Challenges to Democracies in East Central Europe

By Drăgulin, Alexandru-Ionuţ | Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review, July 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Challenges to Democracies in East Central Europe


Drăgulin, Alexandru-Ionuţ, Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review


JAN HOLZER AND MIROSLAV MARES (eds.) Challenges to Democracies in East Central Europe Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, London and New York, 2016, 166 pp.

The negative prospects of an erosion of the already consolidated democratic regimes in East Central Europe are among the current trends in the studies on this geopolitical area. If the literature on East Central Europe in the 1990s mainly focused on the post-communist transition and democratization, nowadays the focus shifted to the study of the destabilization and deconsolidation of some already consolidated democratic regimes from the region. The region that is the focal point of the study is made up countries that reside within the region commonly known as Central Europe, mainly those countries that were historically part of either The Austro-Hungarian Empire or of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth - the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary. Besides these states, the study also focuses on Slovenia, a country formally known as Yugoslavia's smallest republic. Romania was not included in this selection of case studies, and we will explain the authors' choice by presenting their methodology and theoretical framework.

Jan Holzer and Miroslav Mareš's book is part of this recent trend, which tries to explain why there is a risk for an erosion of democracy in the mentioned states. As the authors state in the Introduction, they provide a comprehensive overview, with pros and cons, and the aim of their book is "to analyse phenomena or developments which may potentially undermine the consolidation of democracy, or at least hinder its further strengthening, as they emerged in five East Central European countries - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia." (p. 26) Analysing the period between 2004 and 2014, they justify the choice of these case studies by the fact that

"the selection corresponds to a long-standing perception in comparative political research that these countries indeed represent the Central European region. Together with the Baltic republics, these countries were regarded until the mid-2000s as examples of successfully transformed and consolidated democracies." (p. 27)

If democratic consolidation was the main issue in the previous publications,

"the respective contributions in this volume provide a detailed analysis and interpretation of political issues or arenas which present significant challenges to democracy in East Central Europe. Countries of this region have been experiencing turbulent political events in recent years which have often led them away from their post-dissident heritage of successful democratic transformation and consolidation." (p. 21)

Jan Holzer and Miroslav Mareš develop their theoretical framework starting from the hypothesis that in the countries under scrutiny post-communist democracies are described using the concept of democratic consolidation, instead of the term of transition. In the authors' view, due to the optimism of the mid 1990s, which has naturally impacted both political practice and its theoretical reflection, the theoretical paradigm of post-communist studies was swiftly modified, and, instead of transformation or transition, scholars began to focus on the extent of consolidation of the local democracies.

But this change of the areas of interests did not reflect the political realities, because East Central Europe, in the sense specified by the authors, was not prepared to switch to the consolidation of democracy. As the authors state, at that time in the 1990s, it was normally the period of the transition to democracy and it was too early to discuss about such a process. Linz and Stepan1 show that transitology was replaced by the theories of consolidation and this opinion is reflected also in the present volume. In the view of many scholars working from within normative democratic theory, this switch was caused by a methodological choice - that is, by a preference for the minimalistic (or electoral) definition of democracy whose criteria are easiest to fulfil, or at least easiest to measure. …

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