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Democratic backsliding

It is not entirely clear whether this process is more advanced in the post-communist part of Europe but its appearance there is troubling to many observers, because – as it is sometimes argued – people’s views and actions are not yet anchored in democratic habits and institutions as strongly as in the older democracies of the West.

The mechanisms and consequences of these cultural and political changes are the subject of intense debate. A Weimar Redux thesis, once a far-flung speculation, has become a viable even if unlikely scenario. It holds that the economic crisis of 2008 and multiple political crises have brought to the forefront of public life right-wing populists whose commitment to the procedures of democracy is tepid if not hostile. 

As a result, the process of democratic backsliding has commenced and it may – as an increasing number of observers worry – lead to the weakening of democracy and the rise of some forms of authoritarianism. While such worries have become increasingly prominent in the popular media, academic researchers have been, until recently, more restrained in their diagnoses, though not unconcerned. The Polish right-wing turn has no doubt intensified this concern.

Increase in destabilising domestic politics

The consequences for Europe are increasingly serious. As the EU is trying to come to terms with Brexit and the general sense of malaise the rise of the right-wing populism spells trouble. The rightward reorientation of the political scene has already destabilised domestic politics in several countries, undermined the established ways of doing business among European partners and led to the rise of ‘uncivilised’ political behaviour and even violence. In Poland, the number of court proceedings related to cases “motivated by racism or xenophobia” increased from 123 in 2008 to 835 in 2013 and 1548 in 2015.