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Opinion: Could other countries follow Czech example?

The recent election in the Czech Republic shows that a united opposition can topple authoritarian-style governments. It might not be easy, but Hungary and Poland could follow suit, DW's Barbara Wesel writes.

Andrej Babis and supporters during the Czech elections

A united opposition drove Andrej Babis from power

A return to liberal democracy is possible. The recent parliamentary election in the Czech Republic shows that a united opposition can topple a head of government accused of autocratic tendencies and corrupt practices. The keyword here is "united" — though a lot of common sense, political imagination and altruism are also needed for victory.

Billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis was beaten by an opposition whose spectrum ranged from center left to fairly conservative.

A portrait of DW correspondent Barbara Wesel

DW correspondent Barbara Wesel is based in Brussels

During the campaign, opposition parties made very clear that they would anchor Czech policy in the European Union. This struck a chord with voters.

Babis was not fully able to transform his country into a private oligarchy. He does own some major media outlets, but not all of them. He has supporters in the judiciary and institutions, but not everywhere.

The conditions for a return to a functioning liberal democracy were thus still relatively advantageous.

What was instrumental is that all the anti-Babis parties worked together, calling their alliance the "coalition of coalitions." It took a great deal of sacrifice and overcoming of individual egos to bring about this unity. 

Propaganda on Netflix

In Hungary, where an election is scheduled for 2022, the opposition is struggling to find a similar degree of cooperation. The conditions for doing so are much more difficult: Prime Minister Viktor Orban has destroyed the free press, undermined the judiciary and throttled civil society. He has used all the instruments of power at his disposal to transform Hungary into a kleptocracy where his clique can help itself. 

A film to be released on Netflix at the end of October gives an insight into the cunning and nefariousness that Orban's supporters are already deploying ahead of the election campaign. Styled as a political thriller, The Cost of Deception tells the story of how the Socialist government under Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany from 2004 to 2009 ended in disaster. The Socialist Party is depicted as being diabolical.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Czech counterpart Andrej Babis in September in Prague

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was welcomed to Prague in September

The party is an important member of the opposition alliance that seeks to bring Orban down in 2022. Gyurcsany's wife, Klara Dobrev, currently leads the race to become the opposition's candidate for prime minister.

Merciless mud fight

According to reports in the British media, the company that produced the film would not say whether it had received public funding. However, in view of the propaganda war unleashed against her and her party, Dobrev should spare herself and her family the stress and make a wise decision, which would be to leave the top spot on the opposition list to her conservative rival.

Watch video 02:48

Hungary's opposition unites to oust Orban

The last election campaign in Hungary was already a merciless mud fight. Who could forget the antisemitism deployed by Orban against his former patron, George Soros, who poured a great deal of funds into supporting democracy in Central and Eastern Europe? No moral chasm is too great for the Hungarian prime minister.

If the opposition is to stand a chance in such conditions, it has to unite and act fearlessly. Perhaps the Czech election can serve as an encouraging example. The same goes for Poland, where a vote is scheduled for 2023. Opposition forces will have a little longer to learn from the successes and failures of their neighbors, but they seem to have one winning ticket in their hand: the Polish electorate's predisposition toward the European Union.

This article has been translated from German