Po­lit­i­cal col­leagues

How coun­tries suf­fer­ing from shrink­ing work­ing-age pop­u­la­tions can mit­i­gate the dan­gers

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS -

A bit of Pol­ish dog­gerel from the 18th cen­tury, when Pol­ish and Hun­gar­ian no­bles fought to­gether against the Rus­sian em­pire, main­tains that Poles and Hun­gar­i­ans are “brothers, both of the sword and of the [wine] glass”. The Hun­gar­i­ans have a sim­i­lar rhyme. Lately this friend­ship has ex­pe­ri­enced a re­vival that goes be­yond a com­mon in­ter­est in fight­ing and drink­ing. The two coun­tries’ rul­ing par­ties, Poland’s Law and Jus­tice (PiS) and Hun­gary’s Fidesz, both dis­dain lib­er­al­ism, dis­re­gard the in­de­pen­dence of the ju­di­ciary and re­ject the Euro­pean Union’s plans for re­set­tling refugees from the Mid­dle East. They also pro­tect each other in Brus­sels, where their poli­cies have drawn the ire of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion.

On May 14th Vik­tor Or­ban, Hun­gary’s prime min­is­ter, vis­ited War­saw on his first for­eign trip since win­ning re-elec­tion in April. It was a tri­umphal visit for Mr Or­ban, whom PiS has long ad­mired. In 2011 Jaroslaw Kaczyn­ski, PiS’s chair­man and Poland’s de facto leader, said he was “con­vinced that the day will come when we will have Bu­dapest in War­saw”. Since com­ing to power in 2015, PiS has led Poland in the il­lib­eral di­rec­tion charted by Fidesz. It has packed the supreme court and turned the pub­lic me­dia into a govern­ment pro­pa­ganda chan­nel, echo­ing ear­lier changes in Hun­gary.

Mr Or­ban has gone fur­ther down the road to au­toc­racy. On May 15th the Open So­ci­ety Foun­da­tions, a lib­eral phil­an­thropic group, an­nounced that Hun­gary’s “re­pres­sive po­lit­i­cal and le­gal en­vi­ron­ment” had grown so bad that it would shift its Bu­dapest op­er­a­tions to Ber­lin. (The group’s bil­lion­aire founder, Ge­orge Soros, was tar­geted by Fidesz in a xeno­pho­bic cam­paign dur­ing the elec­tion.) Yet the Poles are mov­ing in the same di­rec­tion. On May 11th po­lice in the town of Po­bierowo raided an aca­demic con­fer­ence on Karl Marx to check whether it “prop­a­gates to­tal­i­tar­ian con­tent”. The in­te­rior min­is­ter later apol­o­gised.

For the EU, the two gov­ern­ments’ ac­tions are a headache. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion has in­sti­tuted so-called Ar­ti­cle 7 pro­ceed­ings against Poland over its changes to the le­gal sys­tem, which give the ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branches au­thor­ity to ap­point and re­move judges. The pro­ceed­ings could lead to sanc­tions if Poland does not back down. But Mr Or­ban has vowed to block such sanc­tions. Now the com­mis­sion is try­ing a new ap­proach: in its up­com­ing seven-year bud­get, it plans to cut EU fund­ing to coun­tries where the rule of law is at risk. Hun­gary and Poland, both among the largest net re­cip­i­ents of EU funds, are most likely to be af­fected. Dur­ing Mr Or­ban’s visit, the Poles and Hun­gar­i­ans agreed to try to block any such move to­wards con­di­tion­al­ity in EU fund­ing. Mr Or­ban has threat­ened to veto the bud­get.

Both gov­ern­ments are here to stay. Mr Or­ban’s vic­tory in April was a land­slide. “We have re­placed a ship­wrecked lib­eral democ­racy with a 21st-cen­tury Chris­tian democ­racy,” he said on May 10th. (The EU, he added, must give up its “delu­sional night­mares of a United States of Europe”.) PiS, too, leads in the polls. The com­mis­sion has given the Pol­ish govern­ment un­til June 26th to come up with sat­is­fac­tory changes to its judge-nob­bling rules. But with his po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion se­cure, and the support of his Hun­gar­ian brother, it is hard to see why Mr Kaczyn­ski would re­treat.

А new axis. Lead­ers of Poland and Hun­gary are eas­ier to get to know each other than with the rest of Europe

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