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  • 1 University of Debrecen Faculty of Law H-4010 Debrecen P.O. Box 81 Hungary
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The Central European countries have been constitutional democracies for two decades. They were created by the political and constitutional transition of 1989, which was based upon the acknowledgment of fundamental rights and the rule of law. Timothy Garton Ash has argued that the peaceful, negotiated regime changes in Central Europe established a new model of non-violent revolution. The year 1989 became the major historical reference point for this kind of change. However, more than twenty years later, in the light of antidemocratic, authoritarian and intolerant tendencies, it is far from clear whether the negotiated revolution is a story of success or failure. This paper first outlines the constitutional and political background of revolutionary transition. It shows that uneasy compromises with members of the ancien régime were an unavoidable part of the peaceful transition. Nevertheless, the achieved constitutional structures and rules do not prevent political communities from realising the full promise of democracy. Second, this analysis attempts to explore, through the use of examples, how the century-old historical circumstances, the social environment, and the commonly failed practice of constitutional institutions interact. The goal of this section is to highlight some of the differences between universal principles and local peculiarities, focusing particularly on the constitutional features of presidential aspirations, the privileges of churches and certain ethnic tensions. The way the authorities apply the constitution is not detached from place and time, since those authorities possess culturally and historically predetermined knowledge and premises. Thus, we can say that antidemocratic, authoritarian and intolerant political and legal tendencies are embedded in the past and present of political communities. Finally, the paper argues that the chances of success of liberal democracies depend significantly on extraconstitutional factors. It seems that Hungary is in a more depressing and dangerous period of its history than for example Poland. The future of Central European constitutional democracies relies on the actions of people in the countries concerned and the commitment of Western societies.