View from Paris: The time is ripe for a political revival in emerging Europe

A year ago, I wrote in this column that emerging Europe was looking for (and desperately looking for) its Macron. One year later, it seems that this wish has been fulfilled in quite a few countries in the region: the impressive electoral victories achieved by emerging political parties in Latvia, Romania, and of course by Zuzana Čaputová (pictured above) and Volodymyr Zelensky in Slovakia and Ukraine show that Central and Eastern Europe is now ripe for a new generation of politicians to take over.

Not that all these successful political formations are definitely on Emmanuel Macron’s side: in Latvia, Jānis Bordāns’ New Conservative Party is certainly no friend of the progressives (unlike the country’s other emerging party, Attīstībai/Par!). But all of them share a common  willingness to renew the political landscape of their country, fight more decisively against corruption in government circles and provide a new electoral framework that will seem more familiar to Western audiences than the current ones: just like Volodymyr Zelensky managed to completely overrun the old (some might say artificial) dichotomies between Eastern and Western Ukraine during the past elections, Latvia’s New Conservative Party and Attīstībai/Par! are providing a new Conservative vs. Progressive framework that could well supercede the Latvian speakers vs. Russian speakers dichotomy that has defined much of Latvian politics since the country reclaimed its independence in 1991.

This of course does not mean that everything has immediately changed for the better: for those emerging politicians that have been elected to the highest functions, the hardest part of the work starts now, and we know that governance can only bring disappointment over time.

On the other hand, the much needed rejuvenation of the political landscape (whether inside the existing party system or not) is still very much ongoing in many other places in emerging Europe, but we can definitely see a trend here – and a positive one, if only because it is breaking the myth (unfortunately persistent in Western Europe) that portrays emerging Europe as uniformly grey, authoritarian and reactionary. Well, parts of it may well be, but it is now becoming clear to all that this is not the whole story.