Helping Europe through its crisis of illiberal politics


ILLIBERALISMTwenty years after the U.S. brokered peace in Bosnia, leaders who once pledged to rebuild a European democracy here are shunning the West, The Wall Street Journal reports:

In the late 1990s, Washington—with the power to vet leaders under the 1995 Dayton peace agreement—helped lift Milorad Dodik to power as Bosnian Serb prime minister. But when his party suffered defeat in elections in 2000, he turned against Bosnian unity and Western ties. In 2006 he ran for prime minister preaching Serb nationalism. He hasn’t lost an election since.

The United States has a role to play in helping Europe through its crisis of illiberal politics, say analysts Alina Polyakova and Anton Shekhovtsov. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States supported the new transitional democracies of Europe’s East because, at the time, policymakers rightfully saw the strategic importance of these countries to ensuring a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace, they write for World Affairs:

counter-democracyBut, as other foreign policy challenges have taken priority, U.S. investment and engagement in the region has waned and it is now clear that the democratic revolutions on the 1990s are not irreversible as once thought. The West faces a revanchist Russia on Europe’s borders and the growing appeal of authoritarian regimes across the globe, it is time to remember how only twenty-five years ago, U.S. leadership and Western Europe’s resolve helped bring democratic institutions, liberal values, and economic prosperity to Central and Eastern Europe. Those values and institutions now face their greatest ideological challenges since the end of the Cold War. If the United States once again comes to the aid of Europe’s East, one of the greatest achievements of the twentieth century, the post-communist transformation of Europe, can be secured.

“In the long term, countering the far-right challenge requires that the center left reimagine its role in European politics,” they add. “Before the center left can respond to the challenge from the right, it must consolidate its own core values and deal with its own fringe elements.”

Journal-of-Democracy-July-2016Even people who aren’t on the center-left themselves should recognize the role that it played in underpinning stability, Sheri Berman argues in a new article for the Journal of Democracy: From World War II onward, the center-left either ran the government or provided the loyal opposition in nearly every European democracy. No longer. Center-left parties have dwindled into shadows of their former might…..More broadly, the rivalry between the center-left and center-right helped to build the foundations of popular democracy in Europe.

Alina Polyakova, PhD, is deputy director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC. She is the author of the Dark Side of European Integration  (2015), a monograph on the rise of far-right populism in Europe and a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Anton Shekhovtsov, PhD, is visiting fellow at the Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna, Austria. He is also a fellow at the Legatum Institute in London, England.


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