Is the left in crisis in Central Europe?

02-04-2004

The left is in disarray in Poland, out of power in Slovakia - just hanging on to power in the Czech Republic and although in power in Hungary - now trailing the opposition in the opinion polls. So are left wing politics suffering an identity crisis in the former communist countries? I put the question to Eastern Europe analyst Gerhard Mangott from the Austrian Institute for International Relations.

"Absolutely, the SLD [the ruling Party of the Democratic Left in Poland] and the post communist parties have had a reputation of expertise and being able to get things done. And so people when they voted for the SLD back in 2001 expected this government to solve problems and find solutions for the fiscal deficit, for the currency weakness, for the unemployment, but as it happened nothing materialized so people are very disappointed, they have had big expectations, but the incumbent government failed poorly in terms of a lack of expertise."

Let's look at the broader region broadly and look at what the left is offering. Are they having trouble differentiating themselves from other parties, from fiscally liberal parties and socially conservative parties - like traditional conservative parties in Western Europe?

"That is the problem of the forces of the left in Eastern Europe. The room for manoeuvre for the governments has become very limited. As they aspire to become members of the European Union they have to be fiscally responsible, they have to have stable currencies, they have to adopt the acquis communautaire - there's nothing much they can do in financial policy and even in social policy there's not much that the left can do differently from the conservative governments. But that's what makes people who have voted for the leftists in the first place very, very disappointed and the result is that no post communist of social democratic force in Eastern Europe, except for the Social Democratic Party of the Czech Republic has managed to serve as the government for more than one term. They have always been voted out of office because people are very disappointed with what they did. In fact they did nothing else but to continue the neo-conservative and liberal economic and financial policies."

Well, governments of the past ten years across Central Europe have been traditionally fairly weak, that is they have either had very slim majorities or they been have minority governments in just about every country you look at and this was to do with having a large number of political parties in post communist countries - is this likely to change?

"Well that's a big point. We have had government instability because we have very unconsolidated, unstructured party system, except for Hungary and the Czech Republic. We have a high degree of volatility, people move backwards and forwards - from the left to the right and back. People don't have a strong party identification and the parties keep splitting and merging. As long as we don't have certain consolidation in the party systems we will continue with very unstable governments and that of course makes the efficiency of governance and governments very, very low."

02-04-2004

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