Documentary - Europe's Illiberal Democrats, The [world Service]

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01Europe's Illiberal Democrats: Hungary20171114

Hungary is becoming an "illiberal democracy". Is that its right, or a slide to autocracy?

Hungary is becoming an “illiberal democracy”, in the words of its Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Is that the country’s democratic right, or the path to autocracy, asks Naomi Grimley.

Hungary’s media landscape has been changed, with most newspapers and broadcasters now indirectly controlled by people close to the ruling party. The leading opposition paper was shut down overnight. Following a new law, Budapest’s highly respected Central European University fears for its survival in Hungary, as it is “a free institution in a regime that is not sympathetic to free institutions,” says its rector. The government has changed the constitution, electoral law, and refused to take its EU-allocated quota of refugees, while warning of a “Muslim invasion”. The government spokesman insists that avoiding “mass immigration” is Hungary’s right, and that it is merely helping to protect Europe’s Christian culture and heritage: “we want to stay as we are, a Christian continent”.

The European parliament is so concerned about the perceived breaches of EU values that it has launched a procedure that could culminate in Hungary’s EU voting rights being withdrawn. Yet Hungary feels it is on the right path, a path that others should follow.

Producer: Arlene Gregorius

Photo: People protest in front of lines of the police officers at the parliament building at Budapest on April 4, 2017. Hungarian lawmakers approved legislation that could force the closure of a prestigious Budapest university founded by US billionaire investor George Soros, sparking fresh protests. The English-language Central European University (CEU), set up in 1991 after the fall of communism, has long been seen as a hostile bastion of liberalism by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government.

Credit: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

02Europe's Illiberal Democrats: Poland20171121

Is Poland sliding towards autocracy or just on a different, democratic path?

Is Poland sliding towards autocracy, or just on a different democratic path? The government has been accused of a “systemic threat to the rule of law” and of undermining other democratic values which it signed up to when it joined the European Union in 2004. Earlier this year thousands took to the streets to protest over government plans to reform the judiciary. Critics say the independence of the courts is under threat but the governing Law and Justice Party argues it is simply clearing out the old order, left over from Communist times.

Naomi Grimley talks to a pop star who says she was disinvited from a leading music festival after protesting against plans to make abortion completely illegal, including in cases of rape or incest. She visits a new museum about World War Two, which has provoked controversy. Its first director lost his job amid government criticism that the museum was “not Polish enough” and that it focused too much on the suffering of civilians, rather than of the military.
Those who support the Law and Justice Party point out it convincingly won the election and still rides high in opinion polls. They argue that the government has the democratic right to implement its programme of reforms. The economy keeps growing and new government measures, such as child benefit payments, have found favour with the public as they provide a genuine boost to families. But the EU still worries that Poland wants all the economic benefits of membership whilst it backslides on key democratic values. Or is the country simply embracing a new model of politics popular with voters?

(Photo: A gate at the Gdansk shipyard)

Producer: Arlene Gregorius