Launch: 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 EnglishCroatian, HungarianPolishRussian, and Serbian 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.

The case study finds and documents that illiberal governments threaten the very structural elements of functioning democracies, transforming what were successful democratic countries into democracies that are sick.

It draws on the first-hand information and research provided by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from the four countries, benefitting from their diverse national perspectives and different realities. It is published by the Centre for Peace Studies (Croatia), Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland), Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Yucom – Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights (Serbia), Human Rights House Zagreb, and Human Rights House Foundation.

Launch events are being held across Europe in the coming months, with the authors presenting their findings and recommendations. The first launch event will be held in Zagreb on 8 December, closely followed by Warsaw on 12 December. The report will then be launched in Brussels on 9 January, followed by Budapest on 24 January.

Read the fact sheet for an introduction to report a summary of the findings.


The authors identify the “ill democracy playbook” from a human rights perspective, to give an understanding of the policies and practices that make democracies sick. Ill democracies show some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Using a majority in parliament to introduce constitutional changes and legislation, and governing based on a “tyranny of the majority.”
  • Targeting the independence of the judiciary and institutions of independent oversight through functional and structural changes.
  • Capturing of institutions through massive dismissals and the placement of “loyals” in key strategic positions to ensure their submission to the ruling government.
  • Use of financial tools against democratic institutions and independent organisations, such as through budget cuts, cutting off from financial sources, and taxation.
  • Shrinking of the democratic space, in particular through laws and policies curtailing freedom of expression, association, and assembly, and aimed at quelling opportunities for dissent.
  • Publicly discrediting and slandering dissenting voices and using libel laws against them.
  • Appropriating and manipulating historical narratives shaping the public discourse.
  • Promoting “traditional values” and “national interests” in the name of majorities, and to the detriment of women, minorities, and vulnerable groups, with a discourse that plays on fear.

All stakeholders need to react in order to restore what illiberal governments have broken, but more urgent even, they need to act to stop further deterioration, according to the case study.

“Where can help come from when the economy has been turned into a nepotistic fiefdom, political parties into parliamentary padding, and the media into mere decorations of preordained elections?”, Miklós Haraszti asks in his foreword.

He answers: “Change can only come from the remaining unchecked, globally rooted social forces, the mercurial civil society.”

A strong and independent civil society plays a crucial role in countering illiberal trends and upholding the fundamental rights that underpin democratic societies. The ability for human rights organisations to assume their watchdog functions, and the right of citizens to access information and to participate fully in public life, are cornerstones of a pluralistic, democratic society.

The case study identifies trends and warning signals to inform early action, and provides a toolbox for civil society and others to better resist ill democracies. It provides practices and strategies to inspire civil society, including 17 recommendations across four key areas: sustainability, work methods, mobilisation, and interaction with decision-makers.

Reactions need to come early in order to stem the tide of illiberalisation and to avoid situations of “too little, too late.”

Download the full case study in EnglishCroatianHungarianPolishRussian, and Serbian.


 

 

Documents:

Resisting Ill Democracies across Europe

Brussels: EU must respond to ill democracy

The NGOs publishing the case study were in Brussels to raise the issue with MEPs and engage the EU in the discussion. They called strongly for the EU to be principled in addressing member state governments that attack the rule of law.

Croatia: Ill Democracies – Europe Between Democracy and Autocracy – Human Rights House Network

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.

Hungary: Existential Threat to Hungarian Civil Society

The launch of the case study in Budapest came as the Hungarian government looked to adopt the “Stop Soros” package of restrictive laws, which pose an existential threat to civil society.

Poland: Healthy democracies are open to dialogue

The launch of the case study in Poland came just days after the Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy was held under the theme “Dialogue in democracy, democracy in dialogue.” On the occasion, HRHF explored two years of Poland ignoring criticisms and recommendations by international bodies and mechanisms.

Authors of the case study

The case study Resisting Ill Democracies in Europe is published by the Centre for Peace Studies (Croatia), Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland), Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Yucom – Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights (Serbia), Human Rights House Zagreb, and Human Rights House Foundation.

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