Netherlands, Nijmegen

Judges at War: Understanding the Crisis of the Rule of Law in Eastern Europe

when 6 August 2018 - 10 August 2018
language English
duration 1 week
credits 2 ECTS
fee EUR 600

A lot goes on ‘behind the scenes’ in Poland and Hungary and this is not something that can be learned from newspapers. Tales of seductive populists, who charm masses and march them into dictatorship makes for a good story in infotainment media. However, it does not explain what exactly happened, or why it happened. In this course, we examine the evolution of the judiciary systems in post-communist countries, their intertwined relations with politics and trying to understand what drove Kaczynski and Orban to their authoritative policies on the judiciary, and why these policies are exactly what their voters expect.

One important conclusion is that Poland and Hungary – and probably other Eastern European countries – demonstrate a strong path-dependency of their transformation legacies. Both in institutional and social terms, and this sets them apart from established Western democracies. Several possibilities arise from this assessment: either the 2004 EU- Enlargement was a mistake, or the newbies must be forced to maintain European standards more energetically, or, perhaps, a new way to achieve these standards should be offered to them if they are to remain rule-of-law-countries.

The course will cover the following topics:

1. Theoretical introduction: Law as a social phenomenon
Relation between ‘law in books’ (legal texts), ‘law in action’ (judgements), and the ‘law in minds’ (social perception) is crucial for the legal system to be regarded as a part of a wider political construct. The way people conceive the law and the way law itself acts in social relations determine the legitimacy of the political system as a whole.

2. Historical background: When did Communism end?
The Polish and Hungarian breaks from totalitarian dictatorship were negotiated ones. It created an opportunity for the nomenklatura to secure economic privileges and subsequently to remain the strongest political force in middle of the transformation. Adapting to democratic rules of the game, post-communists did not hesitate to change them when they considered it useful. Incorporating informal ties and dependencies into formal procedures of judiciary and administration led to the creation of uneven playing field and undermined the legitimacy of the system.

3. Socio-political analysis: cleavages and social conflicts in the Eastern Europe
Major social conflicts in post-communist countries were not between the ‘left’ and ‘right’ (as no social classes that would fit that pattern existed) but between the transformation-beneficiary and the transformation-malcontents. One of the crucial notions defining that conflict was that of the justice, applied on many levels and in different context (social, symbolical, individual). The malcontents treated the transformation as an unjust process and the state that was a product of it as an unjust one. Combined with a lack of legitimacy, this sentiment undermined all state institutions, in particular the judiciary.

4. ‘War with judges’: recent developments in Hungary and Poland
With reference to this background, it is easier to understand why Orban and Kaczynski came into conflict with the institutions. The legitimacy of which is – under normal circumstances – indisputable. The course of these conflict will be outlined and an assessment of the current situation with respect to the rule of law will be made.

Course leader

Jacek K. Sokolowski
Assistant Professor
International and Political Studies
Jagiellonian University

Target group

Advanced Bachelor, Master, PhD, Postdoc, Professional. The course targets both professionals and academics, offering an interdisciplinary perspective on law as an element of social and political systems. It will help to understand the current conflicts in Eastern European countries, showing their relevance for the European Union and its future shape.

Course aim

1. Understand the social and political role of law as an element binding the political entity and giving legitimacy to its institutions.
2. Identify the reasons for which law in Eastern Europe played this role on a limited scale.
3. Define the differences between the evolution of the rule of law in Western and Eastern Europe.
4. Discuss the political consequences of these differences.

Fee info

EUR 600: The fee includes the registration fees, course materials, access to library and IT facilities, coffee/tea, lunch, and a number of social activities.


We offer several reduced fees:
€ 540   early bird discount- deadline 1 April 2018 (10%) 
€ 510   partner + RU discount (15%) 
€ 450   early bird + partner + RU discount (25%)

Register for this course
on course website