Inside eastern European democracies

The Eurozine series ‘The writing on the wall’ provides insights from analysts in Europe’s east into the political situation in their countries, over a year into Russia’s attack on Ukraine. So far, the series covers Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Moldova, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine.

In the post-Soviet states of Armenia, Georgia and Moldova, contributors describe an existential crisis of democracy as geopolitics impacts domestically. Across the Balkans and central eastern Europe, it is more accurate to talk of an omnipresent risk of democratic erosion, emanating largely but not solely from within. In Ukraine, meanwhile, the challenge is to pursue democratic progress internally while fighting an all-out war against a totalitarian invader.

However, it needs emphasising that where state structures fail to serve the common good, eastern European civil society often fills the gap. A good example is Croatia’s municipalist movement Zagreb je NAŠ!, which is spreading out across the country and the region. Another is the housing justice movement in Budapest, which is keeping alive Hungary’s long tradition of progressive local government.

Ecological movements are also a source of encouragement. The success of the protests against environmental degradation in Jadar, Serbia and in Kalivaç, Albania shows the democratic potential of green politics in south-east Europe. Particularly in Serbia, a genuine opposition rooted in political ecology appears to be forming. 

But popular anti-democratic movements are emerging too. A year before Romania’s super-election year, the new nationalists are making significant headway. So why does neither government nor opposition seem bothered by the mutation of The Alliance for the Union of Romanians from anti-vax protest party to popular pro-Russian force? ‘State passivity’ also afflicts Albania. Here, reforms that would bring the country further towards EU accession remain hampered by corruption and lack of political will.

All of these developments impact at the European level. The EP elections in 2024 will reflect the new conjuncture. And EU enlargement has again become a top priority as Russia’s war forces the bloc to think strategically like never before. Watch this space!

Read all the articles in the Eurozine focal point: The writing on the wall

Published 9 June 2023
Original in English
First published by Eurozine

© Eurozine

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