It was not only Budapest. The Hungarian capital switched sides for the opposition last Sunday, the 13th of October, but Viktor Orbán also lost in ten of the twenty-three largest towns in Hungary, while in the meantime the conservative Polish Law and Justice party, although largely won the lower house of Parliament, lost nothing less than the Senate.
It is not the meltdown of “the new right” of the Polish and the Hungarian right-wing parties, far from it, but the setbacks they have suffered are nevertheless spectacular, because these powers have been shaken, even though they exert total control over the audio-visual media, and their countries’ economies are in full growth.
The opposition and the civil society are much livelier, stronger and more determined in Warsaw than they are in Budapest. Poland is not Hungary, but as different as these countries may be, there are three main lessons to be learned from these parliamentary and municipal elections.
The first is that they confirmed an international phenomenon. Just as it happened in Russia and in Turkey in the last few weeks, Polish and Hungarian towns and young people have rejected and humiliated authoritarian, nationalist and reactionary powers, those that the countryside, the small towns and the older population continue to vote for. From Ankara to Warsaw, it is now the whole European continent that is divided into two different worlds: a rural one and an urban one, an old one and a young one, one voting for European unity, changes in morals, and the globalisation of the economy, the other one turning back towards traditional values, a nostalgia for the old times and a refusal of free trade.
Mr Putin, Mr Kaczyński, Mr Orbán and Mr Erdoğan are losing the new generations and the towns, the wealthy areas where business and creativity thrives, and this is the sign that their time is drawing to an end – slowly, for the moment, but maybe more quickly than one could now imagine.
The second lesson of the 13th of October is that the points that the Polish and Hungarian opposition scored were thanks to a common stand against authoritarianism. Centrist or left, the different Polish opposition forces resolved to rally behind one single senator candidate against the one of the government in every constituency. In Hungary, a united front stretching from the left to the newly re-centred extreme right won Budapest and these ten other towns to the opposition.
United, the anti-authoritarian forces are more decisive than the nationalisms. They constitute a virtual majority, and they can topple the PiS and the Fidesz, but what has been possible for the Polish Senate and for the Hungarian municipalities, is not, or not yet possible in the case of the elections which directly influence the exercise of power, because the autocracies’ oppositions do not have a common programme.
The left and the liberals – they are not the same thing. The extreme right, even if it moved to the centre, remains a deterrent for many people as soon as they begin to wave their own flags. The big convergence of democrats against nationalist authoritarianisms is still to be invented at the beginning of this century.
It is the third and least cheerful lesson of this Sunday, but Mr Putin, Mr Kaczyński, Mr Orbán and Mr Erdoğan appeared to be so very unmovable even yesterday, that today no one should hold back their feelings of satisfaction. The illiberals proved to be fragile. It is freedom’s turn to gain muscle and neurons.