Project Summary

There is no liberal democracy without opposition. The recent rise of anti-establishment parties and polarization have been deemed the most compelling threats to the democratic order worldwide. The bulk of academic attention has since been paid primarily to «executive aggrandizement» and authoritarian leadership to grasp the stages of the attested “democracy erosion”. The examination of political opposition has been largely neglected, even though its unconstrained functioning sustains liberal democracy on the one hand and enhances democratization process on the other.

One of the project’s main questions is therefore: How and to what extent can the political opposition fulfil its main functions in different political systems? Central and Eastern Europe appears a particularly feasible context in this regard, as several new European Union (EU) member states have recently been considered “semi-consolidated democracies” or even “hybrid regimes”. At the same time, some EU candidate states are still classified as “competitive authoritarianisms” despite ongoing formal institutional reforms.

Political opposition constitutes the core of both democracies and authoritarianisms. However, its form, role and “room for maneuver” differ across political systems (Albrecht 2005, Helms 2021, Bedford and Vinatier 2019). To account for this variety, the project puts forward an original theoretical model based on actor-oriented perspective for analysis of structural changes and strategies.

The research deals with the topic of political opposition through in-depth case studies of selected post-communist countries (Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus) which feature different political systems. The research is organized into three interrelated analytical dimensions of political opposition:

  1. Elites and institutional “opportunity structure” including the most recent policy changes and the way political opposition is treated by the incumbents in a respective country;
  2. Strategies of relevant opposition parties embracing their programmatic renewal on the one hand, and their resources (party funding, leadership, organization, links to civil society organizations and the European Union) on the other;
  3. Extra-parliamentary opposition highlighting the way civil society organizations cooperate with parliamentary opposition parties to better organize their interests and pursue their goals.

These dimensions serve to differentiate between genuine opposition and just semi-opposition (Linz 1973, Dettman 2018) benefiting from privileges of power. Only through such a thorough analysis can we explore the way political opposition does fulfil its functions of critique, control and presenting a programmatic alternative.

Through the lenses of the functioning of political opposition, the project reveals the nature of a respective political system and enables to identify the outright system change. It thus contributes to the literature on democracy resilience, the so called “democratic backsliding” and authoritarianism. The project’s findings will contribute to our understanding of post-communist democratization and state-society relations, and are expected to shape the debate on typology of political systems in political science. Finally, the project has major impact potential when it comes to refining existing mechanisms of democracy support by domestic and international organizations.

Technical details

The project is carried out in collaboration with the Department of Social Work, Social Policy and Global Development and the Department of European and Slavic Studies at the University of Fribourg. 


  • Duration of the project: 01.01.2023 – 31.12.2027
  • Funding: PRIMA (SNSF)
  • Project leader: Dr. Magdalena Solska, Assistant Professor, University of Fribourg
  • Staff: Mélody Gugelmann, PhD Student, University of Fribourg

Further Information