Since the end of the 1980s, the breakup of the former Soviet Union, and the resolution of wars in the Balkan states, Western European nations have generally demonstrated a commitment to democratic liberal values. Cultures and languages vary, and the establishment of the European Union has encountered setbacks along the path to unity and clarity of purpose, but democratic values have been universally upheld in this post-communist landscape.
But over the last five years, this shared commitment has started to weaken, and global observers are not certain why this is happening. Specifically in two states—Hungary and Poland—a political undercurrent appears to be shifting the climate away from respect for human rights and multicultural humanist values and toward nationalism and an attempt by the central government to control the judiciary. In Poland, the ruling Law and Justice Party has assumed control of state funded radio and television, preceding what appears to be an exodus of journalists and news anchors. And in December of 2017, the EU launched infringement proceedings against both countries for failing to properly resettle asylum seekers.
Both formerly communist nations have recently rejected ideologies founded on human rights, and have embraced authoritarian governing models, apparently without much popular backlash. Following World War II, a system of sustained democracy has struggled to gain a strong foothold in some post-communist Western European countries, and democratic checks and balances appear to be under constant pressure from authoritarian influences and actors.
Some theories suggest that as historical victims of colonialism, some newly democratic nations continue to see foreign influences, ideologies, and asylum seekers as threats to their sense of independence and their national identity. Others suggest that economic factors—like any threats to the security of pensioners—can give rise to authoritarian or right leaning political values. Unfortunately, a lean to the right often exacerbates economic disparity, and while the wealthy have amassed power and influence in this climate, those who are most affected by the loss of a middle class appear to be sliding further from financial security.
Join us as we monitor the growing influence of hard-right voices in Western Europe and the impact of this trend on political climates elsewhere, including the United States. For a brief background on recent developments, click here and also here.