Authoritarian Footprints: the Transformation of Democracy, 1990-2016
Europe (Central and Eastern)
Co-author: Andreas Juon (University College London)
Never before in history were larger parts of the world under democratic rule than today. This unprecedented spread of democracy is a result of the geopolitical changes of the late 20th century. The last cluster of countries, which has transitioned to democracy, are the formerly communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. In recent years, several of these democracies have seen presidents or political parties representing authoritarian programs entering government offices. They have caused fears about democratic backsliding, or even the beginning of a new, reversed wave of democratisation.
This paper analyses the consolidation and backsliding of 19 democracies in Central and Eastern Europe, using new data on the quality of democracy over the period of 1990-2016. It covers all post-communist countries in Europe, except Belarus. It analyses whether and where the quality of democracy has declined, which of the dimensions of democracy are affected by the decline, and whether some of the countries’ rule has deteriorated to an extent that can no longer be considered democracies. The analysis is based on the Democracy Barometer, a cross-national dataset on the quality of democracy worldwide. The quality of democracy is assessed along nine functions of democracy, and over 100 indicators, including key functions for this study, such as checks and balances (horizontal controls), the rule of law, or the public sphere. The data also covers aspects on which protest and anti-elite parties are susceptible to improve the quality of democracy, e.g. programmatic responsiveness or turnout.
The empirical analysis focuses on the regional trends, and identifies major deviations from the regional trend, showing signs of democratic backlashes. We discuss the temporal changes, and the cross-country variance, using two main explanatory variables, which are considered to be key for the explanation of the democratisation in the region: the consolidation of statehood, and the effect of European integration. We add the role of authoritarian parties in government to the set of explanations.
Different from earlier research, investigating the transition of countries towards democracy, we focus on the quality of democracy, rather than on political transitions towards democracy. This allows us to assess how the quality of democracy has developed, once the countries have reached the threshold of democracy. The global indicators of democracy (e.g. Polity IV or Freedom House) rank almost all countries in Central and Eastern Europe in the top two categories, and therefore vary little over time. We use data from the Polity IV project (until 2013), and Freedom House (for the remaining years 2014-2016, to impute the missing Polity IV data) only in order to identify countries, which are no longer considered democracies. Empirically, this paper provides for the most comprehensive and multi-faceted assessment of the changes in the level and the quality of democracy until present.