LJUBLJANA, Slovenia – A right-wing populist wave in Eastern Europe, raised by the surprise victory of Donald trump in 2016, it has not crashed as a result of its defeat last November.
But it has hit a serious obstacle: its leaders they are not very popular.
After winning the election railing against some very unsavory elites, it turns out that the right-wing populists on the former communist eastern flank of Europe are not very well liked either.
This is due in large part to the unpopular coronavirus shutdowns and, like other leaders regardless of their political makeup, their stumbles in responding to the health crisis.
But they are also pressured by the growing tired of their divisive tactics.
Slavoj Zizek, a Slovenian philosopher, says it is too early to rule out the leaders of Slovenia, Hungary and Poland. Photo Manca Juvan for The New York Times
On Hungary, the first Minister Viktor Orban it faces an unusually united opposition.
On PolandThe deeply conservative government has taken a sharp turn to the left in its economic policy to regain support.
And in Slovenia, The hard-right ruling party of the Trump-loving prime minister is falling sharply in the polls.
The Slovenian leader, Janez jansa, who made international headlines by congratulating Trump on his “victory” in November and who calls himself the scourge of liberal elites, or what he calls communists, is perhaps the most at risk of the region’s unpopular populists.
Anti-government protesters at a recent rally made up of cyclists in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Photo Manca Juvan for The New York Times
Driven by nationalist promises to ban asylum seekers from the Middle East and “ensure the survival of the Slovenian nation,” Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party was the most voted in the 2018 elections.
Last year, a new party-led coalition government had an index of 65% approval.
Since then, this figure has been dleaded up to 26% and Jansa is so unpopular that her allies are jumping ship.
The street protests against him have drawn tens of thousands of people, a huge turnout in a normally placid Alpine nation with a population of just 2 million.
Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, left, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, in Kidricevo, Slovenia, last year. Photo Jure Makovec / Agence France-Presse – Getty Images
Jansa has staggered, narrowly surviving a vote of no confidence in parliament and a recent impeachment attempt by opposition lawmakers and defectors from her coalition.
But he’s been so weakened that he “has no power to do anything” other than curse enemies on Twitter, he said. Ziga Turk, Professor and Cabinet minister in a previous government led by Jansa, who left the ruling party in 2019.
An admirer of the Hungarian Orban, Jansa has tried to subordinate the media, as the nationalist governments of Hungary and Poland have largely succeeded, at least with television.
But the only television channel that consistently supports you, Nova24TV, a bombastic apparatus funded in part by Hungary, has so few viewers –less than 1% TV audience most days – not even on the audience charts.
Axis of evil
Slavoj Zizek, celebrated philosopher and self-declared “moderately conservative Marxist” – one of the few Slovenians known outside the country, along with Melania Trump- said it was too early to rule out leaders like Jansa, Orban and Jaroslaw Kaczynski Poland, whose three countries he described as a “new axis of evil”.
Nationalist populists, he said, have rarely won popularity contests.
His most important asset, he said, has been the defeat of his opponents, many of whom the philosopher sees as too focused on “excessive moralism” and on issues that do not interest the majority of voters instead of addressing economic concerns.
“The powerlessness of the left is terrifying”Zizek said.
That nationalist populism remains a force proves it Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French extreme right.
Her party fared poorly in regional elections over the weekend, but opinion polls indicate she could be a strong contender in France’s presidential election next year.
To do this, it has softened its image as an incendiary populist, leaving aside the racism and his earlier and unpopular opposition to the European Union and their common currency, the euro.
Having never held high office, Le Pen has also avoided pitfalls encountered by populists from Eastern and Central Europe who have led governments during the pandemic.
Hungary, the self-proclaimed European standard-bearer of “illiberal democracy” under Orban, has had the higher mortality rate per capita of the world because of COVID-19 after Peru.
Poland and Slovenia have fared better, but their right-wing ruling parties, Law and Justice and Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party, have faced public ire for their handling of the pandemic.
However, the greatest danger for leaders like Jansa and Orban are signs that their quarrelsome opponents are finally reaching an agreement.
In Hungary, a number of opposition parties, diverse and previously at odds, have come together to compete with Orban’s ruling party, the Fidesz, in next year’s elections.
If they stick together, according to polls, they could win.
In Slovenia, Jansa has gathered a loyal base of about 25% of the electorate, but has been “even more successful in mobilizing its many opponents,” said Luka Lisjak Gabrijelcic, a Slovenian historian and disenchanted former supporter.
“His base supports him, but a lot of people really hate him.”
Among them, the President of Parliament, Igor Zorcic, who has recently withdrawn from the Jansa coalition.
“I don’t want my country to follow the Hungarian model,” he said.
Gabrijelcic said he left Jansa’s party because “it has become too disgusting,” moving away from what he considered a healthy response to stale center-left orthodoxy to become a haven for paranoid and obnoxious nationalists.
Across the region, he added, “the whole wave has lost its momentum.”
Trump’s defeat has added to his unrest, along with the recent overthrow of the longtime Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, whose pugnacious tactics have long been admired by nationalist leaders in Europe, despite the anti-Semitism infecting part of its base.
The Trump era
The Trump presidency was never the trigger for the populist wave of Europe, whose leaders had been hanging around and winning votes for years before the New York real estate developer announced his candidacy.
But Trump did give like-minded politicians coverage and confidence in Europe, justifying their verbal excesses and placing their struggles in small, closed countries in what seemed like an irresistible global movement.
The danger now that Trump is gone, said Ivan Krastev, an expert on Eastern and Central Europe at the Vienna Institute for Human Sciences, is that the once “confident populism” leaders like Jansa and Orban to become a “apocalyptic populism “ most dangerous of the kind that has gripped segments of the right in America.
But America’s political upheavals, he added, are less relevant to Eastern Europe than Netanyahu’s fall in Israel, a country he described as the “true dream of European nationalists”: a “ethnic democracy“with a strong economy, a capable military and the ability to withstand outside pressure.
The “negative coalition against Netanyahu,” he said, deeply shocked Europe’s right-wing populist leaders “because Israel was their model.”
Turk, the former Slovenian minister, said that liberals had exaggerated the threat posed by Europe’s nationalist bent, but that the polarization is very real.
“The hatred is even more extreme than in the United States,” he lamented.
Eager to present a picture of serene respectability for the moody European antiliberal movement, Orban in April organized a meeting in Budapest of like-minded leaders committed to creating a “European renaissance based on Christian values”.
Only two people showed up: Matteo Salvini, a far-right star in Italy who crashed into the government in 2019, and Poland’s beleaguered prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki.
Intended to signal the strength of the right-wing populist insurgency in Europe, the Budapest conclave “was more of a desperate step to hide that they are in slope“said Peter Kreko, director of Political Capital, a Budapest research group.
Faced with the prospect of losing next year’s election, Orban has focused on reviving his bases with issues such as LGBTQ rights and migration, as did the Law and Justice party in Poland last year during its successful presidential election campaign.
In Poland, the Law and Justice party has taken a different tack, apparently deciding that it needs more than divisive cultural and historical issues to win future elections.
In May, he adopted measures traditionally associated with the left, such as raising taxes on the rich and reducing taxes on the less well-off, and supporting home buyers.
This came after their popularity ratings fell from around 55% last summer to just over 30% in May, partly because of the pandemic, but also because of anger, especially in big cities, at the tightening of strict laws cagainst abortion.
Yet when it comes to alienating voters, no one rivals the Slovenian Jansa, who has made little effort to reach beyond his most loyal supporters, labeling critics communists and stoking feuds dating back to World War II. World.
Damir Crncec, a former head of the Slovenian intelligence agency and once one of its supporters, was taken aback by Jansa’s penchant for unpopularity.
“Here everyone is looking for a reason for being: how can you win in politics if you constantly fight with everyone?” He asked.
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