New article titled Illiberal spectatorship – the disfigurement of citizenship in Hungary and Poland, written by Robert Sata and Ireneusz Pawel Karolewski, has just been published in the Journal of Contemporary European Studies.
Hungary and Poland have been forerunners of democratic backsliding in Europe. Both governments have been building an ‘illiberal democracy’ using the populist promise to return power to the people. We argue that despite this promise, the Fidesz and PiS governments have undertaken political reforms that turn citizens into spectators with a very limited say or take in politics and willing objects of propaganda and disinformation. The turning of citizens into spectators is integral part of democratic backsliding as illiberal policies empty citizenship of its meaning, thus facilitating transition to autocracy. Illiberal regimes 1) capture media to control public opinion, 2) remove the opportunities for citizens to exercise their political agency, 3) redefine the contours of the political community to the extent that critical citizens’ belonging is questioned, 4) and instead of political choices, they present an emotional spectacle, often based on propaganda, fake news or straight lies. Spectators do not merely watch the show, they assist in its creation as fans of leaders who supposedly express and realize their collective will – the voice of true people. This way, spectatorship becomes the societal and cultural underpinning of the illiberal regime, where leaders fake democracy to hoard and hold onto power.