Thirty years ago in Central and Eastern Europe, belief in an open society and a sense of reasserted national and indeed European identity seemed to go hand-in-hand. But that was then.
The crisis of liberal democracy is Europe-wide, but it has assumed an especially intense form in Central and Eastern Europe.
How has Hungary, initially seen as a leading postcommunist success story, fallen into its current troubles?
A tribute to Václav Havel, Czech playwright and former dissident, who became not only president but the symbol of the “velvet revolutions.”
In the twenty years since 1989, acute excitement over democratic transition and consolidation gave way to symptoms of “democracy fatigue” and elite exhaustion; successful economic transition away from state socialism fell victim to a crisis of the free-market model; and the EU’s transformative power has reached its geopolitical limits. The nations of Central and Eastern Europe successfully imitated a model that is now in crisis. Like the rest of the world, they currently find themselves in search of a new democratic paradigm.
The populist backlash against corruption, the CEE transition-era elites, and the liberal consensus has led to a democratic crisis, but does not portend systemic change.
The fall of the Berlin Wall gave East Europeans a euphoric sense that they were about to give European democacy a new direction. But as many of their countries prepare to join the EU, little has worked out as expected in those heady days.
Nowhere else has the impact of international factors on democratization been as apparent as in Central and Eastern Europe. Integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures is one particularly strong democratizing force.