Central Europe—Political Mythology, Illiberal Democracy and the Russian invasion on Ukraine

By Piotr Kłodkowski

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is another example of the contemporary drama of Central and Eastern Europe. So is the heroic defense of the country and its relative isolation, which was pointed out by President Zelenski, perceived in Europe and America as a charismatic and courageous leader. The vast majority of EU countries and the United States supported Ukraine by accepting refugees or sending weapons, but did not decide to take direct military action, e.g. to block the airspace over Ukraine, which could save the lives of many civilians. Ukraine, which unlike other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, is not a NATO member, cannot count on military protection under the North Atlantic Alliance, which puts the entire state in a very hard existential situation vis-à-vis Putin’s aggressive and expansionist Russia. This is a geopolitical  situation that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe understand very well, although their reactions to the war in Ukraine were not identical; in fact, they were fundamentally different.

An illustration of men turning a statue on a spool drawing a circle around it.
Central Europe – Reinvesting the Past and Creating the Future

Their histories are largely those of the defeated, of the oppressed, of victims, and of outsiders who are struggling hard to preserve their own languages, traditions and cultures. Located between Germany and Russia, the nations of Central and Eastern Europe could always be invaded and their states forcefully captured, and they are fully aware of this grim reality. Milan Kundera points out in „The Tragedy of Central Europe” (A Kidnapped West): “…A French, a Russian, or an English man is not used to asking questions about the very survival of his nation. Their anthems speak only of grandeur and eternity. The Polish anthem, however, starts with the verse: “Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła” (‘Poland has not yet perished). . .’ We may add here that almost the same verse can be found in the Ukrainian anthem, “Shche nie vmerla Ukrayina…” (Ukraine has not died/perished yet) which, in the context of the bloody Russian invasion, has acquired a new, significantly updated interpretation.

Two democracy pamphlets on top of a map.
Central Europe – Liberal or Illiberal Democracy?

Central Europe and the Challenge of ”Illiberal Democracy”

The collapse of the communist system in 1989 and the disintegration of the USSR two years later turned out to be events that "renewed" the history of Central and Eastern Europe. Millions of people welcomed these events with great joy and enthusiasm, although a number of supporters of the old regimes remained very skeptical. For Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia (and soon Czechia and Slovakia), it was a bloodless revolution, which enabled the gradual reconstruction of the former system without resorting to political violence. Unfortunately, the economic and social transformation of the former communist countries was painful, especially for those who lost their jobs in the former state-owned companies, which were unable to compete effectively under the capitalist system, and who subsequently struggled with inadequate social benefits. Political efforts and social sacrifices were, however, rewarded. All four countries finally became NATO members and then were admitted into the European Union. Each of them has experienced an economic boom period since that time, with growth rates two to three times higher than in the formerly fifteen-member European Union. More than 30 years after the victory of liberal democracy over their former authoritarian regimes, however Central European countries (most notably Hungary and Poland) are falling one after the other into a new kind of authoritarianism: that of “illiberal democracies,” as this new socio-political phenomenon is often defined.

Roman Krakovsky [Les démocraties illibérales en Europe centrale, “Études” 2019/4] explains, …In most countries in the region, geopolitical insecurity has contributed to the weakening of the image of liberal democracy and capitalism. For some, such as Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán, Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian policies and anti-Western ideology serve as a model to follow. For others, the rise of the Russian threat is helping to tilt votes toward more authoritarian governments, capable of protecting the nation from external threats, as is the case in Poland with Jarosław Kaczyński. The “migrant crisis” of 2015–2016 has led to a radicalization of the opposition between the existing social order and the various groups that consider themselves marginalized by this order. It has quickly become the primary subject of political debate in Central Europe, giving an apparent unity to all this criticism.

Nevertheless, the term ‘illiberal democracy’ appears to be a contested concept (e.g. by Iwan Krastev). Since its public introduction in 2014 by Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán, leader of the Fidesz party, the term ‘illiberal democracy’ has become a benchmark in everyday European discourse and has been glorified by right-wing politicians as a positive model to be followed; and has become a political system to be fiercely opposed by others, mostly by liberal-minded citizens who are enthusiastic about EU values and the philosophy of strong European cooperation.  In his speech on 30 July 2014, Orbán maintained that:

[…] The new state that we are constructing in Hungary is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state. It does not reject the fundamental principles of liberalism such as freedom, and I could list a few more, but it does not make this ideology the central element of state organization, but instead includes a different, special, national approach. […]

This "national approach" can be interpreted in various ways, but in the case of Hungary it simply meant imposing an authoritarian structure on the entire state while publicly emphasizing the value of  ”national unity” and „priority of national interests,” then gradually weakening ties with the European Union while formally preserving the freedom of parliamentary elections. In fact, any parliamentary elections cannot be "free and fair" with almost complete control of the public and private media by the Fidesz party and Orbán's supporters. Another still important element of this "national approach" is the construction of a "national" narrative and the use of a "national political mythology," which resonates within the electorate.

Ágh Attila (Polish Political Science Yearbook 2016 | 45) suggests that there are three assumptions widely discussed in connection with Central Europe, especially with Hungary and Poland:

  1. There has been a decline of democracy in East-Central Europe (he defines the region as East-Central Europe – ECE);h the emergence of “velvet dictatorships”,
  2. “The velvet dictatorships” rely on the soft power of media and communication rather than on the hard power of state violence;
  3. The basic turning point is the transition from the former modernization narrative to a more traditional narrative of “reinventing the past” and “reconceptualizing modernity” through reference to a historically given collective national identity by launching a “politics of historical memory.”  These ”velvet dictatorships” have been using (and abusing) national history as „an ideological drug” to consolidate their power.

He also highlights the phenomenon of the existence of two parallel and often contradictory narratives. This, of course, is not unique to Central Europe, but history is still extremely important in this region in politics and in the interpretation of the surrounding reality.

There has always been a clash of the two main narratives: the modernization narrative (“look at Paris” – a famous, often repeated slogan referring to the French Revolution) and the traditionalization narrative (the “Glorious Past that Never Was,” remembering the Golden Age of national history).

A similar "national approach" is accepted by the PiS party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, Law and Justice Party) in Poland, ruling since 2015, for which (prior to 2022, i.e. before the Russian invasion of Ukraine) Fidesz (and Orban personally) was an ally whose socio-political visions should be emulated, probably with some local modifications. The imposition of a single "national narrative" using the rich resources of political mythology is also one of the goals of the ruling party. The cultural and religious uniqueness of Poland and the intention to "rise from its knees" were emphasized, which should be understood as loosening ideological and political ties with the European Union (especially Germany), and even rejecting some fundamental European principles, such as the independence of the judiciary.

However, the situation in Poland was different: private media, unlike in Hungary, continued to hold a strong position in the local market (but state media have become the government's de facto propaganda mouthpiece), local authority in large cities was still controlled by the opposition parties or independents, and the PiS party does not have as much support in the electorate as Fidesz in Hungary. It is worth adding that the opposition parties collectively enjoy equal or greater support among the electorate, but the d'Hondt electoral system rewards a single strong party (or coalitions) in parliament, and this is very beneficial for PiS. It would be almost impossible to unite the entire opposition, as the electorate itself is strongly divided along ideological and political lines. Many critics of the "illiberal democracy" concept may collectively condemn the current government, but they would not necessarily agree on one positive agenda. This applies to economic issues, their opinions about abortion and the role of the Catholic Church in the state, the definition of "tolerance" (especially towards sexual minorities) or the problem of immigration from outside Europe. It is a paradox that excessive pluralism of socio-political/ideological views (which is a normal phenomenon in many EU countries) may become an obstacle in building a coherent social movement against parties with an authoritarian or semi-authoritarian ideology. The problem of "illiberal democracy" is naturally a big challenge for Central European countries, but they are not some exclusive exception here. It must be emphasized that many researchers (and politicians) assume that illiberal tendencies are very similar across Central Europe and that the countries of this region will „cooperate” in destabilizing the European Union. In other words, it is mainly the countries of Central Europe that are responsible for promoting this form of "distorted" democracy across the continent. This thesis, however, is only partially justified. Elements of xenophobia, aversion to the European Union and glorification of cultural nativism are, after all, strongly present in the message of Marine Le Pen, for whom more than 40% of the electorate in France voted in the presidential election in 2022. France is certainly not located in Central Europe and certainly has its own unique history, which, however, did not prevent the spread of similar extreme political slogans. In other words: it would be very hard to deny that the ideology of "illiberal democracy" is strongly present in Poland and Hungary, but it is a phenomenon of a much wider range that affects many EU countries, including France, Italy and Spain (not to mention the non-EU states: the UK and the United States). There are, of course, significant cultural and institutional differences; the so-called old EU member-states have stronger and more effective state institutions (e.g. judiciary) that are able to contain semi-authoritarian tendencies, but with increasingly significant shifts in political/ideological views of their national electorates, these institutional safeguards may be weakened, especially in the context of the deteriorating international situation in Europe, mainly due to the expansionist and revisionist policy of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Political mythology and “historical narratives”

Any authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regime needs social legitimacy to exercise power over the long term (social transfers to poorer sections of society are important, but rather short-lived). On the other hand, constructing an appropriate political and ideological narrative that would be acceptable to a large group of voters enables building a faithful, "iron" electorate, thanks to which a party or person predetermined for the role of a leader is able to develop and strengthen their "political impact." So, what are “political mythology” and “historical narratives” about? Jeremy F. G. Moulton explains,

[…] Political myths are narratives that become central to a polity’s, or other political authority’s, raison d’être. They are used both by those in political authority and the wider population in order to legitimate that political authority. A political myth is a story that must be widely accepted as true, though its veracity is not the central issue. In fact, the truth behind a myth may well be questionable. What matters is the dominant belief and acceptance of the story. [Political Myths and How to Study Them, “Crossroads Europe”, 18 May 2016]

Wendy Doniger presents it in another way, emphasizing the universal connection between real events and the human reactions that they trigger: […] Real events and sentiments produce symbols, symbols produce real events and sentiments, and real and symbolic levels contribute to making history. [On Hinduism, New Delhi 2013]

Shashi Tharoor, the former Indian Minister of State for External Affairs, responsible for public diplomacy, perceives the problem in his own way. His words may seem inaccurate, especially after the Russian invasion on Ukraine, because military power will always have political significance, but what we consider "soft power" will certainly play an extremely important role not only in the world of international relations but in domestic policies as well. The great political and diplomatic narrative by the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenski during the war in 2022, is the best example of this. Shashi Tharoor concludes:

[…] That is something we have to seriously think through because there is no question that in today’s world it’s not the country with the larger army but the country with the better story that will prevail, and we have to be able to tell the better story. [Pax Indica, New Delhi 2013]

Central European countries have been well-known for their constructions of „patriotic” versus ”hostile” narratives and political myths of nation-state building. These are popular stories of a never-ending struggle to preserve their own national identity and their own state. It is a constant fight against oppressive foreign powers, most often against Russia (later the USSR, and then Russia again) and Germany (until 1989 communist propaganda designated Germany as the eternal enemy of Central European states, and that worked quite successfully even after the fall of communism).

Narratives about the "betrayal of the West," to which the countries of Central Europe aspired, are also not uncommon. This "myth of betrayal" was often meant to justify an internal (and sometimes foreign) policy shaped and developed in an authoritarian fashion. For Czechoslovakia, this "betrayal of the West" is of course the Munich conference in 1938, when Great Britain, France (and Italy – an ally of Hitler) de facto renounced the defense of the Czechs against Nazi Germany, which soon took over the entire country. For Hungarians it is the Treaty of Trianon signed in 1920, as a result of which they lost over 70% of their territory, i.e. of the Kingdom of Hungary which formed one part of the dual Austro-Hungarian Empire, and two-thirds of the pre-war population (it should be added, however, that this territory was mainly composed of non-Hungarian minorities with their own national aspirations). The chief authors of the Treaty of Trianon were French diplomats, but the participation of Great Britain and Italy, i.e. the victorious powers of World War I, was also important. For Poland, the "betrayal of the West" was primarily September 1939, when – during the German invasion –  Great Britain and France formally declared war on Hitler, but refrained from any military action, which finally contributed to the defeat of the Poles. For the whole of Central Europe, another example of the myth of "betrayal of the West" was the Yalta conference in 1945, when, according to the common interpretation, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave way to Stalin's demands and agreed to Soviet domination in Central Europe (in fact, the Yalta Conference confirmed earlier decisions already accepted in Tehran in 1943). A secondary problem for later interpreters of history was whether the Americans and the British would have been able to stop the Red Army militarily at all, which was already occupying Central Europe, without risking another war with a former ally. It should come as no surprise that considering the consequences of Realpolitik will become less relevant when confronted with the power of political myth. The reference to another mythological "Yalta" in the political message, especially in Poland, means the possibility of a compromise in favor of Russia, and as a result the loss of sovereignty or its limitation.

Political narratives about "betrayal" are useful in domestic politics, especially in situations of political conflicts with Western European countries, e.g. over the rule of law and over acceptance of the fundamental principles of the European Union. They arouse pessimism and distrust among the electorate towards the real intentions of European partners and may encourage the acceptance of a strong "national approach," and thus a strong national leader who represents the interests of "ordinary people."  The "Trianon" syndrome is often referred to by Victor Orbán, which allows him, inter alia, to justify his strongly pro-Russian stance. In Poland the myth of the "second Yalta" is still being used, but its appeal now seems to be less convincing than before. Nevertheless, it is in some way still part of Milan Kundera's concept of the "Tragedy of Central Europe."

The myth of "betrayal" is logically related to the myth of "the enemy;" they are like two sides of one coin, because an act of "betrayal" applies to an ally/partner we trusted and who betrayed us, not to an enemy who should not be trusted in principle.

The expansionist policy of Russia, and then the USSR, was an existentially dramatic experience for Central Europe, but above all for Poland, which lost 82% of its former territory to Russia in the 18th century. The bloody suppression of all resistance to Moscow's domination in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries contributed to the creation of Polish narratives about the Russian empire. These narratives in this part of Europe must differ significantly from each other, as Hungarians, Czechs and Slovaks experienced Russian / Soviet domination painfully only after the imposition of communist regimes and subsequent Soviet invasions to restore them in Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968. For Poles, on the other hand, Russia has been an existential threat for hundreds of years. This is what Andrzej Chwalba, a Polish historian, says about it:

Polish political thought was dominated by reflection on how to harm Russia, how to break up the [Russian] Empire. Prominent romantic artists built an image of Russia as our greatest enemy. Well, not only the enemy of Poland, but the enemy of all mankind. It was Russia - an oppressor of freedom, an empire of evil, a prison of nations. These romantic artists imprinted this image in Polish DNA. According to this vision, the revolt against Russia became not only a patriotic but also a moral duty.

This imperial approach resulted from the philosophy of building the Russian State and from the possibility of its gigantic development, which posed a serious threat to its closest neighbors. President Vladimir Putin is not an exceptional figure in this situation, his ideology and ambitions are simply parts of the Russian DNA. Andrzej Chwalba explains:

Let us remember what we said about the character of the Moscow State, using both Byzantine and Tatar models. A strong ruler is always responsible for its expansion. The Moscow State must pursue an aggressive policy, because, by definition, it must always expand. Therefore, from the 15th century to 1917, the area of the Russian Empire increased thirty-six times. Negotiating, establishing, bringing positions closer together, slowly growing together of state organisms - this is not in the Russian DNA. [Polska – Rosja, historia obsesji, obsesja historii; Poland - Russia. A history of obsession, an obsession of history, Kraków 2021]

It should be made clear that the question of a "historical narrative" (which is based on a chosen political myth) is dependent on geography and changing national borders. Unlike Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Poland directly borders with Russia (the Kaliningrad exclave), which naturally has a direct impact on the perception of the threat posed by Putin’s policy.

Central Europe and the narrative about contemporary Ukraine -  an attempt to redefine the political reality after the Russian invasion

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has contributed to the revival of traditional historical narratives which, on the one hand, strengthen and update existing convictions and ideologies, and on the other hand, serve to justify certain political decisions.  It also contributed to the revision of the current political line towards the ideological European allies, as in the case of the ruling PiS (which has always emphasized the fact that Putin's Russia is threatening Europe, unlike, for example, its former ideological partner, Marine Le Pen and her followers, who were interested in a strong cooperation with Moscow), or tightened the pro-Russian position, as in the case of Orbán's party. Most importantly, however, it is a powerful strengthening of Ukrainian identity, which since the discovery of mass murders of civilians committed by Russian soldiers in Bucha near Kiev and Mariupol, will be deeply rooted in the well-documented narrative of a national "bloody sacrifice." It constitutes an extremely painful but also a powerful moral and political foundation for the construction of modern Ukraine.

It should be clarified that Western Ukraine until the 18th century was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, then belonged to the Habsburg Empire (from 1867 the Austro-Hungarian Empire), and after World War I it was included in the territory of the Second Polish Republic. Only after World War II was it annexed by the USSR. According to the Ukrainian historian Yaroslav Hrytsak, the political culture and organization of political life in Western Ukraine were very different from the ones in ethnic Russia or eastern Ukraine, which was part of the Russian Empire. (Essays in Ukrainian History: Making of Modern Ukrainian Nation (Kyiv, 1996, in Ukrainian) (Polish translation: Historia Ukrainy 1772-1999. Narodziny nowoczesnego narodu)

In other words: Western Ukraine was culturally and politically part of Central Europe, and not of what Putin (and many of his predecessors and followers) defines as "russki mir" [“the Russian world or “the Russian order”].  Western Ukrainians in the past could enjoy relative cultural autonomy, they could foster their own traditions quite freely, act in civic organizations, and finally represent their community in parliament(s). The period of Soviet domination meant a significant reduction in the cultural and linguistic aspirations of Ukrainians, but after the proclamation of Ukraine's independence in 1991, the process of national self-determination gained momentum. Both the "Orange Revolution" (2004-2005) and Euromaidan / Maidan Uprising (2013-2014) contributed to the formation of a "political nation", aware of its civil rights and demanding a clear system of democratic governance. Pro-European aspirations were very clearly declared. Ukraine, as a multi-ethnic and multicultural (and in reality bilingual) country - in contrast to the rather ethnically homogeneous Poland and Hungary - cannot rely on the concept of an "ethnic nation," it must necessarily build a "civic nation" with which both Ukrainians and local Russians (or better said now: Russian-speaking Ukrainians), Tatars, Moldovans, Jews and Armenians will be able to identify themselves easily. An excellent example is President Volodymyr Zelenski himself, a native speaker of Russian born to Jewish parents, who has become a symbol of modern Ukraine. Currently, he delivers his speeches only in Ukrainian (except for those addressed to Russians, which are obviously in the Russian language).

The political myth of imperial and expansionist Russia, which poses an existential threat to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, is gradually becoming the most important element of social and political life in Ukraine; at present also for those who previously openly expressed pro-Russian sentiments and harbored pro-Soviet nostalgia, especially in the eastern part of the country. This is where Ukraine meets Poland (as well as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia), because for them the "Russian factor" and the narratives about the Russian threat constituted an essential part of their national self-awareness. Despite difficult bilateral relations in the past, an independent Ukraine will be one of the solid guarantees of Poland's own independence, in line with the postulate of Jerzy Giedroyć (d.2000), a Polish émigré politician and the editor of the highly influential Paris-based periodical, "Kultura," who claimed that without independent and sovereign Ukraine and Belarus, Poland's sovereignty will always be seriously threatened by Russia.

Therefore, the strategic and very close cooperation of the two countries should in the future become the foundation of political stability in the Central and Eastern part of Europe.

A map of Europe with central Europe highlighted in green.
Central Europe – Between the West and the East

The problem of illiberal democracy in Central Europe in the context of the Russian invasion on Ukraine. The political role of the United States

The war in Ukraine obviously has had a big impact on the policies of many EU member States. In Central Europe, not all countries have maintained a common stance vis-á-vis  Russian aggression, which may result in the Visegrad Group becoming defunct and in a serious limitation of political bilateral cooperation.

The Czech Republic strongly condemned the Russian invasion and made strategic decisions to help Ukraine. Petr Fiala's government, formed in January 2022, was one of the first in the EU and NATO to provide military support to Ukraine and to close its airspace for Russian planes. Actions sanctioning Russia were favored by a broad political alliance, which was also joined by the formerly pro-Russian president Miloš Zeman. The Czechs have opened their borders to Ukrainian refugees and are ready to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons in the future.

Slovakia is a more complex example of a country experiencing a political transformation. It was historically one of the most pro-Russian countries in Europe. Many surveys from recent years showed rising support for Russian policies or for President Vladimir Putin personally. Everything changed after February 24. More than 77% of Slovaks now consider Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to be an act of aggression. Recent surveys show that half of the population would agree to station NATO troops in the country, and 61% of people think NATO membership is a good thing for Slovakia. This is a substantial shift of opinions towards NATO compared to surveys predating the Russian aggression in Ukraine. (War in Ukraine shifting opinions of Slovaks towards NATO, Euractiv.sk). President Čaputová strongly criticized the Russian disinformation campaign and encouraged Slovaks to welcome Ukrainian refugees.

Unlike Poland and Hungary, Czechia and Slovakia were not considered "illiberal democracies," although populist and nationalist movements enjoyed considerable support there. Russian aggression against Ukraine may largely reduce pro-Russian sentiments, especially in Slovakia, and will probably contribute to strengthening pro-EU and pro-NATO tendencies. Both Central European countries are defined as relatively wealthy, and the GDP per capita of the Czech Republic is already higher than that of Spain. What distinguishes them from other EU member States of Western Europe is a great reluctance to accept any immigration from outside Europe, especially from the Middle East, and they share this reluctance with Hungary and Poland.

Meanwhile, Hungary is considered a model state of "illiberal democracy," and the Russian invasion of Ukraine has further strengthened this tendency. Victor Orbán, as the only leader in the European Union, strongly supported the aggressor, Vladimir Putin, and mocked the victim of aggression, Volodymyr Zelenski. The elections in 2022 turned out to be a landslide victory for Orbán's party, and the Hungarians probably believed that the prime minister would "save them from war" and ensure an adequate level of economic growth, also thanks to continued cooperation with Russia. One cannot rule out that Hungary will once again find itself "on the wrong side of history," as it was during the First and Second World Wars. And, who knows, maybe it will experience another "Trianon" syndrome again?

A very interesting interpretation of the social and cultural awareness of Hungarians is presented by András Sajó, former judge of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. After the elections in 2022, he claimed: The fate of the majority of Hungarians depends entirely on the authorities [i.e. central and local governments]. In cities and towns, it is the mayor representing the Fidesz party who finally decides about who has a job, who wins tenders and who will receive EU subsidies. It is very difficult to survive outside Orbán’s system. […] Many studies show that the identity of Catholic Hungary is very similar to that of Orthodox societies - we are like Bulgarians, Serbs, Greeks and Russians. Privately, we are not very religious, but we believe in ”political authority.” And this authority is Fidesz. (”Polityka” No 17, 2022)

The case of Poland is still different. All mainstream parties strongly condemned the Russian aggression, and the PiS government turned out to be one of Putin's strongest critics in Europe. Prime Minister Morawiecki and PiS chairman Kaczyński were the first in the EU to visit Kiev and meet with President Zelenski. President Duda met on-line with President Zelenski many times and called for strengthening relations with the United States and within the European Union. For PiS activists, close contacts with Orbán and Marine Le Pen, i.e. supporters of close cooperation with Putin's Russia, have become a serious liability. Not surprisingly, business as usual in the Visegrad Group is currently questionable. The war, however, did not change the domestic policies of PiS, which enjoys similar support among the electorate as before the invasion. The direction toward ”illiberal democracy” is unlikely to be changed or seriously modified. Fortunately, Poland's position towards Putin's policy, which it considers dangerous for the whole of Europe, as well as the policy of building a strong alliance with the United States, will not change either. For obvious reasons, these elements of foreign policy are shared by all mainstream democratic parties, which have at the same time opposed any idea of "illiberal democracy." Instead of "Budapest in Warsaw", formerly promoted by PiS, they propose "Paris in Warsaw," after Emmanuel Macron's victory in the presidential election in 2022.

An important role will be played by the United States, which has a great influence on Poland's policy, regardless of the party in power. Without the US-Polish alliance within NATO, Poland's security and even its sovereignty will be at risk. America is for many Poles the embodiment of the myth of freedom and success. Hence, Ann Applebaum’s appeal is extremely relevant, which, although published before the Russian invasion on Ukraine, now sounds even stronger than in December 2021.

[…] If America removes the promotion of democracy from its foreign policy, if America ceases to interest itself in the fate of other democracies and democratic movements, then autocracies will quickly take our place as sources of influence, funding, and ideas. If Americans, together with our allies, fail to fight the habits and practices abroad, we will encounter them at home; indeed, they are already here. If Americans don’t help to hold murderous regimes to account, those regimes will retain their sense of impunity. They will continue to steal, blackmail, torture, and intimidate, inside their countries – and inside ours. [The Autocrats Are Winning, ”The Atlantic”, December 2021]

Dr. Piotr Kłodkowski was visiting professor in the Skalny Center in fall 2021. He is professor at the Centre for Comparative Studies of Civilizations, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland. He served as the Polish Ambassador to India from 2009-14.