>Sucked into a democratic black hole


Surfing the web after an exam board made bearable by biscuits and tangerines on the house, I come once again on Ivan Krastev on OpenDemocracy.net comes up with a typically barbed commentary about the ‘black hole’ of populist politics in CEE. The basic picture presented is less than original (and I suspect less than true) – populist bad guys like Robert Fico and the Kaczynski are stalking the region driving off decent liberals like himself from office and influence. I did, however, like the usual cynical-cum-ironic take with CEE seen as more akin to France, and perhaps more the France of the mid-19th than the early 21st century. True, there are differences

In France, pensioners are beneficiaries of the status quo, and so never protest; in central Europe, pensioners are the losers and so protest all the time. Moreover, in Paris almost everyone is frightened by the invasion of the fabled Polish plumber, while in Sofia or Warsaw the public is indifferent or at least less hostile to the invasion of the French banker.”

CEE liberals are, however, like their mid-19th century French counterparts in wishing to bypass and restrict the democratic influence of the market-hating masses through the introduction of limited suffrage. These days – in fact as J.S. Mill realized, even in those days – that couldn’t mean anything is crude as a property qualification, but a cut off based on education and a notion of citizenship based on ‘capacity’ (that favourite EU buzzword) rather than rights. Krastev then hits the bulleye, astutely noting that

“It is perverse but true – in this age of democracy, elites in Europe are secretly dreaming of a system that will deprive irresponsible voters from the power to violate the right of wisdom. At the same time most citizens are convinced that they have the right to vote but not the right to influence decision-making.
The outcome is politics where populists are becoming openly anti-liberal, and elites are becomingly secretly anti-democratic. What central Europe is lacking is genuine reformism: the kind that is responsive to the demands of the people without falling victim to populist primitivism. This gaping black hole in the national politics of the member-states, more than anything else, threatens the European project today.”

He is thinking of Bulgaria and CEE, as coursem – where as we know populism is vapid, anti-elite but is basically ‘centrist’ and moderate, not the Neanderthal force Krastev rather crudely outlines which , if not ‘genuinely reformist’ and hooked up with society in the way he enviages, seems able to deliver some of the goods some of the time. More irksomely still (although as good CEE modernizing liberal he doesn’t say it) his comments could, I suspect, also apply to established West European and North American democracies rather than just being part of some post-accession, post-communist malaise.

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