Zsolt Enyedi, CEU

Democracy in the 21st Century: Zsolt Enyedi on the evolving work of CIVICA’s joint research theme group


CEU Professor Zsolt Enyedi speaks about the current focus of the theme group and planned activities and collaborations.

CIVICA’s Work Package 6 (WP6) focuses on joint research activities consisting of scholars from across the alliance. This year, on the heels of his sabbatical, CEU Political Science Professor Zsolt Enyedi returns to CIVICA’s Democracy in the 21st Century theme group to lead the next phase of activities. This is an edited version of our conversation with Enyedi from 17 March 2022.

When this theme group began its work, the focus was on democratic backsliding, reform of democracy, polarisation and inequality. Can you talk about how the focus has either deepened in these areas or evolved?

These four directions are still relevant today and many activities that have emerged through CIVICA (joint courses, research proposals) in fact relate to these four topics. As we move forward, we are thinking of venturing into new areas. Currently in the theme group we are discussing the topic of measurement of democracy. We are planning a dedicated event where we address the methodology behind the various quality of democracy indices.

We also need to react to the changing political context. Today the stakes of democratic backsliding are even more apparent than when CIVICA was launched in 2019. But next to trying to understand the negative tendencies, I hope that we will have the energy and time to address more forward-looking issues, such as democratic innovations and investments in technology, and look at the extent to which the actual process of political representation has changed due to digitalisation. We must be able to have a balanced approach to the challenges and the potential for institutional improvement in this topic area.

What’s ahead for the Democracy in the 21st Century theme group?

A September 2022 conference in Budapest is on the horizon, which will be a flagship event of CIVICA, so our group will be contributing to that. In October we will start working on a major European grant that was written as an outgrowth of our thinking and work together related to illiberalism in Europe.

What is distinct about your collaboration across the alliance?

The collaborations are special largely because of the individuals and institutions involved. We are talking here about a particularly prestigious set of partners. Since collaboration happens at many levels, the projects spill over into each other, and one has a sense of a solidifying common identity. This is really unique, most of the international collaborations are project specific. CIVICA has a long-term horizon. With so many ties across research areas, it feels like we’re working within a larger unit than just our home university.

There is also strong and professional administrative support behind the specific activities. From the position of a faculty, it is fortunate that the type of activities within CIVICA are intrinsically connected to the interest areas of our academic units and research centres. We can basically work on issues that in which we are already invested.

Speaking of related activities, this week you were part of CIVICA’s conference, “Europe and the New Global Challenges”. When you reflect on the event, can you share what felt most potent to you?

The complexity of the current situation became more apparent to me. For example, in the conversation someone raised the question of what will happen now with refugees from other regions once refugees from Ukraine are welcomed and provided with free movement across the EU? The discussion also brought forth other potential implications that I hadn't considered. One interesting statement about cybersecurity indicated that the topic of cyber-war may have been exaggerated in the social sciences. The boundaries of international diplomacy need to be rethought. In general, the CIVICA event was a good example of researchers coming from different backgrounds and disciplines talking about a topic that is relevant for all.

Written by Julie Potter (CEU)

Photo courtesy of CEU

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