Normalization of Illiberal Democracy

Unknown: Alphabet Salad (19th c.) // Source: Düsseldorfer Auktionshaus // Public domain

There are at least several different definitions of ‘illiberal democracy’. For example, for Thierry Chopin of the Institute Delors, “the illiberal democracy is in practice a smokescreen that conceals the shift towards a ‘majority authoritarianism’”[1].

Moreover, the main characteristic of illiberal democracy include the desire of authoritarian leaders to avoid their power being questioned, the weakening of opposition forces so as to control the State apparatus more effectively, intervention in the media to control information and communication, reduction of academic freedom, impaired constitutional accountability, self-perpetuation of incumbents, redefined liberties and reduced pluralism, marginalizing an open society, and strengthening social and political polarization. All this sounds familiar for Polish and Hungarian (but not only) citizens[2].

Illiberal democracy goes hand in hand with populism. When we talk about illiberal democracy or populism in our European context we use the word ‘the rise’ – the rise of illiberal democracy, the rise of populism – but it is an outdated narrative. Currently, we are dealing with normalization of illiberal democracy[3].

If the normalization of illiberal democracy is our starting point, this could be our gamechanger in designing solutions. This point of view could help us to make our liberal struggle more effective.

The characteristics of normalization of illiberal democracy are as follows:

  • it alters the realm of political and constitutional possibilities in a lasting manner,
  • it fosters the resilience of illiberal, becomes a prosaic everyday experience,
  • participatory politics is replaced by plebiscitary mobilization,
  • civil society there is under constant pressure.

Furthermore, when European integration based on shared values is replaced by illiberal global alliances, the process on normalization of illiberal democracy gains new momentum. In 2023 we will have general elections in Poland, in 2024 – European elections. If nothing changes, Poland will contribute to broader movement of giving social legitimization and reinforcement for normalization of illiberal democracy.

Normalization of illiberal democracy is threatening because it leads to gradual loss of social vigilance and powerlessness. It leads to acceptance of anti-democratic procedures and social indifference, social passivity, civic coma. Normalization of illiberal democracy hampers any changes needed to build a more open and free society in general, and changes of government into liberal and democratic in particular. Under illiberal circumstances it is more difficult to obtain support for these changes.

Tha is is why we should not try to answer the question of ‘how can we stop the rise of illiberal democracy?’ – it is outdated, it has already happened, and it is an everyday experience. We must focus on what we should do to make members of society want to stand up to their everyday experience.


[2] I would like to emphasize that populism there isn’t only in Poland, Hungary but also in Western Europe. In my opinion liberals did not notice it for a long time or they did not want to notice it.

[3] Professor Renata Uitz from Central European University has spoken about the phenomenon of normalization of illiberal democracy during the Democracy Institute Leadership Academy in Budapest.

Continue exploring:

State-Sponsored Homophobia in Russia

Estonian Riigikogu Reached Rare Consensus When Declaring Russia Terrorist


Karolina Derynska