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SSEES Research Blog


A showcase of research from UCL's School of Slavonic and East European Studies staff and students


Czech elections: despite the Pandora Papers Babiš will be hard to dislodge

By Sean L Hanley, on 5 October 2021

2021 was supposed to be the year that the Czech Republic’s billionaire populist Prime Minister, Andrej Babiš, finally came a cropper. Dogged by corruption allegations, fending off prosecution and under persistent fire from the EU conflicts-of-interests, the oligarch-turned-politician’s ham-fisted handling of the covid crisis caught up with him. Having bragged that early success controlling the pandemic made Czechs and Central Europeans ‘best in Covid’ – and trumpeted his own skills as a political crisis manager – by March this year Babiš was presiding over a country with the worst infection rates in the world, with his government’s record slated by experts and medical professionals.

But just days before parliamentary elections on October 8-9, and despite the bombshell Pandora Papers revelations about his use of offshore companies to buy property on the French Riviera, the populist billionaire seems to have every chance of hanging on  – and the outcome of the elections is uncertain. Read the rest of this entry »

Christian churches, social capital and the 2020 Belarusian uprising

By Lisa J Walters, on 9 August 2021

Author: Paula Borowska, PhD Candidate at UCL SSEES. Paula’s working thesis is ‘Religion and social capital: the case of Protestants in Belarus’

This August marks a year since the large-scale protests had swept through Belarus following the fraudulent presidential election. With several protesters dead and the number of political prisoners in hundreds, Belarus is undergoing one of the most dramatic periods since it proclaimed independence in 1990.

Source: belsat.eu

Despite the violence of the authorities, the persistence of the protests demonstrated something unanticipated. One can hardly say that civil society in Belarus is the ‘least developed in Europe’ (Lenzi, 2002) or ‘weak’ (Matchanka, 2014), while social capital is in ‘low stocks’. In fact, social networks, solidarity and trust of Belarusians have never been at these levels.

The brutal suppression of peaceful protest marches has also triggered reaction from various Christian churches in Belarus. This blog post explores how Christian churches engaged with the ongoing crisis. It views their participation as talaka, a form of voluntary assistance, historically, traditional to Belarusian rural communities. Considering the political turbulence and the state repressions, churches efficiently facilitated acts of solidarity within society.

Read the rest of this entry »

In Memoriam – Prof. Oleh Havrylyshyn

By tjmsrol, on 6 October 2020

Prof. Oleh Havrylyshyn died on the 20th of September 2020. In this piece, Elodie Douarin pays tribute to her friend and colleague, recounting her experience of working with him.

Oleh Havrylyshyn first came to SSEES in the fall in 2017. I had received in the summer an enthusiastic email from Yuemei Ji: she had had a long conversation with Oleh at a conference and they had both concluded that he needed to come and visit us in London. I could not agree more: Oleh’s expertise on the Economics of Transition was widely recognised, but he also had much broader interests covering Politics and History, thus making him a perfect match for our multi-disciplinary area study school! As we started discussing the organisation of a visit, many people came on board, and Jan Kubik, who at the time was SSEES director, was in particular very supportive. His early enthusiasm was instrumental to getting the visit finalised.

Fast forward to December 2017, and Oleh was finally here. He had come to London with his wife Natalia, and in the space of 4 days, he took part in 4 different events: speaking about his book on Ukraine with Andrew Wilson, discussing Ragusa and historiography with Wendy Bracewell, commenting on the book I had just published with Tomek Mickiewicz and finally discussing 25 years of transition in a public lecture for our PG and UG students. He was delighted by his visit: he tremendously enjoyed exchanging with Andrew, they mostly agreed in their analyses but Oleh really appreciated the intricacies of Andrew’s argumentation. The conversation around cheese and wine continued long after the event was meant to finish, with speakers and audience members exchanging anecdotes till late in the evening. The discussion with Wendy was warm and instructive. Again Oleh left enthused, he had received constructive criticism and had now new ideas to investigate further the success of mediaeval Ragusa. His presentation to our students was also a success. He had a very personal experience of transition, having worked both for the IMF and for the Ukrainian government, this gave him a lot of personal anecdotes and “small stories” to tell to liven the bigger stories of transition. Oleh’s talk ended with a standing ovation and a few audience members coming to him to express how privileged they felt to have met him, with one even asking Oleh for an autograph. Oleh was visibly touched by the recognition, if maybe a little puzzled too.

In all settings, Oleh was incredible: he was excited to exchange and argue his views and always did it clearly and precisely, with references to facts, data and sources. He was very knowledgeable and very good at structuring his arguments to maximise impact. But he would also recognise inconsistencies or areas in which he thought more work was needed, and he genuinely liked receiving constructive criticism, as an opportunity to improve and refine his work. There was not a trace of vanity or arrogance in him: he was engaging with specific academic arguments because he found them fascinating and his motivation to improve knowledge – nothing more, nothing less.

After this first visit, we stayed in touch. He had praised “Economics of Institutional Change”, and our informal discussions during his visit at SSEES had made it clear that we were very much in agreement in our views on transition. This wasn’t surprising, Oleh had been central to my education on the the subject (together with my numerous conversations with Tomek Mickiewicz and an earlier reading of Aslund’s book “How Capitalism was Built”). He continues to feature repeatedly in the reading lists for the courses I teach (Emerging Market Economies and Economic Development and Policies). Oleh had an engaging writing style, his papers and books were highly pedagogical, explicitly engaging with interpretations that differed from his own to clarify where the disagreements came from, always embedding his arguments in data, and often nuancing his conclusions to recognise areas where more research was needed. As we kept exchanging, the idea of co-editing a book together reviewing the evolution of “Comparative Economics” over the past 30 years emerged. I felt honoured that he found the idea appealing, and it took us only a couple of iterations to finalise our full book proposal: we had a truly common vision of what the book should be about. Three very detailed sets of reviews later, we had a contract signed for a Palgrave Handbook of Comparative Economics.

Working on the book was hard work, much more than I had anticipated. However, I would definitely do it all over again. We had an incredible set of contributors, who embraced our vision for the book and delivered on our expectations. And I really enjoyed working with Oleh. He was extremely reliable, never missing a deadline and always responding swiftly to queries, even the most mundane ones. We had frequent discussions, and made sure we both agreed on the feedback we sent to all our contributors. I benefited greatly from his experience, and he named me head of communication and technology, because of a slight comparative advantage in using some of the more modern tools (Oleh would smile reading this. He was often making fun of his difficulties with technology).

Oleh really impressed me with his stamina: we worked through the final versions of most of the chapters for the handbook while I was in lockdown in Italy and he was increasingly social distancing in Canada. Some collaborators were facing all sorts of difficulties in their diverse locations, as the pandemic enfolded. Our response was to increase the turnaround at which we were providing feedback: the handbook would just have to be a priority for a little while, as it was the only way we could support our contributors, to try and make the publishers deadlines, without adding pressures on others. But in his case, he was doing this after an intense period of work putting the finishing touches to another book…

“Present at the Transition” (CUP) is indeed the latest book written by Oleh. It is an engaging book reflecting on the experience of transition away from communism and towards market economies in Central and Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, and it is such a perfect reflection of Oleh’s views and personality because the book does what Oleh did best, providing a detailed review of the academic literature and an astute discussion of key data, peppered with personal anecdotes which both illustrate and nuance the academic perspective. The book is both really accessible (and would make a great read for anyone interested in a detailed overview of transition from undergraduate students to early career researchers alike) and exhaustive, providing a formidable account of transition, from many perspectives. Indeed, the book presents an economic analysis of transition but also discusses historical legacies, political economy constraints, and external influences. The subtitle to the book reflects this approach well: “An Inside Look at the Role of History, Politics and Personalities in Post-Communist Countries”. It does bring together a lot of Oleh’s knowledge and expertise, providing a compelling overview. It just came out in May 2020 and incredibly, Oleh was able to finalise the proofs as we were between the first and the second drafts of most of the chapters for the handbook.

As I write today, we are also working through the proofs of the handbook, which should be released by the end of the year or early in 2021. However, Oleh will not be there to see this happen, as he left us on the 20th of September 2020, passing peacefully in the night. The news came as a complete shock to me, I had been in touch with him several times a week for the past 2 years, and pretty much every day since the beginning of 2020. He had always been warm and upbeat, often mentioning his plans for future research. He had also become a friend. In my last email to him, I had attached a picture of my newly redecorated working-corner at home, and he had informed me on the latest changes in his garden. He died just a few days after proof reading his handbook chapters: one last time delivering on time on the tasks he had committed to perform.

Oleh will be dearly missed, because he was such a knowledgeable academic who over decades had contributed to educating many, like me, to the intricacies of transition, because he enjoyed debating and honing his arguments, while always respecting and valuing the views of others and had thus earned the respect of those who agreed and those who disagreed with him, because he had a diverse experience and also wanted to embrace a diversity of points of view, making him a true advocate of inter-disciplinarity, because he was kind, generous and supportive to all, especially younger scholars. I will miss him dearly as a great colleague and a friend.

Oleh’s wife, Natalia, was always a fantastic support for Oleh. She attended some of his talks, always a supportive and loving presence at the back. She encouraged and supported his work, but also reminded him to take care of himself and stand back when needed. My thoughts are with her, as well as their children and grandchildren, in these difficult times.

The family invite friends and colleagues to submit their thoughts and reflections on Oleh’s legacy using this Google form.

Join our PiraMMMida scheme!

By tjmsrol, on 8 July 2020

Join our PiraMMMida scheme!

Launched on 1 July 2020, PiraMMMida.life, an experimental exhibition platform curated by UCL SSEES Lecturer in Critical Area Studies and FRINGE Centre Co-Head Michał Murawski, in collaboration with David Roberts (Bartlett School of Architecture), Masha Mileeva (Courtauld Institute) and Denis Maksimov (Avenir Institute).

PiraMMMida features the work of over 20 contributors: scholars, artists, architects, practitioners and others. SSEES contributors include Lecturer in Eurasian History Philippa Hetherington, Associated Professor in Czech with Slovak Literature Peter Zusi and Professor of Sociology Alena Ledeneva. The first batch of contributions was published on PiraMMMida.life on Wednesday 1 July; while the remaining contributions will continue to drop, like money from the MMM tree, in weekly batches every Wednesday until the end of July 2020. A virtual PiraMMMida conference will take place on 1 September, with the Call for Contributions (open to all) to be circulated in due course.

PiraMMMida.life – the cyber version of the PPV show at the (cancelled) Venice Biennale of Architecture 2020 – is a transmedia, transdisciplinary project exploring the relationship between finance, architecture, art and power. PiraMMMida borrows its name from MMM Bank, a notorious post-Soviet pyramid scheme launched by Sergei Mavrodi in 1991 and persisting in various guises (as MMM Global) until today. PiraMMMida explores Ponzi schemes, such as Mavrodi’s, and other “fake horizontals”: pharaonic edifices of exploitation and fraud masquerading as paragons of grassrootist virtue.

PiraMMMida.life is a project of PPV (Perverting the Power Vertical: Politics and Aesthetics in the Global East). It is supported by the Bartlett Architectural Research Fund, the FRINGE Centre for the Study of Social and Cultural Complexity and the UCL European Institute, carried out in collaboration with S.a.L.E. Docks and the Avenir Institute.

This is an excerpted fragment of an interview with Michał Murawski about PPV first published (in Russian) in Project Russia (www.prorus.com) on 3 July 2020. The interview was carried out by Asya Belousova.

Asya Belousova (AB): Perverting the Power Vertical (PPV) started as a seminar series that Michal Murawski has been running at UCL with some colleagues. Could you get into details and say what the seminar was dedicated to and how it progressed to become a platform for research and projects for Venice biennale? 

Michał Murawski (MM): The art historian Masha Mileeva and I launched PPV as a seminar series at University College London in October 2018. Actually, it was initially called “Power Vertical: Politics and Aesthetics in the Global East”. We invited Denis Maksimov, an independent curator, scholar and weirdo, to give one of the first seminars. It turned out he lived in London and we had similar seditious ideas about how to work with institutions, so he joined us as Co-Convener of the seminar series. Actually, he perverted us, and gave us the idea to change our name from PV to PPV


With regard to the Venice Biennale […] in our first year of operation, we worked with Arts Territory’s Kasia Sobucka’s and the Signum Foundation to put on a small project, called the Palace of Ritual, at Palazzo Dona Brusa. […] This year, we are working with the like-minded S.a.L.E. Docks, an activist initiative which squatted an exhibition hall on Dorsoduro, to realise PiraMMMida at the Architecture Biennale. We hope to realise this project in physical form in Venice in 2021, but we had a hunch that the Biennale would not go ahead this year – despite misleading promises to the contrary – so we decided to go online, with some funding from the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL. David Roberts is our comrade and Fellow Traveller from the Bartlett, and he has joined as co-curator of PiraMMMida this year.

PPV #8: The Palace of Ritual, May 2019, photographs by MM

AB: Why are you attracted so much to the pyramid? You are concentrating on the Eastern Europe. Why? What cases are you exploring and dissecting?

MM: Perhaps we can begin with why we are attracted to the “power vertical”. We are interested in ideas, concepts or phenomena that derive from East European or other post-socialist contexts; we are committed to trying to “unanchor” these ideas from their places of origin (while remaining conscious of their origins), and to applying these ideas into the broader world, to try to understand the world through categories derived from the “East”; rather than always trying to understand the East, and the South, and everywhere else, through categories taken from the West or the North, from France or America. Why do we always have to understand Russia or Nigeria “through” Foucault or Agamben? Why can’t we understand things that are happening in the core liberal capitalist countries through categories taken from our own peripheral or semi-peripheral contexts? We are not the only people who think like this – Yevgeny Fiks did a similar thing with this suggestion of “theory of pleshkha” as an alternative to Judith Butler-derived “queer theory”, the anthropologists Doug Rogers and Don Kalb have also written about it, and our colleagues the geographers Elena Trubina and Martin Müller are thinking along the same lines with their understanding of the “Global East” – but we are trying to institutionalise this move of unanchoring or “unbinding” theory from the East in as perverted and relentless a way as possible.


We were attracted to pyramid schemes for different reasons, I think. As an anthropologist I am really obsessed with the vernacular architecture of the pavilionchiki [temporary retail pavilions], which were demolished by Sergey Semyonovich [Sobyanin, Mayor of Moscow] on the so-called “Night of the Long Diggers [9 February 2016]; and generally with the other Las Vegas-esque pyramidal forms that sprouted up all over the post-Soviet world during the 1990s and 2000s. There are so many of them and they are amazing! My favourite one, of the ones I have been to, is the Kazan pyramid. I want to have a big party one day in the restaurant at the tip of the tower. And my other ambition is to one day visit the bus station in Chelyabinsk, which emanates a particularly otherworldly sort of cosmic power. These pyramidal forms are emanations or embodiments of the era of “wild capitalism”, the era of gryby i mutant (mushrooms and mutants), in Dasha Paramonova’s phrase, which – in theory – came to an end on the Night of the Long Diggers. But, as we are trying to point out, this era is far from over.


3) What are the prerequisites and mechanisms that enable pyramid schemes to come about? 

Pyramid in Kazan, photograph by Michal Murawski

MM: […] Pyramid schemes like MMM come about – and are able to entice vulnerable people in – at times of crisis, systemic transformation and desperation; at the kinds of times when statues fall, inflation goes hyper- and people take to the streets to riot. Various parts of the world are more or less always in this kind of state of normalised crisis, especially the formerly colonized countries, which are kept in this state of crisis by the global monetary system. The most famous pyramid schemes in the West – those of Ponzi and Madoff, for example – also came about at times of global financial meltdown. And the rise of cryptocurrency – in essence, these are get-rich quick schemes, which profited their early investors but which go in and out of cycles of explosion or implosion every four years or so – promised to be a radical new type of “truly horizontal” pyramid scheme, which began to proliferate in the long recession following the sub-prime mortgage crisis; a recession followed by over a decade of brutal austerity, which many people seemed to never get out of. And, of course, our current Covid moment is ripe for these kinds of schemes to develop too: inequalities are sharpened, battle lines are drawn on the lines of class, race, gender and sexuality; statues and monuments are toppled. We are in the middle of this sort of systemic reconfiguration, and we won’t know what the other side looks like for some time yet. We would like it to look less vertical, and more egalitarian, more queer, more black, less white, less hetero, less male.

Of course, we’re not too hopeful that this is possible, but we shall see. We are also very aware, of course, that the more you emphasise how horizontal, how democratic, how transparent something is, the more you of a rhetorical emphasis you place on this horizontality and democracy, the more pyramidal and the more pharaonic and exploitative things actually tend to be in essence. So this is in a sense what PiraMMMida is about. The PiraMMMida project is sort of an exploration of “fake horizontality”, an examination of the ways in which people claim things are horizontal, whereas actually they are as vertical as a vysotka [a Stalin-era skyscraper]. This is what most of the contributions to PiraMMMida explore. Rita Kuleva writes about pyramids in the art world, Philippa Hetherington about pyramids in public health (what does “flattening the curve really mean?). Artworks by Alena Ledeneva illustrate various types of informal political and economic geometries. The text contributions explore these themes very directly, the visual and architectural contributions do so a little more subtly.

A Mavro voucher, photograph by Michał Murawski

Another example is [former Georgian President] Saakashvilli’s all-glass police stations – built, of course, in the form of pyramids. They are supposed to be transparent, so that the police are in theory forced by this transparency to be more polite and less corrupt. But, of course, what happens it that the police just go and beat people up underground, in the dark dungeons beneath the light-filled police station (or this what people in Tbilisi joke, anyway). And what’s happening with the [Russian] constitutional referendum is another crazy manifestation of this kind of fake horizontality. First Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] pretended that the changes to the constitution were all about making the Duma stronger. Then [Valentina] Tereshkova [Russian deputy and cosmonaut, the first woman in space] “forced” him to take upon himself the burden of accepting amendments that would make him President for ever (and who better to descend from on high with such an initiative than somebody with the extraordinary cosmic, otherworldly, divine authority of Tereshkova?) And he modestly accepted this burden. Then – after the whole process was injected with this horrendous, heteronormative patina – the vote happened. And the vote is being carried out in the most democratic way ever! You don’t even have to go to the polling station – the polling station comes to you! And what could be more democratic than a transparent ballot box (if only the boxes were in the shape of pyramids)?

A Perverso voucher, photograph by Michał Murawski

And, to cap it all off, you are rewarded vouchers for voting, which you can redeem in Azbuka Vkusa [a Moscow grocery chain]. You are basically given Mavros [the name of the “vouchers” issued to participants in MMM Bank] for voting! Or Perversos (this is the name of the (crypto-)currency which we [launched] at the virtual vernissage of PiraMMMida.

The “Good Change”: Polish populist presidential campaign 2015 and now

By tjmsrol, on 23 June 2020

By Carolin Heilig and Paulina Lenik (FATIGUE Early Stage Researchers)


The 2020 presidential elections in Poland have received international attention on how to proceed with election without compromising on the population’s health, while still acting within the provisions of the constitution. These elections, however, are a potential turning point in the illiberal trajectory that Poland has been on for the last five years – they could also be the final step to solidify the country’s illiberal swerve to a proper illiberal turn (Bustikova/Guasti, 2017). That is the expected outcome if incumbent Andrzej Duda consolidates his support winning the second term in office. In this blog, we focus on Duda’s 2015 and 2020 campaign as the his backing party PiS has become the seasoned “the establishment”. To illustrate this shift we collected budgetary statistics, press releases and the 2015 and 2020 election campaign materials.

To compare Duda’s 2015 and 2020 election campaign in the light of populism, we employ Cas Mudde’s ideational approach, understanding populism as a thin ideology that pitches the “pure people” against the “corrupted elites” and can then be thickened with other ideologies such as nativism (Mudde/Rovira Kaltwasser, 2017). At the core of the thin ideology of populism are the exaltation of the ‘will of the people’ and the preference of substance over procedure in a democracy (Kubik, 2012) (Kubik, 2012). As such, populism is not at odds with democracy per se but with liberal democracy (Albertazzi/Mueller, 2013). Liberal democracy and populist ideology are clashing most strongly in questions of individual rights, freedom of speech and separation of power (ibid.).

Grim expectations: between a turn and a slide

In their distinction between an illiberal turn from an illiberal swerve, Bustikova and Guasti (2017), name three conditions: 1) executive aggrandisement (Bermeo, 2016), which in Poland took place in the form of the judicial reforms and increased government control over national media , 2) contested sovereignty that increases polarisation, most clearly exemplified by the increasingly exclusionary and heteronormative identity politics and 3) the dominant party winning two consecutive elections. Their argument focuses on parliamentary elections, not presidential ones, but the Polish case underlines the importance to include presidential elections in this calculation. The Law and Justice party (PiS) – united with its two small partners Agreement and United Poland as the “United Right”- has set the scene in the 2019 parliamentary elections. The current quest for power is to assure Duda’s victory in the 2020 elections. An opposition-backed president may be more willing to use a veto power to block further executive aggrandisement and manage to overcome deeply rooted divisions within the Polish society.

Presidential elections: a competence refresher

Poland’s political system is semi-presidential. The President is the representative of the State in foreign affairs, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, appoints the Prime Minister and their cabinet, as well as judges to the Supreme Court, common courts, administrative courts and military courts. As Art. 127 of the Polish Constitution specifies, the President of the Republic of Poland shall be elected in universal, equal, and direct elections, conducted by secret ballot, for a 5-year term of office and may be re-elected only for one more term. To run in the election a candidate requires the support by the signatures of at least 100,000 citizens having the right to vote in the elections. If no candidate receives 50% of the votes in the first round of the elections, the two candidates with the most votes will compete in a second round on the 14th day after the first vote.

The legislative competences of the Polish president have received increasing attention under Duda’s presidency since 2015. The President has the right to submit a legislative initiative (Constitution), however, the vast majority of debated initiatives in the Sejm are submitted by the Council of Ministers, Sejm committee or groups of at least 15 Members of the Sejm. Following Art. 122 of the Constitution, the President must sign a legislative act adopted by the Sejm for it to enter into force. He furthermore holds considerable veto power: if he has doubts concerning the appropriateness or purposefulness of an adopted act, the President may apply his veto. The Sejm than has the possibility to reject the President’s veto by majority of 3/5 of qualified votes in the presence of half of the MPs – currently, the United Right falls short of such a majority. The President’s veto is not selective; hence they cannot question only some regulations, but rather the act as a whole. If the President doubts the compliance of the act with the Constitution, he can submit it to the Constitutional Tribunal for examination.

Populists, not officeholders: the 2015 campaign

In 2015, Duda was chosen as PiS’s candidate to challenge PO’s Incumbent president Komorowski. Duda was then a PiS MEP with considerable experience but relatively unknown to many Poles. In the presidential elections, Duda was the face of an ambitious campaign that was underestimated by the complacent incumbent Komorowski, who had been leading in polls before the election (Markowski, 2016).). Eventually, Duda secured 51.55% of the votes in the second round, ever since connecting his presidency closely to PiS and its programme to lead Poland out “of ruins” and bring about the “Good Change”.

As corrupted elites, Duda’s campaign framed the governing elite of the then ruling PO as arrogant and detached from ordinary Poles’ lives. Touring around the whole country, meeting with these ordinary Poles, he aimed to distinguish himself from those liberal heirs of the Solidarity movement that sold out Poland’s interests to foreign actors. Duda stressed the historical legacies of Poles, by evoking heroism of older generations, drawing on direct family lines. This wass visualised in his campaign video that shows young scouts at the Warsaw Uprising Memorial, images of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, or people waving Polish flags with the “Polska Walcząca – anchor” at his campaign inauguration – a symbol created in the resistance to Nazi German occupation and nowadays increasingly coopeted by radical right-wing actors in Poland. In his speeches as well as in his official campaign video, Duda stressed his legacy of the late PiS president Lech Kaczyński who lost his life in the 2010 Smolensk tragedy, but this remains the only allusion to recent history. The Polish nation and its heroism are evoked through its resistance and perseverance in the times of Nazi German occupation and the Second World War.

Aside the historical nostalgia, Duda ran as a candidate for all Poles, bringing hope and dignity to those from whom the ruling elites had unjustly withheld prosperity after the hardships of transition after state socialism. The pure people are defined through their belonging to Polish nation and its history, but in contrast to 2020, his 2015 campaign did not highlight the family as the core of the nation.

Populists in the seat: the 2020 campaign 

Duda linked his presidency completely to the PiS party and its government since 2015. This is probably best illustrated by his campaign slogan of 2020 “Obronimy Polski +” (“Let’s defend Poland +”), which is a clear reference to various social welfare programmes paid out by the Polish government since 2015, ranging from child benefit 500+ to a pension increase 300+ and other projects. Additionally, images in his campaign spot of Duda together with PiS prime minister Morawiecki shall illustrate the president’s cooperation skills. In his official appearances during the election campaign, Duda stresses his role in signing the respective laws, directly alluding that an oppositional president would refuse to sign laws passed by the Polish parliament or even threat to strip Poles from existing benefits.

The populist rhetoric has also visibly intensified over the last years and Duda’s definition of the pure Polish people has narrowed down. In the presidential debate held on the 17.06.2020 he cited the constitution defining marriage as a union between man and woman which builds the basis of the family he almost exclusively seems to target in his campaign. Tellingly, this was the only time during the debate that he cited the Constitution to underline his argument, while the Left’s challenger Robert Biedroń brought his own copy to the debate to wave it at the president accusing him of disrespecting the Constitution and the rule of law during his presidency. Duda’s narrow focus on families most recently found yet another peek with his move to sign a Family Charter (Karta Rodziny), reliant on a similar charter promoted by the radical-right conservative law think tank Ordo Iuris (involved in the establishment of so-called LGBT free zones in Poland ) which met with considerable backlash and many universities (among them Duda’s own alma mater the Jagiellonian University in Kraków) issuing supportive statements for their queer students and staff- Duda openly declared LGBT to be a “foreign ideology” and compared it with Soviet indoctrination.

Duda’s recursing to national heroism also increased, which even became a special point in his 2020 programme called “Historical truth and the image of Poland”. Among others it states: “[…] Poland needs a president who will continue to restore national pride. We are a nation of heroes. In our history we have demonstrated courage and steadfastness. Today, Poles can and should be beneficiaries of the attitude of their grandparents, for whom there was no matter more important than honour.” . In line with this, Duda continuously cites in his speeches the Polish national anthem “Poland has not yet perished as long as we still live.” It should not come as a surprise that the Polish national colours red and white become even more dominant and images of Duda commemorating Polish soldiers fallen during the Second World War become even more prominent in his campaign videos, underlined by heroic and epic music. In order to underscore his focus on Polish families, many children and teenagers feature his campaign. In the 2020 campaign they are particularly often dressed in traditional folk dresses (see here).

With PO’s candidate Rafał Trzaskowski rising in the polls , narratives of the arrogant PO neglecting ordinary Poles have made a reappearance in Duda’s framing of the corrupted elites, playing with soft Eurosceptic images and rekindling the old post-Solidarity division, between those who argue that Polish interests were sold out during transition and the years after under PO rule and those who supported a liberal reformist approach to the Polish transition (see Aronoff/Kubik, 2014: 229ff). (Interestingly this narrative is also used, but differently, by the independent candidate Szymon Hołownia, currently polling third, who stresses in his campaign that Poland needs a president independent of both camps and political elites PO and PiS to create a fair and just Poland.)

Good or sizable? Change in the presidential cabinet’s expenses

Every newly elected president appoints the new cabinet (Kancerlaria Prezydenta Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej, the KPRP) which manages the daily routine of the head of state. The current organisational structure has undergone substantial changes with a consequently expanding tendency. Arguably, such expansionary red tape goes against the narrative fostered by PiS and Duda in the 2015 elections of the “Good Change” narrative fostered by PiS and Duda in the 2015 elections, that is putting an end to excessive spending under the previous “elitist rule” of the Civic Platform’s (PO) president Bronislaw Komorowski. The particularly astonishing finding is that it is not transparent where and how much resources are devoted to some of KPRP activities, as for instance the two counselling bodies that Andrzej Duda has established in the memory of the late Lech Kaczyński, that is the Narodowa Rada Rozwoju (National Development Council Body, NRR) and Rada Przedsiębiorczości (Entrepreneurial Council, RdsP).

The competence of the cabinet  (KPRP) is specified in the , entirely defined by the newly appointed president. A brief comparison between the previous presidents, Bronisław Komorowski, and the incumbent Andrzej Duda’s, cabinet reveal an interesting bureaucratic trajectory. During Komorowski’s term, the cabinet had 14 offices, 4 secretaries of state and 6 full time advisors (9 supernumerary social advisors) all in accordance with the set up Chancellery status. Duda has expanded the overall office substantially. For the sake of simplicity, we have summed up the current organisational structure in the graph below with enumeration of the most critical individuals (non-repetitive) who are holding these posts as managers, advisors, and secretaries of state. Each of the management offices is led by an independent office director, adding up to 28 management divisions (offices and top management) in the chancellery.

KPRP under Komorowski:

KPRP under Duda

Summed up, the current cabinet has bureaucratically expanded about 30%, that is from 14 offices to 19, from 4 secretaries of state to 6, and from 6 full time advisors to 8. Moreover, the incumbent president has rekindled an initiative already proposed by the late Lech Kaczyński in 2009, the National Development Council Body (Rada Narodowego Rozwoju, in memory of the late president). The body, which has not published any results since 2010 and has only met twice since its establishment, comprises 102 experts subdivided into 6 thematic teams, serving as a presidential council. In a similar manner, President Duda has also set up another body of the same format, the Entrepreneurial Council back in May 2019, with yet too little contribution to assess its usability. The organisational structure of these bodies is shown below. Unfortunately, we have no access to the funding act or whether members are being recompensated in any manner for their participation (our query for it has not been answered at the time of writing).

Setting aside the difficulty to assess the contribution of those council bodies, the little oversight of the legal basis for the body to proceed is a worrying signal. The presidential sources are not transparent with regards to financing of these bodies, and their establishment has not been set up in the KPRP status, which on its own remains a weak legal act reliant majorly on the Art. 143 of the Constitution.

These observations are worrisome, as citizens are not aware of how these experts are being financed, and if expenses are covered by the public budgetbetween the expertise of the councillors, and arguably some of them are a surprising choice for presidential advisory board, as a gynaecology expert.

What we may state clearly is that the work of the Chancellery is fully funded from the public budget. The Ministry of Finance is responsible for budgetary planning, and the Chancellery has to comply with its annual calendar, the overarching deadline falling on every March. Both the planned expenses as well as the executed budget from the previous accounting period are legally required to be available to the public. Worryingly, however, at the time of writing, the presidential cabinet has not made the budgetary expenses available for the past year. That is to say, the administration has not complied with the budgetary requirements and we are unable to verify what were the past year’s budgetary expenses.

The latest document is the Chancellery ex-ante annual expense plan for the 2018/2019 budget. The comparison of these planning documents confirmed that since 2015 the planning has not changed a notch. Every year, the official per planned category budget of the Chancellery is 30 million PLN (€7.5 million) per designated unit. That may be a little surprising given that the budgetary excess has essentially increased as indicated by the total executed expenses. There is some substance to believe, that the financial oversight over the presidential dealings is not particularly exigent as the tables made available to the public are of generic, repetitive character, as shown on the table below.

There are more elaborate ways to complement these figures, either through the Supreme Audit Office (NIK) which is conducting the annual audit of the public budget, or through the Ministry of Finance. To our surprise, the NIK annual report for 2019 has not been issued yet, what indicates that the delay with financial oversight might be of graver nature. The only accessible statistic on how much the incumbent’s cabinet requires to provide for the bureaucratic net, is through the Ministry of Finance. Here, what has been substantiated by the recent press on the matter, we find evidence that Duda’s Chancellery is the most expensive since the transition. The annual operational budget has consecutively increased every year, reaching 200 million PLN in 2019 (€50 million) , that is almost a billion the past five years. We have again, little knowledge on expenses given the very generic nature of the expense categories. However, even brief calculation indicates that the president requires PLN 20 million (€5 million) per month to keep the vast offices he has set up  during his term. The further investigation confirmed that, the presidential palace is spending PLN170 million (€43 million) per annum on the administration offices alone (with additional PLN 30 million (€7.5 million) on residences, security, and promotional activities). To have a relative comparison, the annual cost of Bronisław Komorowski’s Chancellery was PLN 167million total (€43 million), that is roughly PLN 30 million (€ 7.5 million)  less than currently. Clearer oversight of the incumbent president’s spending would also be crucial to understand better how much of the budget is used for PR and campaigns such as #5latPAD (“Five Years President Andrzej Duda”) that seemingly mixes presidential PR with his current re-election campaign .

Conclusion: why it matters?

Duda will most likely continue to further Poland’s illiberal turn: after the judicial reforms which undermined the rule of law as one pillar of liberal democracy, he is now increasingly zooming in on minorities. Poland is already one of the most homophobic countries within the EU. The government is repeatedly promising to keep children safe from “LGBT ideology” and “propaganda”, what is reminding one of Russia’s anti- “gay propaganda” law.

In 2015, Duda’s win under the banner of the “Good Change” started the profound reform of the Polish state following the ideas of Jarosław Kaczyński, it was followed by PiS taking over the government in fall 2015 and defending its majority with the United Right in 2019. The president has gained the nickname by his critiques as “długopis” (pen), for signing most laws presented to him by the Sejm and even when he used his veto power in the judicial it fell short of expectations and has been the subject of continuous clashes with the EU over the rule of law in Poland.

These changes are distressing, because are difficult to reverse. The pressure on judiciary, and overtaken media loosen the traditional oversight over the rule of law. The brief examination of the budgetary dealings of the Chancellery showed that the promise of “Good Change” has been far from materialised. Not only has the incumbent president substantially increased the annual presidential spending (30 million PLN, i.e. €7.5million per annum more), reaching the astounding 880 PLN million in five years, but it has also departed from the legally binding foundation of the office. The set up NRR and RdsP have no officially accessible status, and citizens are in the fog concerning how these bodies are funded. Aside finance, these bodies have dubious results so far, with very few analytic reports (2010 NRR). The transparency concerning how the counselling bodies act is unreachable, the information of their financing is difficult to acquire. Essentially, the populist promise to sever with “corrupt elites” has merely turned the beneficiary wheel to the new incumbent’s own direction.

Albertazzi, Daniele and Sean Mueller, 2013. Populism and Liberal Democracy: Populists in Government in Austria, Italy, Poland and Switzerland. Government and Opposition 48, 343–371.

Aronoff, Myron J. and Jan Kubik, 2014. Anthropology and political science : a convergent approach /. Berghahn Books, New York.

Bermeo, Nancy, 2016. On Democratic Backsliding. Journal of Democracy 27, 5–19.

Bustikova, Lenka and Petra Guasti, 2017. The Illiberal Turn or Swerve in Central Europe? Politics and Governance 5, 166–176.

Kubik, Jan, 2012. Illiberal Challenge to Liberal Democracy: The Case of Poland. Taiwan Journal of Democracy 8, 79–89.

Markowski, Radoslaw, 2016. The Polish parliamentary election of 2015: a free and fair election that results in unfair political consequences. West European Politics 39, 1311–1322

Mudde, Cas and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, 2017. Populism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, New York.

edit. This post has been edited to clarify that it is the ballot that is secretly conducted, not the election itself (4th paragraph).

Fear, desperation, anger and stress: The emotions of undocumented migrants during COVID-19 pandemic

By tjmsrol, on 15 April 2020

Teaching Fellow Dr Dogus Simsek, argues “We might not die due to the virus, but we might lose our lives from hunger, poverty, lack of access to medicines and hostile environment. Most of us feel the fear, desperation, stress, anger and anxiety.”

First published on Discover Society on 9th April 2020

An undocumented migrant in Istanbul explains the feelings of undocumented migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic with these words. Emotions are a part of everyday life, however, in the case of undocumented migrants, emotions are often complex, mixed and transnational. Undocumented migrants are in situations of drastic vulnerability. They do not have legal rights to reside in the settlement country, or have access to health care, labour markets and education, and are in danger of becoming scapegoats.

Being undocumented during the pandemic in Europe means being left behind and being among the least protected. Health care is inaccessible to undocumented migrants in most parts of Europe and also in other parts of the world. The living conditions of undocumented migrants do not allow them to follow the World Health Organisation’s health advice, including basic hygiene measures and self-isolation. They are unable to observe the two-metre and other social distancing guidance relating to workplaces and homes as many of them live in close contact and in over-crowded accommodation.

Furthermore, the socio-economic effects of the pandemic are also visible in the everyday lives of undocumented migrants as many of them work in an informal economy without social security, faced with exploitation around the lack of safe working conditions. They are overworked and underpaid, and are more likely to be affected by income loss and reduction of employment. As they are excluded from states’ financial support, losing their source of income put them in a more vulnerable position.

On the one hand, the ones who continue to go to work are faced with a risk of being infected. On the other hand, when they cannot continue to work due to the closure of workplaces or losing their jobs, they rely on NGOs and local associations to provide assistance. However, these organisations are also facing difficulties in providing services during the pandemic, so they more likely to be faced with extreme poverty. It is also more likely that undocumented migrants face everyday and institutional racism even more now than before the pandemic.

These are some of the main struggles and dilemmas that undocumented migrants have been experiencing stronger during the pandemic. I am interested in the emotions of undocumented migrants during the pandemic. What do they feel about these experiences? How does it feel to be invisible especially during the pandemic? What do they fear more – being infected, losing their jobs or being deported? How does it feel to be far away from loved ones during the pandemic?

There is a growing body of research on emotional dimensions of human mobility highlighting that emotions are central aspects of international migration (see, Boccagni and Baldassar, 2015; Svašek, 2010; Wise and Velayutham, 2017). This research sets out the role of structural constraints, such as immigration policies, socio-economic inequalities on the emotions of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants, the influence of interactions with the members of the receiving society on their emotions, the feelings about being away from the loved ones and so on. In normal times, these mainly include anger, anxiety, fear, guilt, alongside happiness and hope.

The emotional processes of migrants are more complex than non-migrants due to living across the borders of the country of origin and the country of settlement and encountering emotions that are, on the one hand, shaped by memories related to the country of origin and, on the other hand, by direct interaction with the members of the receiving society and institutions. Migrants can feel hopeful and guilty or happy and anxious at the same time as when they feel guilty due to leaving the loved ones behind, they at the same time feel happy to be able to escape from the conflict in their countries of origin.

I have recently contacted undocumented migrants I know in London and Istanbul to find out how is their health, whether they are in a safe place, how they cope with uncertainty and whether they are able to receive support from local organisations. The undocumented migrants I have contacted both in the UK and Turkey started talking about their emotions during the pandemic that is linked with their migratory status. For example, when I asked, ‘how you are’, an undocumented migrant who lives in London said that “I am more scared… more hopeless… more desperate than before. During this process, I think about what I would do if I will be deported. Then, I think about my family back in my country of origin and worried about their safety. I also remember that I do not have a job anymore and do not know how to survive and what my family will do because I will not be able to send them money.” The emotional experiences related to the pandemic has transnational dimensions as well. The undocumented migrants also feel worried for their families who are in need of financial support the countries of origin. Their sense of vulnerability crosses the borders of nation-states.

Another undocumented migrant living in London I have been in touch with recently said that “I am not scared of being in contact the virus; I am scared of dying from hunger due to losing my job and not being able to receive support from charities during the pandemic. This makes me feel desperate, more worried about my life and hopeless.” According to a report published in November 2019 by the Pew Research Center, an estimated 800,000 to 1.2 million undocumented migrants lived in the UK in 2017. They are not allowed to work formally as many of them work in informal economy. Many of them supported by charities who provide food parcels, clothing and supermarket vouchers.

However, charities are not able to provide support during the pandemic. The Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), a non-governmental organisation that aims to promote respect for the human rights of undocumented migrants within Europe, published a statement on COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on undocumented migrants. The PICUM members call on authorities to provide emergency support, address gaps in public health systems, homelessness and food insecurity, end immigration detention, suspend deportations and prevent further irregularity. However, mental health support is also crucial for undocumented migrants especially during the pandemic.

As stated by an undocumented migrant living in Istanbul, facing mental health problems due to feeling desperation, anxiety and fear during the pandemic are common emotions not only among undocumented migrants but also among their families. Another undocumented migrant in Istanbul said the following: “I am very stressed out because I lost my job due to coronavirus. I cannot send money to my parents who look after my children in Ghana. My parents also feel anxious due to the fact that I cannot send them money. I do not know how I will survive; how they will survive. These are the challenges I am facing at the moment not the virus itself. When I realise that I am not able to provide the needs of my children back home, I feel stressful, anxious, sad and angry. I have had these feelings from time to time, but I knew how to cope with it. Now, realising that not being able to support my children for a long time creates extra stress on me and I have panic symptoms and no way out of this feeling.”

An undocumented migrant, who lives in Istanbul, compares her feelings before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said, “I have been living in Istanbul for 5 years without legal rights to reside in Turkey. Living in another country without official permission consists of various emotions. I always fear of being caught and then deported. I also feel anxious because of uncertainty. I sometimes feel hopeful when I believe in myself and think of my achievements. From time to time I feel happy when I look at the photos of my kids. These are the emotions I experience every single day depending on the time of the day. In the evenings, I am happy because it is the time of the day I look at the photos of my kids. During the pandemic, I do not feel hopeful and happy anymore even during the evenings when I look at the photos of my kids, because I know that for a long time I cannot send them money, make them happy. I am not feeling hopeful either because I do not know if I can achieve anything or my life will be better. How I can feel hopeful and happy when I lost my job and do not have any other income; when I do not know if I will be able to pay my rent, buy food; and more importantly, when I am not able to support my kids, when my kids are not happy. I am more worried for my kids than being infected.”

The emotions of undocumented migrants during the pandemic changed, some are doubled, and have transnational dimensions as these feelings are also shared by their families back in the countries of origin who are also affected by the pandemic.

Boccagni, P., & Baldassar, L. (2015). Emotions on the move: Mapping the emergent field of emotion and migration. Emotion, Space and Society16, 73-80.
Svašek, M. (2010). On the Move: Emotions and Human Mobility, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 36:6, 865-880.
Wise, A. & Velayutham, S. (2017) Transnational Affect and Emotion in Migration Research, International Journal of Sociology, 47:2, 116-130.

Dogus Simsek is a Teaching Fellow in Political Sociology in the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London. Twitter: @dogussimsek

Coronavirus derails Russia’s constitutional reform vote – what this means for Vladimir Putin

By tjmsrol, on 27 March 2020

Our Lecturer in Russian Politics, Dr Ben Noble looks at how the Coronavirus pandemic is affecting the constitutional reform process in Russia.

This article was first published on The Conversation

Russia’s nationwide vote on controversial constitutional reforms has been postponed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. No new date has been set for the vote, which had been scheduled for April 22.

The vote is the last hurdle before this set of reforms – including a change allowing Vladimir Putin to stay in the presidency beyond 2024 – can come into force.

The Russian press had already reported that the Kremlin had decided to postpone the vote. Putin confirmed this on March 25 and said the vote would be arranged for a later date.

A reluctant delay

The Kremlin had been unwilling to publicly acknowledge that the global coronavirus pandemic could affect the vote. As of March 24 in Russia, there were 438 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease associated with the new coronavirus, and one death from it.

Shortly after setting April 22 as the polling day in a decree signed on March 17, Putin mentioned possible adaptations that would allow the vote to go ahead as planned, despite the coronavirus pandemic. These included increasing the distance between voting booths and increasing the number of mobile ballot boxes, which could be taken directly to people’s homes.

Buses are being disinfected a couple of times a day in Moscow. Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA

Putin also noted that there was nothing legally stopping the authorities from setting a new date for the vote.

Behind the scenes, however, it’s clear that the Kremlin had been planning for the possibility of postponement for a while. A direct reference to April 22 was removed from Putin’s reform bill during its passage through the State Duma, the lower chamber of the national legislature. Russia’s Central Electoral Commission also asked regional commissions to stop publishing information on the vote.

Putin’s constitution

This vote is crucial for Putin. He first announced his constitutional reform project on January 15, taking politicians and commentators by surprise.

After seizing the initiative, Putin continued to dictate the agenda and pace of change, including with the shock removal of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s government on the same day.

The Kremlin’s initial insistence to push ahead with the vote was a reflection of this same determination to set, and stick by, the timetable of change.

During his January speech, Putin promised a transfer of power away from the presidency. But, once his legislative bill proposing changes was introduced into the State Duma, it seemed that presidential powers would, if anything, increase. And this further concentration of power in the presidency was confirmed with changes made to the bill during its passage through parliament.

This cluster of reforms – including giving the president the power to appoint lifetime members of the legislature and fire top-tier judges – provides the basis for a “mega-presidency” in Russia. These changes are not welcomed by everybody.

Holding the vote during the pandemic would have been an advantage to the Kremlin in some ways. Planned protests in Moscow and St Petersburg have already been called off as a result of measures taken by the authorities to deal with COVID-19. Now that the vote has been pushed back, it may be harder for the authorities to clamp down on opposition mobilisation against the reforms.

Police arrest a man protesting against Putin’s constitutional reforms in mid-March. Anatoly Maltsev/EPA

The Kremlin’s initial reluctance to delay the vote showed how much it hopes to gain by securing nationwide support for the proposed changes. Although Putin initially pitched the constitutional reform package as a response to changes in Russian society, nearly half of Russians recognised its core aim was to sort out how Putin would remain in power after 2024, the year his current presidential term ends. This became even clearer when Putin endorsed an amendment to his own reform bill allowing him to run for the presidency again in 2024 and stay in office until 2036.

This all makes the vote a plebiscite on support for Putin, not on the details of the reform package. The ballot paper will only include one question: “Do you approve of the changes to the Constitution of the Russian Federation?” But in practice, many Russians will interpret this as “do you approve of Vladimir Putin?”

For those who don’t approve of the president, the political leadership hopes apparently generous promises of social support will persuade them to vote “yes”.

The Kremlin is keen for a public endorsement afforded by the nationwide vote in light of the fall in approval ratings for the regime following unpopular pension reforms made in 2018.

The regime leadership is also mindful of the need to signal Putin’s popularity to members of the elite, who might be tempted to start planning for a post-Putin future. As research on the wider politics of authoritarian rule shows, palace coups are more worrying than popular uprisings to leaders in non-democracies like Russia.

Turnout and legitimacy

The vote is not technically required to make Putin’s proposed changes to the constitution. Since the reforms do not make changes to chapters 1, 2, or 9 of Russia’s basic law, article 136 of the Russian constitution says that such amendments come into force following their approval by two thirds of legislative assemblies in Russian regions. That already happened on March 12.

But Putin proposed the nationwide vote in an attempt to boost the legitimacy of the changes. That meant it was key to ensure a strong turnout – of at least 60%, according to the latest instructions from the Kremlin to deputy regional governors who are responsible for internal politics. Putin will now have to wait.

The worry for the Kremlin is that, with falling oil prices and a significant drop in the value of the rouble, it might be even harder to mobilise Russians to vote for Putin’s changes when a later date is selected.

Follow Dr Noble on Twitter for updates at @Ben_H_Noble.

Eastern Europe: how to be a pessoptimist

By Sean L Hanley, on 15 December 2019

Demonstration in Prague

Photo: Martin2035 [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Three decades after the fall of communism, Eastern Europe’s democratic development is seen in increasingly gloomy terms. However, we may need to find a more pragmatic, middle way in assessing the region, argues Seán Hanley.

The region termed Central Europe or Central and Eastern Europe – the body of small and medium-sized states between the former USSR and the established democracies of Western Europe – was once seen as the great success story of post-communist democratisation:  rapid and peaceful political transition in 1989-90; a quick return to economic growth; flawed but functional liberal democracy; relatively rapid integration into the EU; political elites who seemed, whether out of conviction or pragmatism, willing and able to imitate West European political, economic and ideological models – although these were (and are) diverse, ranging from Nordic style welfare capitalism to British-style deregulation and neo-liberalism.

Since mid-2000s, however, the intellectual climate  among both commentators and political scientists the agenda has shifted from one of understanding consolidation, integration and consolidation or remedying the flaws of stable, but weakly performing post-communist democracy to one of deep gloom.

Now, compared to early hopes of the liberal project, the narrative has become a pessimistic one. Of democratic decline or even backsliding toward authoritarianism. The rejection by voters and elites in Central and Eastern Europe of Western European models – and the EU status quo – as too socially and economically political for their traditions and societies. And of constitutional liberalism as constraining the democratic will of the people, or holding back the emergence of a capable modernising state.  Economic catch-up with Western Europe, especially in terms of the living standards of poorer, older, less educated, seems a chimera.

Populist critics now decry the locking in of Central and Eastern Europe as, once again, an exploited peripheral Europe (including Mediterranean democracies of Southern Europe and the Balkans) – analogous, but on a much bigger scale to the “left behind” marginalised regions within Western European countries, which have fuelled populist electoral insurgencies.

Given ineffective and cumbersome procedures for enforcing the rule-of-law – in what was supposed to a club of liberal-democratic nations – the EU, as R. Daniel Kelemen has suggested, is becoming a patchwork of  regimes encompassing democracies, semi-democracies and downright authoritarian states, hamstrung by North-South and East-West splits.

What is especially jarring is that some of the supposed frontrunners democratisation in the region – Hungary and Poland – are now the vanguard of “democratic backsliding”, conservative counter-revolution and experiments in liberal governance. Some prominent governance indices, such as Freedom House’s ‘Freedom In the World’, now classify Hungary as having slipped below out of the zone of fully liberal democratic ‘Free’ societies. Poland is rapidly heading the same way.

Worse still, some of the treasured mechanisms of building democracy such as civil society development and grassroots activism have turned out work in ways quite opposite to that  envisaged in 1990s. In Hungary and Poland, the electoral breakthroughs of the Fidesz and Law and Justice (PiS) parties were prefigured years before through the development of networks of conservative civil organisations and right-wing civic initiative at grassroots level.

Moreover, the main vehicles for illiberalism have not been ‘red-brown’ alliances of ex-communists and fringe nationalists, but parties and politicians with often impeccable roots in the anti-communist opposition, accepted by West European centre-right as mainstream conservative parties and political allies.

That said, there are many varieties of populism and democratic decline, ranging from the conservative electoral revolutions of Hungary and Poland, to the longstanding weak, but oddly stable corrupt democracies of Bulgaria and Romania, to the fragmented and feverish political landscapes of  Slovakia and Czechia – and the strange “technocratic populism” of Czechia’s billionaire prime minister Andrej Babiš ,who still unsure if he wants to be the Czech Macron or the Czech Trump.

George Orwell’s dictum that “All revolutions are failures, but they are not the same failure” is, unsurprisingly, often quoted these days in relation to East Europe. We could also paraphrase Tolstoy and say that all unhappy democracies are unhappy in their own way. Or we might remember the historians Joseph Rothchild and Nancy  M. Wingfield’s characterisation of the region – made originally after the decline and fall of communism in late 1980s – about Eastern Europe’s “return to diversity”. Read the rest of this entry »