As the populist leaders face sinking poll numbers and the nearby war in Ukraine, they turn to the tactics of racism and transphobia, which ultimately adds up to fascist tactics.
WARSAW — Soaring inflation, economic stagnation, pressure from Brussels and the blockade of European funds, war on the eastern front...
The autocratic governments of Viktor Orbán and Jaroslaw Kaczynski are facing a wave of adversity they have not faced before.
Their governed subjects are starting to get fed up, taking to the streets, blocking bridges (in Budapest), and chanting: "You will sit!". Poll ratings for Orbán's Fidesz party in Hungary and Kaczynski's PiS in Poland keep falling.
So the pair of autocrats are reaching for a tried-and-true method of distraction: inventing alleged "enemies of the nation" and pointing the blame at them.
Kaczynski has taken aim at transgender people to rouse the attention of the God-fearing masses — even if some voters from his party are forced to listen to the leader's stories with amazement and slight distaste.
Orbán, on the other hand, brought out an artillery of a heavier caliber. Last month, in his annual keynote speech he reached for arguments from the arsenal of 20th-century racism and — yes, let's not be afraid of the word — fascism.
He said that soon more than half the population of major Western cities would be from outside Europe and that the races should not be allowed to mix in Hungary. He suggested that inside Europe's open-border Schengen zone, at Hungary's borders, non-white foreigners should be turned away, even if they have the right to stay in the EU. Otherwise, he argues, the foreign element will occupy the Carpathian Valley, homeland of Hungarians.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the European Union leaders' summit
Racism or transphobia, or both?
Orbán chose his words carefully. He thought through his ideas and prepared his speech. This was, after all, his annual keynote address, which is always watched with great attention. It was here in 2014 that he gave his famous speech, in which he announced the construction of "illiberal democracy."
It now remains to be seen what will be the results of the tactics employed by these two well-practiced autocrats, who have taken cues from each other often the past. If I had to guess which of them will turn out to be more efficient, I would bet on Orbán. It seems that the racism he presents can mobilize and fuel public hysteria much more effectively than Kaczynski's absurd transphobia.
And that means that this time the Polish party leader, who after all has already spoken about the germs spread by immigrants, will be the one imitating his Hungarian counterpart.
So listen well to Viktor Orbán's racist theses, for in all probability it will be the leitmotif of the Law and Justice Party's 2023 campaign.
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