At the first BSF Panel Mr. Jean Lachapelle, Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science of the Oslo University said that democratic backsliding is one of the state’s responses to the Covid-19. He added that pandemic could stabilize authoritarian regimes, for instance regimes in Hungary, Turkey, Serbia and Poland.
Executive Director for Europe and Eurasia of the Open Society Foundations, Ms. Daniela Schwarzer said that EU member states took their fate into their own hands, because managing of pandemic had to be done by states themselves. In some countries this has led to strengthening of the executive branch and stressing efficiency over the decision-making in parliaments. Responding to question how did other actors influence public opinion during the pandemic, Daniela Schwarzer said that a number of actors in some regions used the crisis to self-promote, which is often referred to as ‘’vaccine diplomacy’’.
Professor Emeritus at the Central European University, Mr. Peter Balazs, stated that Orban didn’t need the pandemic to initiate the dismantling of democracy. When he won the elections in 2010, he started pulling down a system of checks and balances, attacking media and civil society. The first crisis he used to establish his power was Migration crisis. This model has affected other countries, firstly Poland, and then Slovenia. Mr. Balazs concluded by deconstructing the term illiberal democracy which he find nonsensical, because it is either free or it is not a democracy.
Mr. Vukosava Crnjanski, Director of Centre for Research, Transparency and Accountability pointed out that Serbia was the first country in Europe to organize elections during the pandemic. The results of which were disastrous for democratic institutions, followed by further centralization of power, human rights violation etc.
President of Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Ms. Katarina Golubović said that before the pandemic we had already weak institutions in Serbia, but since March 2020 we have management without institutions. All the power went to the government, thus there wasn’t any room for dialogue and solidarity which is the key to democratic handling of crisis. The freedom of information, among other human rights, was under attack. A state of emergency was in power for 52 days and immediately after that the elections were held, and Ms. Golubović believes that this is what caused the riots of 2020.
At the end of the session Mr. Jean Lachapelle stated that authoritarian measures didn’t contribute to efficiently combating the pandemic, and that democracies have mechanisms to respond to some constraints, and their efficiency is not reduced, thus democracy is a better solution.
Panelists agreed on the conclusions that the pandemic has unveiled weaknesses of governments and societies and that for moving forward, a debate is necessary, while citizens shouldn’t have to choose between health/safety and human rights.