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UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT URGES FORMATION OF PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY... Leonid Kuchma met with representatives of the For a United Ukraine bloc and urged the creation of a parliamentary coalition centered on this bloc to support the government, UNIAN reported. According to Kuchma, the Ukrainian parliament is facing two options. One is for the legislature "to rise above its political and other ambitions and form a strong enough force to move ahead," while the other is "to leave the parliament in its permanent condition" with three uncooperative groups: the leftists, the rightists, and "a quagmire in the middle." JM

...AS PRO-PRESIDENTIAL BLOC LEADER VOICES THREE CONDITIONS... For a United Ukraine leader Volodymyr Lytvyn said on 9 April that his bloc will stick to three "axiomatic" propositions in talks about forming a future majority, UNIAN reported. According to Lytvyn, no workable majority can be formed without For a Ukraine. Second, For a United Ukraine should act as an initiator and coordinator of parliamentary coalition talks. Third, the parliamentary majority is to be formed on a platform of market-oriented, democratic reform, and Ukraine's choice on European integration. Lytvyn predicted that the For a United Ukraine parliamentary caucus will expand to 180 deputies by absorbing many of those lawmakers who were elected on an independent ticket. JM

...AND YULIYA TYMOSHENKO BLOC CALLS FOR OPPOSITION TALKS. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc has appealed to Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine, Oleksandr Moroz's Socialist Party, and lawmakers who won seats in the Verkhovna Rada on an independent ticket to immediately begin consultations on the formation of a democratic parliamentary majority and a new government, UNIAN reported on 10 April. The appeal says that For a United Ukraine has no "moral right" to speak in the name of the people and form a parliamentary majority. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc claims that For a United Ukraine is now resorting to blackmail, threats, and bribery to recruit into its ranks as many lawmakers as possible from those elected on an independent ticket. JM

ELECTION INVALIDATED IN CONSTITUENCY IN WESTERN UKRAINE. The Central Election Commission (CEC) on 9 April invalidated the results of the parliamentary ballot in constituency No. 90 (Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast) and annulled its former decision to register Roman Zvarych (supported by Our Ukraine) as a deputy elected from this constituency, UNIAN reported. The invalidation followed a complaint claiming that the district election commission's decision to withdraw several candidates from the ballot -- including the slain Ivano-Frankivsk deputy governor, Mykola Shkriblyak (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 9 April 2002) -- was not passed to polling stations promptly. The failure to make relevant changes to the ballots, according to the CEC, distorted the voting results. JM

For months, one of the main interests of foreign correspondents with regard to the Hungarian parliamentary poll had been the question of whether FIDESZ would form a government with the extreme-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) following the elections. To be fair, this was kept (more or less) relevant by the ambiguity of the FIDESZ leaders, including Prime Minister Victor Orban, who generally answered that this question was irrelevant because FIDESZ would win an absolute majority -- thereby ducking the "moral" issue of forming a partnership with the MIEP. As it turns out, the MIEP will not return to the Hungarian parliament (and FIDESZ will probably not form the government).

MIEP's failure to overcome the 5 percent electoral threshold for gaining seats in parliament -- it polled some 4.4 percent -- is not an isolated phenomenon in post-communist European politics. Most spectacular was the demise of Latvia's "flash party," the Popular Movement for Latvia (TKL), or Zigerist Party, an extreme-right party that garnered a stunning 15 percent in the 1995 parliamentary elections only to lose it all three years later after polling just 1.7 percent. And many long-serving extreme-right parties are also facing their demise. One of the oldest extreme-right parties in the post-communist world, the Czech Republic's Assembly for the Republic-Czechoslovak Republican Party (SPR-RSC), failed to overcome that country's 5 percent electoral hurdle in 1998, when it took a surprisingly low 3.9 percent.

Since then, the party has gone bankrupt, and its main successor, the Republicans of Miroslav Sladek (RMS), is nowhere to be seen on opinion polls. In neighboring Slovakia, which hosts what is likely the most-established extreme-right party in the region, the parliamentary days of the Slovak National Party (SNS) might soon be over. After a split within the SNS leadership, both the SNS and the splinter Real Slovak National Party (PSNS) headed by former SNS leader Jan Slota are below the electoral threshold in opinion polls (4.7 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively).

Even the personification of Eastern European right-wing extremism, Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), has lost most of his glory. After shooting to international stardom in 1993, when the LDPR took 23 percent of the votes in the State Duma elections, Zhirinovsky's star has been fading ever since. In the 1995 elections the support for the LDPR was cut in half, and halved again in 1999 to just 6 percent. With the subsequent introduction of a significant counterweight in President Vladimir Putin, few today believe Zhirinovsky poses a serious challenge to the Russian regime.

Similar stories of waning support can be told about other extreme-right parliamentary parties. The Serbian Radical Party (SRS), a powerful factor during periods of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's regime, has lost many of its votes and seats and is by and large marginalized in parliament today. A similar situation exists in Croatia, where the Party of [Historic] Rights (HSP) has been able to sustain its parliamentary existence only by forming a coalition with the Croatian Christian Democratic Union (HDKU). Moreover, as a consequence of the fall of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) government in 2000, HSP's role in Croatian politics is even less relevant than before. Finally, the Slovenian National Party (SNS) has not only lost half of the support it achieved in 1992, currently holding some 4 percent, it has moderated so much that few still consider it an extreme-right party.

True, against this list of extreme-right failures stand a handful of successes; most notably, the worrying results of the Greater Romania Party (PRM) and its leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who finished second in Romania's 2000 presidential elections with a staggering one-third of the vote. In addition, the 2001 elections in Poland resulted in shocking victories for Self-Defense (10.2 percent) and the League of Polish Families (LPR) (7.9 percent).

However, the gains of those parties are offset to some extent by the fact that in many other post-communist European countries extreme-right parties play no parliamentary role whatsoever (e.g., Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, and Ukraine). Even more importantly, in no Eastern European country is an extreme-right party part of the government, as is the case in two Western European countries, Austria and Italy.

Then why this continuing worry over the extreme right in the post-communist world? True, the presence of such political parties tell only part of the story -- there are also various neo-Nazi groups (like the Russian National Unity), and the skinhead movement remains popular. But despite these organizations' relative success, this "uncivil society" accounts for only a fraction of the societies of post-communist Europe. Admittedly, an at times quite visible and loud faction, but a minority all the same. For example, a recent report from the Slovak police said that the country counts 3,400 extremists (including sympathizers), of whom a mere 600 are active (which includes 100 left-wingers). Not that impressive for a population of 5.4 million people.

Rather than the strength of the extremist movements, the cause for the continuing concern should be sought in the prevailing lack of trust in the strength of the democratic forces. And this is not without reason. The track records of many "democratic" governments have been unimpressive to say the least. Corruption, incompetence, and indecision have plagued countries throughout the region, even when governed by "democratic" parties. The former Romanian government is a case in point. In addition, the petty bickering and intrigues that are characteristic for the current "democratic" governments in Croatia and Slovakia do the reputation of "democracy" in these countries no good. Finally, the nationalist tendencies in parties like FIDESZ or the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) show that all is not (yet) good in the East.

Commentators, governments, and others concerned should therefore focus their attention on strengthening the democratic side, rather than on trying to weaken the extremist parties. Where is the critical attitude toward FIDESZ's ambiguity on the current national borders of Hungary? Where is the critical but constructive dialogue with former Premier Vladimir Meciar -- a key politician in Slovakia whether people like it or not -- to provide him with incentives to make good on his pro-EU and pro-NATO pledges?

There is no doubt that the democracies in post-communist Europe are still consolidating, and much more work remains to be done. After all, democracy is an ongoing process. This why it is important that "democratic assistance" is aimed at the long term, rather than at the next election. Much too often such support stops the minute the "extremist threat" is gone. For example, what has become of the pro-vote movements, which had been heavily supported by the West, that helped topple the "authoritarian" regimes in Croatia?

The West can play a positive role in the democratic consolidation of post-communist Europe by providing supportive, but critical, long-term assistance that is directed first and foremost at the "democrats." The West should make clear that democracy is about dealing with plurality, not constructing a homogenous polity through various forms of exclusion. It should also emphasize that raising expectations in elections can boomerang against democracy as a whole in post-communist Europe.

Finally, the West should not get caught up in a simplistic extremism-democracy dichotomy, in which "democrats" are supported just to prevent extremists from winning. The biggest threat to democracy in post-communist Europe is the weakness of the democratic camp, not the strength of the extremists.