Return to: Search Page or to: Table of Contents Vol. 14, issue 4

Milada Anna Vachudova, "Centre-Right Parties and Political Outcomes in East Central Europe," Party Politics, 14 (July, 2008), 387-405.

First paragraph:
In the early years of post-communist transition in East Central Europe (ECE), moderate centre-right parties emerged as powerful, cohesive actors and took part in government in only a few post-communist states. In many others, the party system was dominated by other kinds of parties that used broad appeals based on defending the nation and the national culture from its enemies, often coupled with defending citizens from economic reform. In this article, I argue that a key factor in determining the nature of the political parties that most successfully appropriated nationalism and other forms of right-wing discourse immediately after the collapse of communism was the nature of the opposition to communism before 1989. Where such opposition was strong enough to take power in 1989 or 1990, it went on to become the ideological, organizational and elite base for one or more moderate right parties with ties to the West European centre-right. This occurred in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, where the various centre-right parties were all successor parties of organized opposition movements. In states such as Slovakia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania, where the opposition was not organized and not strong enough at least to win the first democratic elections, the moderate right parties tended to be weak and fragmented and eclipsed by 'independence right' and/or 'communist nationalist' parties. Such parties appropriated the traditional nationalist discourse of the pre-communist right, combined it with economic populism and dominated national politics during much of the 1990s. Thus the conditions for the development of powerful moderate right parties with a hand in government existed early in the 1990s in some ECE states, but not in others.

Figures and Tables:

Last paragraph:
In this article I have argued that in order for moderate right parties to emerge as dominant players in the first five years of democratization in ECE, they had to originate from a western-oriented opposition group already organized in 1989 and strong enough to take power in 1989-90. An opposition too weak to take power was also too weak to prevent the former communist party or groupings of extreme nationalists from appropriating the nationalist discourses of the traditional pre-communist right and emerging as a dominant force. Identifying whether a moderate right, independence right or communist nationalist type party came to dominate this discourse helps explain both the early structure of party competition and the quality of democracy after 1989. Where moderate right parties were dominant, nationalist discourse and other right-wing appeals were generally managed and tempered to make them consistent with liberal democracy. During the 1990s, however, we can see the demise of the categories of independence right and communist nationalist as parties transformed in response to internal and external political incentives, especially the process of joining the EU. This cleared the field and empowered the centre-right. Yet, in new EU members, where the discipline of qualifying for EU membership is gone, conservative centre-right parties that vow to protect the country from outside influences including European integration have become more powerful.

Last updated July 2008