UCL European Institute


Countering new threats to democracy: What can the West learn from Eastern Europe?

28 March 2017, 6:30 pm–8:30 pm


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This panel discussion, organised by the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies, brings together specialists on both Eastern and Western Europe to discuss what the illiberal nature of some Eastern European democracies can teach us something about the present political situation in the West.  
Tuesday 28 March, 6.30 pm

Tuesday 28th March


UCL Institute of Archaeology
G6 Lecture Theatre 
31-34 Gordon Square


The election of Donald J. Trump as US president and the surging support for populist outsiders across the EU has led some commentators seriously to question what was once taken for granted: the stability and continuity of democratic institutions in the 'established' or 'advanced' democracies of Western Europe and North America. Others have suggested that beneath the familiar problems of disconnect and democratic disengagement, there has been a waning of popular commitment to democracy in Western democracies.

For specialists on Eastern Europe, however, the idea that seemingly well consolidated, successful democracies might suddenly unravel is a familiar one. For more than a decade observers of the region have watched resentful publics turn from mainstream parties to anti-political outsiders and erstwhile mainstream politicians turn into champions of illiberal democracy. Conservative-nationalist governments in Hungary and Poland with large majorities have demonstrated how institutions such as the judiciary, regulators, media and civil society can be neutralised, bypassed or dismantled. 

Some analysts have seen such developments as the Eastern periphery of 'Global Trumpism' or the echo of a 'populist explosion' centring on Western Europe. This reflects a still traditional pattern of drawing lessons in only one direction - from West to East. The new debates opening up about the possible 'de-consolidation' democracy in the West suggest a new relationship. That it is Eastern Europe and its politics of challenged democracy that may be the future of the West, rather than vice versa.

In this roundtable event, bringing together specialists on Eastern Europe and experts of politics of Western Europe and the US, we explore the parallels and lessons that the East European experience may offer, focusing, in particular, on the mechanisms through which democracy can be eroded and dismantled - and the steps that might be taken to counter such processes. The questions to be explored will include:

What is the relationship between democratic disengagement and the rise of illiberal populists?

Are mainstream politicians and parties who discover the values of illiberalism more dangerous than outsider parties?

Is civic and popular protest effective or does it play into the hands of illiberal governments, who thrive on (and engineer) polarisation?


Professor Jan Kubik, Professor of Slavonic and East European Studies

Dr Sherrill Stroschein, Senior Lecturer in Politics at the UCL Political Science Department

Professor Andrew Wilson, Professor of Ukrainian Studies

With further speakers to be announced.

Image credit: DonkeyHotey - Vladimir Putin carrying his buddy Donald Trump, via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)