Briefing / Europe
An ethnic minority debacle in Poland, election watch Portugal and a banknote overhaul in Sweden.
Poland — CENSUS
Poland’s recently launched census revives a question that has long generated heated debate. While most Poles believe their country’s population is homogeneous, some in the southwest identify themselves as Silesians, a reference to a historic region incorporating parts of Poland and Germany.
During the previous census in 2002, just over 173,000 respondents claimed Silesian ethnicity. But as the Supreme Court refused to recognise it, their choice was not officially recorded. This year, however, respondents can pick from a list of ethnicities that includes the disputed ones, and the local Movement for Silesian Autonomy (RAŚ) has started a campaign to encourage its supporters to come out as Silesians.
The regionalists have one unwitting ally. Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the opposition Law and Justice party, said those who claimed there was a Silesian nation were representing a “camouflaged German option”. A number of celebrities announced they would protest against these remarks by ticking “Silesian” in the census box.
The marriage rate in the UK is at its lowest since 1895. Some 231,490 couples tied the knot in 2009, less than half the number that got married in 1940, when a record 470,549 couples said “I do”.
Hungary — EU
This month marks the end of Hungary’s six-month presidency of the European Union, a period that put the spotlight on the small central European country. We list the good and bad from its term:
- A sharp reminder to the EU powers that central Europe remains as feisty as ever. As Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (pictured) said: “We won’t let anyone dictate to us – from Brussels or anywhere else.”
- The first serious attempt by an EU member state to create a long-term continent wide strategy to deal with one of Europe’s most pressing social issues: the growing poverty, unemployment and alienation of the Roma minority.
- A welcome reminder of Hungary’s rich cultural and literary heritage, highlighted by the renaming of Budapest airport after Franz Liszt.
- The new media law, giving unprecedented regulatory powers to a new state body over print, broadcast and online. Members are appointed by the ruling right-wing Fidesz party.
- Jobbik, a far-right party, once again marching in formation through deprived towns and villages, protesting against “Gypsy crime”.
- Rising unemployment and increased hostility towards multinationals.
Date: 5 June
Candidates: Pedro Passos Coelho, leader of the centre-right Social Democrats (PSD), is the main challenger to José Sócrates, leader of the incumbent Socialists (PS). Sócrates resigned as prime minister after his proposed austerity measures failed to pass parliament in March.
Issues: The IMF/EU bailout has taken over the political agenda.
Monocle comment: Overt nepotism and the propping up of industry need to be replaced by real structural reforms if leaders want to improve Portugal’s low productivity ratings.
Out with the old
Sweden — CURRENCY
Sweden’s banknotes are set to acquire some new faces. Out will go old kings and highbrow cultural figures and in will come film star Greta Garbo (on the SKr100 note) and director Ingmar Bergman (on the SKr200). The country’s central bank, the Riksbank, has proposed the changes to better reflect modern culture and the notes will be introduced by 2015.
Writer and member of BFD
Finland recently revealed its new brand strategy and Lasse Lehtinen was part of the Brand Finland delegation, defining the country’s image. It claims Finland is “the best country in the world” and the world’s most energetic problem solver. But there are fears that Finland’s global image has been damaged by the rise of Perussuomalaiset (True Finns), a right-wing nationalist party, which won 19 per cent of the vote in April’s parliamentary elections, becoming the country’s third-largest party.
How will the rise of Perussuomalaiset affect Finland’s image abroad?
I don’t think this will leave a permanent footprint. Finland now looks like a normal European country – we have seen these parties all over Europe. And where they don’t exist, protests are expressed by burning cars and throwing burning bottles instead. So in that sense, this is a much better way of channelling dissatisfaction. Finland’s image has been built over decades and it won’t be changed by one or even two elections.
What will happen now in Finnish politics?
The tradition in Finnish politics is to include these parties in the decision-making process. Back in the 1940s, after the war, we brought the communists into the government. And in the 1980s, the same happened with SMP (the Finnish Rural Party). When these extreme political movements are faced with political responsibility, they end up melting away.
Is Finland now turning its back on the international road it has been taking over the past years, and turning inwards instead? Due to globalisation, many countries have protectionist tendencies right now. People want to take care of their own business first and foremost. So I wouldn’t say that Finland is alone in that respect.