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THE YOUNG and THE NEW versus THE TIRED and THE TRIED
The cult of youth in central Europe was an inevitable outcome of utter failure of older generations. The allure of new and untried often prevailed over certainty of tried and failed. Many senior politicians, managers, entrepreneurs and journalists across this region are in their 20's or 30's.
Yet, inexperienced temerity of young has often led to voter disillusionment and disenchantment. Many among young are too identified with pratfalls of "reform". Age and experience reassert themselves through ballot boxes - and with them disingenuous habits of past. Many of "old, safe hands" are former communists disingenuously turned socialists turned democrats turned capitalists. As even revolutionaries age, they become territorial and hidebound. Turf wars are likely to intensify rather then recede.
THE TECHNOCRATS / EXPERTS versus THE LOBBYIST-MANAGERS
Communist managers - always quintessential rent-seekers - were trained to wheedle politicians, lobby state and cadge for subsidies and bailouts, rather than respond to market signals. As communism imploded, involvement of state in economy - and resources it commanded - contracted. Multilateral funds are tightly supervised. Communist-era "directors" - their skills made redundant by these developments - were shockingly and abruptly confronted with merciless market realities.
Predictably they flopped and were supplanted by expert managers and technocrats, more attuned to markets and to profits, and committed to competition and other capitalistic tenets. The decrepit, "privatized" assets of dying system expropriated by nomenclature were soon acquired by foreign investors, or shut down. The old guard has decisively lost its capital - both pecuniary and political.
Political parties which relied on these cronies for contributions and influence-peddling - are in decline. Those that had foresight to detach themselves from venality and dissipation of "the system" are on ascendance. From Haiderism to Fortuynism and from Lepper to Medgyessy - being an outsider is a distinct political advantage in both west and east alike.
THE BUREAUCRATS versus THE POLITICIANS
The notion of an a-political civil service and its political - though transient - masters is alien to post communist societies. Every appointment in public sector, down to most insignificant sinecure, is still politicized. Yet, economic decline precipitated by transition to free markets, forced even most backward political classes to appoint a cadre of young, foreign educated, well-traveled, dynamic, and open minded bureaucrats.
These are no longer a negligible minority. Nor are they bereft of political assets. Their power and ubiquity increase with every jerky change of government. Their public stature, expertise, and contacts with their foreign counterparts threaten lugubrious and supernumerary class of professional politicians - many of whom are ashen remnants of communist conflagration. Hence recent politically-tainted attempts to curb powers of central bankers in Poland and Czech Republic.
THE NATIONALISTS versus THE EUROPEANS
The malignant fringe of far-right nationalism and far left populism in central Europe is more virulent and less sophisticated than its counterparts in Austria, Denmark, Italy, France, or Netherlands. With exception of Poland, though, it is on wane.
Populists of all stripes combine calls for a thinly disguised "strong man" dictatorship with exclusionary racist xenophobia, strong anti-EU sentiments, conspiracy theory streaks of paranoia, revival of an imaginary rustic and family-centered utopia, fears of unemployment and economic destitution, regionalism and local patriotism.
Though far from mainstream and often derided and ignored - they succeeded to radicalize both right and left in central Europe, as they have done in west. Thus, mainstream parties were forced to adopt a more assertive foreign policy tinged with ominous nationalism (Hungary) and anti-Europeanism (Poland, Hungary). There has been a measurable shift in public opinion as well - towards disenchantment with EU enlargement and overtly exclusionary nationalism. This was aided by Brussels' lukewarm welcome, discriminatory and protectionist practices, and bureaucratic indecisiveness.
These worrisome tendencies are balanced by inertia of process. Politicians of all colors are committed to European project. Carping aside, countries of central Europe stand to reap significant economic benefits from their EU membership. Still, outcome of this clash between parochial nationalism and Europeanism is far from certain and, contrary to received wisdom, process is reversible.
THE CENTRALISTS versus THE REGIONALISTS
The recent bickering about Benes decrees proves that vision of a "Europe of regions" is ephemeral. True, century old nation state has weakened greatly and centripetal energy of regions has increased. But this applies only to homogeneous states.
Minorities tend to disrupt this continuity and majorities do their damnedest to eradicate these discontinuities by various means - from assimilation (central Europe) to extermination (the Balkan). Hungary's policies - its status law and economic benefits it bestowed upon expatriate Hungarians - is epitome of such tendencies.
These axes of tension delineate and form central Europe's political landscape. The Procrustean categories of "left" and "right" do injustice to these subtleties. As central Europe matures into fully functioning capitalistic liberal democracies, proper leftwing parties and their rightwing adversaries are bound to emerge. But this is still in future.
Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He is the the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.