The Croatian population (only 20% with a low voter turnout) just voted against same sex marriages and manifests the marriage of man and woman as single possibility. The initiative was driven by the Catholic church and national political parties against a planned pro homosexual law. With the referendum, this status quo is written in the constitution and no law can change that. This is another success of extreme conservative groups in Eastern Europe. Although the social-democratic government sees a violation against human rights, they are powerless against populist politicians. How it can happen that an ultra-conservative minority can change the constitution is another discussion. This referendum is on step further in an alarming development.
Nationalists already announced a second poll, this time to forbid the Cyrillic alphabet and language of the Serbian minority. This all happens in a country of the European Union, a union of values, as they like to emphasize. Croatia follows the trend of Hungary, where right winged policy of social exclusion is on the rise.
Since the election of premier Victor Orbán, Hungary systematically undermines Democracy and human rights. The supreme court gets less power and laws against minorities are made. There are forbidden areas for homeless people and same sex marriages are not in discussion. A general anti-EU and nationalist policy is on the rise. Also in the Czech Republic, the president is too strong and undermines Democracy in a chaotic phase, where many parties hinder themselves in order to create a stable political system.
Extremist tendencies are a problem in every country. But at the moment especially in Eastern Europe, the soils to grow authoritarian regimes, are very fruitful. Disappointed by the new Democracies after 1990, where the transformation phase was used by local oligarchs to create concentrated private property – with the friendly help of Western investors. People suffer from bad economic situations and the discrepancy between rich and poor grows. Unemployment, corrupt systems and weak perspectives, especially for the young, are perfect premises for extremist positions. Seeking for the guilty in minorities is an ancient motive to bring people together and gain power.
A study from 2007, published in the Journal of Democracy, describes the East-Central European public as the most democracy-skeptic region in the world. We talk about EU members who signed common criteria, which contain the protection of human rights, free speech and democracy. Those values are now violated by members.
What to do? First option would be to simply exclude countries that don’t stick to the rules. Although the EU is a community of values, it is foremost an economic alliance. No one has interest in cutting it’s own new markets, especially not the big players like Germany and France. And once you exclude those members, the EU has no means to demand compliance to the common values. This is what should happen much more boldly.
The EU as powerful organization has a huge chance to call its members to order but I don’t see somebody acting – beyond reproving speeches. Most of the newer EU countries are dependent on common financial help. This is an effective means of pressure. Why not work with sanctions? Sure, it is difficult to define what to sanction and to find concrete violations. Nevertheless, EU officials and with them leaders of Germany, France and Great Britain need to point at those problems and act. Currently, we see that the EU is not really prepared for this case and if the big players criticize others, the questioning of their own business is not far. Resist the beginnings!