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鈔oda, 01 listopada 2006
Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, have alienated much of the obsessively tolerant European Union

November 1, 2006 Memo From Hungary

From Velvet to Fringe in Post-Soviet Central Europe

BUDAPEST, Oct. 27 — Skinheads rioting in the streets of Budapest, populist twins running Poland and a far-right party that once made Western Europe shudder becoming a part of the government of Slovakia.

Well into their second decade since the collapse of Communism, many of Europe’s newest democracies are struggling with weak governments and polarized societies — and worrying their Western neighbors that they may become the problem children of the European Union.

That was on full display here this week when right-wing nationalist demonstrators clashed with the police, hijacking what was to have been a solemn commemoration of Hungary’s failed uprising against Soviet domination a half-century ago [...].

But there is something more fundamental going on. Many people in Central Europe never had a say in the upheaval of 1989, when “velvet” revolutions dismantled Communist rule in the former Soviet bloc, and many feel that they have suffered as a result.

“It was a negotiated revolution, and that limited the peoples’ participation in creating the new system,” said Istvan Stumpf, a political analyst and former minister in the Hungarian government. “Most people describe themselves as losers in the change of systems and in joining the E.U.”

In response, the region has been swept by a strong nationalist impulse that is being exploited by populist politicians.

“For 10 years all of these countries had to go through very radical reforms, and natural conflicts were suppressed because there was an overriding objective to join the European Union,” said Jiri Pehe, a political analyst and former presidential adviser in the Czech Republic. “Some of the things that should have played out are now coming to the surface.”

It began in Poland, where the conservative Law and Justice Party won elections last year. The twin brothers Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, now president and prime minister respectively, have alienated much of the obsessively tolerant European Union with their conservative Roman Catholic, antihomosexual attitudes and talk of Poland assuming its rightful place on the Continent’s political map.

The Kaczynskis’ choice of coalition partners has not helped: the League of Polish Families, representing the country’s religious right, and Self-Defense, led by a populist potato farmer.

In Slovakia, meanwhile, the nominally left-leaning Smer Party formed a coalition of its own with two far-right parties: the ultranationalist Slovak National Party and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, led by Vladimir Meciar, whose autocratic style partly isolated the country from Western Europe while he was prime minister in the mid-1990s.

Even the Czech Republic has been touched by the trend: it has had no real government since elections in June left it with a deadlocked Parliament that is deeply and near evenly divided between right and left.

In all of these countries, reformers and populists are fighting each other, said Krisztian Szabados, director of Political Capital, a policy research organization in Budapest.

The rise in nationalism has reinvigorated old regional feuds, particularly between Hungary and its neighbors over the treatment of ethnic Hungarians living in land that once was part of greater Hungary.

The nationalist trend has been seized upon by Viktor Orban, a former prime minister and leader of Fidesz, this country’s main opposition party. He has led calls for Mr. Gyurcsany’s resignation and has held a series of rallies that have drawn tens of thousands of protesters into the streets [...].

The populist drift appears at a time when the European Union is weaker than in many years, its focus blurred by an influx of new members and its failure to win support for a European constitution last year.

If the former Soviet satellite nations are not recreating prewar conditions, they are almost certainly still suffering from their postwar experiences, says Mr. Pehe, the Czech political analyst [...].

“The international environment here in Europe at this stage is so conducive to democracy building, it is basically almost impossible for these nations to get out of this framework,” Mr. Pehe said. “It would be economically disastrous for them. Populist leaders can only go so far.”

Perhaps the best analogy to the Central European muddle today is France’s Fourth Republic, which was polarized and ineffectual after World War II until a strong center-right politician — de Gaulle — swept it away with a stronger constitution and a new republic. The question then is: Who is going to rise up and claim the mantle of de Gaulle?