The Roots of Illiberalism in Hungary and Central Europe

February 14, 2018
03:00 pm - 04:30 pm

About the event

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Hungary and Poland were heralded as among the most successful cases of liberal reform of the former socialist countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Yet two and a half decades later, authoritarian politics have reemerged in the public life of both countries. How can this puzzle of post-socialist illiberalism in Central Europe be explained?  Some observers claim that countries in the region have never been truly democratic, and their recent turn merely fits an historical pattern. Others argue that the success of illiberal politics is rooted in the clever political maneuvering of authoritarian politicians. In his presentation, political economist Gabor Scheiring offered a third explanation. Based on new data and case studies, he argued that it is impossible to understand illiberalism’s role in Central Europe without analyzing the rightward shift of the working middle class and the political mobilization of the national business elite. His presentation shed light on the socioeconomic roots of the authoritarian turn in Hungary, while also offering comparative insights into recent developments in Poland and the Czech Republic. Christopher Walker offered comments.


  • Dr. Gabor Scheiring, Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow

With comments from:

  • Christopher Walker, Vice President for Studies and Analysis, National Endowment for Democracy

About the Speakers

Dr. Gabor Scheiring is a political economist and democratic activist currently working as a research associate in the department of sociology at the University of Cambridge. He is also chairman of the Progressive Hungary Foundation, a think tank dedicated to progressive policy research and civic education. An active opposition figure in his country, Dr. Scheiring served as a member of the Hungarian parliament from 2010 and 2014. As an expert on the impact of economic change on health, identity, and democracy, he has authored multiple books and articles including “Globalisation and Health: A Multi-Level Cohort Study on the Gendered Mortality Effects of Foreign Investment and Prolonged State Ownership in Hungary” and “The Discrete Charm of the National Bourgeoisie: The Political Economy of Democratic Backsliding in Hungary”. During his fellowship, Dr. Scheiring is developing a comparative framework for examining the socioeconomic origins of the rise of illiberalism in Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland.

Christopher Walker is Vice President for Studies and Analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy. In this capacity, he is a member of NED’s executive leadership team and oversees the department that is responsible for NED’s multifaceted analytical work, which includes the International Forum for Democratic Studies, a leading center for the analysis and discussion of democratic development. Mr. Walker has 20 years of experience supporting democracy and independent media around the world. Among his areas of interest are the changing nature of “soft power” and modern authoritarianism. Prior to joining the NED, Mr. Walker was Vice President for Strategy and Analysis at Freedom House, overseeing that organization’s analytical work relating to political rights, and new and traditional media freedom. He is co-editor with Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner of Authoritarianism Goes Global: The Challenge to Democracy (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016).


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