Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds In recent years, there’s been some discussion in Europe about democracy, perhaps even in terms of a crisis of democracy. This is because of the development of something that is referred to as an illiberal democracy. So what is democracy? What is liberal democracy, or illiberal democracy? Well, democracy, first of all, is about the rule of majority. We know that. The majority elected in democratic procedures form the government. And until the next election day, they rule. But is it all? Well, it’s not all. There are other principles in democracy than the rule of majority. Democracy is also about civic rights. It’s about protection of citizens. It’s about all these checks and balances, which prevent development of authoritarianism, of tyranny.
Skip to 1 minute and 13 seconds Citizens and minorities need to be protected not only against tyranny, but also against the rule of majority that may sometimes become oppressive and oppress human rights, oppress minorities, because of them being minorities. So what are the institutions which are associated with a liberal democracy? First of all, there is a system of justice. There are, as we know, three pillars of governance, of liberal systems. There is a legislative power, executive power, and a system of justice. And all three are independent. So to have an independent system of justice is essential to protect liberal values, liberal principles. There is also the free media, which have tremendous power in contemporary society.
Skip to 2 minutes and 21 seconds But we also are here to protect those who are not necessarily automatically protected by the government that represents the majority, free media. There’s also civil society, the system of non-governmental organisations. So basically, there are many different pillars of liberal democracy, which provide those checks and balances. Today, we are observing that many citizens, many political parties are rather critical about liberal system. Why are they critical? Because liberal democracy tends sometimes to be ineffective.
Skip to 3 minutes and 15 seconds As it is said, they waste a lot of time and energy on empty debates and discussions that prevent government from decisive, quick actions, from providing citizens, especially the majority of citizens, the ruling majority, with what they need. There’s also the question of the role of minorities in culturally pluralistic societies– what rights do they have, and how do minorities relate in their way of life, in their culture, in their political rights to the majority. So there is a lot of criticism. And this criticism may be transformed into a non-liberal movement, which emphasises the one aspect of democracy, the majority rule, making it pretty much the only principle that democracy is about.
Skip to 4 minutes and 16 seconds And such developments are particularly visible in times of crisis, when many people, many citizens lose security. They don’t feel secure anymore economically, politically. And they therefore may wish to choose a strong leader, a strong, sometimes even authoritarian leader, a person or a power elite people who promise to run the country effectively and to stop all those developments which the majority is not willing to accept. In Europe today, we see non-democratic tendencies and voices– non-liberal democratic tendencies and voices in many countries, especially right-wing movements, right-wing parties. But in particular, the concern is that in Central Eastern Europe, in Hungary and more recently in Poland, non-liberal democracies are developing.
Skip to 5 minutes and 29 seconds And the leaders of the new governments officially say that liberal values is not their priority.
What is illiberal democracy?
In this video, Professor Mach explains the meaning of illiberal democracy.
‘Suppose the election was declared free and fair and those elected are racists, fascists, separatists, who are publicly opposed to [peace and reintegration]. That is the dilemma.’
This quote belongs to an American diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who in 1996 reflected on the problems encountered by the international community in their state-building efforts in Bosnia. The problem of regimes that are democratically elected but ignore the constitutional limitations of their power was further taken under consideration by international relations scholar Fareed Zakaria and developed into a theory of illiberal democracy. We bring the discussion on the compatibility of illiberal practices and democracy to the European context.