Belgrade Legal Theory Group organized its first event in 2023 with Florian Bieber (University of Graz) on the topic of influence of external entities on democratization.

Florian started with some conceptual points regarding democratic back-sliding and emphasized that autocratization does not necessarily mean a shift from democracyas a starting point and that it could be said the world is currently in the third wave of autocratization. The most dangerous way of losing democracy is not by a military coup, but rather by internal weakening of democratic institutions in competitive authoritarian (hybrid) regimes, which is especially present in the Western Balkans. He then underlined the external actors for that geo-political area, which primarily include on one side the EU (as well as all the member states), and the US, and on the other side – Russia, China and Turkey, whose role has been more significant in the recent years.

Afterward, Florian moved on to the general causes of (de)democratization, emphasizing that direct interventions are least important in that sense. First, the global (favorable) environment is one of the key factors that influence political directions by normalizing them, working in both ways (towards and from democracy). Second and strongly connected to the first is the contagion demonstration effect, which states when neighboring states change their political order it gives an incentive to all who are nearby, since their context is comparable. He also emphasized that for such a reason it is hard for democracies to survive in non-democratic surroundings. The more linkage to democratic states (economic, political, cultural…) the better, although leverage plays a significant part.

The last part of Florian’s focus was on concrete influences of external agents on politics in the Western Balkans. He stressed that there are no clear-cut arguments or evidence which would point towards one direction of influence, but rather that each factor acts in its own interest. Those interests sometimes correspond to democratization and sometimes don’t.

Following was the Q&A part of the event, with substantial interest from the audience.

The audience was focused on various aspects of the topic, but mostly on the concept of competitive authoritarianism, concrete examples of foreign influence and the significance of internal factors in relation to external ones.

Florian referred to each one of them, claiming that it is very hard to use precise definitions and pinpoint regimes in reality, gave some examples and concluded that internal factors also seem very relevant.

Ending the meeting, Mila Đorđević thanked everyone for an excellent discussion, as well as Florian for the interesting lecture.

BLTG: Florian Bieber – External Actors as Agents of De-democratisation in the Western Balkans