Bursting the Bubble

Democracy should not be taken for granted – the recent developments in Central and Eastern Europe

18 December 2013 | by

Notwithstanding the “natural” selection procedure of news worthy stories that the media tend to subject themselves to, it is important that we keep ourselves abreast with issues that have perhaps not warranted as much media coverage but which nevertheless matter. In the midst of the Ukrainian upheaval (read here and here) the region of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) has undergone changes resulting in backtracking on democratic principles. While Ukraine is embroiled in a revolution, CEE finds itself in a state that can be hardly described as anything else other than its own devolution.

Central and Eastern European countries have in the recent weeks and months done their best to demonstrate why democracy should not be taken for granted. Perhaps more so than other cases, Hungary sticks out as a sore thumb. The latest changes to the Hungarian constitution as envisaged by the current Orban government have been heavily criticised by the European Council and European Parliament (see report here), mainly concerning the limiting of judiciary independence, religious discrimination of churches not recognised by the state, and the government party making it extremely difficult for opposition parties to gain access to the media. One might add that in a system which is consistently  searching for enemies, both from within and out, any criticism coming from the European and other institutions is not well received. And thanks to the rhetoric of the Prime Minister and his party it further feeds anti-EU sentiment.

While Hungary has been busy falling out of love with the EU, our fellow European citizens in the Czech Republic have finally put forth a legitimate reason as to why it is that the country is so attractive for Hollywood film makers. Some would say that the best stories are written by life itself and that is certainly true of the country’s political sphere. A chief of staff of the now former Prime Minister Petr Necas was earlier this year accused of abusing her power and bribing MPs which was preceded by the special police task force raiding the building of the seat of the government, this is is a phenomenon in its own right. Following the resignation of the PM Necas, the President has since installed his own puppet government which has governed for months without any legitimacy whatsoever – since the Parliament never approved the current cabinet. Luckily for the Czech Republic, the early elections which were held in late October have given birth to a coalition which is in the process of making a legitimate cabinet that will soon take over. But even the election itself was not scandal-free. However, the Social Democrats who won the poll fell short of expectations, sparking a rebellion from within its own ranks and almost resulted in the party splitting itself in half. It has been alleged, to no one’s surprise, that the rebellion was inspired – if not directly orchestrated – by the power grabbing president Zeman who has proved that he is not shy of going beyond his competences and mandate.

And if that wasn’t bad enough for the region, neighbouring Slovakia has pulled off a stunt which is unprecedented in the country’s modern history. In late November, one of the country’s regions shamefully elected a far-right candidate to its highest office. A political apathy and simple packaging of complex issues (aka populism) has resulted in a situation that is a painful reminder of what is at stake if we ignore the next year’s European Elections.

Moving on to the Balkans, and in case you thought that democracy is by no means a tyranny of the majority, the Croats and their referendum on the definition of marriage as a marriage between one man and one woman will make you think again. We have reached a stage when fundamental rights are being decided by a majority vote and under the principle that being loud also means being right. Better still, stretching the definition of democracy even further, the Romanian MPs have recently passed a legislation in which they’ve put themselves outside the remit of the law as far as corruption is concerned. In other words, political corruption for Romanian MPs has been, with a stroke of a pen, decriminalised. Problem solved. And it would appear that the same attitude of denial has been accepted as their own by MPs in neighbouring Bulgaria where people have been staging protests for months on end in their effort to rid themselves of corrupt politicians.

Anti-democratic forces have been recurring all across Europe. Rolling back our democratic principles is by no means a phenomenon restricted only to the CEE countries. We have now witnessed, for example, the rise of the extreme right both in Spain and Greece which is to some extent a result of the devastating economic policies pursued in this part of Europe. Democracy, as it appears, is a very fragile concept, and of all the principles that we in Europe hold so dear, democracy in particular should not be taken for granted. Anti-democratic elements such as extremism are creeping into our systems and minds with only the most cursory glances from most observers. It is our responsibility to not only report on these developments but equally to address these issues head on. The very least we can do is to turn up and vote at the upcoming European elections earlier next year. Let us restore reason into our public sphere because as we know, and to paraphrase Edmund Burke, evil triumphs when good men and women do nothing.

What do you think?