Resilience to the Pandemic Not Only Depends on Enforcement Capacity

A commentary for International IDEA’s website

As COVID-19 virus infections are spreading across the world, the factors enabling states to cope with the pandemic have become the subject of intense public debate. High-income countries can rely on a much more developed hospital infrastructure to treat patients in critical conditions. However, economic wealth is not the only factor influencing the response capacities of states. China has demonstrated that it is possible to limit the spread of the disease by enforcing strict measures of social distancing and isolation.   read more

Rekindling Democracy’s Promise in Europe

An Op-Ed for “The European” and “Balkan Insight“, jointly written with A. Bekaj

A little more than 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the jubilation felt over the dawning of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe has dissipated. The region faces challenges that make the promise of democracy look like a mirage.

Anti-government protesters march in Belgrade, Serbia, in April 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE/Srdjan Suki

Over time, regimes in countries such as Poland, Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria have taken steps to curtail civic space, undermine checks and balances and concentrate power in the hands of a few. read more

Conditions of Democratic Backsliding

Shop Talk at Pew Research Center, Washington DC

Democratic backsliding can be defined as the gradual weakening of checks on government and civil liberties by democratically elected governments.  In my talk I discussed potential causal paths likely to trigger and support backsliding. By comparing episodes of democratic decline over time and with countries not affected by backsliding, I investigated the extent to which weaknesses of particular democratic institutions, economic crises, exposure to globalization, the presence of populist political actors and polarized political communication in a digital public sphere contribute to backsliding. My empirical analysis was based, amongst others, on the Digital Society Survey and the Global State of Democracy (GSoD) Indices, an set of composite indicators that measure democratic performance across 158 countries from 1975 to today. read more

Rising Exclusivity and Declining Democracy

Panel Debate at the Bali Civil Society and Media Forum, Bali, Indonesia

The Bali Civil Society and Media Forum (BCSMF) took place in the framework of the 12th Bali Democracy Forum, a large meeting of governmental and non-governmental representatives mainly from Asian and Pacific countries. Its organizers, the Djakarta-based Institute for Peace and Democracy and the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs seek to make democracy a strategic agenda in the Asia-Pacific.

Line-up of foreign ministers and participants

My contribution focused on how increasing social inequality contributes to weaken democratic accountability. Other panelists included Peter deSouza and Nejib Friji. The subsequent discussion was quite diverse, ranging from the role of technology in democracies over the accommodation of minorities, the rise of ethno- and religious nationalism, the participation of youth in democracy to the relationship between democracy and capitalism. read more

Potentials and Constraints of a Visegrád Cooperation

Published in “The New European Union and its Global Strategy: From Brexit to PESCO”, ed. by. V. Naumescu, Newcastle 2019, 258-275.

At the European Council of 28 June 2018, the Visegrád states successfully convinced the other European Union member states to refrain from a mandatory relocation of persons in need of international protection. The EU agreed to organize the relocation and resettlement of refugees and other recognized asylum seekers on a voluntary basis. This decision implied the abandoning of plans to reintroduce a mandatory relocation scheme similar to the temporary mechanism that had been adopted against the votes of the East-Central European EU member states in September 2015. read more

Czechoslovakia, Czech and Slovak Republic

State Formation and Administrative-Territorial Organization

Forthc. in European Regions 1870-2020, ed. by. P. Flora and J. M. Henneberg, London: Palgrave

My contribution to a fascinating new handbook explores how administrative-territorial divisions in the Czech and Slovak Republics are rooted in historical processes of state formation.

Author: J. Pieper

Compared to most West European nation states, Czechoslovakia was established lately. It emerged from the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy after the First World War and existed until 1992, interrupted by the German annexation and the creation of an independent Slovak state between 1938 and 1945. The Czechoslovak state was composed of the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic, two territories with distinct historical identities. read more

Demokratisierungsprozesse und ihre Akteure

Ein Überblick zum Stand der Theoriebildung

i.E. in: Protest im langen Schatten des Kreml. Interdisziplinäre Aspekte der Protestbewegung im post-sowjetischen Raum, hg. v. J. Mischke und O. Zabirko, Hannover 2020

Seit den Übergängen zur Demokratie in Ostmitteleuropa 1989/90 ist eine umfangreiche sozialwissenschaftliche Literatur zur Demokratisierung entstanden. Diese Arbeiten haben die Bedingungen, Verlaufsmuster und Ergebnisse von Demokratisierungsprozessen rekonstruiert und im Ländervergleich analysiert. Sie sind bisher jedoch noch nicht so weit fortgeschritten, dass man eine bestimmte Anzahl von Akteurkonstellationen und Strategien benennen könnte, die für die Errichtung und Konsolidierung demokratischer Institutionen notwendig und hinreichend sind. Während modernisierungstheoretische Studien die für eine stabile Demokratie erforderlichen ökonomischen und gesellschaftlichen Strukturbedingungen hervorhoben, betrachteten Studien zu den lateinamerikanischen und südeuropäischen Demokratie-Übergängen Abkommen (“Pakte”) zwischen Reformern innerhalb der herrschenden Elite und moderaten Oppositionsführern als die entscheidenden Weichenstellungen für die neue Demokratie. Die spätere Forschung argumentierte dagegen, dass stabile Demokratien sich nicht aus Kräftegleichgewichten bildeten, sondern dort, wo demokratische politische Akteure über die Kräfte des autoritären Regimes triumphierten.

Die offensichtliche Konsolidierung von politischen Regimen, die weder als vollständige Demokratien, noch als vollständige Autokratien zu bezeichnen waren, führte seit der zweiten Hälfte der 1990er Jahre zu einer Renaissance strukturtheoretischer Ansätze. Aus Sicht dieser Erklärungsversuche sind Staatlichkeitskonflikte, sozioökonomische Bedingungen oder kulturelle Hinterlassenschaften wesentlich wichtiger für einen Regimewechsel als die Aktivitäten politischer Eliten.

Regierungs- und Regimewechsel infolge von Massenprotesten veranlassten die Vertreter akteurtheoretischer Ansätze seit den 2000er Jahren dazu, organisierten und mobilisierten zivilgesellschaftlichen Gruppen mehr Aufmerksamkeit zu widmen. Im Fall der Ukraine, aber auch in Serbien, Georgien, Kirgisien und einigen arabischen Ländern veränderten diese Akteure die Kräfteverhältnisse zwischen herrschenden und oppositionellen Eliten zugunsten der Opposition. Eine wachsende Zahl von Studien versucht auch, Annahmen über gesellschaftsstrukturelle Veränderungen und zum Verhalten von Akteuren miteinander zu verknüpfen. Dieser Forschungsstrang hat sich vor allem mit der politischen Rolle privater Unternehmer sowie mit dem Verhältnis von Wirtschaft und Politik beschäftigt.

In den folgenden Abschnitten werden wichtige Befunde der Demokratisierungsforschung kurz skizziert und diskutiert. Aus dieser Diskussion lässt sich folgern, dass die Debatte zwischen akteurs- und strukturtheoretischen Ansätzen sich einerseits auf Demokratisierungstheorien zu bewegt, die Strukturbedingungen und Akteurstrategien zu kombinieren versuchen. Andererseits werden die unterschiedlichen Stabilitätsbedingungen autoritärer Regime zunehmend als Faktoren einbezogen, um Varianten von Demokratisierungspfaden zu erklären.

Paper: Demokratisierungstheorien

The Quality of Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe

Contribution to “Democracy under Stress“, ed. by. P. Guasti and Z. Mansfeldová, Institute of Sociology, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague 2018, 31-53.


The young democracies in East-Central and Southeast Europe have been particularly susceptible to the wave of populist, anti-establishment and extremist political forces that now challenge liberal democracy across the globe. These challengers claim to represent the opinion of the ordinary people against a political establishment that is portrayed as corrupt, elitist and controlled by foreign interests. Their polarizing and anti-pluralist ideological stances have contributed to a more confrontational political competition. Several countries have also seen “democratic backsliding”,  an erosion of the institutions and mechanisms that constrain and scrutinize the exercise of executive authority. Illiberal policies have targeted opposition parties, parliaments, independent public watchdog institutions, judiciaries, local and regional self-government, mass media, civil society organizations, private business and minority communities. Incumbent elites have justified these policies as measures to strengthen popular democracy and to fulfill the promises of the post-1989 democratic transitions.

The legitimatory references to popular democracy, the incremental nature of institutional change and the embeddedness of governmental actors suggest an analytic approach that places instances of democratic backsliding into a broader theoretical context. Such a framework should specify criteria of democratic quality that allow to assess legitimatory claims and to analyze how the incremental manipulation of interlocking democratic institutions affects democracy as a whole.

This chapter sets out such a conceptual framework based on democratic theory and the scholarly debate about the quality of democracy. The insights from this debate are applied to identify attributes of democratic quality that are then employed to structure the empirical analysis. Key attributes include public accountability, government responsiveness, and policy performance. The chapter maps selected developments in 17 CEE countries with regard to these three attributes.

Following a qualitative and inductive approach, the paper tries to integrate individual causal process observations into larger trends that characterized the situation in the region in 2017. The empirical analysis draws mainly on country reports that have been prepared in early 2017 for a global expert survey, the so-called Transformation Index, a comparison and ranking of democratic and economic developments in 128 countries. Three main empirical findings are presented in this chapter.

Firstly, governing political elites in some countries intentionally weaken the mechanisms and institutions of public accountability.

Secondly, political competition has become more confrontational, resulting in more exclusionary government.

Thirdly, most CEE countries have failed to achieve an economic performance meeting the expectations of citizens who have associated EU accession with rapid convergence to West European levels and tangible prosperity gains. .

These developments have evolved in parallel and are causally linked, but none is fully endogenous. The concluding section suggests an interpretation to account for the reasons that have motivated populist governing parties to weaken public accountability, but the chapter does not aspire to fully disentangle the causal interdependencies linking the three trends. Rather, its aim is more modest, that is, it focuses on providing empirical evidence for the trends and seeks to demonstrate that the proposed conceptualization of democratic quality yields analytic benefits.

The chapter is based on a paper I presented at the Conference “Measuring Democracy: What are We Measuring and How Does CEE Fit in? , Prague 21-22 September 2017

Can Responsiveness Substitute Accountability?

Lessons from the Central and East European Laboratory of Populist Democracy. A paper presented at the conference ” Totalitarian Reverberations in East-Central Europe”, Faculty of European Studies, Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, 26 October 2018.

Responsiveness characterizes a democratic process that „ induces the government to form and implement policies that the citizens want” (G. B. Powell). Populist parties advocate public policies that reflect the preferences of ordinary citizens, and their electoral success indicates that people believe their claims. Governing populist parties in Hungary, Poland and other Central and East European countries have systematically eroded institutions of democratic accountability, justifying these policies as measures to strengthen popular democracy and to fulfill the promises of the post-1989 democratic transitions. Although this erosion has been criticized as democratic backsliding and illiberal drift by scholars and international institutions, significant shares of voters continue to view it as steps towards a more responsive democracy. read more

Herausforderungen der Europäischen Union

Internationales Doktorandenkolloquium der Andrássy Universität Budapest, Babeș-Bolyai Universität Cluj-Napoca und der Universität Passau, 13.-15.9.2018, Budapest

Andrássy Universität Budapest

Die Rechtsstaatsprobleme in Ungarn und Polen sowie die Interventionsmöglichkeiten der EU waren ein zentrales Thema des internationalen Doktorandenkolloquiums am 13.-15.9.2018 in Budapest. Diese von den Europastudiengängen der Babeș-Bolyai, der Budapester Andrássy und Passauer Universität gemeinsam veranstaltete Tagung diente dazu, geplante, laufende und vor kurzem abgeschlossene Dissertationsprojekte vorzustellen und zu diskutieren. read more