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Declining Democracy in East-Central Europe

The Divide in the EU and Emerging Hard Populism

Attila Ágh

The dramatic decline of democracy in East-Central Europe has attracted great interest world-wide. Going beyond the narrow spectrum of the extensive literature on this topic, this book offers a comprehensive analysis of ECE region – Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia – from systemic change in 1989 to 2019 to explain the reasons of the collapse of ECE democratic systems in the 2010s.
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Chapter 7: The ECE political system: Velvet dictatorship with façade democracy

Attila Ágh


The second party system brought the emergence of velvet dictatorships with façade democracies. Velvet dictatorships work with the dominance of soft power instead of hard power, with a weak and formalist democracy façade instead of a genuine system of checks and balances. The authoritarian governments have acted systematically, and have elaborated a ‘masterplan’ to demolish this European democratic order step by step, as a de-Europeanization process. In this three-stage model, 1) the state machinery, 2) judiciary and intermediary institutions and 3) civil society and cultural institutions have been the consecutive targets. For the de-Europeanization and de-democratization project the hard populist regimes needed the image of an internal and external enemy, and therefore they propagated hatred and xenophobia. In this way, ‘protecting’ national sovereignty and traditional European values became the main campaign slogan of the hard populist elites in order to achieve strong legitimacy in the age of uncertainty.

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