by UnHerd Staff
Thursday, 14
October 2021

Eastern European populism isn’t going anywhere yet

The Czech Prime Minister was ousted this week — but Orbán is safe for now
by UnHerd Staff
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis (R) and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban. Credit: Getty

The fallout from the Czech general election last week is now clear. The populist government of the incumbent Prime Minister Andrej Babiš will be replaced by a centre-Right coalition led by Petr Fiala. 

This is being interpreted as a significant defeat for populism. If Babiš can be ousted by a broad-based alliance of non-populist parties then the same approach could be used to deal with Viktor Orbán in Hungary and, perhaps, Jarosław Kaczyński’s Law and Justice Party in Poland. The EU establishment would certainly like to have those thorns removed from its side. 

The reality though is more complicated. Though Babiš was chummy with Orbán, Czech populism was rather different from the Hungarian or Polish varieties. The ANO party that Babiš  heads is anti-establishment in tone, but politically of the centre. Indeed, it’s affiliated with the liberal ALDE grouping of European parties. 

Furthermore, ANO governed in coalition with the Social Democrats — with tacit support from the Communists. Though ANO lost a handful of seats last week, the real reason why it’s heading into opposition is that both the Social Democrats and the Communists were wiped out altogether — falling below the threshold for parliamentary representation. 

Thus there is no Left-wing representation in the Chamber of Deputies at all — unless you count the Czech Pirate Party. However they too did badly in the election, falling to just four seats. 

The opposition to the new government will come from the ANO and from a hard Right populist party called Freedom and Direct Democracy. Somewhat unexpectedly, its leader is Tomio Okamura who was born in Tokyo and is of Japanese and Korean descent on his father’s side and Moravian on his mother’s.  

In short, Czech politics is sui generis — and should not be seen as a template for any other country. 

Nevertheless, the opposition parties in Hungary may take some encouragement from the defeat of Babiš . The electoral system there has forced a broad-based alliance of parties to cooperate or get crushed by the dominant Fidesz party. Less happily for outside observers, a major component of that alliance is Jobbik — which isn’t quite as ultra-nationalist as it used to be, but which is still to the Right of Orbán. 

One thing is for sure: the politics of the eastern half of Europe will look very different to its western half for a long time to come. 

Join the discussion

  • And long may it continue, as a challenging counterbalance of views to the EU establishment. The U.K. doesn’t need to be in the EU with these guys around.

  • Spot on! As a Yank,I find these labels baffling–make no sense to American eyes. But Ian’s point is excellent and reminds me of so-called “hate speech,” which seems to mean anything that anyone at any time might find offensive.
    I am actually a big proponent of “hate speech.” It used to be called vigorous debate, engaging with, not cancelling or shouting down, people with whom one disagreed. At some point, it was considered a way of sharpening one’s thinking.
    But since only one view is now acceptable, there is no reason to engage….

  • Ultra-right, xenophobic, ultra-nationalist – they were the descriptions often used in the U.K. about those supporting Brexit. The Democrats use this type of language for Republicans too these days.
    So I find it difficult to calibrate the views of people, including the writer, who use these labels.

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