With five work packages currently underway, our consortium has been as busy as ever as the one-year mark of our project, AUTHLIB – Neo-Authoritarianisms in Europe and the Liberal Democratic Response, is approaching with the start of October.
The Sciences Po CEE team continued its work on developing a machine-learning model that will eventually help us process textual data to identify the Ideological configurations of alternatives competing with the ideals of liberal democracy in texts produced by illiberal actors. Over the past months, the team reviewed the most relevant text-as-data techniques for the analysis of our textual corpuses and is now working on wrapping up the main findings of this review process. The core challenge to tackle is that in the project we work with very distinct forms of text—party manifestos, political speeches, and tweets of politicians—in seven languages. Addressing the issue of comparability across countries, expression types, and keywords is thus central to our inquiry. As our task is to identify distinct forms of illiberalism in these texts, we also find ourselves facing the challenge of identifying how illiberal expressions are communicated: it seems that they tend to be communicated not directly but symbolically. This renders the identification of text segments (terms, sentences, paragraphs) as illiberal much more difficult. To this end, we are proceeding by reading a pre-selected set of party manifestos to identify the ways in which illiberal actors communicate their illiberal positions. This is a form of pre-processing that will eventually help us define key forms of training texts for text analysis algorithms.
Within the framework of the work package on Survey-based data collection and experiments, the team of the SWPS University, in close cooperation with other consortium members, is making substantial efforts to develop the final version of a survey questionnaire that will be used to gather individual-level data to discern the profiles of people who are most inclined to support specific illiberal configurations across Europe. One of the primary challenges we face is creating a tool that addresses the academic research questions posed in the project and that is also suitable for laying the foundation for practical recommendations for democracy practitioners, which we will develop at the last stages of the project. Several methodological questions, among them the inclusion and design of experimental settings in the questionnaire design, are also under consideration and need to be settled as we are preparing the tender to choose the research agency that will realize the fieldwork of our survey research in our seven countries.
The Oxford team analyzing the Rhetorical and emotional appeals of illiberal parties through political texts continues to make progress in training a classifier of tweets that will enable us to distinguish the relationship of aspects of political illiberalism to illiberal perspectives on other dimensions. In the first stage, tweets from political parties will be analyzed, following which we will move on to how well the stances of elites map onto those of their followers. The main aim of creating this map, however, is to provide an anchor of illiberal actors and their followers to further enquire about the emotional character of the tweets and responses, this being the core element of the work package. The team has started the coding process and will now increase the number of tweets coded with three research assistants that we have hired over the summer and are now training.
The team at the Central European University that analyzes Illiberalism in power has worked on a template of liberal versus illiberal keywords across six policy areas (education and culture, environment, foreign policy, gender, immigration and citizenship, and social policy) that will be applied for text analysis, using word-embedding techniques aimed at identifying patterns in political actors’ speeches and in parliamentary debates. These analyses will allow us to distinguish the discourse of liberal actors from that of illiberal ones, as well as to identify varieties among the latter. The first pilot studies were run on Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speeches across three policy areas, with promising results.
Additionally, the six working groups set up for the abovementioned policy areas progressed with their analysis of policy and legislative changes affected by illiberals in their respective countries. This inquiry will culminate in the publication of a comprehensive report by the end of this year summarizing what policies illiberal actors pursue in power, and to what extent they add up to a consistent ideological package with comparable implications across policy areas and countries.
After concluding the literature review for the work package on illiberal actors’ International co-operation and diffusion, the team at Scuola Normale Superiore is currently employing three parallel empirical strategies to explore the transnationalization of political parties and social movements across our seven country cases. First, event cataloguing will allow us to trace specific instances of transnational collaboration. Second, social network analysis will be used to track online interactions based on social network accounts and websites of various illiberal actors. Finally, in-depth interviews with experts and actors will help us to better understand of how illiberal actors perceive and engage with transnationalization.
While working on our five exciting work packages behind the scenes, we have also used the opportunity of the General Conference of the European Consortium for Political Research in Prague to showcase some of our work to the wider academic community. AUTHLIB was represented with two individual panels: Contesting democracy: Varieties of illiberalism (September 4, Monday) and Reimagining Europe: How populist right-wing actors construct an illiberal Europe (September 8, Friday). Find out more about the research we presented here.
With the AUTHLIB consortium being committed to exploring the challenges liberal democracies face in Europe and contributing not only to the academic but also to the policy debate, our team at the Transatlantic Foundation has been working on organizing regular discussions around current challenges and ongoing developments on the European political agenda. After a panel discussion in cooperation with the Nations in Transit program of Freedom House on the political dynamics in Central Europe, we are closing the quarter with an exchange with The CIVICS Innovation Hub on the matter of civic education around Europe. We will start October with a timely post-election briefing following the voting in Slovakia, and in the coming months we plan to showcase our results on how illiberals in power impact policy in the fields of education and culture, environment, foreign policy, gender, immigration and citizenship, and social policy.
Beyond these discussions, we continue to regularly publish scholarly as well as policy analyses on key challenges and challengers of liberal democracy on the AUHLIB Blog, where over the course of the past months we have touched on issues as diverse as the far right in Italy, radical-right parties cooperation with Russia and their environmental policy, illiberal attitudes to the LGBTQ community in Central Europe, the EU’s new Media Freedom Act and the EU’s stance on democracy in Hungary, and the upcoming elections in Slovakia amidst rising populism in the country.