Populist and nativist political parties have emerged throughout Europe, yet only in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) have these illiberal democratic parties gained power, notes Jacques Rupnik, director of research at the Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales (CERI) and professor at Sciences Po in Paris. This difference in political fortune can be traced to the countries’ divergent conceptions of nationhood, he writes for the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy:
For CEE countries, nationhood is rooted in ethnic and cultural homogeneity; for Western European countries, it is defined by universalism and diversity. As market globalization and unchecked migration have spurred fear among CEE voters of a nationhood under threat, illiberal democratic leaders have gained power by pledging to defend it. While the return of CEE illiberalism has revived talk of an East-West split in Europe, the crisis of liberalism and rise of populist nationalism are assuredly pan-European phenomena.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary is the leader of a powerful political current in Central Europe: nationalistic, xenophobic and autocratically minded, The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl writes, noting that Orban gave a speech which, among other things, opposed “the policy of exporting democracy.” Of course, as a dissident under Hungary’s authoritarian Communist regime, Orban was himself a beneficiary of democratic solidarity and assistance, prompting some observers to question the morality of pulling up the ladder behind him.
Pierre Rosanvallon identified “counter-democracy” or the “democracy of defiance” as a response to the hollowing out of democratic politics in Europe, adds Rupnik, editor of 1989 as a Political World Event: Democracy, Europe and the New International System in the Age of Globalization (2013):
This “defiance” contains a populist streak of hostility to liberalism and elites, and yet protest movements that are based in civil society and that challenge existing party structures may also come to serve as sources of rejuvenation that breathe new life into tired democratic institutions. The democracy of defiance developed in Western Europe in opposition to the liberal consensus there. Poland suggests that the democracy of defiance can also emerge as a challenge to the illiberal drift of politics in Central and Eastern Europe.