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Citizens’ Assemblies have been shown to help tackle many of the the underlying drivers of challenges to democratic institutions. As calls on governments to shift power to citizens, to address the democratic backslide, counter populism, and counteract authoritarian tendencies grow, these new deliberative democratic institutions offer a concrete way forward towards the next democratic paradigm.
At the same time, in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the latest V-Dem report has found that advances in global levels of democracy made over the last 35 years have dropped back to where they were in 1986, with 72% of the world’s population living in autocracies by 2022. Eastern Europe in particular is back to the levels last seen around the end of the Cold War, which threatens peace and security across the European continent.
Causes behind the rise of authoritarianism are many: from active efforts of parties and leaders to entrench themselves in power; to covert foreign interference, designed to undermine democratic progress; and the disillusionment of citizens with the current democratic and political system, and their vulnerability to polarisation and disinformation.
New democracies, and those still in a transition process in Central and Eastern Europe, are potentially well positioned to leap-frog over the paradigm of democracy that concentrates power in the hands of parties and politicians and would benefit greatly from adopting Citizens’ Assemblies more widely. Finding themselves at the sharp end of hostile authoritarian regimes in neighbouring Russia and Belarus - both in terms of physical proximity and potential influence, they stand a lot to gain from strengthening their democratic resilience.
Several successful assemblies on a local and national level have already taken place in Poland, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Estonia, with new ones planned in Serbia and Ukraine. Analysis of these first examples will enable us to better understand how citizen deliberation takes place in these contexts and the potential it holds.
The forthcoming paper "New Deliberative Institutions as an Antidote to Authoritarianism" (2024) by Ieva Česnulaitytė will explore the ways in which citizen deliberation and empowered Citizens’ Assemblies can help address authoritarian tendencies in Central Eastern Europe and more broadly.