Staunton, January 10 – Martin Schulz, speaker of the European Parliament, tells the Frankfurter Allgemeine that what is taking place in Poland under its new government is “administered democracy a la Putin” and thus represents “the dangerous Putinization of European politics” (faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/europa/martin-schulz-greift-polnische-politik-an-14005694.html).
Schulz himself and most of his readers will view his comments as being only about Poland and only about the new law that Warsaw has approved that imposes serious restrictions on the electronic media, a law that in the speaker’s words “contradicts fundamental European values.”
That is certainly the case, but it is a mistake to fail to see that “the dangerous Putinization” of politics outside of Russia extends far beyond Poland, far beyond the right-wing parties the Kremlin leader has cultivated and attracted to his side, and far beyond the European Union as far as that goes.
Whether he intended it or not – and probably he didn’t – Schulz has called attention to a desire among many people around the world for the appearance of a strong man who can solve all their problems or at least give the appearance of doing do, someone valued more for his or her “authenticity” than for the policies he or she favors.
One of the greatest problems in any conflict is the danger that those who oppose an authoritarian or totalitarian system will fall into the trap of becoming ever more like their opponents, sacrificing their longstanding basic principles in the name of combatting the present danger.
That was widely recognized during the struggle against the fascists in World War II and against communism during the Cold War. But it has been forgotten or at least obscured as the problems of many countries mount and seem beyond the capacity of existing regimes to deal with them, especially in an age of mass media manipulation.
The current Polish government and its unfortunate media law merit the strongest condemnation, but its actions and this law should become the occasion for recognizing the ways that “the Putinization of politics” is spreading not only there but in Europe, the United States, and many other parts of the world.
Combatting that spread is essential in every single country where it is occurring. Otherwise, the Kremlin dictator will have won a bigger and completely undeserved victory by making his opponents more like him -- even if as one can only hope at the start of a new year, he will be forced from the scene in Moscow.