On the subject of democracy being under threat, here's my piece on recent undemocratic developments in Hungary, from the Guardian's Comment is Free website.
In which country does a trial just starting of the entire leadership of an opposition political party, not for things they have done, but for things they have said? Iran? Russia? Zimbabwe?
No, the answer is: nice, pro-western Hungary, loyal member of both Nato and the EU.
The persecution of the leaders of the Hungarian Communist Workers party (Munkaspart) is only the latest instalment of an increasingly authoritarian witch-hunt against those who don't subscribe to "free-market" orthodoxy in "democratic" eastern Europe. The entire leadership of the Munkaspart will stand trial in Szekesfehevar after a legal action by the Budapest city court that ruled the proceedings of the party's 21st congress in 2005 to be null and void.
If found guilty, the party's leaders face two years in jail. Officially, they are charged with "a libel made in public" - for claiming that the court's judgment was political and an unjustified interference in the internal democracy of their party. But there's no doubting that the real reason the Munkaspart leaders are on trial (and the reason why the youth wing of the Czech Communist party has been banned) is because of their party's implacable opposition to their government's aggressively neo-liberal, pro-US agenda. (At least the Czechs were more honest: they officially banned the Young Communists for the heinous "crime" of advocating the common ownership of the means of production.)
Like their Czech counterparts, the Munkaspart has been in the forefront of the campaign against the Hungarian government's mass privatisation programme, a programme which, while providing rich pickings for foreign multinationals and western financial institutions, has left the majority of Hungarians worse off. It also opposed the illegal wars of aggression against Yugoslavia and Iraq, enthusiastically supported by Hungary's governing elite, and opposes the country's membership of Nato.
The party's leadership believes their persecution is revenge for the Munkaspart's initiation of a referendum, in December 2004, against privatisation of the health care system (and almost 2 million voters voted against this). But the ruling neo-liberal coalition is also worried about co-operation between leftist groupings like the Munkaspart and the conservative opposition; in the 2004 referendum, the Munkaspart campaigned on the same platform as Fidesz, the country's most popular party.
There will, of course, be those who say that the proscription of communist parties and the trial of their leaders are poetic justice - given the fact that opposition parties were not allowed under communism; and that undemocratic practices in both countries are a legacy of 40 years of one-party rule in which dissent was not encouraged. But is exchanging one form of coercive orthodoxy with another all that the new "democracy", so proudly proclaimed across the region in 1989, amounts to?
Hungary and the Czech Republic are members of the EU, an organisation that purports to be an association of rule-of-law democracies. But putting political leaders on trial and banning their parties is the work of dictatorships, not democracies. You don't have to be a communist to believe that the Munkaspart and the Czech Young Communists have every right to play an active role in their country's political life.
The authorities in Hungary and the Czech Republic should be ashamed of themselves.