From the Fall of Communism to the Rise of Populist-Nationalist Regimes in East-Central Europe: the Hungarian Case

Ms. Renáta Drávucz

Keywords: Nationalism, Populism, East-Central Europe, Democratic Backlash, Transition Process

After the end of the Cold War and Communism, a global transition toward Western liberal democracy and market economy could be observed. However, in recent years we can see a shocking turn in politics, as nationalist and populist actors are on the rise in several European countries. Although the phenomenon is global in its scale, one might wonder if there are regional peculiarities behind it.

While populism and nationalism are not synonyms, in contemporary populism they seem to appear intertwined: populist political actors often voice nationalistic thoughts to appeal to their disenchanted public. This phenomenon has become especially prevalent in East-Central Europe, where Hungary appears in the forefront of a general populist-authoritarian turn of the Eastern peripheries. Although high hopes were attached to the regions’ accession to the European Union and the liberal democratic turn, the transition process had been followed by the emptying of democracy and deep dissatisfaction, which has proven to be an ideal background for the emergence of populist actors, who are increasingly voicing nationalistic ideas.

The aim of this research is to analyze how regional peculiarities can affect this populist-nationalist turn in politics, or in this concrete case how the deep dissatisfaction that has followed the liberal democratic turn has led people to turn their interest away from these values and opt for populist-nationalist political actors. For this aim, a case-study research will be conducted within Hungary, which can be considered as the best example of the regional democratic backsliding that has followed the transition process. The primary method used in this case study will be process tracing. Broadly, this analysis can contribute to our understanding of contemporary East-Central European politics within the framework of nationalism, populism and the backsliding of democracy.