What did 2019 mean for the Visegrad Group region? We asked our #DemocraCE Fellows, regular authors and contributors, to reflect on notable events and draw out one significant development in their country, arguably with wider significance for the V4.
If 2018 could be called the Year of Kuciak – after the murdered investigative journalist – 2019 is the Year of Kočner. Marián Kočner has been tried in two notable trials. First, for his involvement in the case „zmenky TV Markíza“ where he (and his accomplices) had attempted to withdraw up to 70 million in presumably fake promissory notes. Second, as a person who ordered the murder of Kuciak who had written about his problematic business. Former Prime Minister Robert Fico finally moved out from his residence in the Bonaparte complex (sic!) where his neighbour was Kočner and his landlord was Ladislav Bašternák, a businessman sentenced for VAT fraud. (Zuzana Kepplova)
A cunning scheme
One of the most visible trends in politics in recent years is populism. Politicians quite openly declare that their goal is to reach the level of the average voter as opposed to trying to elevate average voter to the level of elites. That works fabulously for populists. Their proposals are also mostly simplistic in nature so there is no doubt any voter can understand them. The next step was using the simplest emotions to achieve the goals of politicians. So far it was mostly based on instigating fear to solidify the voter base but politicians became ambitious and started to appeal to other emotions such as greed.
Recently, the Polish government announced it is preparing to issue long term bonds with zero interest rates. This means people will lose money due to inflation (and there will be an opportunity cost). So why would they buy these bonds? Because once a year there will be a lottery attached with a significant reward for one lucky holder. And thus the government is trying to raise free money since even a substantial reward will be nothing comparing to the benefits for the budget.
The small-time investor makes an expense in exchange for a thrill. Ingenious, cunning and possibly effective. It seems such a scheme is the reason we still have no economic education in schools. (Tomasz Kasprowicz)
A competitive election
In terms of significant political events in my country, I would highlight 13 October of this year. Despite the fact that the Hungarian government is systematically abusing its formal and informal power to hinder the opposition to be elected, thanks to unique cooperation of the oppositional parties, they could take over not only the lord mayor position in Budapest but also ten big cities out of a total of 23. After almost a decade of authoritarian system-building by the Orbán regime, this is some sort of a “mental breakthrough” for a part of Hungarian society that is unsatisfied with the authoritarian direction in which the country is has been heading for some time now.
Furthermore, this election has shed light on the greatest vulnerability of competitive authoritarian regimes: as long as elections are held, even if they are unfair and presumably partly free, it is not impossible to replace the government via competition. The myth has been broken that Orbán’s government cannot get defeated by way of an election. But as Larry Diamond has put it, success requires not only unique skills but extra efforts and a forward-looking strategy to take away their political and financial interests in the long run. (Edit Zgut)
A year of hope
Although it does not seem at first glance, 2019 could be a year of hope. At least for the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In the Czech Republic, a new political force was formed, the Movement of a Million Moments for Democracy, which began to push not only Prime Minister Andrej Babiš but also the fragmented opposition in surprisingly large and numerous demonstrations. It is not at all certain that something will emerge from this movement, but there has been new energy and desire to do something about the stuck politics.
Meanwhile, the Slovaks have already begun to do so. They have elected President Zuzana Čaputová. For the majority of society, it is the very hope that politics can work for the sake of the majority of the population, not just a lobbying minority. But this hope must now be fulfilled by the new political parties. They have to win the parliamentary elections in February 2020 and form a new government. This will undoubtedly be very complicated. (Martin Ehl)
A mature republic
The first year ending 19 in the new millennium will be remembered as a year when we celebrated three decades of freedom, but also when a mad shooter killed innocent people in a hospital, in what was the worst case in the history of the Czech Republic. Despite that deadly shooting, this year and the whole second decade of the 21st century will not be remembered for horrible terrorist attacks, the war on terror or a financial meltdown as in the previous one. We enjoyed unprecedented economic prosperity and suffered unprecedented political and societal division. We also became a battlefield in the Anglo-Chinese Cold War that will certainly shape the years to come.
The Czech Republic will have to play a more active role in the EU and help the new Commission to ensure that Europe will become a global player itself after Brexit will cut off the globally most important member state. For all of that 2019 was the year when the Czech Republic matured to be a true part of the Western World. (Jan Klesla)