It might seem that Central Europe, once home to Nazis and Stalinists, is slipping back into totalitarianism. It’s not that simple. People are not voting for the far right because of their fascism. They vote for these parties because they are looking for an alternative to a mainstream that has failed them. Twenty-seven years after the fall of Communism and 12 years after joining the European Union, the promised Western standards of living are nowhere in sight. The post-Communist economic dream has disappointed many. It took 15 years just for living standards to return to where they were before 1989. Poverty is soaring. In Hungary, 35 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
To prevent the entrenchment of the far right, Central Europe desperately needs a new progressive force with a vision for how to respond to people’s needs. Progressives should have a plan to fend off economic hardship and insecurity to stop people’s legitimate concerns being transferred into bigotry, xenophobia and hatred. If this alternative does not emerge, the consequences will be disastrous.