After the implosion of the Communist Europe, in the early 90’s, four countries as Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary decided to put in place a common project, called the Visegrad Group. The scope of this political initiative was to strengthen diplomatic, political and economic ties with the European Union. This goal was finally achieved in 2004, when, among many others, these four countries officially became Member States, yielding certain aspects of their national sovereignty to Brussels.
While the Visegrad Group is officially part of the European Union, their own integration process has brought little satisfaction to their citizens, who always felt – and keep on believing – like they are second-order Europeans. If previously the Visegrad Group was perceived as the last boulevard of communism in Europe, today it is moreover considered as the symbol of the European inability to integrate together Western Europe and Eastern Europe. The aggressive tone used by leaders of Visegrad’s countries against the EU, switched on a profound sense of spite among the entire population. Brussels is politically, socially and historically considered too far from Eastern Europe, and the fear of keeping on being ignored by the European Union is something concrete in this part of the continent. Current politicians openly fight against a large number of EU initiatives, with the support of their local constituencies: they do not want to accept Muslim immigrants in their land, and many politicians believe that the rule of law is a bunch of pointless constraints to policies otherwise made by “strongmen”. The efficiency of common democratic checks and balances here felt short.
This state of affairs has increasingly strengthened in the last few days. In the event of the last parliamentary elections, an anti-establishment party called ANO obtained 30% of all the votes. Second, a far-right party obtained 10%, leaving behind those groups and movements of centrists and liberals. After the elections, an ANO’s spokesperson confirmed to the press their will to stay in the European Union and to cooperate with Brussels, while hugely contrasting several EU policies such as the Migration one.
This new course taken by the Czech politics it is not something really new. The seeds of this peculiar tendency have been spread during the last decade, while the EU was distracted by an everyday-deeper economic crisis, in the context of a European civil war between the Northern countries – creditors – and the Southern ones – debtors. That original sin would have soon revealed its high price for the EU. In facts, it did not show its capacity to equalize the differences and reducing the gap between a euro-enthusiast west and a Eurosceptic east. The origins and faults of this grim polarization of opinions and are visible on both the sides of the political debate. While the Western countries have always believed that Eastern countries would have been happy with less – just to be within the EU and the Single Market, this could have been a large reason for satisfaction for these member States. “Second-level equals”: citizens of these countries felt a huge disparity between them who were at the periphery of Europe and those who were at the heart of the Brussels’ decision-making processes. A perception even more corroborated by the general treatment accorded to eastern workers coming to Western European countries.
Politicians of the Visegrad group managed to take advantage of this situation. Rather than implementing policies in order to modify it or just work on it, Visegrad’s leaders made out of this a strong reason for political consensus. It does not mean that the European leaders pushed to the borders of the European ecosystem the Visegrad Group. Accordingly it does not mean that the Visegrad Group is a forever-Brussels’ opponent, rather than an effective organization which propose interesting, and robust initiatives focused on the Eastern region of the continent. On the other hand, the widespread leitmotiv is always the same from Warsaw to Budapest: Brussels will ignore these proposals, or reject them.
Maybe in line with the refusal of being considered as second-order citizens, the different constituencies of Poland, Hungary and Slovakia supported the authoritarian tendencies of their leaderships. Czech Republic with its huge grounding of fights for democracy was the last hope, but the electoral success of ANO and its billionaire leader Andrej Bobis seem to lead Czech Republic on a different direction. Several political commentators compared Mr. Bobis to the US President Donald Trump, underlining his egoistic and selfish manners, far from being a true representative of the Czech instances… but everything will have an answer in the near future.
Mr. Bobis built its own empire in agricultural industry, and now he owns several newspapers and a radio station. His political history is full of spots: he was removed as minister of finance, in May this year, after an allegation of tax fraud. Further investigations proved he got illegally subsidies from the European Union and spent the amount on one of his hotels.
As far as the public opinion is concerned, Mr. Bobis is a winner. He is actually much more than a winner, he is the voice of the Czech people. A common man, an outsider, against those who made of the Czech politics something closed, impervious and profoundly elitist – in defiance of those democratic institutions within which they seated until recently.
The outsider who becomes an insider. A famous as common story in this historical period, throughout the globe. Many different countries share in facts this old-same story, independently of their own political background or economic performance. This is in facts a social response to a kind of politics believed too far from the people, too unreliable, too inconclusive, and sometimes corrupted.
After thirty years from the Velvet revolution in 1989, a billionaire chauvinist and populist put his hands on the Czech heritage of freedom and democracy.
It is considerably understandable the local dissatisfaction for the EU’s performance in the region. There was loud enthusiasm when the four countries of the Visegrad Group entered the EU for the very first time, thirteen years ago, because they found a solution for their own political and economic stability. On the contrary, they only got legal bounds and constraints entering a club that would have soon stumbled in a deep financial crisis, and later on struggling with huge migrant flows coming from the violent peripheries of the globe – this is what the people think. Their desires of freedom and stability turned into fear of insecurity and instability.