The results of the elections in Poland (parliament renewal) and Hungary (administrative vote) in a Europe worried about Brexit, shocked by the harsh condemnation of Catalan separatism, and, most importantly, unable to respond with adequate attention and presence to the Turkish-Kurdish and Russian-Ukrainian wars, were awaited with great anticipation also by the foreign press. In fact they represent a good litmus test of popular support to political leaders and parties deemed – rights of wrongly – “nationalist” or “populist”.
Yet the outcomes were utterly unexpected.
Poland’s nationalist ruling Law and Justice (PiS) led and founded by Jaroslaw Kaczynski (with his twin Lech who died in a mysterious plane crash), at the helm of the government since 2015, saw a landslide victory in the parliamentary election.
Nationalist PiS is set to win 46% of the vote ( according to partial official results), enough for an absolute parliament majority. The Civic Coalition opposition, a liberal, pro-European group, is projected to win only 25%.
What is the secret behind the success of Law and Justice? First of all, it should be noted that Poland has been experiencing economic growth for years: there is no shortage of jobs (although wage levels remain low), coupled by a fast-paced manufacturing sector (with high-levels of pollution since the Country’s electricity is generated by burning coal). This was the most debated theme of the election campaign, along with an endless number of promises linked to the increase in welfare and social spending, and the re-proposal of themes typical of Kaczynski’s political vision: zero migrants from Africa and the Middle East, self-interested pro-Europeanism (no further political integration, yes to EU funds in support of the national economy), a critical approach to certain trends in “western” customs and culture, as exemplified by the anti-LGBT propaganda. PiS also benefits from its ability to identify and promote sensitive issues among Polish public opinion and the Catholic Church in the country (which however remained neutral, inviting believers to participate in the vote and to choose parties and candidates responsive to themes pertaining to the social doctrine of the Church).
Conversely, the mayoral race in Budapest and other local elections across Hungary came as the first, major electoral blow for Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Opposition candidate Gergely Karacsony – supported by the left-wing, by environmentalist and pro-European groups –gained over 50% of the vote, defeating incumbent mayor – and Orban’s Fidesz candidate – Istvan Tarlos, supported by only 44% of voters.
The joint – and somewhat diversified – opposition front has won in seven other cities hitherto led by Fidesz mayors.
Obviously, the setback of Hungary’s Prime Minister who invented “illiberal democracy”, who advocated an outspoken fight against the judiciary and the free press, and who planned the wall with Serbia to stop the influx of migrants from the Balkans, is the object of considerable debate in the Country. Poland and Hungary have long been at loggerheads with Brussels over a set of domestic “reforms” that are said to violate EU Treaties. Both countries have enjoyed unprecedented economic growth for years, also thanks to substantial investment from the EU budget and both Warsaw and Budapest refuse to show solidarity in response to the migratory phenomena affecting Southern Europe. Indeed, these two Countries share many traits of their domestic policies , and it is no coincidence that they lead the so-called “Visegrad Group.”
Yet these two countries differ greatly, and their respective ability – or lack thereof- to interpret the feelings of their respective peoples clearly plays a major role.
Moreover, Poland’s Catholic identity continues to act as a strong spiritual bond, while coercive secularisation is a typical mark of new millennium Hungary.
These similarities and differences deserve further in-depth reflection, also with a view to envisioning the future direction of Central and Eastern Europe along with its peoples and Countries’ contribution to the growth of united Europe.