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How to respond? The struggle for new opposition identities in Poland

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Monday, November 27, 2023, 4:00 pm – 5:30 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 cannot enter the building without prior registration. Due to space restrictions, attendance is limited. We ask registered visitors to pick up their temporary visiting card at the reception. The event is not open to the press.


Since the electoral victory of PiS and its coalition, the United Right, in 2015, Poland has figured prominently in journalistic and scholarly works as a backsliding democracy. Despite this situation, opposition parties have obtained several successes against PiS over the years, in local elections and senate elections and, most recently, in the parliamentary elections of 2023. Building on the experience of Poland’s main opposition party Civic Platform, we identify some common dynamics of policy-based electoral competition in backsliding democracies, and the challenges these imply for opposition parties. We point that electoral realignment frequently accompanies executive aggrandizement and the resulting democratic backsliding, which means that opposition parties not only have to contest the institutional transformation imposed by the government, they also have to adjust their policy positions, as their party brand becomes uncompetitive in the new political environment. We argue that in order to gain electoral ground in contexts of backsliding opposition parties must follow a mixed policy strategy, embracing some of the government’s more popular policies and opposing other, less popular or less salient ones. Analyzing the case of Poland’s Civic Platform, we argue that the party benefited from moving towards the incumbent’s policy positions on some issues –such as in the case of welfare state policies –while distancing themselves further from the government on other issues –such as abortion policy.

The paper, which is co-authored with Marcin Slarzynski, is available upon request from the author.


Melis Laebens is Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science of Central European University. Her research centers on democratic backsliding, political parties and electoral behavior, and spans several regions. Her book manuscript, entitled Incumbents Against Democracy, analyzes the conditions under which democratically elected incumbents can gradually take over democratic institutions and establish authoritarian control over those without abolishing elections or legislatures. Much of her published work to date focuses on democratic backsliding and party politics in Turkey, but she has also studied other cases, such as Ecuador, Colombia and Poland, in detail. Currently, she is researching how a challenge against democratic institutions by elected incumbents, and resulting damage to democratic institutions, transform the political landscape.  She studies this question in Turkey, where she uses survey research to understand electoral behavior and changing political attitudes, and in Poland, where she is carrying out mixed method research to understand the changes in the electoral arena under consecutive United Right governments.


Fernando Casal Bértoa is an Associate Professor in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham (United Kingdom). He is co-director of REPRESENT: Research Centre for the Study of Parties and Democracy. Member of the OSCE/ODIHR “Core Group of Political Party Experts”, he is also International IDEA and Westminster Foundation for Democracy collaborator as well as Venice Commission and United Nations expert. His work has been published in Journal of Politics, British Journal of Political Science, Perspectives on Politics, European Journal of Political Research, Sociological Methods and Research, Journal of Democracy, Electoral Studies, West European Politics, Party Politics, European Political Science Review, Democratization, European Constitutional Law Review, Political Studies Review, European Political Science, Government and Opposition, International Political Science Review, Representation, European Politics and Society, South European Society and Politics, Italian Political Science Review, Irish Political Studies, East European Politics and Societies, East European Politics or Frontiers in Political Science. He was awarded the 2017 Gordon Smith and Vincent Wright Memorial Prize, the 2017 AECPA Prize for the Best Article, the 2018 Vice-Chancellor Medal of the University of Nottingham for “exceptional achievements” and the 2022 Routledge Area Studies Impact Award. His latest monograph (co-authored with Zsolt Enyedi), winner of the 2022 AECPA Best Book Prize and runner-up for the 2022 Stein Rokkan Prize, is titled Party System Closure: Party Alliances, Government Alternative and Democracy in Europe (Oxford University Press, 2021).


Erin Jenne (Stanford University, PhD) is a professor at the International Relations Department at Central European University in Vienna, Austria, where she teaches MA and PhD courses on mixed qualitative and quantitative methods, ethnic conflict management, international relations theory, nationalism and populism, foreign policy analysis and international security. Jenne received her PhD in political science with concentrations in comparative politics, international relations and organizational theory. She has received  numerous grants and fellowships, including a MacArthur fellowship at Stanford University, a Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (BCSIA) fellowship at Harvard University, a Carnegie Corporation scholarship, a Senior Fernand Braudel fellowship at European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, and was co-principal investigator for a Minerva Grant from the US Office of Naval Research to conduct research on the subject of soft power. Her first book, Ethnic Bargaining: The Paradox of Minority Empowerment (Cornell University Press, 2007) is the winner of Mershon Center’s Edgar S. Furniss Book Award in 2007 and was also named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title by Choice Magazine. The book is based on her dissertation, which won the Seymour Martin Lipset Award for Best Comparativist Dissertation. Her second book, Nested Security: Lessons in Conflict Management from the League of Nations and the European Union (Cornell University Press, 2015) explores how emerging domestic struggles can be contained through soft power mediation. She has published numerous book chapters and articles in International Studies Quarterly, Security Studies, Regional and Federal Studies, Journal of Peace Research, Civil Wars, International Studies Review, Research and Politics, Journal of Democracy, Nationalities Papers and Ethnopolitics. She was an associate editor for the Journal of Foreign Policy Analysis and has served in several capacities on the Emigration, Ethnicity, Nationalism and Migration Section of the International Studies Association and the Comparative Politics Section of the American Political Science Association. She has taught courses on longitudinal case study analysis and mixed methods research at the ECPR Summer School. She won the CEU Teaching Excellence Award in 2018 and the CEU Research Excellence Award in 2022.