The essay identifies two main dangers to East Central Europe's young democracies: ‘hollowing,’ or declining popular involvement in democracy, and ‘backsliding,’ or destabilization and reverting to semi-authoritarian practices. It traces the malaise of some but not all postsocialist democracies to varied combinations of hollowing and backsliding. The main finding is an intricate pattern: in some cases the two syndromes coincide, in others they do not. There is also significant cross-country variation in the gravity of syndromes. The region's pure neoliberal capitalist regimes are likelier to undermine popular political participation than those, which try to balance marketization with relatively generous social protection for its losers. At the same time, the article finds that while the hollowing of democracy before the global financial crisis has not necessarily been a curse, the massive participation of citizenry prior to the crisis has not been a generalized blessing from the viewpoint of democracy's resilience. This is substantiated by a comparative case study of Hungary and Latvia with lessons for activists of democracy promotion and civil society development.
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