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Introducing Mérida (population 59 thousand): the third-largest town of Extremadura, Spain’s most rural and lowest-income region.

Most famous for an array of impressive Roman ruins that attract busloads of tourists and an old Roman bridge that stretches across the beautiful Guadiana river, it’s a modestly bustling provincial town of otherwise unremarkable features. It’s also a swing town in a swing state at a time of stark political polarization in Spain.

April 10, 2017, Budapest. An impromptu demonstration that had started in Buda at President Ader’s residence after he signed the “Lex CEU”, a law tailor-made to drive Central European University out of the country, slowly wound its way through the city. Some time well after 1 AM, the young protesters ended up in front of the building of Radio Hungary.

“You lie day and night!!”, the protesters chanted at the radio station. “Free Press! Democracy!” But also: “Filthy Fidesz!”, “Resign, Viktor Orban!”, and chants about how the government were criminals. And over and again: “Európa!”

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April 12, 2017: mass protest against “Lex CEU”

Throughout that month, angry Hungarians would rally against proposed new laws that would not only banish the fiercely independent, international university, but also expose independent NGOs to legal harassment and severe restrictions on their work. …

As Hungary’s parliament readies itself to pass a draconic set of laws to make life harder for NGOs and volunteers who try to help asylum-seekers, this seems like a good time to look back at the time when the government’s anti-immigrant propaganda suffered a rare defeat.

On October 2, 2016, the Hungarians went to the polls to vote in a referendum the government had invested an enormous amount of money in. Or at least some did. The government got the ‘No’ vote it wanted, but turnout didn’t reach the legal threshold of 50% — not by a long shot.

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Four ways to visualize voter behaviour: from a basic turnout percentage to specifying those who voted ‘No’ (as the government wished); voted ‘Yes’; cast an invalid vote; or abstained. [1]

What was the referendum all about?

The aims and abuses of the referendum were described at great length at the time, and I’m not qualified enough to offer an analysis of my own. But here’s my stab at a summary. …

Socialist pensioners in high-rise estates. Far-right voters in other, less fortunate estates. Romanis in crumbling courtyards who don’t come out to vote. Upwardly mobile green voters in newly-built housing developments that have popped up in the suburbs. Prosperous Fidesz voters in the city’s wealthiest parts, doubtlessly doing well off the government’s business schemes. Fidesz voters who just get by, in modest family houses with small gardens.

It’s a big city, Budapest, and the mostly-working class Pest side extends far out from the bars and coffee shops that dot the districts ringed around downtown, with its pockets of hipsters and intellectuals who vote left or green. …

When I was a teen, my dad took me to America — the only time I’ve ever been there. For him, it had been over thirty years. The previous time, he’d gone by boat.

When my dad was fresh out of high school, he implausibly got into an exchange program that had him staying in the U.S. for a year. This was in the 1950s; he was an impressionable, bookish teen with radical leanings from a small Dutch town. He travelled to the U.S. …

Unprecedented fragmentation, a weakened government that will have to go in search for further allies to keep functioning, and a new record low for the Labour Party. Those were the main features of the outcome of last month’s provincial elections, on March 18, which determined not just the make-up of provincial legislatures but also the Dutch Senate.

Because of the continuing collapse of the Labour Party (Dutch acronym: PvdA), the results also constituted the worst performance for the left overall in provincial elections since 1994, while centrist parties — the Democrats ’66, a party for the elderly and various regional lists — did well. …



Holland — Hungary — Spain

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