Can Europe Make It?

Visegradism, Babišism and selfishness as a political programme

Selfishness as a programme: that is the essence of the approach of politicians such as Babiš, Orbán and Kaczyński.

Petr Pospichal.
7 August 2019
Prime Ministers of the Visegrad 4, 2018.
Prime Ministers of the Visegrad 4, 2018.
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Szilard Voros/PA. All rights reserved.

An anti-EU ideology of "Visegradism" has emerged in Central Europe, an expression of selfish, nationalist politics. It will not be easy to overcome this ideology, but it is necessary to keep trying.

"We know what we are doing, and basically, we won yesterday. We have blocked it," said Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš after the second day of negotiations of the European Council, when leaders had failed to recommend Frans Timmermans for the post of the President of the European Commission.

And this is how the Czech Republic and the other V4 countries have been "winning" for many years now. With great satisfaction, the local elites have been presenting their political defeats as victories. They have been presenting their inability to understand the challenges and the problems of contemporary times as proud defiance. They have been presenting their prejudices and their limited understanding of the outside world as defence of the "interests of our citizens". The whole of the European Union will be feeling the impact of this approach – used by the V4 countries during the recent Council negotiations – for a long time.

Babiš, Orbán and some Polish politicians said before the Brussels negotiations that the system of the Spitzenkandidaten was wrong. They said that they wanted the European Commission to be run by someone who would understand the Central European region and who would not politicize the work of the European Commission. From the beginning, this was a coordinated assault against European democratic values.

Selfishness as a program: that is the essence of the approach of politicians such as Babiš, Orbán and Kaczyński. Solidarity of the member countries, looking for a compromise and proposing positive solutions - such things are not a part of their mental world. When these politicians cannot use their power, they moan, lament and protest. They do not know how to negotiate, hence they pretend that their catastrophic defeats are brilliant victories. In the new European Parliament the Central European countries will not hold any significant posts. Ursula von der Leyen as the newly proposed President of the European Commission will be just as assertive as Timmermans, when it comes to respecting rule of law and the independence of the judiciary

These politicians are not concerned with the public interest, neither in their own countries, nor in the European Union. They do not know how to negotiate, because they do not know how to merge different interests. This is why they prefer the application of their own power. Their world of ideas is poor because it is based on old fears, prejudices and national traumas.

They are not particularly interested in the outside world, because they cannot dominate it. They are only interested in their own partial, pragmatically approached aims. This is why they see the European Union only as a source of money, as a cash machine.

They see the European Union only as a source of money, as a cash machine.

They live and act only here and now. This is why our future is, in their hands, a hostage to the consequences of their chaotic decisions of today. Their program is selfishness. It is the selfishness of the old vis-a-vis the young, who will be forced to live in a world shaped by their self-centred ideas. Theirs is the selfishness of affluent people who do not care about people living on the margins of society.

Babišism and even worse systems

If Andrej Babiš is forced, as I believe he will be, to resign from the position of the Czech Prime Minister, in the near future, without a substantial change of the Czech political and social environment, this will in itself not lead to a greater democratization and openness of Czech politics. Babišism as a system is a much bigger problem than Andrej Babiš. It is characteristic of this system that a small number of persons have amassed large amounts of wealth. They have done this non-transparently and by means of doubtful ethical and legal methods.

Strong oligarchization of the media is another characteristic feature of Babišism, as is the existence of opaque pressure groups which blackmail politicians to provide beneficial solutions for them. Babišism has no values and it is incapable of thinking of the future in terms of practical visions which would correspond to the needs of the contemporary world. Babišism is defined by a vague, unclear border between private and public interest and private and public finance, by the banalization of the public debate about social and political issues and by a suspicion towards the principles and guarantees of a state based on law.

Poland and Hungary are in an even more problematic and a more dangerous situation. All these national, nationalistic and self-centred political attitudes have created a Central European, anti-European ideology of Visegradism. This ideology assures all the local politicians that their destructive approach is in the interest of a "higher good". Visegradism also needs an external enemy to define itself against.

If Czech society – and let us hope in time also Polish and Hungarian society – finds strength within itself to overcome Visegradism, it can use a good ally, namely the main, long-term, broad political stream of the European Union. However, Visegradism will not collapse on its own. People must fight it. It will be a struggle for the most fundamental values of the European tradition of humanity.

The tradition of solidarity and social responsibility will have to merge with environmental responsibility and with a sensitivity to the historical tasks of today.

To overcome this institutionalized egotism, which now affects even very subtle structures of Central European societies, will not be the task for those who have grown up, angry and opportunistic, in the period of late communism, but for those who reached maturity in the open, European, globalised era. The tradition of solidarity and social responsibility will have to merge with environmental responsibility and with a sensitivity to the historical tasks of today. Anything smaller will not do.

Translated by Jan Culik.

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