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Europe has entered the 21st century in a state of growing uncertainty about the role and scope of traditional political rights. The scope of 'political rights' is a subject which has always provoked a degree of scholarly controversy, as indeed is reflected in the essays of this volume. Nonetheless, it has usually been taken as evident that the best cure for various threats to and defects of liberal democracy is more stringent rather than less stringent protection of rights such as freedom of speech, or freedom of political and other forms of association. But the global environment in which Europe finds itself has changed, and has gradually eroded these conventional wisdoms. The increased threat of terrorism on the one hand, epitomised by the events of September 11 2001, and the accession of the post-communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe with their specific political traditions on the other hand, has placed this liberal-democratic consensus under considerable stress.
The essays collected in this volume reflect this stress, and search for answers to the questions raised by the changing political environment. The contributions focus on the European experience but they are placed within a wider global context in reflecting on the appropriate scope and strength of protection of political rights. Under what circumstances is 'militant democracy' - democracy which is intolerant of the enemies of democracy - a cure to the real and imagined threats, and under what circumstances does it become part of the problem? Different chapters deal variously with the theory of political rights, the rights to freedom of expression and to freedom association (focusing particularly on the topical issue of party closures), the understanding of political rights in Central and Eastern Europe and its impact on the democratization of this region, the question of political rights of minorities in this region, and finally the effectiveness of the Council of Europe's monitoring mechanisms.