Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

From Exclusion to Co-Optation: Political Opportunity Structures and Civil Society Responses in De-Democratising Hungary

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Abstract:  While it is well-known that democratic backsliding imposes a variety of challenges on civil society organisations, it is often assumed that it represses civil society. However, a closer look at the impact of democratic backsliding on civil society organisations reveals that even in countries where democratic backsliding is fairly advanced, the relationship between civil society and the state is more complex. Close cooperation and partnership between civil society organisations and the state are scarce in backsliding countries; the relationship between civil society organisations and the state might, however, range from hostility to varying forms and degrees of co-optation. Based on interviews with representatives of civil society organisations and the examination of the sector-specific social and political environment, we aim to explore the forms and factors that shape the relationship between civil society organisations and the state in Hungary. More specifically, we analyse the impact of the changing political opportunity structures on three important sectors of civil society organisations: human rights organisations, environmental organisations, and women’s organisations. We argue that, to seize control over civil society the government applies sector-specific strategies, ranging from exclusion to co-optation. State strategies, in turn, spark different responses from civil society organisations.

Keywords:  civil society; environmental policy; gender; human rights; Hungary; hybrid regimes; political opportunity structure



© Márton Gerő, Anna Fejős, Szabina Kerényi, Dorottya Szikra. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.