For countries emerging from communism, the post-1989 imperative to “be like the West” has generated discontent and even a “return of the repressed,” as the region feels old nationalist stirrings and new demographic pressures.
What some had thought would be the “end of history” has instead turned out to be the “new world disorder.” Democratic liberalism may have no new ideological rival, but older identities are powerfully reasserting themselves.
Is democracy in East-Central Europe suffering because of a lack of liberal zeal among elites, as Dawson and Hanley contend, or is it because
liberal policies have failed to deliver on their promises?
Contrary to the expectations of some democratic theorists, the EU will not collapse because of the “democratic deficit” of European institutions. Nor will it be saved by the democratic mobilization of civil society. Paradoxically, it is widespread disillusionment with democracy—the shared belief that national governments are powerless in the face of global markets—that may be the best hope for reconciling the growing tension between the goal of further European integration and the goal of deepening democracy in Europe.
Although they have quieted down as quickly as they flared up, the clamorous protests that followed the dishonest Russian legislative elections in December 2011 have essentially destroyed Putin’s regime, the infamous “managed democracy.”
Why are the unfree regimes of the former Soviet world proving so durable? A lack of ideology and—perhaps surprisingly—a degree of openness are proving to be not so much problems for authoritarianism as bulwarks of it.
Today, twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there is a growing ambiguity about the historical significance of 1989 and about the state of democracy in Europe (particularly Central Europe).
The paradox of East-Central Europe is that the rise of populism is an outcome not of the failures but of the successes of postcommunist liberalism.
*This is a corrected text of the print and original online version of this essay, which lacked proper citation for some of its sources. This is the only version that should be used for citation or further dissemination.