By Yascha Mounk
In 1946, Winston Churchill coined a memorable phrase: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the continent,” he said. Today the Soviet Union has gone, but populist parties are in government in every country along the route of the Iron Curtain, as defined by Churchill. In this series, political scientist Yascha Mounk travels that route, and finds out what is changing under these new governments in smaller cities, far away from the capitals. He speaks to supporters and opponents of the populist parties and builds up a complex picture of Europe in a time of flux.
Yascha begins in the north in the Polish city of Szczecin (Stettin) – where Solidarity was originally created. Today the PIS party governs the country, with its appeal to traditional religious values and social conservatism. Critics say it is attacking independent institutions, especially the judiciary. Szczecin saw vigorous protest against a law restricting abortion. He stays on the former Eastern side of the curtain by travelling on to Sopron, Hungary – the site of the picnic which led to the first mass breach of the Iron Curtain, then to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Victor Orban’s Fidesz party is accused of attacking civil society and the freedom of the press in his pursuit of an “illiberal democracy” – but there are forces fighting back locally.