Interview with Dr. Marek Rybář, Department of Political Science
By Inga Kakulia
For Marek Rybář, Conflict and Democracy Studies are a part of his personal story. Originally from Slovakia, Rybar witnessed the collapse of Communism, followed by the complicated process of building and consolidating democracy within his home country, which piqued his interest in politics and democratic processes. These events would eventually lead him to study “Politics and the Political Economy of Post-Communist Transition” as a Bachelor’s student at Central European University in Budapest, Hungary.
“It was only natural for me to study the conditions under which democracies emerge, thrive, disappear or collapse, because I felt it was both important personally and interesting academically.”- says Rybář.
When it comes to the Conflict and Democracy Master’s Programme (CDS), Rybář is more interested in the Democracy part, having done most of his research around the topic of democracy and democratic consolidation. But according to him, there are plenty of intriguing links between Conflict and Democracy.
“It’s natural that democracy breeds conflict. Democracy is basically based on it, it is a peaceful resolution of a conflict.”- notes Rybář.
This year, Rybář teaches 2 separate courses within the CDS program and while he’s happy to be teaching both of them, his favorite is Comparative Perspectives on Democracy and Development.
“This course is more closely tied to my specialization. I do more research on Political institutions and I think it’s important for us, the professors, to not just be able to teach but to also share our own experience from doing our own research” - says Rybář.
While the interplay between Conflict and Democracy has no shortage of interesting aspects, for Dr. Rybář the most fascinating and surprising thing about this dynamic is that Democratic regimes, norms, and beliefs can change so rapidly, even in countries where democracy is taken for granted.
“We are living through the era of transformation, first there was an era of expansion of a number of democracies around the world and now this number may be shrinking. It’s not just the new democracies that are vulnerable and volatile and unconsolidated, but this has become a major issue in many established democracies - the very survival and characteristics of democracy, plus of course the quality of democracy. In the region, we have Hungary and Poland, we have other countries with similar challenges. This is why it is important for us, not just as academics, but as citizens to be aware of what is going on and what we have learned over the last 3-4 decades” - says Rybář.
As one of the examples of why studying democracy and democratic consolidation is still extremely relevant, Rybář brings up the case of the U.S and the turbulent last couple of years endured by one of the most democratic states in the world.
“Considering the developments in the U.S politics over the last couple of years, People specializing in U.S politics, which is quite parochial, have discovered that there is an enormous field of other countries, usually covered by Comparative Politics and that they can learn to understand what is going on in the U.S. by studying other countries. So again, Comparative Politics rules! “- says Rybář.
And while some believe that democracy studies are losing their relevance, Rybar disagrees. According to him, democracy studies are essential, but democracy itself is definitely going through a major transformation, which is both exciting and important.
In his classes, topics that seem to generate the most heated discussions are usually the ones that feel personal to students. According to Rybar, teaching the same course to international students versus teaching it to a group of local, Czech students, can be a different experience. This is because so many of the contested topics related to contemporary democracy are not tied to Europe or the Czech Republic specifically. Meanwhile, when students have a personal connection to the countries discussed in the readings, the discussions tend to come alive quickly.
On the other hand, when asked about the topics that should be discussed more often, Rybar brings up human well-being.
“In general, the question of human well-being should be paid more attention to, because very often Political Science or Comparative Politics is studied in terms of institutions and some abstract processes which are really important but to make it more relevant, I think what is required is to study human well-being and what political institutions can contribute to human well-being.“ - notes Rybář.
When he’s not teaching at Masaryk University, he is working on topics of public administration, political-administrative relations, the politicization of state administration as well as the impact of state capacities on how some states manage to deliver good services while others miss the mark. Rybář also researches how populists in government actually govern and what are the consequences of having populist parties in power. His most recent publication is dedicated to the role of special ministerial advisors in countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Professor Rybář also regularly covers the elections in the Czech Republic and Slovakia - something he considers his personal hobby as well. Marek Rybar will also be teaching a course in one of Masaryk University’s new FSS Bachelor’s Programmes, Politics, Media and Communication.
And finally, when asked to describe the program of Conflict and Democracy in three words, Rybar just says “Come and See”
Marek Rybář's recent publications:
"Corruption, Campaigning, and Novelty: The 2020 Parliamentary Elections and the Evolving Patterns of Party Politics in Slovakia" (with T. Haughton and K. Deegan-Krause), East Eur Pol & Soc, https://doi.org/10.1177/08883254211012765
"Personal or Party Roots of Civil Service Patronage? Ministerial Change Effects on the Appointment of Top Civil Servants" (with K. Staronova), Administration and Society, https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0095399720956996