Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 October 2013
Social democratic parties were active before the onset of communism throughout East Central Europe, some building on the legacy of the Austrian social democrats. After the fall of communism, it was economically right and centre-right movements and parties, many of them rooted in the anti-communist opposition, that won elections in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and laid the foundations for liberal democracy and a market economy. Soon after that, however, social democratic parties won elections – in 1993 in Poland, in 1994 in Hungary and in 1998 in the Czech Republic. Their success was based on two broad appeals. The first was economic. Without questioning the transition to a market economy, social democratic parties promised reforms beneficial to the lower and middle classes while using state programmes to cushion the impact of unemployment and inflation. These promises mattered, even while in some cases social democratic parties were more vigorous in implementing market-friendly reforms than their ‘right-wing’ opponents. The second appeal was social and national. Social democratic parties stood for more liberal social values, such as limiting the influence of the Church in Poland, ratcheting down state-sponsored nationalism in Hungary, and embracing the EU in the Czech Republic. Broadly speaking, they attracted ‘conservative’ left and communist voters – and brought them to accept the market and the West, sometimes promoting tolerance along the way.