A Budapest in London

Last year’s election victory for Poland’s Law and Justice party is the latest expression of what some commentators have called an ‘authoritarian turn’ in  Eastern Europe.   The leader of Law and Justice, Jarosław Kaczyński is a xenophobic nationalist and a great admirer of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, a politician cut from similar cloth.  In 2011 Kaczyński responded to electoral defeat with a promise to ‘have a Budapest in Warsaw.’

Since its victory last November, Law and Justice has been showing what it meant by this. It has appointed its own judges from the constitutional court, undermined the civil service and passed a new media law bringing the state tv and radio under its direct control.   Law and Justice, like Orban’s Fidesz party, clearly wants to govern for a long time, and it isn’t too bothered about what it has to do to achieve this.

Some commentators have seen this authoritarian surge as an Eastern European phenomenon at odds with with Western Europe’s liberal traditions. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has expressed its ‘deep concern’ about the Polish media bill.   None other than George Soros has accused Kaczyński and Orbán of ‘trying to reestablish the kind of sham democracy that prevailed in the period between the First and Second World Wars in Admiral Horthy’s Hungary and Marshal Piłsudski’s Poland.’

Such concerns are certainly justified, but they shouldn’t be limited to Eastern European governments. Take Lord Snooty and His Pals.  Clearly drunk on its massive 12-seat majority, the Tory government has undertaken a number of alarmingly undemocratic measures in recent months to silence dissent and protest and ensure that it remains in power for a very long time.

Consider, for example, its forthcoming Trade Union Bill, which makes it virtually impossible to strike and will also cut funding to the Labour Party.  Or the government’s proposal  to ban local councils, public bodies – and even student unions – from setting up local campaigns or political boycotts.

If this atrocious law comes into effect, any council that boycotts arms traders,companies involved in fossil fuels, fracking, tobacco or goods sold by Israeli settlements will incur ‘severe penalties.’

According to the Independent today, ‘ Senior government sources said they were cracking down on town-hall boycotts because they “undermined good community relations, poisoned and polarised debate and fuelled anti-Semitism”.’

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the kind of blatant lying that a government will indulge in when it no longer cares whether you know it’s lying or not.   How can a local campaign against an arms company undermine good community relations?  How does it poison and polarise debate if you boycott a corporation that your local representatives regards as unethical?

As for the suggestion that boycotts of Israeli goods have ‘fuelled anti-Semitism’, that is just another vacuous lie piled on top of the others.  It’s clear that this law is partly intended to neutralize and shut down the the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, and criminalising protests against Israel are far more likely to fuel ‘Jewish conspiracy’ fantasies than boycotts aimed at halting Israeli colonisation of the West Bank and the ongoing oppression of the Palestinians.

According to Cabinet Minister Matt Hancock:

“The new guidance on procurement combined with changes we are making to how pension pots can be invested will help prevent damaging and counter-productive local foreign policies undermining our national security.”

The arrogance of that statement is as breathtaking as its blinkered stupidity.  So now this government of clowns has decided that criticism of Israel undermines national security. How exactly?  Don’t ask, because its not for you to question matters related to national security.  Only Lord Snooty and His Visionary Pals can do that.   And only they can decide which ‘local foreign policies’ they deem to be ‘damaging and counter-productive’ and which ones local councils,quangos and universities are allowed to support.

The government hasn’t decided – yet – whether student unions will be allowed to engage in ‘local foreign policies’, because it thinks that this is a ‘grey area.’  Er, no it isn’t.  Student unions don’t need permission from the government to decide who they can boycott and who they can’t, and neither do your local councilors. That’s because you elect them, not the government, and because your decision to campaign or not campaign should be a decision taken by your local community, not the government.

So I can’t help feeling that this proposed law is more evidence of our own ‘authoritarian turn,’ and I’m not surprised that Law and Justice MEPs sit with the Tories in the eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists group.  Both of them are opposed to further EU integration, and it’s increasingly clear that that isn’t all they have in common.

Law and Justice appears to believe that an election victory has given it the right to reshape Polish democracy in its own image.  And Lord Snooty and His Pals seem to believe that a 12-seat majority gives them the same right..

We mustn’t let them get away with it.   To paraphrase George Orwell in 1984, If you want a picture of the future, imagine George Osborne and David Cameron smirking in your face – forever.  Imagine it, and then do whatever you can to prevent it from happening.  Remember that old slogan ‘think globally; act locally’?

If this outrageous law comes into place you’ll only be able to do the former.  That’s why we should oppose and resist it, national security be damned. .   .

2 thoughts on “A Budapest in London

  1. I caught the Moral Maze on R4 recently – on the topic of the Government’s attack on boycotts. Mostly it was about Israel v Palestine, with the first speaker the first speaker was Jonathan Sacerdoti, whose website is proud to proclaim that he has a Master’s in communications from the IDC in Israel, but seems to have forgotten his former role as Director of Public Affairs for the Zionist Federation.

    He stated that Jews “throughout Europe” are being attacked, killed and driven to go to Israel as an implied result of the boycott. Melanie Phillips makes me puke even on subjects less close to my heart and exceeded herself in this programme, especially in the summing up.

    Although they had “witnesses” defending the right to boycott, no one effectively challenged the smears and lies that Sacerdoti spouted. The BBC chooses him as its keynote speaker on such a subject? The right and the State seem to have taken over the BBC recently, certainly you’d struggle to find any ’left wing bias’ which was the accusation for a long time.

    Do listen at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qk11 – if you can take it.
    The broader question is where is our society heading? The Independent is dying. The Guardian on many issues, and particularly on Israel, is now a paper of the right. Most people seem to be willing to accept anything the State wants to label as ‘terrorist’ is indeed such. Councils will, be shackled, as your article says. Students are afraid to discuss Middle East politics in case they are reported. And Uni students are not what (some of them) were in the 1960s, most have zero interest or knowledge in politics or world affairs.

    Whether we stay in Europe or leave, at the moment it feels the right will grow.

    • I’m afraid listening to Melanie Phillips is more than I can stand, Paul, but your comments re. the BBC and ‘where is our society heading?’ seem absolutely spot on to me, except I wouldn’t be so damning about Uni students (speaking as someone who has a politically-active student daughter, and who has been lucky enough to meet a fair sprinkling of very sharp and committed leftwing students over the last few years). But the right is certainly growing dangerously, and there is an increasingly toxic overlap between the far-right/populist/nativist fringe and the mainstream all over Europe. And again and again, support for Israeli occupation/domination is one of the defining components of these movements, even as supposedly liberal democratic states seek to criminalise Palestinian solidarity and conflate it with anti-Semitism. And many people with views like these seem to be Independent/Guardian readers, judging by the comments sections.

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