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Begadze, Mariam. “Playbook of Subnational Illiberalism: Autocrats Face the Opposition-led Local Governments.” Hague Journal on the Rule of Law 14, no. 2 (2022): 309-330.


Recognizing the growing tensions between autocrats in the center and opposition-led local governments in Hungary, Poland and Turkey since 2018–2019 local elections, the article contributes to the existing literature on illiberal democracies with a subnational portion of illiberal playbook. Tactics identified through the detailed study of the European context and brief review of Latin American experience leaves us with the following categories in the playbook: abuse of (existing) supervisory and accountability mechanisms; generating of financial vulnerability; centralization (outright and indirect) and deconcentration. Each of these categories assemble various means evolving through application and reinterpretation of traditional rules pertaining to local government, as well as crisis-induced innovations. While the Polish account carries the optimism still that antecedent robust guarantees and popular support matter even when illiberals rule the center, the playbook proved successful in Hungary and Turkey. Although certain incrementalism stayed as the most vulnerable actors were the first victims of soon-to-be normalized measures, crisis in Hungary and Poland did stretch the limits to the point that ulterior motives of undermining opposition-led local governments became publicly observable. Reflecting on this phenomenon, in the end, the article poses a theoretical question whether such pretextual instrumentalization of law can itself be judicially manageable, at least in situations when clear political opponents are targeted.

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.