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Authoritarian protectionism in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe: diversity, commonality and resistance

Authoritarianism has become a major buzzword of global politics today. But the public debate has often focused on headline-catching cases of democratic decline. In the European Union (EU), Hungary and Poland, have tended to dominate discussion and critique with the implication that a modern-day ‘containment’ strategy might suffice to withstand the authoritarian advance. This brings dangers for how we think about politics in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe (CESEE), involving a problematic reading of the region as a source of threat to democracy, rather than a theatre for its renewal.

This new LSE IDEAS report, Authoritarian protectionism in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe: diversity, commonality and resistance, seeks to provide a wider regional contextualisation through the examination of Hungary and Poland in tandem with four other case studies in the region: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia. The paper argues that the recent histories of these states provide a vantage point for reflection on the broader tendencies driving democratic decay globally. As the populaces of these states have shown tremendous civic energy in their willingness to resist authoritarianism, often in very large numbers, these case studies also point to the need to re-frame how this topic is discussed in the European public sphere. They suggest we should highlight how events in the region may be a harbinger of new opportunities for democratic advance.  

The snapshot comparative analysis of these states is undertaken through the frame of what the author, Dr Luke Cooper, calls authoritarian protectionism. This emphasises the importance of a politics of ethnonational partisanship to the contemporary challenge to democracy. In the cases examined in the report, authoritarian protectionism draws particular attention to the coherence that exists amongst such actors– despite the fact the examples are drawn from the left, centre and right of the political spectrum.

Download the PDF:

Authoritarian protectionism in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe

This report was published on 6 July 2021.

About the author

Dr Luke Cooper is a consultant and associate researcher at LSE IDEAS. He is the author of Authoritarian Contagion; The Global Threat to Democracy (Bristol University Press, 2021). His podcast documentary series, Between Dream and Tragedy; Europe’s story after 1989, will be released shortly by the Europe’s Futures programme at the Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna.