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BIPR | Fake It Till You Make It: The Future of Democracy in Central Eastern Europe
Fake It Till You Make It: The Future of Democracy in Central Eastern Europe

November 19, 2020 - 18:30

Veronica Anghel, European University Institute; Johns Hopkins University, SAIS Europe, Italy

Event Recap

On Thursday night, Dr. Anghel joined Professor Jones to discuss democratization in Central Eastern Europe, especially in the light of recent conversations about democratic decline in the region.

An important theme of Dr. Anghel’s talk is complacency regarding the path of democratization in CEE. She claims that many observers engaged in wishful thinking and assumed that democratic institution building would be swift and smooth, despite limited experience with democratic politics. At the same time, Anghel pushes against the complacent view that this is as good as gets in the region. She argues that democratic stagnation and decline in the countries of CEE should be accepted as a fact. To fix these issues going forward, she claims that why and how such problems of democratization took place should be properly understood.

Anghel identifies the integral role that corruption plays in illiberal democracies. According to her, the problem of corruption extends beyond limited state capacity. Corruption serves the role of strengthening illiberal democratic actors through the handing out of favors to those proximate to the government, even if they are not directly in government. In response to an audience question on whether the problems of corruption and illiberal democracies should be separated, Anghel emphasizes that the two are inextricably connected.

Beyond the “supply” of illiberal democratic politics by authoritarian actors, Anghel draws attention to the “demand” demonstrated by the strong political support politicians like Viktor Orban have. She underlines the troubling issues of intolerance for diversity, limited acceptance of minorities (such as Jews, Muslims, and LGBTQ individuals), and the acceptance of the majority national culture as superior. These attitudes produce diffused support for illiberal politicians and a sense of popular legitimacy.

Touching on current events, Anghel discusses the interplay between the COVID-19 crisis and the recent rule of law mechanism of the EU’s recovery fund. Due to limited domestic state capacity, many CEE countries are dependent on EU funding to properly support their economies and health systems amid the pandemic. Without EU funding, Anghel claims that the stability of these illiberal regimes like Poland and Hungary will be put under more strain, although at a high economic and health cost. On the contrary, if the EU continues to fund countries that erode the rule of law, it runs the risk of strengthening their regimes. Moreover, Anghel argues that the rule of law mechanism will help stop democratic degradation if it surfaces in countries like Croatia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Romania, who currently support the mechanism and do not feel targeted by it.

Despite many difficulties with democratization and institution building, Anghel claims that the progress in CEE has been better than it would have been if these countries remained outside the European Union. Returning to the question of complacency, Dr. Anghel argues that the European Union and especially the European People’s Party have prioritized political stability over principles for far too long, and that they need to strongly put pressure in support of rule of law in CEE.

Full Audio:

Fake It Till You Make It: The Future of Democracy in Central Eastern Europe
European and Eurasian Studies Series

hosted by Professor Erik Jones

Veronica Anghel
European University Institute; Johns Hopkins University, SAIS Europe, Italy

Are standards of democracy declining among the European Union's Eastern member states? According to most policy analysts, academics and public commentators, there is a major risk of reversion to authoritarianism in some of these countries. However, the status of liberal democracy in post-communist countries is more fragmented and muddled than it would first appear. During this talk, we will address some of Central Eastern Europe's most pressing structural, elite and societal challenges to their democratization process, as well as the institutional incentives and constraints that support these countries' continuous democratization. Ultimately, we will explore the hypothesis of whether the survival of liberal democracy in CEE is inextricably linked to the progress of European integration.


Veronica Anghel is Associate Fellow at the Johns Hopkins University, SAIS Europe and Max Weber Fellow 2020-2021 at the European University Institute.

Anghel focuses her research on the challenges to democratic state-building and party politics in post-communist Europe. Her project with the EUI is centered on the clashes between the intrinsic effects of formal and informal institutions and elite agency as critical junctures that lead to different outcomes of democratization. Currently, she is engaged in the academic debate regarding the perceived democratic 'backlash' of CEE post-communist states and aims to publish on this topic.

Previously, Anghel held fellowships at Stanford University (Fulbright), Johns Hopkins University – School of Advanced International Studies, the Institute for Human Sciences Vienna, the Institute for Central Europe Vienna, the University of Bordeaux and the Institute for Government in Vienna. She received her PhD summa cum laude from the University of Bucharest in co-direction with the University of Bordeaux, for her thesis ‘The Formation of Coalition Governments in Romania: Patterns Behind the Drift'. Her research has been published in East European Politics and Societies, Government & Opposition, Survival and edited volumes with Oxford University Press, Macmillan and ECPR Press. She is an editorial fellow for Government & Opposition. Anghel also worked as a foreign affairs advisor for the Romanian Presidential Administration and the Romanian Senate.
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