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Polarisation and populism

Moderate political parties and public opinion contribute to resilience of democracy


Moderate confessional democratic parties that hold strong positions in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, contribute to the resilience of democracy. In Poland and Hungary, liberal pluralistic Christian democratic parties are either absent or absorbed by the party in power. The situation is different in the latter two countries, however, and this has a negative impact on reproductive and LGBTQ rights, among other things. These two issues could be considered a kind of litmus test for democracy. Differences among the Visegrad Four countries are highlighted by Petra Guasti from the SYRI National Institute and Lenka Buštíková from the University of Oxford in a new study published in the scientific journal Problems of Post-Communism.

Over the last two decades, countries in Central Europe, and many others, have seen a dramatic upsurge in new forms of illiberalism associated with the contestation of reproductive and LGBTQ rights. Illiberal parties with socially conservative leanings, such as Orbán's Fidesz, embrace a “paternalistic mix of familialism and traditional values”.

“But, most importantly, they tapped into socially conservative groups that opposed expanding minority rights and favoured restricting reproductive rights,” Guasti said.

Socially conservative groups do not hesitate to form strategic alliances with confessional parties. “Such partnerships do not even diminish their credibility. In exchange for electoral support, these groups demand that parties change the regulatory framework for sexual minority rights once they are in power, and restrict reproductive rights,” Guasti said, referring to Poland.

 “This new alliance has shifted the long-standing mobilisation against ethnic minorities in Central Europe toward a 'new' mobilisation against sexual minorities and women's rights. However, the new conservative alliance faces limitations,” says Lenka Buštíková from the University of Oxford, adding that the parties in power deliver selectively on socially conservative policy agendas since they monitor public opinion and face other political competitors with similar ideological leanings. Thus, public opinion is the second factor that significantly limits illiberal leaders.

 The article by the two scholars demonstrates that resistance to sexual minorities and reproductive rights are currently prevalent in society. “We noted a small decrease in public support for abortion that is directly related to the empowerment of socially conservative groups,” Guasti said, adding that further research should track the ability of these groups to shape regulatory frameworks that limit sexual autonomy.