Illiberalism and authoritarianism in central and eastern Europe can be successfully challenged, according to Tom Junes, a member of the Human and Social Studies Foundation and a visiting fellow at the Centre for Advanced Study in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Though Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) clearly favors an authoritarian state based upon a majoritarian interpretation of democracy, the likelihood that Poland could ultimately succumb to ‘Orbánisation’ is rather slim, he writes for Open Democracy.
Just as the recent referendum in Hungary exposed the limits of ‘Orbanism’, observers suggest, Poland’s Black Protest movement demonstrated that PiS can be successfully challenged from the grassroots level, Junes asserts:
- Even though Black Monday was not the biggest manifestation of protest since PiS came to power, it successfully divided the governing camp forcing it to retreat. Additionally, it mobilised and politicised segments of society that had thus far not been engaged in anti-government protest.
- Meanwhile, the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD), the civic movement that opposes the government, will be organising further protests. In addition, trade unions are starting to mobilise against the government’s failure to deliver on its economic promises. PiS is being opposed in the cultural sphere by artists and academics. The new left-wing party, Razem, is also holding its own protest demonstrations.
- Finally, there is the potential of nationalist contestation if PiS fails to make good on the patriotic-nationalist discourse it espouses. An upcoming test of strength will occur on 11 November, Poland’s Independence Day. KOD has already called for demonstrations to rival the nationalist and far right Independent March.
Even in long-established, well-consolidated democracies, intemperate political rhetoric can represent “a threat to the rule of law, a threat to the stability of our institutions, a threat to basic agreements that are necessary for democracy to function,” said Adrienne LeBas, a political scientist at American University.
“For those of us who work on authoritarian regimes and hybrid regimes….this sort of thing is just eerily familiar,” she told The New York Times, citing “the absolute personalization of power,” in which leaders consolidate authority under themselves — something she had seen in “Zimbabwe, Togo, Ethiopia, cases like that, where there are explicit threats to imprison opponents.”
“Democratic institutions, like all institutions, can corrode and erode over time,” warned Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Barnard College in New York [and a contributor to the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy – above], emphasizing that leaders like Venezuela’s. Chávez were able to seize so much power because their states were very weak — something that is not true of the United States.
Professor LeBas was more blunt. “Our institutions and our democratic orientations and attitudes,” she said, “are far weaker than we think they are.”