NEWTON Welcomes International Scholars for Panel Discussion on Democratic Erosion

On 20 June, NEWTON hosted its long anticipated panel discussion on Democratic Erosion and the Radical Right in the Post-Pandemic Era. The first event of its kind at NEWTON, the event featured prominent academics from institutions around the world coming together to share their research and insights with NEWTON’s students and faculty. Held exclusively in English, the event was designed to enable full participation by international students and colleagues, and also give students studying in Czech exposure to the international academic community.

The discussion was the inaugural event of NEWTON’s Summer Conferences on Europe’s Post Pandemic Challenges, which is coming up in July, and which will provide future opportunities for NEWTON students to engage with the important research work being carried out by our faculty members. 

The first of the three speakers was Dr. Leigh Payne, professor in Sociology and at the Latin American Centre at the University of Oxford, UK. Dr Payne attended via videolink, and shared insights gathered during the course of researching her forthcoming book ‘The Right against Rights in Latin America’. She discussed both the general trend of the Right mobilising against rights held or being gained by groups that previously had few rights – women’s rights, reproductive rights,  LGBTQI+ rights, rights based on ethnicity, land, and migrations, and others – as well as the uniquely Latin American context that combines this emphasis with a model of mobilising on the streets, rather than using institutional framework to influence policy. 

Second to share her research was Dr Petra Guasti, Associate Professor of Democratic Theory at the Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic, whose research concentrates on representation, democratisation and populism, with an emphasis on Central and Eastern Europe. Dr Guasti considered the question of whether Covid-19 is hurting European democracies. Using a variety of data sets, she concluded that democratic erosion that has occurred during the pandemic is mostly a continuation of past trends, rather than being actually caused by the pandemic. However, she did also find that, where the conditions are right, the pandemic has created opportunities for power grabbing by political parties by, for example, manipulating where aid funds are flowing.

Last to speak was Dr. Cas Mudde, Professor of International Affairs at the University of Georgia, also affiliated with the University of Oslo. Dr Mudde’s research centres on comparative European politics, including extremism and democracy, political parties and social movements; his talk at NEWTON, based on the paper published together with Jakub Wondreys (NEWTON),  focussed on how European far right parties responded to the first wave of the pandemic. He shared how, in the main, European far right parties acted against stereotype by not denying or ignoring the covid pandemic, unlike the Trump administration in the United States, which minimised the crisis. He also drew distinctions between the actions of the far right when in power (or coalition), versus the far right in opposition. In the former case they found there was no evidence that the far right in government were less competent than any other European governments, and that in both cases there was a very limited (if any) effect on electoral outcomes. He then went on to discuss developments such as anti-lockdown and anti-forced vaccination movements during subsequent pandemic waves.

The presentations were followed by a Q&A, where both faculty and students asked the panel questions about topics including the impact of social media on disinformation, and the influence of US-funded evangelical movements on the far right in Latin America. This latter question was broadened out to include discussion of the Eastern Orthodox Church in some Central and Eastern European countries, and the use of direct democracy to influence policy in illiberal ways.

Attending students commented on enjoying the regional diversity covered by the speakers, while the panel enjoyed the intellectual exchange, and found many interesting areas of commonality.