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Photo: “Election 2018 in Hungary. Taken on the 8th of April, 2018, around 23.35. Bálna, Budapest. Orbán Viktor announcing the victory of the FIDESZ party.“, by Elekes Andor licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0. Hue modified from the original.

Melito, Francesco. “Anti-colonial neo-traditionalism in Central-Eastern Europe: A theoretical examination.” New Perspectives. Interdisciplinary Journal of Central & East European Politics and International Relations 30, no. 4 (2022): 349-366.


The enormous attention devoted to populism has simplified the framework for analysis of the “illiberal turn” in Central-Eastern Europe. Although a populist aspect is certainly present, reductio ad populismum neglects other interpretations of the current political polarization. The article contributes to the literature on the cultural aspects of illiberalism as it offers an innovative theoretical examination of illiberalism(s) in the region. It proposes the concept of neo-traditionalism as a more comprehensive lens of analysis of the anti-colonial narrative against the “foreign liberal West” to defend the “genuine traditional Europe.” Neo-traditionalism in Central-Eastern Europe captures two criticisms of progressive liberalism. First, it contrasts progressive modernizing values. Emancipation and fluid identities are counterbalanced by a discourse where traditions provide ontological security and culturally defined identities. Second, it denounces the foreign origin of progressivism. The liberal West is described as a colonial power aiming to destroy “our authentic way of life.” Thus, the populist dimension of illiberalism in Central-Eastern Europe could be better grasped if we applied the concept of neo-traditionalism. Not only are the elites isolated from the people. They are also deemed to impose a colonial project to replace and modernize true European values.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.