Fortifying CE Democracies

Apparently, Poland is not as illiberal as Hungary, but threats to democracy are growing throughout the V4

20 June 2018

Edit Zgut-Przybylska

Visegrad Insight Fellow

The similarities between the current political cultures of Poland and Hungary have been enumerated on multiple occasions. Often in the same breath, commentators mention the names of Orbán and Kaczyński; leaders who not only have sympathy for one another but also inspire each other to introduce illiberal reforms in their respective democracies.

Yet, despite these many similarities, it is their different approaches which are of key importance. The divergence in their methods explains, for instance, why Article 7 was launched against Poland while Hungary, which has been criticized for a much longer period of time, successfully avoided this procedure. Even more interesting is why there is hope for Poland to restore its lost democratic principles while the Hungarians may not achieve this for decades. It is also rarely examined how the substance of illiberalism often comes down to every day informal practices, which may be harder to grab analytically, but are equally crucial to understand.

A fork in the road

Breaking democratic rules when introducing changes in the judiciary is certainly one of the critical elements of the illiberal change in Poland. In none of the remaining Central European states has the usurpation of power gone so far.

Even in Hungary, changes in the law regarding the judiciary have not been carried out in violation of democratic rules. Yes, Viktor Orbán publicly refers (often disparagingly) to judges, but his moves against the court do not resemble the same scale as those PiS is attempting to implement in Poland. Frankly, the Fidesz party has a democratic mandate to make changes since it did gain a constitutional majority for its third term in the row, and it is open about what it is going to do next though new ideas spring up constantly.

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Edit Zgut-Przybylska

Visegrad Insight Fellow

Visegrad Insight Fellow and re:constitution fellow. Political scientist and sociologist, a researcher at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Vice-president of Amnesty International Hungary and a guest lecturer at the Foreign Service Institute of the State Department of the United States. Focusing on informal power and populism in the context of Hungarian and Polish democratic backsliding.

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