“Politics of the Debtfare State: Repoliticizing the Czech Debt Enforcement Order and Its Limits”, Daniel Šitera (IIR, Czech Republic)

In Czechia, one of the statistically most equal and least indebted states, almost one-tenth of its (mostly low-income) population is entrapped in debt enforcement proceedings. I foreground such a contradiction to investigate the politics of the debtfare state in East-Central Europe (ECE). This nuances the scholarship on the repolitization of the ECE neoliberal state by populist forces and their instrumentalization of its middle-class welfare state strategies in the 2010s. Identifying the Czech debt enforcement industry as a leading poverty industry in ECE, I explore its depoliticizing origins in the Debt Enforcement Order (DEO), a flagship legal framework regulating the creditor–debtor–bailiff relations. Interpreting the political struggle over the DEO-centered debtfare state strategy, I then trace its limited repolitization since the mid-2010s, which redirects its reforms from their original pro-creditor and -bailiff prioritization to a prioritization of low-income debtors. This politics complements the repolitization of the neoliberal state beyond populism.

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