The new nationalism: Eastern Europe turns right

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The young democracies of central Europe are threatened by their leaders

One after another the narratives that prop up belief in western liberal democracy have fallen. Ideal financial system? Not after the 2008 crisis and the euro. Military superiority? Iraq and Afghanistan have put an end to that. Effective politics? See gridlock in Washington DC and arm-twisting in Brussels.

Now the final, perhaps most fundamental, narrative risks unravelling. The supremacy of liberal democracy is rooted in the triumph of 1989: the liberation of Central Europe from the Kremlin’s authoritarianism; Václav Havel emerging from prison to become President in Prague Castle; the successful transition to democracy via European Union membership and the security blanket of Nato. Central Europe is the beacon for aspiring reformers across the world. In 2008, the World Bank published a report, “Unleashing Prosperity,” which concluded that the “Visegrád Four”—Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic—had created “stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities,” “functioning market economies” and had “the ability to take on and implement effectively the obligations of (EU) membership.”

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