‘Normalization’ or alarmism? How to best defend democracy


Where do you draw the line between living in a democracy in which the party you despise has won free elections and living in a dictatorship where the opposition may never be allowed to win again? asks Ivan Krastev, the chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies, a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, and the author of “After Europe.”

Is “normalization” of populists the biggest threat facing Europe, or should we also fear the hysteria of populists’ opponents? And can the forms of resistance that worked against Communist and fascist dictatorships work against the democratically elected illiberal governments of today? he writes in the New York Times. Drawing the line between democracy and dictatorship requires passion and a readiness to defend one’s values. It also requires a sense of proportion, adds Krastev, a regular contributor to the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy:

The task of being in the opposition to the current crop of populist governments is particularly difficult because these populists represent, first and foremost, a triumph of intensity over consistency in democratic politics. Populism thrives when politics become about symbols rather than substance. The populists’ core voters — in Poland and elsewhere — will easily forgive their leaders for failing to enact policies or changing their minds. But they will not tolerate their populist crusaders acting like “normal politicians.” And that is why behaving as if we are living in 1930s Germany or 1970s Eastern Europe paradoxically serves the populists’ agenda. RTWT

According to conventional wisdom, the biggest threat to the European project is “illiberal” saboteurs on the periphery of the European Union who have decided not to play by the rules, notes Mark Leonard, Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. But what this narrative misses is the even deeper divide within EU member states, including bastions of liberalism such as France and Germany, he writes for Project Syndicate.

But data from the Varieties of Democracy” (V-Dem) project (below), which scrutinized almost 180 states, indicates that democracy is on the rise, making gains in Tunisia, Sri Lanka, Burkina Faso, Georgia and Guyana, while it has lost ground in countries such as Thailand, Poland, Turkey, Brazil and the Maldives.

All in all, “we cannot really talk about a global decline of democracy,” according to V-Dem director Staffan Lindberg.  

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