The Serbian Political Science Association (SPSA) Annual Conference
23-24 September 2017, Belgrade
Strong authoritarian currents have swept across the continent in the last few years. Populist and/or far right politicians and ideas now shape the political agenda in many ‘old’ and ‘new’ democracies in Europe on a routine basis and in some are nearing power, boosted by popular discontent with enduring economic, migrant and security crises. In post-communist states, new authoritarians are gradually emerging as a dominant political force. Hegemonic view since the Cold War that considered liberal and democratic ideas and institutions as the only legitimate ones – which weakened authoritarian rulers and empowered democratic forces – has now largely vanished from the global political stage.
New authoritarians in new European democracies have already undermined press freedom and weakened various checks on the executive power, including legislatures, courts, anti-corruption bodies, central banks and various watchdog agencies. In some of these states, especially in the Balkans, elections are no longer free and fair. While these regimes remain competitive, this feature appears to be of a hybrid regime – and not democratic – variety. While coherent alternative authoritarian ideology has not yet emerged, new authoritarians effectively deploy populist themes to belittle and undermine genuine advances in democratic and economic development in the 2000s. In other parts of the region, ‘competitive chauvinism’ and minority rights violations have returned to the centre stage. Across the board, clientelism and corruption, which were tolerated by earlier democratic governments, are now deployed as important vehicles of political control and have become embedded in society.