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Photo: “Budapest: Hungarian Parliament“, by Jorge Franganillo licensed under CC BY 2.0. Hue modified from the original

Rone, Julia. “Backsliding of the Left: Or How Viktor Orbán’s Right-Wing Conservative Illiberalism Emerged as a Normative Ideal in Bulgarian Political Discourse.” European Politics and Society, August 20, 2021.


The paper explores how the leaders of parliamentary represented parties in Bulgaria discussed Fidesz’s policies in the period 2010-2019. Furthermore, it attempts to explain why Orbán’s brand of conservative illiberalism has emerged as a normative ideal for a number of Bulgarian political parties, including the Bulgarian socialists after 2016. The paper argues that so-called ‘democratic backsliding’ in CEE, and Bulgaria more specifically, cannot be understood without acknowledging the role of decommunization for the rehabilitation and rise of far-right nationalist discourses. Within a common framework of capitalist free markets and decommunization, a series of ideological ‘slippages’ from 1990s liberalism to post-2008 conservatism has taken place. It is the consistent backsliding of left-wing thought in Bulgaria that has made a critique of liberalism possible mainly from a conservative point of view, even for the socialists. Third, the paper argues that while Bulgarian politicians praise Orbán and his conservative illiberalism on the domestic scene, they pay lip service to liberal values in their international discourse, pre-empting in this way criticism from the EU. It is precisely Orbán’s open normative ideological challenge that has made Hungary the ‘poster child’ of illiberalism distracting attention away from his political followers in countries such as Bulgaria.

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.