It is almost a truism to say that liberal democracy is not triumphing anymore in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. For the post-soviet space it was always naïve to assume that these countries will gently follow the path of the transition model. But at least most of the countries of Central an Eastern Europe being a part of the EU were engaged on a political and economic reform path and determined to establish liberal democracy. Europe’s multiple crises in the last decade seem to have slowed down or convinced governments of certain countries (Poland being the latest, Hungary the most prominent and most resilient) that the (neo-)liberal reform is not anymore an option. Building an “illiberal state” – whatever this may mean – is not only part of an ideological narrative putting the nation in the center of politics, but is being translated – in the worst case – in policies turned against basic European values such as rule of law, freedom of media or checks and balances. In this regard policies in countries being members of the EU or pretending that they are moving towards EU-membership reveal not only deficits in their understanding of a modern liberal democracy, they show also that democracy is not the only game in town. Political elites in Hungary, Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, until recently also in Romania and now to a certain extent also in Poland seem to have developed particular skills and energies in implementing illiberal policies, putting into question the checks and balances of the liberal state or even in in transforming the original democratic game in an unfair game to be controlled by the incumbents of political power. In some cases observers were describing the national leaders in terms of “Wanna-be-Putins”. This may be an exaggeration, since none of the eastern or south-eastern European political regimes comes close to the type of autocracy realised by Putin and his followers. Still there is an illiberal and even authoritarian “temptation”, which may be temporary, an expression of crisis, of frustration turned against certain policies of the EU, but for which the European union has yet to find adequate answers.
On the other hand, most of the post-soviet countries are autocracies without any prospect or will to move to the shores of liberal democracy. And in Russia’s neighbourhood one can see a series of countries which are involved in a difficult transformation process and confronted with the question whether they want to belong to the West and join the European Union or be integrated in a so called Russian “hemisphere”. As a matter of fact they are part of geopolitical zones of conflict, which after Russia’s aggression against Ukraine could be presented, as Alina Mungiu-Pippidi (2015) rightly put it, as new European border on the Dnjestr. A border marking two different conceptions of political order, modernisation and geopolitical influence.
What is special about the project?
This conference is not looking at the autocracies in the post-soviet world. Rather it is focusing on countries being on the European side of the above mentioned border and on countries being in the neighbourhood of Russia which are as Ukraine or Georgia still struggling with their newly affirmed westward orientation and with building up democracy.
Taking into account these considerations the conference will be organised in panel sections and one round table discussion where the question of illiberalism and/or new-old forms of authoritarianism in Central Europe, South-Eastern Europe and in certain post-soviet countries such as Ukraine and Georgia will be discussed.
General and conceptual research presentations as well as empirical case studies should allow to answer the question to what extent and on what level illiberal policies can be observed in the countries the conference is looking at. A round table should allow to put the focussed regions in a wider context and bring in also the question of authoritarian developments in Turkey or the case of autocratic Russia.
The conference was successfully conducted in Munich, 13-15 October. Ivan Krastev from the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, held the keynote speech, entitled “The Rise of Threatened Majorities”. He stressed that the crisis of liberal democracy was not a regional but a global problem and talked about post-communist identity and the migration crisis is a critical phenomenon. His speech was well received by the conference participants who subsequently discussed conceptual issues as well as developments in the respective countries. A publication on the topic is planned for 2017 and will be published within the series “Interdisciplinary Studies on Central and Eastern Europe” at Peter Lang Publishers.
Persons involved in the project
Prof. Dr. Nicolas Hayoz, Direktor, Université de Fribourg/Freiburg, Pérolles II, Boulevard de Pérolles 90, 1700 Fribourg (Schweiz)
Tamara Brunner, Projektkoordinatorin, Université de Fribourg/Freiburg, Pérolles II, Boulevard de Pérolles 90, 1700 Fribourg (Schweiz)
Last update to this project presentation 17.10.2018