Here is a bizarre article by one Sławomir Sierakowski over at Project Syndicate, who ought to know better.
It gets off to a flying start with the title: The Polish Threat to Europe. Not, you note, A Polish Threat to Europe or even A Polish Threat to Europe? No, it’s the definite article, bold and unqualified: THE Polish Threat to Europe.
Emboldened by its own boldness, this piece presses on:
Poland has now emerged as the latest European battleground in a contest between two models of democracy – liberal and illiberal.
The overwhelming election victory in October of Jarosław Kaczyński’s far-right Law and Justice party (PiS) has led to something more akin to regime change than to a routine turnover of democratically elected governments.
Er. PiS are not ‘far-right’. They’re ‘étatist-left’. Note the implication that the previous government led by Citizens Platform was a ‘regime’. Not a point that this piece develops, alas.
Prime Minister Beata Szydło’s new administration has purged the civil service (including public radio and television), packed the Constitutional Court with sympathizers, and weakened the Court’s capacity to strike down legislation.
One way to put it. Another way to put it is to note that Law and Justice are merely continuing (albeit perhaps refining?) the sort of behaviour shown by previous Polish governments? And are any of these changes taking Poland way beyond ‘normal’ European standards as seen in many other EU member states? A bit of compare and contrast? We’ll never know!
Poland is the largest European Union country to embrace illiberalism; but it is not the first … raw majoritarianism.
Poland in these various changes has ’embraced illiberalism’! It seems that when a new government wins a mighty electoral mandate and starts doing things its supporters like in accordance with its proclaimed principles, that’s ‘illiberal raw majoritarianism’. Some of us lesser mortals might call it ‘democracy’.
What accounts for this contempt for democratic norms in some of Europe’s newest democracies?
Please. Calm down. These changes are not an expression of a ‘contempt for democratic norms’. Or, if they are, you need to make the case rather than noisily assert it. Can you really not find examples of other European countries where similar arrangements are in place?
Yet the EU’s post-communist members were bound to experience a crisis of liberal democracy sooner or later, owing to a fundamental legacy from their communist past: the absence of the concept of a loyal opposition – legitimate adversaries to be debated, rather than traitorous enemies to be eliminated.
Help! Poland has an election, the opposition party wins, the governing parties lose and go into opposition, and the new government does stuff. In a few years’ time the same may well happen again. Yet Poland is having a ‘crisis of liberal democracy’! What exactly has been ‘disloyal’ by anyone in this process? Who has been ‘eliminated’?
The main split in the post-communist democracies is between proponents of an open versus a closed society.
Ambitious claim. Any evidence for it? No!
But in a political system defined by the open-closed divide, the two sides disagree about which is which: It is always the other who seeks a closed society.
You’re losing us here. Is it PiS or Law and Justice who ‘seek a closed society’? What exactly is a ‘closed society’ anyway? Poland still seems keen on upholding unambiguous free movement of EU citizens.
… the open-closed cleavage enables those who actually do espouse illiberalism – including Orbán (who has explicitly called for an “illiberal state” based on the Chinese and Russian models) and Kaczyński (who, tellingly, rules from behind the scenes) – to dismantle the constitutional framework that permits a peaceful rotation of power. A single election can thus transform the entire political system, as appears to be the case in Hungary and now Poland.
Well, maybe. If a political party wins a big enough popular vote under the existing voting rules to then change those rules, that new things may happen. But that’s not the same as ‘transforming the entire political system’. And not all ‘transformations’ are bad. Note that this is what ‘appears’ (sic) to be happening in Hungary and now Poland! Appears?
In countries with a weak or long-interrupted tradition of liberal constitutionalism, an explosion (sic) of nationalism usually (sic) follows the establishment of democracy.
Boom! An ‘explosion of nationalism’.
The politics of identity prevails (sic), and, unlike that of social welfare, it is not amenable to compromise. The result is a kind of permanent Kulturkampf, in which rigidly binary thinking gives rise to trumped-up claims and conspiracy theories.
Stop. We are getting confused. I thought you were talking about EU member states, not the USA.
Of course, post-communist countries are not alone in their vulnerability to illiberalism … avatars of the closed society – France’s National Front and the United Kingdom Independence Party – won elections to the European Parliament in two of the West’s ostensibly best-developed democracies.
What is an ‘avatar of a closed society’? If a political party (say UKIP) wants to leave the EU and re-establish the UK as a sovereign fully independent nation trading freely with the rest of the planet, what is ‘closed’ about that?
The question now is how to stop this destructive trend from engulfing Europe? The answer is straightforward: cooperation and integration.
The quixotic events in Hungary and Poland and the election tribulations of UKIP are not a ‘destructive trend’. And a trend does not ‘engulf’ anything: mixed metaphor panic. So you’re answering a non-existent question. And your answer is little more than propaganda.
The primary purpose of European integration at its inception was to safeguard the continent from war. Today, its main purpose is to protect democratic politics in the face of economic globalization.
What are you talking about? The EU is not ‘protecting democratic politics in the face of economic globalization’ in other democracies (say Canada and Australia), yet they are doing fine, thanks.
A more integrated EU can play a central role in resolving existing crises, safeguarding against future ones, and reinforcing liberal norms.
Ah. Our old comrade, a ‘more integrated EU’. In other words, MORE power to Brussels and LESS democracy at the national level, the only level that has any substantive historic legitimacy. So you want to take away democracy to safeguard democracy. Hmm … that reminds me of something.
A new iron curtain in Europe, this time between liberal and illiberal democracies – is a grim prospect.
No it’s not. It’s a figment of your grim imagination.
Given the developments in Hungary and elsewhere, European leaders must now draw a line in the sand in defense of Europe’s open society.
At last! A convincing analysis of EU defence policy: ‘draw a line in the sand’! Never fails to scare away baddies.
Today, the EU is testing Poland, and Poland is testing the EU. Poland – and Europe – can win only if the EU does.
No-one has any idea what that means. But at least we’ve reached the end.
* * * * *
I’ve no axe to grind in all this for or against PiS/Poland. Hey, I helped with some of Radek Sikorski’s speeches, and if Poland’s new Foreign Minister (or anyone else) wants help with speeches just get in touch.
However, back in Real Life this is what is really worrying:
Swedish police warns that Stockholm’s main train station has become unsafe after being ‘taken over’ by dozens of Moroccan street children. The all-male migrant teen gangs are spreading terror in the centre of the Swedish capital, stealing, groping girls and assaulting security guards, according to Stockholm police. Members of the gangs, some as young as nine, roam central Stockholm day and night, refusing help provided by the Swedish authorities.
Leading to this:
A group of approximately 100 masked men physically attacked young immigrants in a Swedish train station Friday night, according to a report from Buzzfeed News.
In other words, in another front-rank European city following the Cologne debacle the lawful authorities seem to be unable to cope with basic law and order issues. This is how ‘illiberalism’ grows than (perhaps) spirals out of control. People see the state faltering before their very eyes, and decide that they have to look for other solutions.
Is all this ghastly illiberalism happening in Poland? No.
Strange, that. Not at all what you’d expect if you read and believed Project Syndicate.