Central Europe's Fractious Right

Is Eastern Europe's political pendulum about to run down? Across Central Europe since 1989, elections have oscillated between right and left. Is Hungary's slick young prime minister, Viktor Orban, poised to end all that?

A ruthless program to absorb his political rivals on the right has helped Orban's FIDESZ party become nearly equal in size to his Socialist rivals on the left. Moreover, infighting among the Socialists has dented one of their biggest political advantages: the hard-headed discipline and political professionalism inherited from their Communist days.

Premier Orban's semi-successful efforts to unify the right under the banner of FIDESZ are unique among Eastern Europe's fractured and fractious rightist parties. Since Communism's fall, center right parties in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia have suffered from disunity and a lack of vision. Despite the fact the region is still recovering from decades of communist mismanagement, the political right's fragmentation helped the political left, in some cases represented by former Communists, to win democratic elections regularly.

Some problems faced by Central Europe's right are similar to those the political right faces elsewhere in Europe, where social democratic parties expropriated many formerly liberal ideas to seize a monopoly of the political center. In Central Europe this effect has been amplified by the fact that, regardless of ideological leanings, rulings parties have had to privatize the economy and, under pressure from the European Union, introduce reform measures that would, in a classical Western system, usually be undertaken by the political right.