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Multi-level Politics and Central European Democratic Development


Democratic backsliding, illiberalism, and authoritarian encroachment are undermining the political stability of many newly democratized countries. This dissertation examines challenges to liberal democracy in Central Europe, theorizing and testing how subnational and supranational tiers of government contribute to democratic backsliding. In the 1990s empowering subnational governments and the EU was seen as an essential strategy for promoting the liberal democratic transition. Instead, we have seen these levels of government have facilitated democratic backsliding as the multilevel character of policymaking and politics and has become intertwined with democratic decline in the region.

The chapters in this dissertation use original data to empirically analyze the democratic backsliding process in Central Europe at multiple levels. Chapters 1 and 2 examine local backsliding; Chapter 1 focuses on party strategy in subnational electoral politics Hungary, where Fidesz has pushed democratic erosion furthest in the region. Chapter 2 examines differences in electoral rules in Hungary and Poland to understand why local politics have been more resilient in Poland than in Hungary. Chapter 3 shifts focus to the supranational level, to understand how democratic oversight in the European Parliament remains beholden to national-level dynamics, limiting its ability to curb the democratic backsliding processes. Together, these chapters show that the multilevel politics of the region have been an important component of democratic decline.

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