While Czechs came out in the streets to protest against forces undermining democracy and Slovaks voted in their parliamentary elections, much of the attention has gone to the first reported cases of the COVID-19. Short-term threats should not distract the region from bigger challenges.

 

End of an era

In last week’s Slovak elections, the populist and anti-corruption party OĽaNO (Ordinary People) came first with a surprisingly strong result, taking 25 per cent of the vote. Robert Fico’s long-governing party SMER-SD (Direction) fell back to 18 per cent and is unlikely to enter the next coalition. Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová former party, Progressive Slovakia, in a party coalition with SPOLU (Together) failed to meet the 7 per cent threshold and obtain any seats.

While these elections had a fair number of surprises, the good performance by OĽaNO did not come as a surprise. The party had been gaining solid numbers in the latest polls, against the backdrop of revelations and ongoing trials related to the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kušnírová.

Last week, Zuzana Kepplova and Wojciech Przybylski foreshadowed the change of power in Bratislava: “So even if SMER is taken away from power – which seems likely – one cannot be sure that the institutions of democracy will not be put to further trials.”

Yesterday, President Čaputová assigned Igor Matovič the task to create the next government. While OĽaNO’s leader is known for his ‘clownesque’ style and inconsistent political views, the future governing coalition may include centrists from Za ľudí (For the People), liberals from Freedom and Solidarity (SAS) and right-wing populists part of We Are Family (Sme Rodina).

As we discussed in our recent V/I Breakfast meeting with Miłosz Hodun of the European Liberal Forum, there is no major change in Slovakia’s foreign policy to be expected from this change of power. Undoubtedly, however, Matovič will have a tougher job in creating a consistent domestic agenda. Populist policies and talk about judicial reform – concerning the appointment of judges – may set off warning lights elsewhere in Europe.

V4 on high alert

With the first cases of COVID-19 virus being reported in the region, the prime ministers of Central Europe had an opportune moment to discuss closer cooperation at yesterday’s V4 four meeting. In Czechia, the number of infected persons may increase to eight after the latest samples are tested. A Polish man hospitalised in Zielona Gora, who had travelled to Germany, was tested positive for the virus this week. Meanwhile, the Polish parliament passed a special act to better prepare against a future outbreak.

As Kafkadesk has noted, the politics of panic is taking over most of the political agenda in the region for now. In Prague, nevertheless, the V4 leaders also discussed border protection, the asylum crisis and the EU budget. At the meeting, Victor Orbán lauded his own migration policy as an example of how to stop asylum seekers from crossing the border between Turkey and Greece. The Hungarian PM did not explain how a fence would help to tackle the underlying reasons for people leaving Syria and Afghanistan.

Familiar moves

Last Sunday, Czechs came out on the streets of Prague to protest against the latest decision of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš to appoint Stanislav Křeček as ombudsman. There was a lot of disappointment over the news of Křeček appointment, an eighty-year-old social democrat who has pledged to defend the rights of the “majority society”, signalling a worsening state of democracy in the country.

The main message of the protesters on Sunday was that they “want to go along the EU path, not the path of Orbán or Kaczyński.” In a recent survey, a majority of Czechs has expressed being unhappy with the prime minister.

Dr Quincy R. Cloet is Managing Editor of Visegrad Insight


Eastern European Futures

In 2009, the European Union and six of its Eastern neighbours launched the Eastern Partnership (EaP) with the stated aim of building a common area of shared democracy, prosperity, stability and increased cooperation. A decade on, however, progress has been mixed.

Visegrad Insight is published by the Res Publica Foundation. This special edition has been prepared in cooperation with the German Marshall Fund of the United States and supported by the International Visegrad Fund.

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