What’s Wrong with East-Central Europe? The Fading Mirage of the “Liberal Consensus”

Issue Date January 2016
Volume 27
Issue 1
Page Numbers 20-34
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In 2007 Ivan Krastev argued that EU-enforced ‘liberal consensus’ in East Central Europe was giving way to illiberal, but ultimately benign, populism. Post-accession ‘backsliding’ in Hungary suggests a stronger illiberal challenge. However, we argue, democratic malaise in ECE is better understood as a long-term pattern of ‘illiberal consolidation’ built on an accommodation between technocratic, economistic liberalism and forces of rent-seeking and cultural conservatism. This configuration generates a mirage of liberal-democratic progress and mainstream moderate politics, which obscures engrained elite collusion and limits to cultural change. Bulgarian-style hollowness, rather than Hungarian-style semi-authoritarianism, better exemplifies the potential fate of ECE democracies today.

About the Authors

James Dawson

James Dawson lectures at University College London, where he has served as director of the master’s program in Democracy and Comparative Politics. He is the author of Cultures of Democracy in Serbia and Bulgaria: How Ideas Shape Publics (2014).

View all work by James Dawson

Seán Hanley

Seán Hanley is associate professor in comparative Central and East European politics at University College London. He is coeditor (with James Dawson and Licia Cianetti) of Rethinking “Democratic Backsliding” in Central and Eastern Europe (2019).

View all work by Seán Hanley