The conference was organised by Human Rights House Zagreb, Center for Peace Studies and Croatian Platform for International Citizen Solidarity. The primary objective was to present the findings of the comparative case study “Resisting Ill Democracies in Europe: Understanding the playbook of illiberal governments to better resist them,” conducted in Croatia, Hungary, Poland, and Serbia. The conference aimed to stimulate discussion on potential causes of the emergence of authoritarian trends in Europe and their impact on the concept of liberal democracy.

In an effort to provide a unique definition of an illiberal democracy and articulate adequate strategies of resistance against authoritarian trends in Europe, the Conference brought together some of the leading experts within the fields of international relations and human rights protection. They were joined by prominent political figures and civil society representatives from Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Switzerland, Macedonia and Slovenia.

The conference opened with an introductory panel attended by: Vesna Pusić, former Croatian Minister of Foreign and European Affairs; Jadranka Kosor, former Croatian Prime Minister; and Žarko Puhovski, professor of philosophy of politics and a political analyst. At its core, the conference provided a cross-sectoral environment conducive to fostering dialogue and opening a critical debate on one of the most important and complicated issues of contemporary Europe. A liberal approach to politics brings into to question the foundations of the multicultural policy of the EU policy, which is not accepted by all. With diverging opinions offered by the speakers, the main questions remain: Is the future of the EU multicultural or xenophobic? And does Orban really represent the personification of true, intrinsic, new European values? Time will tell.

As expressed by the conference organisers, it is undisputable that the illiberal democracy phenomenon reduces the concept of democracy to a mere multiparty system, while at the same time attempts to suppress or institutionally marginalise all the remaining fundamental components needed for the adequate functioning of a democratic pluralistic society.

This Professor Dejan Jović, the author of recently published book, “War and Myth: The Politics of Identity in Contemporary Croatia,adamantly stated that today we are dealing with totalitarian democracies – democracies in which the majority thinks it is the entirety. Symptomatically, in such democracies, pillars and facilitators of well-functioning democratic societies become subjected to the impact of the ruling authoritarian majority. This includes civil society organisations that are critical, independent media, independent judiciary, and other institutions responsible for the protection of human rights and functioning of democracy.

The role of the European Union in countering these negative trends was also raised. Xhabir Deralla, head of Macedonian organisation CIVIL, indicated that the EU has for a long time been voluntarily trading democracy and human rights for stability and security. However, as Ivan Novosel, Director of Programs at the Human Rights House Zagreb, emphasised, human rights are political. Freedoms were not created as a bureaucratic tool, but a political fight.

In the end, democracies can be just a little ill or be fatally ill. It is up to civil society organisations to curb this epidemic.

Resisting Ill Democracies in Europe

From emerging democracies in transition, illiberal governments have rapidly transformed Hungary and Poland into ill democracies, have attempted to do so in Croatia, and are slowly and carefully entertaining an illiberal platform in Serbia, according to the new case study Resisting Ill Democracies in Europe.

The findings, published in English, Croatian, and Polish by a group of human rights organisations, are based on their study of ill democracy in Croatia, Hungary, Poland, and Serbia.

Coming at a crucial time for civil society and democracy, the authors identify the main trends within ill democracies, and offer practices and strategies for civil society to resist.