Can the Democracy Europe Has Cultivated Endure?

Typically they’re far-right parties who either have a dubious commitment to democracy or are outright hostile to democracy,” Lundstedt said. “For example, they are often attacking aspects of media freedom and freedom of association, or they want to undermine power sharing between the executive, parliament and the courts.” 

Globally, the trend toward ever greater autocratization prevails. But there are at least a few countries where this trend has been reversed. In Europe, for example, the democracies in North MacedoniaMoldova and Slovenia have become more liberal again after going through periods of autocratization.   

At the beginning of 2023, about 81% of the people in Moldova were not very or not at all satisfied with democracy in the country, according to a Eurobarometer survey. By comparison, this was true of 42% of Europeans on average. 

More surprising are the survey results for Hungary and Poland: Though these countries have become increasingly autocratic, 47% of Hungarians say they are satisfied with democracy in their country — as do a full 58% of Poles.

We live in very turbulent times, where the problems are really complex and there simply can’t be any easy answers,” Skóra said. “But to abolish the entire political system — democracy — is not a solution either. It would be good if citizens understood that and had more trust in politics. And creating this trust is the job of politicians.” 

Proponents of rule of law in Poland cheered the recent elections victory by a three-way alliance under former Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s center-right Civic Platform after eight years of increasingly anti-democratic policies by the Law and Justice party

How Citizens Can Engage in Democracy
There has been substantial research into why people choose to reject democracy or vote in favor of anti-democratic parties. “Commonly mentioned factors are economic inequality, people with status anxiety, feeling both economically and culturally left behind,” Lundstedt said. “This tends to be more common in rural areas, too, creating an urban-rural divide. Tension and division between language groups, ethnic groups and religious groups can also contribute to anti-democratic support.” 

Lundstedt said people could strengthen democracy in their countries through “citizen activity within society, placing oneself in positions where you meet people, maybe from other lines of work, other backgrounds, other neighborhoods, so that you involve yourself in a deeper sense in society.”  

It could be joining a political party, a football association, a workers union, a book circle or whatever interests you,” Lundstedt said. “Meeting and interacting with other people matters for the quality of democracy, being able to understand others and see their perspectives, which I’d believe makes citizens generally more trusting and more respectful of the democratic system.” 

In addition to direct engagement with communities, Skóra said people could strengthen democracy  through media literacy. “So what citizens could do is perhaps become more resilient themselves — learning resilience to disinformation, not allowing themselves to be manipulated by fake news, and being able to distinguish false news from legitimate communication,” Skóra said. 

Such an investment in democracy would, of course, require investments into the appropriate educational measures by the parties in power. 

Data and Code behind this analysis can be found in this repository.

Gianna-Carina Grün is head of Data-Driven Journalism at @dwnews.Kira Schacht contributed research. This article was edited by Peter Hille and Milan Gagnon, and it is published courtesy of Deutsche Welle (DW).