Hungary (again) threatened with being deprived of its EU voting rights

To paraphrase the classic: two things fill my mind with ever new and increasing awe, the starry heavens above me and the bottomless capacity of liberal establishment to undermine its own moral and political cause.

Go on then, go and threaten Hungary just before the EU elections with a ‘nuclear option’, depriving it of voting rights only because it exercises its prerogative for a different political opinion. Entirely according to the EU’s founding treaties, which provides member states with a blocking minority in a limited aspect of sovereign matters (foreign policy and exercise of control over all our taxation money including). This is, by the way, what the article below joyfully and poetically welcomes as Orbán finding himself ‘under the frog’s ass’, thus continuing in Politico’s well set line of bashing the Hungarian government at every opportunity. (While never questioning when the EU’s democratic principles are being thrashed by Macron, Scholz and the like in the name of a ‘good liberal cause’, just as they plan for now).

One can only hope that these unprincipled and authoritarian hypocrites will be punished by voters in the most severe manner.

No need for EU’s own propaganda: for a frank dialogue with people

The EU intends to continue a propagandistic communication policy, bombing its citizens with good news. The Juncker Commission even stepped up a gear, as it increasingly uses media, culture and science as instruments of soft power.

“The European Union needs to communicate better about what it does well”. That was former European Council President Herman Van Rompuy’s conclusion after the Brexit and seems to be the dominant analysis in the EU bubble. This week the American-owned communications agency ICF Mostra won another 26 million euro contract to promote the EU’s policies.

But the strategy is contested. “A constant flow of good news has no effect, you should also explain to people what doesn’t work”, states professor Hendrik Vos, head of the centre for EU-studies at the University of Ghent. Welsh-born Gareth Harding, Managing Director of communications company Clear Europe, agrees: “Europe needs to foster debate, give people information so they make up their own mind. Otherwise it’s propaganda, and propaganda doesn’t work.”

The absence of a common media platform for a EU-wide debate, allows politicians as Nigel Farage to profile themselves at the expense of the union, without being challenged for it. But instead of fostering such a debate, the EU chooses to spend its generous communication budgets on semi-propagandistic media, outdated brochures and a series of obscure NGOs and think tanks.

Hearts and mind

In 1989, then Commission President Jacques Delors famously said, “One doesn’t fall in love with a common market”. Europe was about to make the transformation from a purely economic community to the beginning of a real political union. In the following years it would be doted with a single currency
and a common foreign and security policy.

But the European project didn’t manage to sparkle the love Delors was alluding to. Apart from the flag and the anthem, the structure evokes no emotional associations. And the attempts to win the hearts and minds of its citizens, remind too much of indoctrination.

“Europe copies the methods of the 19th century nation states, systematically citing the most glorious episodes from history and concealing the rest”, says professor Vos. Last year, several historians complained about about political interference in the construction of the “House of European history”. The EU stood for freedom and democracy, was the message, and the continent’s conflictive past did not fit. Ultimately, the pressure to start the permanent exposition in 1946 was dismissed after commotion in the media.

Men in suits

But why can the many highly educated and well-paid bureaucrats not manage to boost the EU’s image? “The European Commission is crowding its communications department with men in suits who know little about the job and whose main worry seems to be moving up the Commission’s hierarchy”, says Gareth Harding. “If it were the private sector, they would have got rid of almost the entire communications team.”

But the staff are not the only obstacle for Europe to deliver clear messages. In its communication, the union constantly needs to watch over the balance between the different institutions and the 28 Member States. This resulted in a veiled kind of language that can impossibly compete with the sharp tongues of the likes of Geert Wilders or Marine Le Pen.

Juncker takes the lead

In this complex setting, Jean-Claude Juncker took charge of the European Commission in November 2014. From the start, he made it clear he wanted to tighten his grip on the policy with an overtly political Commission.

Juncker centralised communications by taking charge of the policy himself. It used to be a separate portfolio, held by his compatriot Vivian Reding in the last Barroso Commission.

Juncker also streamlined the Commission’s press relations. Where every one of the 28 Commissioners used to dispose of a press officer, he brought that number down to 6. Consequently, the number of press releases drastically dropped. Juncker’s chief of staff, the German lawyer Martin Selmayr, coordinates the press corps.

“Selmayr thinks he is a Communications God, but he is a bureaucrat and bureaucrats rarely have the gift of good communication”, estimates Gareth Harding, who also runs the Brussels programme of the Missouri School of Journalism. “His small team can not fulfil the growing interest of the Brussels-based media. The idea was to let the Commissioners speak to the media themselves, but they barely have time to call.”


Apart from the narrower field of communication, Europe also did not hesitate to call on media and culture for political purposes. These instruments of soft power were more emphatically applied since the mounting tensions with Russia. By the time Juncker took office, the Ukraine conflict had glided into an information war. The Russian propaganda machine turned a powerful weapon for Vladimir Putin, to the jealousy of many a leader in the free world. It was the signal for Europe to start counterbalancing Russia’s lies. The European External Action Service started doing so with a weekly “Disinformation Review” and is currently setting up Russian-language broadcasts for ethnic Russians in ex-Soviet

On EuroparlTV, a TV channel that rarely draws viewers despite millions of euros in yearly subsidies, the German MEP and head of the Foreign Affairs Committee Elmar Brok in April talked about his recent experience in an Iraqi hotel room, where he could watch Russia Today, but neither the BBC nor Deutsche Welle. Brok called for extra budget and increased collaboration between European channels.

Gareth Harding does not believe the EU needs to counter propaganda with propaganda. “That would be largely counterproductive, as the people expect leaders to stand up for their values. But even if you accepted such efforts, the result is disappointing. Compared to Russia Today or Sputnik, the EU
counterpropaganda effort looks like it is designed by a twelve-year-old.”

Culture as a tool

The European soft power-toolkit has not been exhausted yet. On 8 June, European Foreign Affairs Minister Federica Mogherini and the Hungarian Commissioner for Culture and Education Tibor Navarcsics, came up with a new strategy to put culture at the heart of the external relations of the EU.

After prior consultation with NGOs it supports in culture and education, the Commission scanned how these organizations could expand their activities to the Eastern Partnership, the Middle East or some Asian countries. Russia or South-America are currently not topping that list of priorities. On social media, the sector enthusiastically welcomes its patron’s initiative, but behind the scenes resounded fear for instrumentalisation. Mogherini labeled culture “a strong tool” and Navracsics coined his portfolio “the hidden gem of our foreign policy”.

“In recent years Europe has imposed a strong economic logic on culture. We are currently not looking forward to be fitted into a geopolitical agenda”, is heard at one of the networks. “Creativity is at its best without guidance.”

Deadlock: The results of the Spanish general elections


On the 26th of June, the Spanish government celebrated a second general election after more than six months of political deadlock. The result was yet another stalemate, but this time the conservative PP (Partido Popular, or Popular Party) grew in the number of votes and seats gained in Spain’s Congress of Deputies, while every other major political force – PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español, Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party), Ciudadanos (Citizens) and the newly-formed left-wing populist party Unidos Podemos (United We Can) – lost both votes and seats. The incumbent President Mariano Rajoy, leader of the PP, was quick to proclaim victory and thank his voters for their support, despite still being a long way from recovering his party’s absolute majority, lost in the December 2015 elections.
Now, the country is faced with three possible outcomes to these elections, all of which would be the first of their kind in the history of modern Spanish democracy: A minority government, a coalition government or, once again, new elections six months from now.


In order to grasp how this situation has come about, it is necessary to understand that the Spanish system of government is predicated on the condition that any political party that wins in the general elections can form a government only when it has an absolute majority of seats in the Congress of Deputies of Spain – this being defined as holding 176 seats out of 350. The system is meant to ensure that, in theory, any party which does not attain absolute majority must form a coalition government with other groups through agreements and compromises. The December 2015 elections resulted in no one party – even the PP, which collected the most number of votes and held the largest number of seats in Congress – being able to achieve that absolute majority, and so all four major political groups entered into negotiations with one another, ostensibly to discuss the creation of a coalition government and come to an agreement on how to do so.
But the hope that a compromise would be reached eventually faded as the months passed and the negotiations dragged on, often filled with recriminations and mutual accusations of an unwillingness to co-operate. It soon became increasingly clear that a solution to the political quagmire the country had stumbled into would not be materializing any time soon.
And so, after six long months of largely fruitless talks, new elections were held this past June. The PP grew in votes and in seats, while the other political groups lost both, but once again no one party achieved the numbers needed to obtain that elusive absolute majority in Congress. Once again, the four main political parties have entered negotiations with one another, but now the question is: What will happen if no agreement is reached?
If no agreement is reached, then the Spanish democratic system will be faced with a situation for which it has no contingency plan, as its constitution only contemplates the possibility of a single repetition of the country’s general elections, and PP currently remains as a caretaker government until further notice.


Perhaps the biggest surprise of the elections was the apparent loss of momentum suffered by the far-left populist movement Podemos, which disappointed and frustrated – but above all surprised – both its leadership and its supporters, who had expected the party would become the second political force in Spain and instead saw how they wound up losing votes.
The results of the December 2015 elections were a remarkable success for the group, as they went from a party with no congressional representatives to suddenly holding 69 seats. The subsequent merging between Podemos and the far-left party Izquierda Unida (United Left) – forming the group Unidos Podemos – was expected to enjoy greater success in these elections. There was talk of a Sorpasso, a situation in which the group would overtake the PSOE in seats and votes and, effectively, become the second political force in the country.

At this point it is important to note that, on the Spanish political scene, there is no major figurehead for the far-right. France has Jeanne-Marine Le Pen, Austria has Norbert Hofer, Greece has the Golden Dawn, but Spain has only loose groups – among them reduced remnants of the Fascist Falange party – with no real unity, and no leader who can boast a significant presence either in the political landscape or in the media. Instead, it is far-left movements such as Podemos which have become increasingly relevant on the Spanish political scene, something that soon gave rise to comparisons to Greece’s SYRIZA party.
Both SYRIZA and Podemos enjoyed a remarkable growth in their early days, thanks to support among those voters most affected by the economic crisis, and their anti-austerity rhetoric is often very similar. Indeed, Pablo Iglesias – the General Secretary of Podemos – has often expressed support for Alexis Tsipras, leader of SYRIZA and now the Prime Minister of Greece. There was serious talk that the next Spanish government would be a coalition, headed by Unidos Podemos – similar to the coalition government of Greece, formed by the left-wing SYRIZA and the right-wing ANEL.
But the results of the elections have apparently put a brake on those hopes of success held by the party and its supporters, instead added only two more seats to their previous result – going from 69 to 71 – despite pre-election polls predicting much better results. A number of reasons can be put forward for this apparent setback; notably there has been a growing disenchantment among many of Podemos’ supporters, who feel that the group’s growing focus on politics has distanced them from their original anti-austerity rhetoric. This, along with visible disagreements among the party leadership and a higher number of abstentions in this year’s elections than last year’s, all seem to have contributed to the wind being let out of the group’s sails.
Whatever the reason, the current reality is that Spain’s populistic far-left, before so buoyed by an unexpected popularity and success, is now in serious danger of losing its momentum as it becomes a major player on the country’s political scene.


For six months now the PP have remained in power as a caretaker government rather than an official one, and no-one seems to want to contemplate what could happen if this situation is not resolved. Another repetition of the general elections has been discussed, and while it is a possibility, it is also becoming apparent that both politicians and ordinary citizens are getting tired of the stalemate and just want to reach a solution, any solution. A coalition government would, for many, be ideal, but two weeks on and no immediate agreement between any of the major political players appears forthcoming.

Another, possibly more likely, outcome is that the PP will simply form a minority government. If this were to happen, not only would it be the first of its kind in the history of modern, post-Francoist Spanish democracy, it would also no doubt please the millions of citizens who voted for them. But it would also deeply anger the millions of others who did not, and leave a divided Congress full of groups largely unwilling to give the PP any of the free rein it has had thus far to enact its policies, and determined to mount a fiercer opposition than has been faced by Mariano Rajoy.
There is a lot of talk now about what to do and what the immediate political future could be, but a common Spanish saying seems to sum up the current situation best:
Del dicho al hecho hay un trecho.
There’s a long road between what is said to what is done.

Javier Alcover

Image: “Adrian faces his first bull” by Keith Williamson, flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Brexit is a revolt against globalisation: Interpreting the UK vote

European political scene is in quite a disarray. “Right now, we are two or three bad elections away from the end of NATO, the end of the European Union and maybe the end of the liberal world order as we know it,” quipped historian Apple Applebaum back in March (Applebaum 2016). Applebaum, wife of the Polish neoconservative politician Radosław Sikorski, thus perfectly anticipated the panic felt nowadays by our elites. Inadvertently, she also revealed how Western elites see European integration: as a project tightly intertwined with the neoliberal worldview and globalisation. In their vote for Brexit, British working classes revolted against what the EU seems to increasingly stand for: self-proclaimed global elites and their policies that benefit only the increasingly few.

Let us be perfectly clear: for Europe and for the West, Brexit is a moment of fundamental historical importance. British “red Tory” thinker Phillip Blond is not exaggerating when he states that “Western ballot boxes never before seen a greater rejection of globalisation” (Devecchio 2016). The EU came to be squarely identified with globalisation and all social and economic insecurities that it entails. For British voters, these materialised mostly as fears of immigration, which have both cultural and employment-related aspects.

Explaining voting patterns

A look at the voting patterns across Britain gives evidence to deeper divides that separate the winners and losers of globalisation, and which are also visible in other European countries.  (Note that for political reasons, Scotland and Northern Ireland remain exceptional cases.) Charts are telling in showing deep class divisions. In a country where one year of undergraduate university education costs £9000 (more than €10,600), one of the best predictors of how people voted was their education level. “Remainers” tended to have university degrees, while those without higher education were much more likely to be in the Leave camp. Similar results are seen when we look at the median income – the richer the voter is, the more likely they were to vote Remain. In the UK, income and education are closely linked to geography, which explains why “bobo London” is the only part of England where people voted for staying in the EU.

Another significant factor is the trans-partisan character of the vote against the EU. As several observers already noted, Brexit would not be possible if a large proportion of Labour supporters did not vote against the Remain campaign of the party leadership. The party leader Jeremy Corbyn is himself a eurosceptic, who likely very much dislikes the authoritarianism of the EU’s neoliberal policies, lately openly revealed in last year’s economic diktat imposed on Greece, against the wishes of its people expressed also in a referendum. Why officially being in charge of Labour’s Remain campaign, his support was lukewarm, which is also the reason why his Members of Parliament (MPs) are at the moment working hard to get rid of him. What it ultimately shows, however, is that Corbyn is much more connected to the wishes and fears of the party rank and file than the MPs, who are mostly “champagne socialists” still day dreaming about the heydays of New Labour under Tony Blair.

As John Cassidy put it in The New Yorker, the implication is that “the British working classes and lower middle classes, particularly those living in the provinces, have delivered a stinging rebuke to the London-based political establishment, which was largely in [favour] of staying in the [EU]” (Cassidy 2016). The explanation is that for the working classes, salaries are at rock bottom and zero-hour contracts along with other “market reforms” put in place by the Conservative government made sure their jobs are more precarious than ever before. Property prices are astronomical, class sizes at state schools are too high, waiting times in NHS are too long. Meanwhile, good education, better jobs, and fenced-off private properties are concentrated in the hands of the growingly smaller number that are profiting from these neoliberal policies.

These are real concerns that are often disparaged or completely ignored by those with good jobs, good education, those who freely travel across Europe and come from better off families. In other words, by the European elite. Labelling Brexit as a triumph of xenophobia, ignorance or even senility (pointing to the preference of elder electorate for Leave), does not allow one to get any better understanding why an increasing number of people are standing up against the EU. Arrogant and patronising comments, of the like of Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, who spoke about treating British people as deserters in the run-up to the referendum (Macdonald 2016), only paint the EU’s portrait in even darker colours. They also prevent from helping us to understand that Brexit is a part of wider revolt against globalisation, which includes both left-wing and right-wing populist movements in Europe (Greek Syriza, Spanish Podemos, Irish Sinn Féin, French Front National, Austrian FPÖ, even Slovak SMER or Hungarian Fidesz), as well as the appearance of Trump and Sanders in the US.

Concerns about immigration do not equate racism

Most of concerns with globalisation and the EU in the UK crystallised as the immigration issue. On the one hand ignored by the left (“because it is racist”), on the other, embraced by the right under the argument of positive economic contribution. While there are genuine xenophobes with hate towards black people, Eastern Europeans or Muslims, most voters cannot be simply dismissed as bigoted. The best example of this is a large proportion of second- or third-generation Commonwealth immigrants, who also supported Brexit on immigration grounds. If gross immigration to the UK was 630,000 in 2015 (or about 1 % of the UK’s population!), this represents a huge downward pressure on UK salaries and raises yet new identity concerns (Hawkins 2016). John Harris gives a plethora of practical examples of these real life concerns (Harris 2016):

  • town of Peterborough where people claim only non-UK nationals were hired because they worked for insane shifts for risible rates;
  • agricultural communities in Lincolnshire, divided between new arrivals with jobs and miserable locals who lost theirs;
  • largely pro-EU Manchester, where British-Asians talk about leaving the EU, likely because they feel their traditional jobs are at threat;
  • builders in South Shields, who had their hourly rate come down by £3 because of immigrants from eastern Europe; or
  • a mother in Stourbridge wanting a new school for “our kids”.

And so on. What is clear is that identity, immigration and economic concerns are closely interlinked. Identity is fundamentally nothing abstract – it is about shared and established patterns of living together in one space that generate understanding and prevent conflicts. It is about trust and predictability, which are built only over time, creating common history in the process. When contrasted to individual and gradual migration patterns, mass immigration poses a huge challenge for identity precisely for these reasons. This is of course in addition to the race to the bottom created by downward pressures on salaries and social security. Losing a job can in turn generate a loss of identity among those who previously took pride for providing income to their family – or simple buying a builder or fisherman in their community. With its recent push for “refugees”, a majority of whom seem to behave more like economic migrants, the EU only added the final piece into its image of the most visible European promoter of unrestricted flows of people.

Divisions in the liberal camp – a fake people’s revolt?

However, the referendum did not only divide working classes with those with a higher income – it also fragmented the British liberal elites. Leaders of Brexit campaign were all liberals who opposed the EU in the name of deregulation. This number includes the outgoing leader of UKIP Nigel Farage, who may be a social conservative, but remains an ultra-liberal on economic issues. It also makes for a big difference, between the liberals in the UK and in many other European countries, perhaps apart from central Europe. Speaking of France, Alain de Benoist noted that “while in our country, the majority of liberals are convinced that the fundamental goal of European treaties is imposing liberal tenets, starting with free circulation of goods and services, people and capital, in England many think that the market needs neither institutions nor treaties” (de Benoist 2016).

The support of a proportion of British liberals for Brexit obviously does not mean that they suddenly took up the flag of the people, realised their ideology is misguided, and decided to address fears of globalisation. Phillip Blond again correctly points out that this represents the greatest paradox – and tragedy – of the vote for Brexit: “the working classes seeking protection against globalisation followed libertarians who believe that the UK should unilaterally abolish its tariffs” (Devecchio 2016). For his part, Paul Mason from The Guardian does not shy away from calling the referendum “hijacked” and “a fake revolt” with people “falling for a scam” (Mason 2016). Mason is quite correct not only because British liberal elites have no interest to rescue people from globalisation and perverse effects of capitalism. Other reason is that nation-states are no longer capable of protecting its citizens against the power of transnational corporations, “globbish” cultural forces, or hyper-fluctuations of financial markets. British “independence day” is an illusion because the UK regained sovereignty in name only.

Tragedy of the EU and its great unfulfilled promise

The greatest tragedy of the European Union is that it did not fulfil its potential and failed on its biggest promise. That promise was to make citizens and peoples stronger rather than weaker in the face of globalisation and neoliberal capitalism. But that would have required starting European integration from bottom-up, from culture and politics, and not from economic integration. Inevitably, that would have also meant a slower expansion of the EU – building qualitative, democratic, strong structures at the expansive of quantity and extension. The UK, traditionally a maritime and transatlanticist power, always felt oddly in the continental club and attached itself closer to the US than to its European counterparts. As Belgian economist Paul de Grauwe notes, the EU has neoliberal policies at its core: its single market and trade agreements opened up the gates to globalisation, while its fiscal rules and ‘structural reforms’ put countries into an austerity straightjacket. So instead “of helping those who suffer from [globalisation], [the EU] has set up policies that hurt these people even more. It is no surprise that the losers revolt” (Grauwe 2016). Ultimately, all of us are those losers, because instead of living in communities that allow us to strive for excellence and make us stronger personalities, we are living in market societies that encourage selfishness, individualism, consumerism and wasteful lifestyles.

Martin Heidegger, a German thinker who also lived in turbulent times, used to quote poet Friedrich Hölderlin in saying that “where danger is, grows the saving power also.” For the EU, history did not end yet. However much its elites may seem incapable of reflection on what are the reasons for people’s despair over European integration, at its roots there is still the promise that the EU can be a katechon, a regulator of globalisation, rather than its chief harbinger. It is time for people and those who are on their side to grasp this thought and realise that all freedom movements against globalisation and neoliberalism need to be by necessity pan-European.


Publication bibliography

Applebaum, Anne (2016): Is this the end of the West as we know it? Available online at, updated on 3/4/2016, checked on 6/27/2016.

Benoist, Alain de (2016): Brexit : vers un effet domino en Europe ? Boulevard Voltaire. Available online at,265172, updated on 6/29/2016, checked on 6/30/2016.

Cassidy, John (2016): Why the Remain Campaign Lost the Brexit Vote – The New Yorker. In The New Yorker, 6/24/2016. Available online at, checked on 7/5/2016.

Devecchio, Alexandre (2016): Phillip Blond : «Jamais la mondialisation n’avait connu un tel rejet dans les urnes». In Le Figaro, 7/1/2016. Available online at, checked on 04-07-16.

Grauwe, Paul de (2016): The EU Should Take The Side Of The Losers Of Globalization. Social Europe. Available online at, updated on 7/4/2016, checked on 7/5/2016.

Harris, John (2016): ‘If you’ve got money, you vote in … if you haven’t got money, you vote out’. In The Guardian, 6/24/2016. Available online at, checked on 6/27/2016.

Hawkins, Oliver (2016): Migration Statistics. House of Commons (Briefing Paper, SN06077).

Macdonald, Alastair (2016): Juncker says on Brexit: British ‘deserters’ to get no EU favor. In Reuters, 5/20/2016. Available online at, checked on 29-06-16.

Mason, Paul (2016): Brexit is a fake revolt – working-class culture is being hijacked to help the elite | Paul Mason, 6/20/2016. Available online at, checked on 7/5/2016.

Chantal Mouffe on post-democracy: “It’s like a choice between Pepsi and Coke”

Chantal Mouffe is a well-known Belgian political theorist focusing on the concepts of post-liberalism, neo-marxism and radical democracy. Mouffe gave her talk in Stockholm on 3rd May 2016 in Stockholms Kulturhuset for the occasion of publishing the Swedish translation of her most recent book ‘Agonistik’ (‘Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically’ in English original).

Photo by Pamela Shultz Nybacka, 2016
Photo by Pamela Schultz Nybacka, 2016

Mouffe currently holds a professorship at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Westminster, UK, where she directs the Centre for the Study of Democracy. She became widely known for her book Hegemony and Socialist Strategy from 1985, written together with Ernesto Laclau. The post-marxist text alters some of the key concepts of traditional Marxism (such as shifting away from the stress on class division or belief in the eventual struggle-free harmonious society) and introduces most of the key concepts of Mouffe’s later work.

In her political theory, Mouffe takes inspiration namely from Karl Schmitt and his theory of the political, the neo-Marxist theorists Antonio Gramsci or post-structuralism notions of Jacques Derrida. For further reading see the above mentioned Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985), The Democratic Paradox (2000), a collection of texts on radical democracy, or most recently published the Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically (2014). From texts focused on art as radical tool in democratic systems look up for example articles Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces (2007) or Art and Democracy: Art as an Agnostic Intervention in the Public Space (2008).

The Stockholm’s one-and-half hour talk was fast paced and down to the point, in accord to Mouffe’s direct persona, if slightly less coherent from the moderator Stefan Jonsson’s side. Mouffe started by offering a comprehensive explanation of some of the most prominent concepts of her theory, such as that of the political, the agonistic mode of radical democracy, and the notion of passion as a vital element of political struggle. She then continued with a more detailed description of the role of passion as mobilising element in politics, the problems of contemporary post-democracy and the ultimate need for radicalisation of democracy in order for its effective implementation.

Mouffe, coming from a post-marxist stance, visualises the current state of Western society as that of a post-democratic, neo-liberal existence. Modern democracies, while maintaining the image of traditional democratic system, are more and more controlled by the elites and in their nature deny the original heterogeneous principles of a true democracy. To contest this, Mouffe presents a model of ‘radical democracy’ that aims to bring the real democratic principles back into a functional mode. In order to do this, she emphasises the need for agonistic role of the political, the ‘agonistic pluralism.’

Agonism, from the Greek word agon for struggle, focuses on the potentially positive aspects of certain forms of political conflict. This is not to say that all political conflict has positive effects, but that it is inevitably present in all political representations through different antagonistic parties, and has to be taken into account and used to our benefit.

The agonistic mode, although similar to Marxism in the emphasis on the always present political struggle, differs from Marxism in that it does not predict eventual elimination of the conflict into a harmonious society. There will always be conflict present in agonistic society. However, this conflict is not that of enemy nature, but rather that of adversaries’ confrontation, that of legitimate opponents mutually contributing to the political struggle. In order for such model to work, it is necessary to come to an ultimate, limited agreement upon basic values, a so called ‘conflictual consensus.’

It must be noted that according to Mouffe, the crucial question of a democratic politics is not to arrive at hegemonic consensus, as is currently misinterpreted in the European Union’s policies. On the contrary, the notions of ‘we’ and ‘they’ need to be established in all their antagonist plurality, since their existence is vital for any political conflict. The key role of democracy is then to convert these antagonistic conflicts into positive results.

Key problem of post-democratic, neo-liberal system is most of all the lack of real alternative, a concept vital for democracy. We have reached a post democratic’ stage presented by the absence of alternatives to neoliberalism and neoliberal globalisation. Mouffe states that the state of political alternatives is like the “choice between Pepsi and Coke.” The post-democracy aims for a more or less homogenous society of ultimate consensus and shuns any more or less ‘extreme’ options. This can be seen on the rise of populistic centrism with both left and right wing parties continuously shifting toward the middle of the political spectrum in order to attract more voters and preserve a happy façade suitable for everyone.

Mouffe’s radical democratic mode emphasises the importance of having a plurality of different struggles, the possibility of confrontation between hegemonic projects and representation of the whole range of political scale. Such elements should form the core of a democratic system. Radical democracy cultivates plural practices, mobilisation and passion that will challenge neo-liberal practices.

The element of passion in political activity is another strong term in Mouffe’s political theory. First of all, she emphasises the distinction between passion and emotion. Where emotion is an individual occurrence, passion serves as powerful and inevitable political tool: that of mobilising a common affect in a political domain. It produces an affective dimension that brings people together in collective identities. Passion should and cannot be excluded from democracy as it is essentially what mobilises affect in a progressive dimension needed for democratic representation. Without passion, it is impossible to be politically successful.

Through passion it is possible to overcome the crisis of political representation in the post-democratic, neo-liberal society. Large groups of citizens are either completely omitted or strongly under-represented on the political scene. Mouffe gives example of young people and working classes in their traditional (social democratic) sense. We have to constantly address the creation of a multi-polar world, with initiatives on the whole scale of the political spectrum (both horizontal and vertical) as a solution to under representation of the public. Collective will that is mobilised within these movements can only be truly expressed within the framework of representative democracy.

Mouffe presents a very down-to earth model of democratic system that can be empathised with both by the radicals and the pragmatists. The problem remains, however, that her theories lack certain consistency in terms of practical solutions. At the end of the talk I was left with a number of questions. What happens then, when we have achieved the necessary scale of plurality in the democratic representation? How exactly will this help when dealing with the super-bureaucratised system of the EU’s governmental bodies? Mobilisation and passion are indeed very much needed but would it not be easier to reform already existing structures, even if that means coming from slightly different political stances, rather than to constantly create new, radical democracy movements?


Alice Maselnikova, 6th May 2016

La démocratie directe d’Hannah Arendt


La Révolution Française n’atteint jamais sa cause ultime à cause de la misère, ce fléau social qui la mena non pas vers le chemin de la liberté, mais vers celui de la Terreur.[ref]ARENDT, Hannah, On the Revolution, p. 351.[/ref] Du côté de la Révolution Américaine on pourrait parler de succès, car celle-ci aboutit non seulement à l’établissement de la première Constitution, mais elle déboucha sur une période de stabilité qui perdure encore de nos jours dans la plus vieille démocratie de l’époque moderne. Malgré cela il faut néanmoins nuancer cette réussite si l’on tient en compte que la liberté, telle qu’elle était comprise par Hannah Arendt, ne fut ni atteinte ni garantie lors de l’aboutissement de la Révolution Américaine.

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Interview with the EU’s most famous politician: Nigel Farage

Today we bring you an exclusive interview with Nigel Farage that was made by two of our authors – Jakub Janda and Ondřej Šlechta – during Mr Farage’s working visit to Prague on 16 June. As a magazine that supports a sovereign and federal Europe, our editorial team does not agree with a ‘Europe of sovereign nations,’ the idea that Mr Farage very elequently and vigorously defends, although we are in full agreement with him when it comes to criticising Europe as a technocratic and dull project that has fundamental flaws when it comes to democratic oversight. Nothwithstanding our individual views, it cannot be denied that Mr Farage is the only EU politician, who is famous all around Europe. He rightly criticised Hermann van Rompuy’s dubious mandate and equally well points out that the stream of summits is beneficial to no one, but to ‘too big to fail’ European banks, which are beneficiaries of the constant flow of taxpayers’ money. For that, his speeches on YouTube are rewarded with such high viewing rates that many other European politician could dream of. We therefore think that we should give him voice on our ‘federal pages’ and grant you the opportunity to consider his ideas.

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Latvians reject Russian as their second official language

Referendum on the status of the Russian language in Latvia, February 2012Here we are again. It is exactly 21 years and one month since the last time when Latvian people had to stand up for their fundamental values. In those cold winter days of January 1991, Latvian people were united in their common effort to regain their independence, freedom of speech and democracy. It had to be achieved in a non-violent way – people barricaded central streets with concrete blocks, set bonfires and sang while expecting an assault from Soviet forces that was about to come…

Today, no one is threatening us with tanks, yet one of the core national freedoms has been challenged again – the Latvian language. 18th February 2012 was a notable day in the modern Latvian history.  More than 1.1 million Latvian citizens or 71% of all registered voters went to the polls to decide on amendments in the Latvian constitution that would allow the Russian language to become a second official state language in Latvia.And three fourths  of the voters said clear NO to this project.  It should be understood that this referendum was bound to fail since there was little expectation of any other outcome. Nevertheless, it is important to understand how did the Latvian nation find itself in this humiliating situation where it once again had to defend one of its fundamental values.

For 20 years there has been an ongoing failure of social integration policy in Latvia that left a core of the ethnic-Russians broadly marginalized. Historically, during 1960’s and 70’s the Soviet government displaced them to Latvia from other Soviet republics to use them as a labor force – thus implementing the so-called “russification policy”. In 1991 they formed some 35-40% of the Latvian population; most of them being non-citizens with no right to vote or to take part in any other political activity. Notwithstanding the fact that the state had introduced a naturalization program for ethnic Russians that would allow them to obtain citizenship by passing Latvian language and history exams, a great part of them did not use this opportunity. This was most likely because they were receiving hints from Russian politicians that Russia would stand up for ethnic Russians‘ interests in Latvia. Another factor is the immaturity of the leading Latvian politicians, who until this moment failed to acknowledge that their political actions only widened the political and social polarization between Latvian and Russian speaking communities. When the Centrist parties of Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis and ex-president Valdis Zatlers refused to make a coalition with the “Harmony Center” that was supported by the ethnic Russian and that had actually won the early election in September 2011, it produced a perfect precondition for pro-Russian activists such as Vladimir Linderman1 and Yevgeny Osipov from the radical left Osipov Party to consolidate their forces and launch their response, calling it a protest against attempts to assimilate the ethnic Russian minority. On top of everything was the radical right party “All for Latvia! – For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK” (invited to form the coalition instead of the  “Harmony Center”) and its initiative for a referendum that would force all public schools to use Latvian as the only teaching language. Many political experts in Latvia believe that this initiative – even though it failed due to a lack of public support – was the ultimate pretext for pro-Russian activists to launch their counter-initiative for Russian as a second language in Latvia. Therefore it becomes obvious that the level of amateurism and myopia of Latvian politicians is huge. Not only they have failed to address these very sensitive ethnic problems for last 20 years, but with their irresponsible actions they have also triggered a counter attack from ethnic Russian activist organizations.

Nevertheless, one should not consider this referendum only as Latvia‘s inner affair.  Our Eastern neighbor has always been willing to use Latvia‘s relatively high percentage of ethnic Russians as a fifth column in Latvia as a political tool to defend Russia’s interests in the Baltic region. Indeed, many Latvian politicians believe that the plan to introduce Russian as the second official language of Latvia can be traced back to Russia, or it could have even been outright devised by Kremlin, and that the pro-Russian activists are financed by Moscow and are mere  executors of its instructions. A telling fact is that the referendum was initiated by the organization that is lead by  Vladimir Linderman. Linderman is not a Latvian citizen (which is yet another challenge to the Latvian legal system: how can a non-citizen initiate a referendum in which only citizens can participate?) who  has spent several years in Russia until he got “expelled” to Latvia. This makes him a perfect candidate to organize here a Russian “fifth-column”. Another fact that displayed Russian interest in the referendum was a note that Russia sent to Latvian Foreign Ministry two days before the referendum, and in which they requested the presence of two Russian observers on site at the referendum day. When the Russian request was refused, just a day aftera Russian bomber TU-22M “visited” skies over the Baltic Sea, which was immediately followed by the launch of a NATO air patrol from a base in Lithuania.

How can we interpret Russia’s activities in the context of EU-Russia relations?

Actions carried out by Russia towards the Baltic States seem to be fitting perfectly into Russia’s recent doctrine of trying to regain as much control as possible over the post-Soviet space, which, as Russians still believe, had been unjustly taken away from them. Their argument that they are defending ethnic Russians abroad doesn’t work because it would be then in their best interest if their compatriots in other countries enjoyed the same rights as local citizens. Unfortunately, we see that instead of encouraging Latvia’s ethnic Russians to finally accept the change in reality and to fully integrate into the Latvian society, Russia does its best in inciting a part of population against the state. This effectively  makes Latvia’s Russians into political hostages in a conflict of Russian propaganda and Latvian state policy (such as naturalization). And it is the latter to which their primary loyalty should belong. Naturally this leads to instability and tensions between the two communities, and if these problems continue to be ignored by politicians and no effective measures are taken to integrate the communities into one society then the whole Latvian nation is doomed to repeat events like those of the 18th February.

This referendum brings one other message to the EU. The left-wing Latvian Member of the European Parliament Tatyana Zdanoka (Group of the Greens/ European Free Alliance) announced that at a party congress in March 2012 she will   initiate a campaign of collecting signatures for a petition that would make the Russian language one of the official languages of the EU. The fact that this initiative arose simultaneously with the referendum on the status of the Russian language in Latvia is not a coincidence. According to some political experts, with this referendum Russia made a clear attempt to bring its language to a certain status in the EU by putting pressure on the EU member state that holds the largest percentage of ethnic Russians,

Indeed it is hard to find any other explanations for the Russian support. Russia has simply discovered the weakest part of the chain and embarked on making Latvia into a “little Russia in Europe” (to use the words of German MEP Bernd Poselt).

Yet there are lessons to be learned. First, leading Latvian politicians should not perceive the results of the referendum in an exaggeratedly victorious way as many of them do. The outcome, of course, is a vital achievement in defending nation’s fundamental values and yes, it is a certain slap in Kremlin’s face, but one should not forget that this referendum had to happen only because of unsatisfactory integration policy of the last two decades and due to major ignorance of of existing ethnic problems. Such referendum should be therefore regarded as the clearest and most obvious sign of failure of the country’s integration policy, which should never be repeated again. In this regard, Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis has made a correct conclusion when, only 3 days after the referendum, he issued a resolution in which he asks all the responsible governmental institutions to draw-up proposals on a more efficient integration policy in two weeks time.

Secondly, this referendum serves as an obvious reminder that Russia has not given up the hope of regaining the influence in the territories that Moscow lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Following the tradition of expansionism that emerged in the 16th/17th century Russian foreign policy, Russia is using even today every possible means to interfere in domestic affairs of its neighboring countries. Therefore in countries like Latvia a policy field (like inter ethnic policies) that from the first sight might seem as a domestic affair can actually be one of the cornerstones in shaping its foreign policy with Russia. It is even more unacceptable that politicians are ignorant of Latvia‘s ethnic polarization since that way they are offering Russian politicians  a ‘dagger’ that will be sooner or later used to stab Latvia’s back.

Thirdly, referendums like this help to uncover politicians who are are disloyal to the Constitution and to the country for which they are (supposedly) working for. If a majority of the opposition members of the Parliament support Russian as a second official language (even though they have sworn to defend Latvian as the only language) then there is a serious legal question if they deserve to serve for the country against whose fundamental values they are standing for.

Fourthly, the status of the Russian language is not only a Latvian concern. There are plans by Mrs Tatyana Zdanoka, pro-Russian MEP from Latvia, to launch a proposal that would give the Russian language a legal status in the EU institutions. Had the referendum in Latvia approved Russian as a second official state language, it would have been much easier to push Mrs Zdanoka’s idea through the European bureaucracy. If the EU doesn’t want this to happen,it should acknowledge that with this referendum Latvia  has done a great service to the EU.

Fifthly, 18th February 2012 for many meant a call of duty to defend the Latvian language with the same importance as those cold January days in 1991, when the Latvians stood up for their freedom. This referendum surely showed that in a critical situation Latvian people can be as united as ever. Although the government has made many mistakes during the past two decades, when it comes to the people to decide, they will do the right thing.

And sixthly, this referendum has finally turned the page of period that had been ongoing for more than two decades with discussions and debates about the status of ethnic minorities in Latvia. There were almost no doubts about failure of this referendum but it was important to have an overwhelming majority saying NO to this project, which would leave little space for political speculation and possible provocations in future and give a strong message that there is only one option available to ethnic minorities: a full integration.

Show 1 footnote

  1. Vladimir Linderman is a former leader of the Latvian branch National Bolshevik Party, now leader of the society “Native Language”.

A story of a renewal gone terribly wrong

NoteAron A. Nemeth wrote an interesting article on the developments in Hungary a month ago (Troubles with Viktor: Latest developments in Hungary). Writing from a different perspective (he is a native Hungarian), I do feel that there is a lot of reason to worry about the state of democracy in Hungary and after recent changes made to the electoral rules (electoral districts were changed to give Fidesz a bigger advantage) and the curbing of the freedom of speech (such as banning newsportal from reporting from inside the parliament), Hungary is heading down the path of authoritarian countries, leaving the circle of democracies in Europe.


It is a twist of history, the most cruel one imaginable maybe, that a former Communist dissident would turn a democratically ruled country into an authoritarian regime. It is even more ironic if such a regime change should happen within the borders of the biggest democracy promoter in the world.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening right now in Hungary, one of the countries that joined the European Union in 2004. The person in question is the country’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, the man who let Hungary into NATO and promised fundamental changes and a clear break with the past in Hungary.

Since Orbán’s Fidesz party has won the majority of the votes in the 2010 election and ousted the disgraced Socialist government under Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai, who had replaced Ferenc Gyurcsany after the “lies-gate” in 2009, Hungary has undergone a radical change. The party that ran a virtually non-existent campaign by simply distancing itself from the Socialists, has since last April changed the Constitution of the country, declaring the country to be simply “Hungary “instead of the “Republic of Hungary”. It has curbed the authority of the Constitutional Court and removed its competence to rule in questions related to the state budget. It has also adjusted the constituency borders to give itself an electoral advantage over other parties in future elections. Fidesz has nationalised the pension fund and imposed a new media council, staffed with Fidesz cronies, to supervise media outlets. Currently, close to 80% of all media is considered to be Fidesz friendly. Critical outlets, however, such as the popular Hungarian newsportal have been banned from reporting from inside the parliament building after a satirical take on the government at the end of the year. Last but not least, the government recently decided to impose its authority over the National Bank, thus effectively removing the independent financial supervision in the country. Orbán plans to merge the National Bank with the Financial Regulatory Authority and would thus give the government direct control over the institution.

Hungary on Russia’s path

All this sounds strangely familiar, though recollections of such incidents happening in a democratic country are rare and do not come to mind. It is a very different case when one thinks about the beginning of various authoritarian regimes, and ironically the example of Russia easily comes to mind. Under the presidency of Vladimir Putin (2000-2008), Russia’s government centralised power over all major political bodies, such as the Duma (parliament) which nowadays can hardly be considered to control the government, or the Constitutional Court, which has repeatedly ruled in favour of the government and has been called corrupt and incapable by some of its own judges (see here in Spanish and here in English, and in a very disturbing book by the late Anna Politkovskaya).The media are controlled by the Kremlin and major companies have been brought back under control, often without the consent of their owners. Powerful oligarchs, such as Berezovsky or Chodorkowski ended up in exile or jail, their companies – oil companies Sibneft and Jukos and media outlet ORT, were either nationalised or dismantled and sold off.

The European Commission has repeatedly criticised Russia for its lack of democratic rule and the violation of human rights. When Dmitry Medvedev was elected third President of the Russian Federation, European leaders were hoping that reforms would turn the country into a more democratic country. However, Medvedev has failed to transform the Russian political system. A democratic Russia seems to remains a vision for the distant future.

Back in Hungary

Support for the government has been falling rapidly recently. Only 16 per cent of Hungarians still back the government. More than 80 per cent think the country is heading in the wrong direction. The national currency has been losing around 15 per cent of its value in the past few months. For the second time in a decade the country needs international help to solve its financial problems, provided by the IMF and the EU. However, the situation differs from 2008, insofar that the country’s financial institutions are considered to be no longer independent. The IMF and the EU have announced they would not continue negotiations about a new loan if the government does not loosen its power grab on the National Bank. Hungary might need around 20bn euros, which strengthens the position of the EU and the IMF to force the government to give up its authoritarian campaign.

Even though it seems unlikely that Orbán will admit that the EU still holds certain power over the country’s politics, the government does not find itself in a good position. It has been milking the population with new taxes, international companies are considering moving their assets abroad and the population lost its faith in Fidesz. The country’s credit rating was downgraded by all major rating agencies to “junk” status.

In this situation the country will eventually need help from its European partners. This position of weakness should be exploited by the EU to ensure Hungary returns to the path of democracy. A total overhaul of the changes is not possible but at least the government’s attempts to bring under control the National Bank could be reversed.

This would be a first corrective step. Hopefully it will be the first of many. It would be good for Hungary and the EU. Only a functional system of checks and balances (and this also includes non-classic actors such as the Hungarian National Bank) will ensure democratic rule, a prerequisite for membership in the EU. In the long run Hungary will need the support of its European partners even more to succeed in the international system. The EU, too, could benefit from Hungary, its skilled labour force, its inventors and entrepreneurs

Troubles with Viktor: Latest developments in Hungary

Viktor Orban with the Hungarian flag on the backgroundOnce a genuine liberal democrat, Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban is slowly tightening his party’s grip on the Parliament and with it on his native country as a whole. However, Hungarians are a persistent bunch and they proved to the world many times that in the long run, it is them who hold the winning cards. This means that if Mr Orban and his Fidesz party will continue to neglect the rules of democracy they will loose badly, very badly.

One of my earliest pieces on this webzine was about the horrible state of social democracy. Back then I argued that without reinventing itself, this political family and related parties will sooner or later disappear as they do not have answers to present day problems. However, I noted as well that right-wing parties and their leaders are also ponderous when it comes to current affairs. So the only thing that they have at the moment is that they have not screwed up like their fellow left-wing contempories. From the UK Labour Party to Spain’s PSOE and Hungary’s MSZP most of Europes socialists had fallen from government benches into opposition, paving the way for the conservatives.

Exactly the same happened here in Hungary. The socialist government of Peter Medgyessy (2002-2004) and later that of Ferenc Gyurcsany (2004-2009) destroyed everything that the country had achieved after the peaceful regime change of 1989. Between 2002-2009 Hungary was one of the first EU member states that applied for EU / IMF emergency funding (to avoid a financial collapse), its public debt was sky high, public spending rocketed up and bigger and bigger corruption cases unfolded each month. Due to this, the country finally raced down to the bottom when compared to its regional neighbours. Of course, after this it was not a huge surpise that center-right Fidesz with its leader Viktor Orban was elected to form a new government with an exceptional two-thirds majority which allowed it to change everything it wanted from the constitution to street names.

A bus that was missed

Needless to say that the left-liberal intelligentsia (politicians included) was worried from day one that Fidesz will create a nationalistic, anti-EU, anti-western fortress on the debris they too were responsible for. Without going into too much detail, no one can argue that well known and respected Hungarians (sympathethic to the left) had ever written lengthy articles in local or foreign newspapers complaining about the state of Hungarian democracy under socialist rule. So it is a bit shameful, to say the least, that now most of them are urging their right-leaning counterparts to do so. Mind you, the problem is not that they are asking them to act, the problem is that in the light of the last ten years they have absolutely no moral ground to do so. If they had pointed out the problems of the previous government, that would have been a different story but they had not and with this, an important bus was missed in the life of Hungarian democracy. A case of a double standard, to put it simple.

Troubles with Viktor

I believe that the recent political developments in Hungary can be analysed from two, not so distinct viewpoints. The first and more simply view is that Mr Orban and his party is acting the way they are because of defiance and vigour. They think that with a 2/3 majority they can do whatever they like and they can punish their left-wing counterparts according to their own medicine of the past couple of years, sidelining arguments from the opposition, the EU, the IMF and European and American intellectuals. Orban & Co. already changed the constitution, created a new electoral law, curbed the latitude of the independent judiciary, set-up a new state agency which oversees the entire media, it approved the financial stability act (e.g. enshrining the flat tax into the constitution) and promoted many party apparatchiks into high offices in public companies and institutions, all in t he government’s favour. Can they really do this? Yes, they can. Today, Fidesz is the single most important party in the country with an outstanding electoral mandate that was won in a peaceful and legal election. Is this morally or democratically right? Not if you ask me as a new government should be respectful to its opposition, especially with a mandate like this, because luck will not always be on Fidesz’s side.

Apart from the sole use of political force, the other and more significant viewpoint that I find interesting in Hungary’s and Fidesz’s case is the personality and character change of Viktor Orban. Back in 1989, he was a young liberal democrat who wanted to change everything that was bad in the system. He was eager to support democracy, he was fond of western ideas (e.g. like free media) and political behaviour, and he despised corruption, nepotism and state controlled public institutions. However, 20 years after the fall of socialism the former hero of young Hungarians resembles more an ailing and tired socialist from the 1980s than a true democrat. So the biggest problem with Mr Orban in my eyes is not – according to the left-leaning journalists – that he is destroying the institutions and laws of ’89 but the fact that he once fought for the creation of all this.

Nomen est Omen

To sum up all that was said, it is reasonable to say that Hungarian democracy is not in its best shape; to tell you the truth, I personally think that it never has been, but none of the western democracies are perfect either. Nevertheless, those who argue or think that Hungary is heading towards some kind of a dictatorship are wrong. Firstly, because important democratic values still exist, like freedom of speech or the right to vote. Of course, in the long run Fidesz could abolish these as well, but at the moment everybody is able to vote for whoever he / she supports and everybody can write / say anything without a lengthy jail sentence or a brutal police raid. Secondly, Fidesz was elected in a clean election so it is also possible to unseat them democratically in the next elections. And thirdly, the West (e.g. EU, IMF, US) will always be able to lead Fidesz back on the right track because Hungary is in short supply of friends and even more so: of money.

The only concern that I have, as a young Hungarian, is that the time is fast approaching when both left- and right-wing parties will be unelectable from most of the Hungarian electorate’s perspective and that will be the real problem for this particular Central European country.