In both Eastern and Western Europe, social-democratic parties have shifted to the center on economic policy, not only sapping the electoral strength of these parties, but also opening up political space for the populist right, note analysts Maria Snegovaya and Sheri Berman. The transition out of communism in Eastern Europe created winners and losers, they write for the NED’s Journal of Democracy:
As in Western Europe, the losers were concentrated within the left’s “natural” constituencies: the low-skilled and less educated, the elderly, and residents of rural and peripheral areas. Where parties of the left were associated with neoliberal reforms during and after the transition, their support dwindled among those who lost out in these reforms, creating an opening for the populist right. These trends have been particularly evident in Hungary and Poland…..
Liberal leaders and intellectuals in Western Europe have begun to fear that Poland, after two decades as the model student of European liberalism, is retreating from democracy, Elisabeth Zerofsky writes for The New Yorker:
A revolution seemed to be under way, although Warsovians disagreed on whether it was a conservative one or a nationalist one: whether the contempt I encountered among those who opposed Law and Justice was actually a rejection of a government whose values and comportment offended their liberal European sensibilities; or whether their fears were justified, and what was happening represented a tightening of the grip over institutions and civil society that threatened to make Poland an authoritarian state.
In the past three years, most hitherto independent organs have suffered cannibalistic encroachment, weakening or takeover by the government, according to Martin Krygier, a Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy:
The formerly independent constitutional tribunal is now its instrument. Ordinary courts, prosecutors, ministries, have been attacked, some already destroyed, then taken over. Public television has been transformed into an unswerving government propaganda mouthpiece, about 11,000 civil servants have been replaced by party nominees, party nepotism is rife, and numerous critics are sued for defamation, civil, criminal and disciplinary, by the ruling party. Parliamentary debate has been reduced to a grotesque sham.
And the language of government has degenerated to a level of vulgar populist “us versus the evil them” abuse, he writes.
Wojciech Sadurski’s Poland’s Constitutional Breakdown atomizes the dismantling of Poland’s liberal democratic institutions since the Law and Justice Party (PiS) entered government in October 2015, with resonance for European and global democracy-watchers, according to Democracy Decay’s Tom Gerald Daly.