Budapest Forum 2023 - New Autocratization Trends vs. Democratic Renewal



  • Zsolt Enyedi, Senior Research Fellow, CEU Democracy Institute, Professor, Central European University
  • Petra Guasti, Associate Professor at Charles University
  • Gábor Kerpel-Fronius, Deputy Mayor of Budapest
  • Anja Wehler-Schöck, International editor, Tagesspiegel

  Moderator: Karolina Zbytniewska, Editor-in-Chief,

Background: Members of the panel discussed the status quo and the spectrum between autocratisation and democratisation. The panellists talked about why autocratisation is thrilling to voters and then the possibilities of democratic renewal.

Main takeaways

  • Autocracies are winning: according to the V-DEM report, 72% of the world's population now live in autocracies and the global level of democracy has regressed to 1986 levels. There are more closed autocracies than liberal democracies around the world. Illiberal populism continues to challenge democratic standards in Europe (eg. in Hungary and Poland).
  • As V-DEM’s data show, every year the countries that are undergoing autocratisation outnumber the cases that are democratising. There are some counterexamples: Slovenia and Czechia or Brazil and maybe Guatemala. But the overall trend goes in one direction: and not only because some of the hard dictatorial cases become harder, like China and Russia, but also because relatively consolidated cases, become more autocratic.
  • In Hungary we can see a democratic backslide. According to Kerpel-Fronius Gábor, autocrats’ attractiveness is basically a result of unfulfilled promises of the democratisation process and they actually promised that with a strong hand government, they could provide a more effective government with centralisation and with breaking down barriers, checks and balances, which stands in the way of an effective government.
  • Anja Wehler-Schöck drew the attention to the free media, which is the backbone of democracy. Media has been in decline worldwide and an autocratic tendency has been on the rise. Reporters Without Borders published its new report on the state of press freedom in the world and the circumstances have notably worsened on a global level.
  • Populist strategies around the world are very similar: they are profiting from people's frustrations, and also from their fears. They are investing in strategies like fear-mongering. Also, we have seen a heavy Russian influence through social media, through disinformation and with the advances that we see on the technological front including artificial intelligence, this will only grow stronger.
  • The populist forces really know their marketing, and they have understood how to use social media and other publication channels to transport their messages, and to fearmonger and to use insecurities and frustrations that people have built up.
  • Petra Guasti highlighted to important to examine why the voters vote for the autocrats the first time, and why they keep voting for them. Zsolt Enyedi added once autocratic forces are in power, they reshuffle the institutional structure of democracy and they also tend to jump on the bandwagon of cultural war.
  • Populism can be defeated: democratic opposition needs to offer some positive programme for a better future that unites people. Democratic innovations could be the secret word.

Policy recommendations

  • It is vital to show people another form of politics is there to engage citizens and provide an opportunity for a real dialogue (eg. building small circle of trust at local levels, participant budgetary, or community planning).
  • The democratic spectrum needs to up its game of strategic communication: needs to take the public seriously; explain what are they doing, and give them ways of participation.
  • It is important to move towards a culture of political and civic debate where more tolerance is shown.
  • On the global level AI regulation is necessary and looking at social platforms like Twitter/X or Facebook as prime sources of information, we have to discuss whether they should be considered a global public good and find a way to regulate them as well.