The Rise of Populist Parties in Central Europe: Big Government, Corruption, and the Threat to Liberalism

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Central Europe has grown freer and more prosperoussince the collapse of communism. Yet liberalparties, which were responsible for bringingthose advances about, are on the defensive. In the last year,liberals have suffered a number of electoral setbacksthroughout the region. Some commentators saw the poorperformance of the liberal parties as a sign of weakeningpublic support for the free market, but public opinionpolls in Central Europe show continued support for capitalism.Certainly, there is no widespread support fora return to economic dirigisme, which failed so spectacularlyin the past.

Rather, one of the most important reasons for publicdiscontent with the political establishment is governmentcorruption. The pervasiveness of corruption in CentralEurope is partly attributable to the underdevelopment ofcivil society and the concomitant paucity of effectiverestraints on the conduct of the political class. Moreover,despite the tremendous progress toward economic freedomthat Central European countries have made since thefall of communism, the role of the state in the economyremains large. The private sector is burdened with toomany regulations, and governments continue to spendsome 44 percent of the region’s gross domestic product. Tolessen the problem of corruption, the size and the scope ofthe state must be reduced.

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Marian L. Tupy

Marian Tupy is a policy analyst with the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity and is the author of the Cato study "EU Enlargement: Costs, Benefits, and Strategies for Central and Eastern European Countries."