Democratic process in Europe must be protected and respected. It cannot be allowed to be subject to attack from any source, nor can it spread to the entire continent if subverted in its core regions. Disturbingly, just such assaults have been recorded, with foreign elements interfering directly in Poland and Hungary, while also engaging in lobbying, public relations, and influence operations across Europe that target Warsaw and Budapest. These activities are designed to undermine democracy and subvert the Polish and Hungarian electorates – writes Jan Figel, former EU Commissioner and Special Envoy
From the information since recently broadly publicly available, Poland and Hungary are singled out due to the conservative and Catholic-traditionalist dispositions of their ruling parties, i.e., being on the political right. Outside influence acts to undercut Polish and Hungarian voters’ choice, while diminishing the variety of European democratic politics. A Europe that confines itself to a narrow range of acceptable political outcomes will lose its citizens. Worse, if Europe allows outsiders to agitate against, and launch influence operations undermining the legitimacy of the continent’s democratically elected leaders, this is a form of attack that will spread to affect the rest of Europe. Poland and Hungary are, today, the primary targets of this attack on democracy, but will not remain so – it may expand to elsewhere if nothing is done. As a neighbor and European citizen I must raise my voice of concern.
Methods of Attack
In Brussels, in elite media, and on the ground in Hungary and Poland, according several sources, foreign NGOs – notably the Open Society Foundation (OSF) and its offshoots as well as Amnesty International – push an agenda designed to vilify democratically-elected governments. Through funding think-tank research and lobbying activities, as well as paying journalists’ costs and providing them curated materials, OSF-linked entities orchestrate attacks on the governments of Victor Orbán and Mateusz Morawiecki. Reports of the wider NGO industrial complex engaging foreign embassies to apply pressure, relying on media slander, and lobbying the EU administration into conflict with Budapest and Warsaw is indicative of these attacks relying on outside power over the aspirations of the Hungarian and Polish peoples.
Democratically elected leaders are described in elite media as ‘undemocratic’ leaders, their governments authoritarian and corrupt, or accused of human-rights violations and singled out by European institutions, all unsurprising given that the influence activities are most effective among those who share the biases of OSF and similar actors. It is for this same reason that corrupt, undemocratic, and rights violations of leftist-leaning governments in Europe escape censure and a similar attacks – no one pays to cover them nor are like-minded elites predisposed to condemn their own.
The issue at its core is that non-European actors are using NGO cover for overt political activities, to fund biased media narratives, or lobby European institutions to act against Poland and Hungary, undermining the democratic process. Criticism of and opposition to any European leader or government is legitimate and welcome, however, the inorganic, top-down, foreign and even non-European funding of the campaign creates a situation where these attacks obscure the true popularity of Polish and Hungarian governments and their democratic credentials.
Protecting European Democracy
Permitting attacks on European democracy cannot depend on the political disposition of a government. Outside interference and destabilization efforts targeting a democratically elected government must be condemned in all cases and action taken to prevent the phenomenon from spreading. Poland and Hungary are both integral to the European project and having conservative leadership is not grounds for anti-democratic action against them. To protect European democracy, we must do so indiscriminately.
The votes of Hungarians and Poles, like all European citizens, must be allowed to affect policy and the direction of their countries. Foreign, even non-European and interested elements cannot fund against the democratic will or punish Europeans for choosing differing paths. Such a precedent will hurt wider Europe and boomerang against those turning a blind eye today. Today, in time of war in Ukraine, we must fairly stick together united in facing aggression and stay open in solidarity with an unprecedented wave of suffering people fleeing from the bloody conflict to the Central European countries.
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