BUDAPEST – Sometimes the conventional wisdom is right. The Arab Spring really is the most important political event since the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe. So it makes sense to find out what the East Europeans make of the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa and to ask what they think it will take to transform the promise of these rebellions into a lasting political transformation.
A good place to look for those answers this week was Budapest, where Central European University, one of the intellectual centers of the region’s political and economic transition, is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
The scholars and activists who gathered here to toast those two decades strolled along the sunny banks of the Danube, listened to a special concert of Liszt and Mahler — and spent a lot of time debating the lessons of their revolution for the Arab Spring.
Here are four of them:
– The first is that selling democracy has become harder now than it was 20 years ago. That’s because, as Aryeh Neier, the human rights activist and head of the Open Society Foundations, explained, the equation of prosperity and democracy, which was universally acknowledged in 1989 and the period that followed, has broken down today.
“In 1989, the U.S. had succeeded in conveying the view that economic prosperity and political freedom go hand in hand,” Mr. Neier said. “That is by no means so certain today. The rise of China and the difficulty the West continues to have in recovering from the financial crisis have broken the link between prosperity and freedom.”