As distinctions between “old” and “new” Europe blur, the declining health of democracy in the continent’s postcommunist frontier states threatens both democratic values and the security of the region, according to Sylvana Kolaczkowska, director of Nations in Transit, Freedom House’s annual survey of post-Communist democratic governance, and Zselyke Csaky, a research analyst for Nations in Transit.
Democratisation efforts in post-communist Europe have reached an unstable plateau, further threatened by Europe’s protracted economic crisis, they write for the EU Observer. As in much of Western Europe, prolonged public dissatisfaction has bred support for populist demagogues, who exploit wedge issues like immigration, the rights of religious or sexual minorities, and abortion.
Faced with Russia’s re-emergence as an unambiguous enemy of liberal reform and European integration, Europe’s democracies – both old and new – must work harder than ever to reinforce the liberal democratic practices and institutions that bind them.
In particular, democracies must come together to support civil society in the former communist sphere. The forces of civil society are the contemporary versions of the workers who formed Poland’s Solidarity trade union and the artists and writers who were the backbone of Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution.
The success of protests in Hungary in the face of the Orban government’s recent efforts to impose an internet tax is a vivid reminder that movements of engaged citizens stand as a bulwark against the authoritarian temptation, especially in societies where opposition political parties are weak.
While the challenges facing today’s democracy advocates are less daunting that those that confronted Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa, the threats to pluralism, honest government, and civil rights remain very real.