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ROVNY, JAN. “Antidote to Backsliding: Ethnic Politics and Democratic Resilience.” American Political Science Review 117, no. 4 (2023): 1410–28


Recent years have witnessed significant democratic erosion, particularly in eastern Europe. This article suggests that the explanations of democratic backsliding, largely focused on historical and post-communist experiences of the this region, fail to note the striking and counterintuitive influence of ethnic politics. Departing from an observation that democratic practices have deteriorated significantly more in eastern European countries without mobilized ethnic minorities, this article argues for the central role of ethnic politics in buttressing democracy in the region. In countries with politically organized ethnic minorities, democratic institutions and practices remain more resilient. This is because mobilized ethnic minorities provide socially rooted electorates with almost an existential need for political rights and civil liberties. Active minority engagement in politics reinforces a constitutionally liberal pole of political competition and provides a counterbalance to the primary carriers of democratic regression—illiberal parties.

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.