One region of the world embodies the global drift toward autocracy more than any other: Eastern Europe. The erosion of liberal democracy in countries that emerged from behind the Iron Curtain 30 years ago has seemed nearly unstoppable, and particularly disheartening given the heartfelt enthusiasm with which populations embraced the collapse of communist dictatorships. But now, after watching demagogues rise to power, liberal democrats are joining forces, ready to counterattack. In the process, they are offering a way for their frustrated backers in the European Union to support them.
Earlier this week, the mayors of Warsaw, Budapest, Prague and Bratislava came together to launch what they’re calling the “Free Cities Alliance.” It is an effort to fight against the anti-democratic agenda of their own countries’ central governments, all of which are dominated by populist and nationalist parties. Their pact is also informally called “Little Visegrad,” a parallel alternative to the Visegrad Group, an existing alliance between Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Meeting in Budapest, the mayors signed their Pact of Free Cities, declaring their joint commitment to “protecting and promoting our common values of freedom, human dignity, democracy, equality, rule of law, social justice, tolerance and cultural diversity.” Their declaration embodied the very principles that nationalist leaders like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a self-described “illiberal democrat,” and Poland’s de facto leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the ruling Law and Justice party, disdain.