2023 LiA Project: Blog Post III

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Lika Gegenava

Leadership in Action Project: Blog Post III

Tbilisi, Georgia: May – June 2023

At Open Society Georgia Foundation, I worked with the strategic team of the Human Rights Program. During my time with the organization, the team worked on creating a campaign against the authoritarian trends in courts and governmental institutions, while collaborating with civil society movements to combat the rising authoritarianism in the country. As part of the team, my responsibilities included expanding on my research of authoritarian tendencies in Georgia, to similar illiberal democracies in Eastern Europe. 

I analyzed Hungary, Poland, and Turkey on the  basis of political context and the governmental initiatives to consolidate and maintain power. Using this information, I made predictions and created a certain framework for illiberal democracies in Eastern Europe, Populism and the patterns on power consolidation in such governments. 

To do this, I first discussed the political context of each country: leaders and parties in power, the levels and basis of populism in the country, foreign policy (with focus on the relationship and attitudes towards Russia and the war in Ukraine) and economic factors. Next, I researched the initiatives and policies these governments had already implemented to consolidate power such as changes to the constitution, changes in the political systems, electoral and judicial reforms, etc. Finally, based on this data, I made predictions and applied it to the processes taking place in Georgia – attempting to predict the initiatives the Georgian Dream government might implement and the risks they might pose to democratic institutions in the country. 

The main trends I observed in these governments were the governmental narratives on nationalism and sovereignty, traditional values and social conservatism, and religious conservatism and culture. Leaders of these governments appealed to the idea of foreign intervention and the risks to sovereignty, while highlighting nationalistic messages to mobilize the electoral base against a “common enemy.” To the same effort, these leaders appeal to traditional values and attempt to frame the West as a danger to them. These efforts translate to religious conservatism as well in countries like Turkey and Georgia – where religion plays an enormous role in public life, and is able to influence the electorate. 

Overall, all the analyzed countries, as well as Georgia, exhibited traits of conservative populism, which aids the governments in maintaining support during election cycles. During their terms, they work on consolidating power by implementing various policies that aim to weaken democratic institutions and check-and-balances systems that the foundation of a democratic state is built on. 

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