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Viktor Orban and Jaroslaw  Kaczynski © Janek Skarzynski & Sean Gallup | Getty Images

The Lilli-Putins of the EU

Hungary and Poland, once beacons of hope for liberal democracy in post-communist Europe, now have leaders who are determined to emulate Russian President Vladimir Putin, hollowing out independent democratic institutions and suppressing citizens’ fundamental freedoms. The question is whether the EU will follow through with sanctions.

MOSCOW – One of the saddest ironies of this year’s commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union is that Hungary and Poland, always the most restless of the Soviet empire’s captured nations, are now led by men mimicking Russian President Vladimir Putin’s governing style. They, too, are hollowing out independent democratic institutions and suppressing citizens’ fundamental freedoms. As the old saying goes, we become what we hate.

After the fall of communism, Poland and Hungary declared that they were Eastern European countries no more. Instead, they were part of Central Europe – Europa Srodkowa, the Poles called it – or even of Western Europe, on par with Austria. Today, however, they are embracing Putin-style authoritarianism, to the point that the European Union may impose sanctions against them. Such reprimands are fully deserved.

Poland, now ostensibly led by President Andrzej Duda, is really controlled by former Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński, Chairman of the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party. Kaczyński is the twin brother of the late President Lech Kaczyński, who died in a plane crash near Smolensk, Russia, in 2010, on his way to commemorate the victims of the Katyn massacre by the Soviets in 1940. Though the crash was deemed accidental, PiS calls it the result of a Kremlin conspiracy – a paranoid charge that is all the more bizarre given Kaczyński’s apparent determination to emulate Putin’s behavior.

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