Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
Panel 312: Dimensions of Democratic Backsliding
Monday, 02/Sep/2019:
3:00pm - 4:30pm

Session Chair: André Matos, Portucalense University/Portucalense Institute for Legal Research
Location: Anfiteatro 4

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The Framing of the Debates on the Future of the EU in the V4 Political Discourse

Veronika Zapletalová, Vratislav Havlik

Masaryk University

Since the accession to the EU in 2004, V4 countries have been very often labelled as “troublemakers” in their positions themselves vis‐à‐vis particular EU policies or reforms (Marek, Baun, 2010; Ridder, 2008; Szczerbiak, 2012). This labelling has become more apparent in day to day real EU political life especially with regard to the discussions about the future of the European integration project in the post-Brexit era. Specifically, attention is increasingly being paid to the topic of differentiated integration (Warleigh-Lack, 2015).

In general, V4 countries that have formed the institutionalized multilateral cooperative platform for more than 20 years are often compared as a group or as units of a group (Dangerfield, 2008; Törő, Butler, Grúber, 2014; Schmidt, 2016). With recent increased scholar interest in process of differentiation within the EU (Holzinger, Schimmelfennig, 2012; Schimmelfenning, Leuffen, Rittberger, 2015; Winzen, Schimmelfennig, 2016), it is almost striking that potential contribution of these countries has not been systematically analysed in such context yet.

The paper focuses on the level of countries, where the importance in individual V4 countries is explored. The aim is to evaluate the formation of V4 countries positions towards debates on the future of the EU. Thus, it addresses the following research question: How is the debate on the future of Europe framed in the foreign policy discourses of the V4 countries?

Methodologically, the paper employs frame analysis (Entman, 1993; Van Gorp, 2007; Snow, Benford, 1992) which allows examination of all official communication issued between 2016 and 2019. Three different available types of textual data could be considered as official communication: policy statements from the governments, committee reports, official government communications (namely joint statements, communiqués, press releases and the like). The official communication will be triangulated with data obtained during interviews with representatives of the state administrations of the individual countries. These representatives have been involved in the formulation and implementation of national and European policies in the V4 countries.

Mapping Patters of Democratic Erosion: Eastern Europe in Comparative Perspective

Eli Gateva

University of Nottingham

Less than 30 years since the collapse of the communism in Eastern Europe, there is a growing concern about the decline of democracy in the region. There is an emerging body of literature focusing on democratic backsliding in Eastern Europe. However, most of the research has focused largely on the most deviant cases by analysing the growing authoritarian trends in Hungary and Poland (Cianetti, Dawson and Hanley, 2018). The weakening of formal institutions and growing concerns about judiciary independence have attracted a lot of scholarly attention (Closa and Kochenov, 2016). Few studies have highlighted the weaknesses of existing EU instruments and measures to reverse the erosion of democracy (Gateva, 2013; Kelemen and Blauberger, 2016;). There is an ongoing debate about how to sanction increasingly authoritarian regimes without alienating EU citizens’ support for the integration project. Nevertheless, research has failed to examine the scope and nature of the democratic malaise with reference to media pluralism and media independence. Studying if and how political elites consolidate their power and evade accountability through media capture is crucial at a time when European policy-makers are confronted with the need to tackle the democratic decline in Eastern Europe.The aim of the research is to analyse the dismantling of political accountability in Eastern Europe by examining the threats to media freedom.

Back to Competitive Authoritarianism? Democratic Backsliding in Vučić’s Serbia

Antonino Castaldo

Instituto de Ciências Sociais da Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal

The ‘crisis of democracy’ thesis has recently emerged as a key topic in the democratization literature, triggering a major divide among demo-optimists and demo-pessimists. Despite growing concerns expressed by think thanks and international organizations about the deterioration of democracy in Vučić’s Serbia, the Balkan country has been neglected by this literature. Is the current situation proving that Serbia went through an actual change of regime type or it just represents a further deterioration of the Serbian defective democracy? What is the theoretical contribution of the Serbian case to the debate on the crisis of democracy? Combining both quantitative (V-DEM indexes) and qualitative (Levitsky and Way’s Competitive Authoritarian framework) approaches, the empirical analysis confirms the presence of a very recent autocratization process that led to the re-emergence of a competitive authoritarian regime in Vučić’s Serbia, making this case part of a broader trend of global authoritarian retreat triggered by elected leaders. The peculiar features of this case appear to strengthen the pessimistic side of the crisis of democracy debate: if we are not yet witnessing a third reverse wave, the recent evolution of the Serbian regime seems to represent a small but significant step in that direction.

Measuring Cultural Liberalism, a Strangely Neglected Anchor of Liberal Democracy (with Evidence from Bulgaria)

James Dawson

Coventry University

As we have long been told, European democracies – and indeed those across the world - are now threatened by illiberal populism (Mudde 2004, Plattner 2010). However, the wellsprings of illiberal populism can be found everywhere that exclusivist understandings of political community have been promoted, which is to say everywhere that nation-states are found. It follows from this that if the cultural and ideal content that allows anti-liberal politicians to pit a ‘pure’ people against a ‘corrupted’ elite (principally nativism, social conservatism and anti-intellectualism) are nigh-on ubiquitous, then focussing on the relative salience of such ideas will give scholars very little purchase for understanding where democracies will stand and where they will fall.

Fortunately for scholars (but less so for democrats), the same is not true of its antithesis, cultural liberalism. Cultural liberalism denotes a shared commitment to the universalist values that support liberal democracy: individual liberty, political equality, civic tolerance, pluralism. Cultural liberalism could be measured – but is not yet reliably measured – by tracking opinions and actions that actively oppose illiberal values that are corrosive of the philosophical basis of liberal democracy. With reference to the case of Bulgaria, as presented with data gathered both through the analysis of political discourse (as it has developed since the late 1990s) and an ethnography of citizens’ discussions, I show that neither democracy indices nor the value surveys that supplement them have presented a credible picture of the country’s democratic trajectory. While the former remain wedded to institutionalist understandings of democracy (after Dahl 1973) preventing them from taking ideal/ discursive dimensions of democracy seriously, the latter have tended to confuse ‘live and let live’ libertarianism with the more emancipatory ‘struggle for equality’ that I equate with cultural liberalism. In both cases, these metrics have tended to present an over-optimistic assessment of the democratic health of a society in which institutional democratisation (and latterly backsliding) was never supplemented by any project to instil cultural liberalism. In conclusion, I argue that the strength or weakness of cultural liberalism, as measured both qualitatively and quantitatively through more philosophically-robust survey data-collection techniques, may be a better medium-term predictor of the health of liberal democracy than the institutionally-focussed metrics that still dominate the field.

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