. The Battle to Save Democracy | London Progressive Journal
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The Battle to Save Democracy

Fri 15th Mar 2013

In a recent article in the London Progressive Journal I highlighted an opinion poll in Andalucía that showed a majority of people in that region believed Spain to be the most corrupt nation in the EU.

Do I believe that Spain holds that title? No I don’t. There have been serious cases of political corruption but there are other more sinister abuses elsewhere. Having said that, the people of Spain live in a country in political and economic meltdown and it is all too easy to see how they reached that grim conclusion. I know: I live amongst them.

Far more worrying to me is the collapse in trust by the people of Andalucía in their monarch, government in Madrid and Sevilla, the main political parties, the institutions, justice and the financial sector. Only the army and state security service are held in high regard. Students of Spanish politics will know that Spain has been here before.

Last week I spent several days in Budapest at a conference organised by the Party of European Socialists (PES). When I visited Pierre Kanuty, who handles international relations for the Parti Socialiste in Paris at the end of January, he stressed just how important supporting the socialist MSZP in Hungary was by holding the meeting there.

This message was underscored by the PES president, Sergei Stanishev, who spoke at the rally for 10,000 MSZP supporters in Budapest on Saturday addressed by party leader Attila Mesterhazy, which I attended. Stanishev attacked the Fidesz leader and Hungarian Prime Minister, Victor Orban, for “not understanding democracy”. On Monday, Orban’s government passed major constitutional amendments that made his previously illegal legalisation legal. It is widely believed it will impact on the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights. Stanishev slammed Orban’s “assault on democracy” and urged a postponement of the decision. The President of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz and the Council of Europe General Secretary Thorbjorn Jagland had also called on Orban to back down and to refer the legislation to the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe for an opinion. No prizes for guessing that the Hungarian Premier ignored such calls. In Stanishev’s words: “Mr. Orban, like all populists does not have the interests of the people at heart and sees democracy as little more than an obstacle”.

However, a bigger shock came later on Saturday when Sergei Stanishev addressed the PES delegates. Stanishev is the former Bulgarian Prime Minister (2005 -2009) and is leader of the socialist BSP. On May 12 Bulgaria will hold a general election after the people of that country took to the streets and got rid of Byoko Borrisov, a right wing populist prime minister in the same mould as Hungary’s Orban.

Stanishev urged PES delegates to come to his country for May 12. However he did not want them to campaign for his BSP but to monitor the elections. He stated that other European politicians looked at him in disbelief when he told them there were no guarantees that Bulgaria’s elections would be fair and free. International observers and PES delegates were needed at the polling stations and the counts.

How could an EU nation such as Bulgaria rig the ballots and get away with it? In exactly the same way as Orban in Hungary rides roughshod over the constitution ignoring the European Parliament and Council of Europe.

It is clear that with the breakdown of trust in the institutions in Spain and the authoritarian governments in Hungary and Bulgaria, democracy in Europe is in grave danger.

In Budapest I was told of families who would not speak openly of their support of the MSZP because they feared for their jobs. Police wouldn’t call but a tax inspector certainly would. Women who were party activists found that jobs in the public services were barred to their children. People who spoke out against the Hungarian government or who were involved in union campaigns faced similar obstacles. The media too is under attack and Orban wants the one radio station that supports a liberal agenda closed down.

It is then you realise the true frailty of democracy and the urgent need for all of us to speak out to defend it in Spain, Hungary, Bulgaria - in other countries in the EU and the wider world.

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