The novel COVID-19 virus has left deep traces in Central and Eastern Europe including Russia in terms of economic development, healthcare systems, and overall political support in these countries. COVID-19 as exogenous shock has reshaped political opportunity structure in favor of some political actors and disadvantaging others: in incumbent’s favor as in Hungary and Russia or against the government as in Belarus. All economies worldwide are hit hard by the corona-crisis that caused a dramatic slowdown in domestic business activities, border closure, and rise in unemployment and growing pressure on national welfare systems that extended governments’ discretionary powers. On the other hand, the pandemic has exacerbated the challenges of government’s efficiency, transparency, and accountability (namely, ‘good governance’). The pandemic and subsequent state of emergency made citizens more vulnerable dependent on their governments, opened up possibilities for political and administrative abuse and manipulations, all of which may ultimately undermine the rule of law. The latter especially holds true for the states with authoritarian legacies and legacy of politically motivated redistribution, i.e. the old communist rule, oversized state, and politicized bureaucracies.
In the book, it is hypothesized that COVID-19 as an exogenous shock shifts access to political, media, economic and administrative resources towards the state, politicizes welfare spending, and thereby fosters authoritarian tendencies in the region. Moreover, previous research has shown that external crises tend to either force citizens ‘to rally around’ their governments and leaders acknowledging no blame, express solidarity, and appreciating the operation of public services. In this context, CEE countries including Russia are known for the extremely low institutional and interpersonal trust as well as the lack of efficiency and breaches in public governance. Numerous rumors and conspiracy theories have accompanied the coronavirus pandemic since its outbreak. This trend is primarily attributed to the lack of information about the disease and the inevitable inconsistency of the scientific data. In CEE region, conspiracy thinking thrives on the soil of distrust. Coupled with the recent conservative and populist turn it brings about more long-term consequences for political accountability and governance.
At the same time, conspiracy theories pose a significant threat to public welfare. Politicians and officials who do not believe in the existence of the virus or underestimate its danger can impede the timely introduction of measures to combat the disease or promote inadequate options to face the challenge. COVID-19-sceptics among ordinary citizens, in turn, are less inclined to observe basic precautions, such as wearing masks or social distancing, they are more likely to oppose vaccinations and thereby endanger their own and others people’s health.
These obstacles facilitate the so-called ‘blame game’ when the incumbents enjoy more opportunities for shifting the responsibility for COVID-related policy failures to other actors – subnational and local authorities, business, other countries and ‘unfriendly’ international community or fellow-citizens. Countries with populist governments obtained more opportunity to consolidate their support – Hungary and Poland, states with authoritarian rule slide further to more repressive and autarchic forms – Russia and Belarus, the outcomes for other states are yet to be explored.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
Edition1st Edition
Number of pages224
ISBN (Print)978-1-032-42877-2, 978-1-032-42913-7
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-003-36487-0
Publication statusPublished - 2023
MoE publication typeC1 Scientific book

Publication series

NameStudies in Contemporary Russia

Fields of Science

  • 5171 Political Science

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