This commentary on liberalism and the responses to the refugee crisis in East Central Europe was co-authored with James Dawson.
Images from Hungary showing security forces turning tear gas and water cannon on refugees from behind a newly fortified border will come as little surprise to many observers of East Central Europe. The government of Victor Orbán has systematically exploited the refugee crisis to ramp up a long-standing rhetoric of nationalist intolerance and consolidate its grip on power by passing a raft of emergency powers, further eroding Hungary’s once robust legal checks and balances. Such actions have drawn a storm of international opprobrium – including harsh criticism from the governments of Austria, Croatia and Serbia, all of which have taken a more humane and pragmatic approach to managing the influx of refugees.
Few criticisms of Hungary’s actions have come from neighbouring EU states in East Central Europe still widely seen as front runners in liberal political and economic reform. Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic initially opted to close ranks with Orbán to head off the European Commission’s proposals for compulsory quotas. Wrong-footed and exasperated by the sudden re-discovery of liberal compassion on the part on Germany and other West European governments, leaders ranging from Slovakia’s social democratic prime minister Robert Fico to Poland’s newly elected conservative president Andrzej Duda provoked astonishment in Western European capitals by conceding that they might take a handful of those fleeing the war in Syria hand-picked on the basis of their religion. Poland has lately broken ranks by responding to pressure from Berlin, Paris and Brussels to sign up to quotas, yet even the deal’s supporters doubt it will ever be implemented against a backdrop of consistently hostile public attitudes towards refugees in the region. As one social media visualisation graphically showed, widespread use of #refugeeswelcome stopped abruptly at the old Iron Curtain. Such stances have been widely lambasted as hypocritical, ungenerous, lacking in compassion, and contradicting the long-term interests of East Central European states themselves.
Yet just a decade ago these same former Eastern bloc countries acceded smoothly to the EU on the basis that they had fulfilled the Copenhagen Criteria as ‘functioning liberal democracies’. Why has liberalism, once a rallying cry for pro-European leaders from Warsaw to Sofia and a condition built into the EU’s demanding pre-accession acquis, suddenly gone missing when it is needed most? Read More…
In a conversation for Javno.com, Hrelja revealed that HSU will now join the opposition parties in a battle against the Cabinet’s tricks.
“Considering that the Cabinet did not find the calculation to plug the hole in the budget, they later said that they need to tax the entire amount of all of the salaries and pensions that surpass three thousand kuna, we considered the negotiations over. This sort of burden would mean nearly a four times larger burden for workers and pensioners” say sources from HSU. They consider that the latest Cabinet proposal to also be unacceptable, considering that it is considerable less favourable than the one they had already agreed upon.
>The Croatian Pensioners Party (HSU) may have been cut down to a single deputy in recent elections but reports Javno despite this they have become the third ‘grey’ grouping to enter government (the others are in Israel and Slovenia), signing a formal coalition agreement with the victorious Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). I dare say that may lead to merger and final eclipse.
Elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia , Euro2day notes quoting the FT, Slovenia’s DESUS – European’s most succesful ‘grey’ party – seemed unafraid of elections, having backed the (successful) rival presidential candidate to that nominated by centre-right coalition of which it is a member. It was said they might may not back the government in a vote of confidence, but in fact the DESUS leadership unanimously opted to do so. A huge (by Slovene standards) recent demonstation of up to 70, 000 trade unionist demanding higher wages and better social standards suggests a social climate in theiry favourable to DESUS, which perhaps explains why it might be tempted to become a semi-detached member of the coalition. DESUS and HSU recently held a meeting in Zagreb passing on good wishes to each other, exchanging experiences and unveiling (long-running) plans for a congress of European pensioners’ parties to be held in Ljubljana.
My own paper trying to begin to make sense of Europe’s small pensioners’ parties now appears on the web on the site of the conference on minor parties I am going to in Birmingham next week: an overview of what’s out there and some hypotheses – derived from a large-ish literature about party formation – about why they are relatively successful in places like Croatia, Slovenia, Holland and Israel. Unfortunately, I have yet to come up with decent analytical strategy to unpick a mass morass of possibly relevant factors, so it is – as one of my colleagues kindly put it – still a piece of ‘exploratory political science’.
The opposition leads the polls as an election nears
Ahead of the parliamentary election, now expected on November 25th 2007, the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) has consolidated its poll lead over the incumbent Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). The SDP first opened up a clear lead over the HDZ during the first half of 2007, following the illness and subsequent death of its leader, Ivica Racan. Under his successor, the 40 year-old Zoran Milanovic, the SDP has maintained its popularity, and in many polls appears to have built an even stronger advantage.
Not there yet
Croatian Pensioners’ Party (HSU), also with 8% (although the national distribution of the HSU’s support points to just eight seats in parliament). Backing for the centre-left Croatian People’s Party (HNS), the most likely coalition partner for the SDP, has declined, although it is still above the 5% minimum threshold for parliamentary representation. The HNS’s attempt to promote
Radomir Cacic as candidate for prime minister does not appear to have helped the party, and the HNS seems to have lost support to the SDP in recent months.