In Central European politics the EU used to matter. Not any longer
Issue 2, November 2006
by Biserka Markova; photography by Hans Koolwijk
To stitch together patches of clashing colours, you will need a solid neutral thread. The result may not be aesthetically pleasing, but it will do, provided the thread doesn't break. The latest developments in the four new Central European EU members, however, have shown that this is inevitable. And Bulgaria, with a tri-partite coalition of clashing colours in power, and due to join the EU in January 2007, might get caught up in the same political game for years to come.
Two years after EU accession, the Visegrad Four countries are governed by coalitions comprised of politically incompatible parties, which wouldn't survive long if it wasn't for EU membership requiring political and economic stability. The EU, however, appears not to be the driving force in these countries any more. Not for citizens whose EU enthusiasm is wearing off and giving way to disappointment. Recent months have seen four astoundingly similar versions of the same political scenario: the coalitions in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia fraying around the edges, making political crisis almost impossible to escape.
Poland's governing coalition, comprised of the conservative Law and Justice party and the populist Self-Defence, collapsed just a year after it was formed. EU membership proved to be too weak an argument for the parties to overcome their differences. As a result, Poland is now facing the possibility of early elections, with none of the political parties likely to win the majority of the votes.
The outcome in the Czech Republic after the election stalemate this summer was similar, resulting in a coalition fiasco: the attempt to form a grand coalition of the centre-left Social Democrats and the centre-right Civic Democrats was unsuccessful as the weakly stitched together, highly experimental cabinet lost the confidence vote in parliament last month.
The political situation in Slovakia is even more alarming with Social Democrat Prime Minister Robert Fico forming a coalition with the Slovakian National Party, known for its ultranationalist and xenophobic ideas. Fico pledged to soften the economic reform undertaken by Mikulas Dzurinda's previous Liberal government, raising fears that his coalition might roll back some of the reforms which made the country an investment paradise.
Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany's videotaped admission that he had lied to the people "night and day" about the state of the Hungarian economy, coupled with the severe, yet necessary reforms he started in the summer, triggered widespread protests that the opposition party, Fidesz, vows to uphold until Gyurcsany steps down.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers