Illiberal democracy: the future of freedom

At 18:45 GMT on Wednesday the 15th June, Free Word and Index on Censorship hosted a Unravelling Europe discussion looking at the emergence of illiberal democracies in Europe.

This debate has now closed, but a full recording of the evening is available on the former live streaming page and video highlights of the evening can be found below.

Theme / Speakers / Location / Recording / Related articles 

About the discussion:

The point of the future is that anything can happen” – Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary (1998-2002 and 2010-present day).

Europe was the bastion of hope for more than a million refugees in 2015, but what brought them here? A hunger for safety and security? Dreams of freedom? The draw of liberal democracy, with its ideals of free expression and equal opportunity and its laws against persecution?

From the outside, the EU is an appealing destination, but a closer look within the Union shows that there are cracks appearing in the liberal democracies so prized by the refugees arriving on our shores. In Hungary, Viktor Orbán openly talks about building an illiberal state, while, in Poland, the government has both increased its influence over public media and made changes which greatly restrict the work of the Constitutional Tribunal, leading to protests at home and strong criticism from a number of European organisations.

How can we then hope to support democratic campaigners in neighbouring countries like Egypt, Turkey, Russia and Macedonia, when we can’t convincingly fly the banner for freedom at home?

As we approach the UK referendum on continued membership of the EU, three major cultural figures from Hungary, Poland and Turkey will therefore gather in London to compare their stories and to ask: is Europe a purely geographical description or does it stand for a set of values which are rapidly unravelling?

This debate has now closed, but a full recording of the evening is available on the former live streaming page and video highlights of the evening can be found above.


Agnes Heller is a leading Hungarian critical theoretician and one of the most popular and outspoken critics of the current regime.

Elif Shafak is a French-born Turkish novelist whose books deal with subcultures and society’s excluded and have been published in more than 40 countries.

Adam Zagajewski is an award-winning poet, novelist, translator and essayist, who is currently the Ferdinand Schevill Distinguished Service Professor of the University of Chicago’s Department of Slavic Languages and Literature and a co-editor of Zeszyty Literackie (Literary Review).

Unravelling Europe:

This event is part of Free Word‘s new series, Unravelling Europe. This series recognises that increasing societal fragmentation, fuelled by anxiety and fear, threatens the very conditions and values that underpin our open, democratic societies and looks to put artists at the heart of discussions which set out to ask: why is this so, what are the consequences and how might we act to counter them?

To find out more about Unravelling Europe and the series of events which it comprises, visit Free Word at:

Event series:

This debate took place with the support of the European Union’s Europe for Citizens Programme and is one debate of many taking place as part of an international series of debates on the same themes in cities around Europe, including Barcelona, Bratislava, Brussels, London, Sofia and Warsaw.




Agnes Heller and “everyday revolutions” by Anna-Verena Nosthoff 

Discarding democracy: a return to the iron fist by Arch Puddington 

Eastern Europe is shunning liberal democracy – but it’ll come back in the end by John Shattuck 

Europe essays: love it or leave it by Elif Shafak

Europe’s illiberal democracies by Sylvie Kauffmann 

Full text of Viktor Orbán’s speech at Băile Tuşnad (Tusnádfürdő) of the 26th July 2014. From the Budapest Beacon 

How to build an illiberal democracy in the EU by Eszter Zalan 

Hungary, Poland and illiberal democracy by George Friedman 

It is high time for the EU to stand up to creeping illiberal democracy in Europe by Cas Mudde 

IllIberal democracy: a European issue by Vedran Dzihic 

Illiberal democracy grips Poland by Jędrzej Włodarczyk 

Orbán says he seeks to end liberal democracy in Hungary by Zoltan Simon 

Marching democracy by Mateusz Falkowski 

On Turkey’s turmoil: “intimidation and paranoia dominates the land” by Elif Shafak 

Patterns of illiberalism in Central Europe. Anton Shekhovtsov in conversation with Sławomir Sierakowski 

Populist seduction. Anne Applebaum in conversation with Łukasz Pawłowski 

The closing of an open society by Adam Zagajewski 

The problem with Poland by Jan-Werner Müller 

The transition from liberal democracy: the political crisis in Hungary by András Bozóki 

Turkey is “sliding backwards” says top Turkish novelist by Nathan Gardels 

Related video:

Poland, another illiberal democracy? Sławomir Sierakowski in discussion with Thomas Wallerberger