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Democracy is facing challenges across the continent that invented it.

From Poland to Hungary to Italy and beyond, forces that reject democratic values have used elections to gain political footholds, consolidate power, or erode faith in long-standing institutions. This is tearing slowly into the fabric of society. 

In southeast Germany, far-right populists with revisionist views of Nazism won control of a county government for the first time since Hitler’s era. Their critics are bombarded with online threats. In western France, small-town mayors seeking to house refugees faced a wave of intimidation; one resigned after his house was set on fire. Central and eastern European nations that shook off Soviet domination and embraced democratic ideals are turning back the clock, dismantling rights of ethnic minorities and LGBTQ people and freedoms to voice political dissent. To neighbors in the Balkans or Turkey, the democratic promise of European Union membership holds diminishing appeal, as enlargement has stalled and autocratic regimes amplify the EU’s flaws and divisions. With both the EU and the U.S. facing era-defining elections in 2024, Associated Press reporters explore how far-right populism, illiberalism or plain authoritarianism are threatening to undermine European democracies and Europe’s democratic authority.

What went wrong? And how does this impact the lives of half a billion European citizens?