Although this incisive book is now eight years old, the depressing and sometimes terrifying picture that it paints of post-communist Eastern Europe remains as true today as when it was written. Wracked by economic, political and ethnic tensions, the region has seen a resurgence of popular fascism that makes the threat of extremism in Western Europe seem pale by comparison.
Written by long-time journalist Paul Hockenos, the book covers eastern Germany, Hungary, Romania, the former Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia and the Czech Republic) and Poland. It shows how the democratic dreams of reformers like Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel began to collapse within two years of the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, amid a welter of poverty and ethnic strife.
Hockenos describes how the end of Soviet occupation unleashed a "Pandora's box" of ethnic tensions and resentments. The "attempt to carve ethnically based territorial states" in eastern Europe between the world wars had left many ethnic minorities stranded in states dominated by other groups, igniting nationalist anger from their fellow ethnics in neighboring states.
Communist parties during the Soviet period shamelessly exploited anti-Semitism and other ethnic prejudices, ensuring these hatreds would survive into the 21st century.
Finally, when significant Western aid failed to materialize even as international lending agencies were insisting on draconian measures, popular resentment of the West and its democratic ideologies exploded. As Hockenos clearly shows, we are living with the legacy of these failures today.