Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research

Making sense of the social world


Mar 28
16:00 - 17:30
From Liberalism to Authoritarianism: the Bulgarian case 30 years after 1989
SSPSSR Staff and Postgraduate Research Seminars
Dr Georgi Medarov, Sofia University

Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Eastern Europe's hopes for a quick democratic transition seem long gone. The region is now commonly associated with extreme social inequalities and rising authoritarianism. Today even transitologists and liberal democratization experts, who used to celebrate the inevitable global advance of liberal democracy, talk about a new transition to authoritarianism and "postmodern totalitarianism". The rise of authoritarian governments in Eastern Europe (but also beyond) is often interpreted in terms of a rise of illiberal democracy. Some EE political leaders, such as Hungary's Viktor Orban, have partially adopted the label as part of their political identity. Both critics and supporters of illiberal democracy seem to define it as embracing an authoritarianism that is characterised by excessive democracy and populism unchecked by the liberal-constitutionalist principles of frugal government and the protection of individual rights and liberties.Based on an analysis of the Bulgarian case, I will explicate the limitation of the notion of illiberal democracy and pose the question of whether the inverse articulation - antidemocratic liberalism - may instead be more apt in the comprehension of this new wave of authoritarianisms. The notion of illiberal democracy cannot explain why exclusionary discursive practices are used by elites. Both oppositional and governmental parties wage campaigns against ethnic minority, disability and women rights; the far right supported all governments since 2009 and is now formally in the ruling coalition. At the same time, however, the economic liberal consensus has not been questioned (low taxes, deregulation, austerity, etc.) and the far-right has officially been backed by big business.Through an analysis of the discourses of liberal intellectual elites in Bulgaria, I will demonstrate that the concept of illiberal democracy not only fails to reflect social reality, but is in fact instrumental for the current authoritarian shift.

Chair:  Veronika Stoyanova

No need to book


Seminar Room 2,
Cornwallis East
United Kingdom


Open to SSPSSR Staff and PGR students,


Contact: Eddy Hogg


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SSPSSR, Faculty of Social Sciences, Cornwallis North East, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NF

Last Updated: 04/12/2014