The Consequences of Populism for Constitutions

30 October 2011

On Saturday 29th October, the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society continued its exploration of constitution-making in Eastern Europe with a workshop in Sofia, Bulgaria entitled "The Consequences of Populism for Constitutions"€™. The workshop, held during the Bulgarian elections, brought together political scientists, constitutional lawyers, economists and sociologists to consider the proper balance between constitutional constraints and political power, and the effects of economic pressures on popular democracy in the region.

Professor Denis Galligan from Oxford University opened the workshop by questioning the extent to which the People represented within constitutions hand over power to politicians, reframing the purpose of modern constitutions not as instruments through which democratic ideals are enacted, but as tools for good government.

Daniel Smilov from Sofia University advanced this idea of the democratic deficit inherent in constitutions, asserting that representative democracies make claims, through their constitutions, that they are unable to fulfill because of economic and other pressures. He charted the recent move towards populism in Bulgarian politics, describing the minimalist ideology and reliance on the media to appeal to the masses.

Economist Georgi Angelov gave a different account of the economic and political situation in Bulgaria, asserting the need for insurance against financial crises such as the hyper-inflation of the 1990s and assessing the effect of the teachers’ strike and other forms of civil disobedience that came in response to this economic turbulence.

The workshop was brought to a close with a comparative perspective from Professor Renata Uitz from the Central European University, who described the political situation in Hungary. She demonstrated how weak opposition was enabling the ruling party Fidesz to erode constitutional constraints by curbing the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court and invalidating laws on public spending.