Peter Pazitny reads J.R.R. Tolkien, listens to massive attack, plays EyeToy games on his PlayStation, and likes to hike, cycle and go barhopping on weekends. In other words, he's 28. He also works 12 hours a day as an adviser to the Slovak Ministry of Health, where he's helping to roll out a major reform package with a scope and ambition that would shame his peers in Western Europe. The reforms aim to balance the budget by introducing patient contributions for care and open up the entire sector to competition. "It's a huge challenge. I'm proud to be part of this," says Pazitny, who eschews an office in favor of two mobile phones and a laptop computer. "We believe in the private sector, we believe that people should take care of themselves, and that the state should intervene only when absolutely necessary."
That's a radical creed in Central and Eastern Europe, where in most countries the reformist zeal of the mid-1990s has given way to complacency and partisan bickering. Politics is still an older persons' game in most of the region, so in Slovakia they call Pazitny and his bright young cohorts the kinder managers, using the German word for child. Apart from Pazitny, there is Miroslav Beblavy, 27, State Secretary of the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Family; Vladimír Tvaroska, 31, State Secretary of the Ministry of Finance; and Richard Rybnícek, 34, general director of Slovak Television. A senior Cabinet member, Justice Minister Daniel Lipsic, is all of 30.
As eight Central and East European nations plus Malta and Cyprus prepare to join the European Union on May 1, Pazitny and his colleagues are engaged in something far more serious than child's play. In addition to the health reforms, the kinder managers are introducing the region's first "three strikes and you're out" law that carries mandatory life sentences for people convicted of three felonies; they've helped push through a flat 19% tax rate for businesses and individuals; they've worked to ditch the old pay-as-you-go pension system, and are now setting up a partially privatized scheme instead.
Make room, Brussels: the New Europeans are coming to town. Across Central and Eastern Europe, stiff-necked apparatchiks and stolid shift workers are on their way out, and young, progressive politicians and risk-taking entrepreneurs are making themselves heard. The generation that came of age since 1989 isn't yet running the show, but it is fiercely individualistic, competitive and outward looking and breathing real life into the term New Europe. When they join the E.U. next month, these children of the postcommunist revolution will bring with them an intense curiosity and desire to succeed, together with a firm belief in the virtues of open borders, and a refreshing self-confidence about their place in Europe and Europe's place in the world. "It's their turn now," says Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz.