It’s time for liberals to fight back

It’s time for liberals to fight back

John Lloyd
The decision of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party to bring the judiciary under political control has been partially blocked by President Andrezj Duda after large street demonstrations in most major cities.

The Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, responding recently to a complaint against the bill filed by the European Union, said the government wouldn’t succumb to “blackmail, threats and intimidation”. “We won’t let anyone from the outside treat us this way.”

“Outside” in this instance is a Union whose democratic and civic norms Poland enthusiastically embraced when it joined the EU in 2014. “Outside” is a Union which, in 2015, pumped in €13.4bn to its economy, by some way the largest subsidy to any EU member.

Over the 13 years of its membership, Poland has received some €150bn. The Polish-Nigerian commentator Remi Adekoya writes “What we are witnessing is without doubt, one of the largest wealth transfers between nations in modern history.”

“Outside” is a Western world where the rule of laws must take precedence over the rule of leaders.

 “Outside” is also globalization, the complex networks of trade agreements, transnational corporate production and overarching financial, political and legal institutions. And “outside” has been suffused, since the collapse of Soviet communism in 1991, with a broadly liberal ideology which stresses openness, multiculturalism and constant willingness to change. The current Polish government is against most of that. And why should it not be? So is the leader of the Western world.

President Donald Trump, in a speech in Warsaw, forbore to mention the justice law, instead sharing distaste for the news media with President Duda and lamenting the decline of Europe, implicitly exempting Poland from that declines. 

A shift is taking place in politics and society worldwide. The release from communism in the early 1990s was expected by many to result in a stable embrace of liberal democratic norms by the former communist countries, including Russia itself.

That was a liberal illusion. It is now being proven wrong, most starkly in Russia, but also in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and possibly in the Czech Republic. The opposite of communism, in these countries, is not now liberal democracy, but semi-authoritarian nationalism. That had been a discreet component of communism; it has flourished much more openly since communism collapsed. As the European Council president Donald Tusk (a former Prime Minister of Poland) put it - “Poland is moving us back, in time and space, to the East.” But it isn’t just the East. Trump is a standing affront to the ideals and practices of democratic statehood, which have had the adherence, more or less, of liberals, conservatives and social democrats in the post-war West. 

The extremes wish to make sure that the center will not hold. There’s a fight on between the nationalist and the globalist visions which, even after the defeat of the far right in France and the Netherlands, remains intense. Moderate liberalism, after years of easy assumption that its bases were secure, now must show itself capable of mind-to-mind combat.

*This abridged article is taken from Reuters