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Abandoning Democracy in the Name of the Nation

Monday, May 22, 2023, 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm

The De- and Re-Democratization (DRD) Workgroup of the CEU Democracy Institute cordially invites you to its next Rooftop Seminar.

If you would like to attend, please register here.

Please keep in mind that external guests will not be able to enter the building without prior registration. Please also not that the event is not open to the press.

In many countries around the world the majority of citizens find democracy the best form of government – and yet they vote for political actors who subvert it. Drawing on empirical evidence from Poland and Serbia in which substantial democratic backsliding recently occurred, this paper offers additional explanation of voters’ increased tolerance for undemocratic behavior. Instead of focusing on the usual explanations such as polarization or populism, the paper breaks new ground by focusing on the interplay between democracy, ethno-nationalism, and political entrepreneurs. Using the process tracing, and building on the findings from social psychology on group identity, political cohesion, and motivated reasoning, the paper demonstrates that in Poland and Serbia, political entrepreneurs (Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his PiS allies; Aleksandar Vucic and his SNS allies) have managed to subvert democracy in the name of allegedly endangered national identity (group)-related interests. More concretely, Polish and Serbian political entrepreneurs strategically politicized in-group (national) identity by portraying it as being under threat. This was followed by the emergence of a sense of threat in the population and it strengthened in-group identification and out-group resentment as well. Such a development increased the willingness of voters to tolerate undemocratic behavior and provided political entrepreneurs with an opportunity to weaponize in-group (national) identity against democracy. The paper thereby presents a template of steps of a depicted strategy that leads to democratic backsliding.

The paper is available at request from the author.


Filip Milacic is a Research Affiliate at the DI’s DRD Workgroup, and senior researcher for democracy and society at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation's (FES) Office 'Democracy of the Future'. Before joining the FES, he worked for the Organization for the Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and at the University of Montenegro. He was also a visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna and at the Center for Advanced Studies of the University of Rijeka. He is author of the book Nationalstaatsbildung, Krieg und Konsolidierung der Demokratie. Kroatien, Serbien, und Montenegro (Springer, 2017). His new book, Stateness and Democratic Consolidation: Lessons from Former Yugoslavia will be published in 2022 by Springer. His work was published in many academic journals such as Ethnopolitics, Nationalities Papers, Democratization, and Southeast European and Black Sea Studies.


Zsolt Enyedi is a Professor of Political Science at the Central European University and a Senior Research Fellow at DI. Zsolt’s research focuses on party politics, comparative government, church and state relations, and political psychology (especially authoritarianism, prejudices and political tolerance). His articles appeared in journals such as Political Psychology, European Journal of Political Research, Political Studies, West European Politics, Party Politics, Political Studies, Europe-Asia Studies, Problems of Post-Communism, Journal of Ideologies or European Review. Zsolt Enyedi was the 2003 recipient of the Rudolf Wildenmann Prize and the 2004 winner of the Bibo Award. His most recent book, Party System Closure, co-authored with Fernando Casal Bertoa, was published by Oxford University Press in 2021.


Zsuzsanna Szelenyi is Program Director of the CEU Democracy Institute Leadership Academy. Before joining the DI, she was Richard von Weizsäcker fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy and Fellow of the IWM’s Europe’s Futures program conducting research on autocratization within the European Union. In 2014-2018 she was a liberal Member of Parliament in Hungary, covering foreign policy, migration and constitutional affairs. Between 1996-2012 she served at the Council of Europe for fifteen year and worked with international organizations in North Africa. She started her career as member of Fidesz at the régime change in 1988, served as Member of Parliament but left politics in 1994 for a professional career. She completed GMAP of International Politics and Economics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, holds an MA of Psychology of ELTE, and an MA of International Relations of the Corvinus University.