­ton

It’s ugly and on the rise; and it’s hard to see how it can end well. The global rise of con­ser­va­tive na­tion­al­ism with the aim of cre­at­ing “na­tional com­mu­ni­ties” – di­rected by an un­chal­lenge­able leader to de­fend spe­cial na­tional val­ues, con­trol­ling borders against the virus of im­mi­grants and “for­eign” in­flu­ence – is the men­ace of our times. It is the recipe for do­mes­tic re­pres­sion, crony cap­i­tal­ism, mas­sive cor­rup­tion, im­plo­sion of the rule of law, the rise of racism and in­ter­na­tional con­flict. The val­ues that un­der­pinned the post­war lib­eral order that con­ferred peace, tol­er­ance and pros­per­ity are be­ing torched be­fore our eyes. It is time to take a stand.

Rus­sia and China are the in­ter­na­tional stan­dard­bear­ers of this ma­lign credo, flanked by Turkey and In­dia, and openly ad­mired by the con­ser­va­tive na­tion­al­ists in power in Poland and Hun­gary – and by Don­ald Trump, Nigel Farage and a leav­en­ing of ex­treme Tory Brex­iters. All are spawn of the same devil – im­mi­gra­tion and a work­ing pop­u­la­tion that feels jobs and liv­ing stan­dards are un­der threat. All over Europe there are con­ser­va­tive na­tion­al­ist par­ties beat­ing the same drum – from Ger­many’s Al­ter­na­tive für Deutsch­land (AfD) to Den­mark’s Peo­ple’s party. Europe is reac­quaint­ing it­self with its dark­est de­mons.

Within the EU Hun­gary’s Fidesz party has been tak­ing the lead, re­shap­ing its con­sti­tu­tion to cre­ate what its leader, Vik­tor Or­bán, openly boasts is an “il­lib­eral democ­racy”. The aim is a one-party state com­mit­ted to root out anti-Chris­tian val­ues, with no ef­fec­tive checks and bal­ances, con­trol­ling the me­dia and a net­work of oli­garchs who owe their for­tunes to govern­ment con­tracts. It stinks to high heaven, but Or­bán has two great cards – be­ing in the front­line of Mus­lim im­mi­gra­tion and a frag­ile econ­omy. He wins elec­tions, hold­ing the su­per­ma­jor­ity in the Bu­dapest par­lia­ment that al­lows him to do what he has done.

Since 2015, Poland’s Law and Jus­tice party has been tak­ing its lead from Hun­gary even though it has no par­al­lel su­per­ma­jor­ity. There has been the same weak­en­ing of the con­sti­tu­tional court, the same ger­ry­man­der­ing and the same party takeover of state broad­cast­ing. The aim is also the same: to build a na­tion­al­ist com­mu­nity re­sist­ing mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and im­mi­gra­tion, as­sert­ing Chris­tian val­ues and boost­ing the econ­omy through con­tracts to favoured in­sid­ers.

Last month the EU said enough. It gave the Pol­ish govern­ment three months to change poli­cies or face fines, loss of vot­ing rights in the EU and a cut-off of funds in the EU bud­getary cy­cle star­ing in 2021. It is the most ag­gres­sive act against a mem­ber state in the EU’s his­tory.

Last week the Pol­ish prime min­is­ter, Ma­teusz Mo­raw­iecki, flew to Bu­dapest to gar­ner sup­port from Or­bán. Their coun­tries, they de­clared, would to­gether re­sist the forces of met­ro­pol­i­tan lib­er­al­ism in Brus­sels, Berlin and Paris. Be­cause the EU can only pro­ceed against a mem­ber state with una­nim­ity, Hun­gary

The EU has given the Pol­ish govern­ment three months to change poli­cies or face the loss of funds and vot­ing rights

would veto any move against Poland. Nei­ther coun­try would ac­cept its quota of im­mi­grants, both vig­or­ously de­fended their re­treat from a lib­eral con­sti­tu­tion. This was a fight for “the peo­ple’s will” and an idea of a na­tional com­mu­nity.

Af­ter 1989 the EU made a bet. If it could cre­ate strong demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions in east­ern Europe, demo­cratic val­ues would fol­low – hence the 2004 ac­ces­sion of Poland and Hun­gary. With­out mass Mus­lim im­mi­gra­tion and the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, this bet might have held, even if it took gen­er­a­tions for deeply held prej­u­dices to fade. But that’s not where we are.

The EU is right to be tough with Poland but it’s a bat­tle it must win. So, if Hun­gary and Poland want to build il­lib­eral democ­ra­cies, they must do it out­side the EU’s struc­tures and with­out EU funds. Euro­pean cap­i­tal­ism may have been wounded by the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, but both it and the euro pulled through. Or­bán is wrong to cel­e­brate the Chi­nese and Russian economies – and he should be roundly taken on. His speeches are cover for feath­er­ing his cronies’ nests and in­dulging a su­prem­a­cist eth­no­cen­trism that borders on racism. It will only dam­age Hun­gary.

But the EU also needs to al­lay its pop­u­la­tions’ fears about free­dom of move­ment. Ev­ery mem­ber state should have the right to im­ple­ment an emer­gency lock on im­mi­gra­tion. The pre­sump­tion should be open­ness, but not with­out limit. The at­tempt to de­liver this is gift­ing the pop­ulist na­tion­al­ist right ev­ery­where a po­lit­i­cal free-run – and cre­at­ing forces that may threaten the EU it­self.

How great it would be if Bri­tain were in the thick of this fight – but we too are in the grip of an anti-En­light­en­ment pop­ulist right. Prime min­is­ter Theresa May has to court the Pol­ish govern­ment to sup­port the cake­and-eat-it trade deal she is fatu­ously pur­su­ing. Bri­tain can­not join with France and Ger­many stand­ing for the best of Euro­pean val­ues be­cause it needs Poland’s sup­port. Brexit is re­vealed to have the same dark roots that suc­cour Or­bán. The Labour party – in­ter­na­tion­al­ist, proEuro­pean and pro­foundly an­tiracist – should find the courage to speak out, and in­sist that in times like th­ese to leave the EU is folly. The time for tem­po­ris­ing is over.

Thomas Pullin

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