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Debates about democratic decline are now dominated by the notion that many democracies might be undergoing a process described as democratic backsliding. While the concept can play its part, the emergence of a backsliding paradigm risks reproducing, in reverse, the intellectual constraints of the transition paradigm of the 1990s, famously critiqued by Thomas Carothers. The complex, halting trajectories of troubled democracies today may be hidden behind a one-size-fits-all paradigm. Drawing lessons from East-Central Europe, we propose a broader focus that also encompasses intermediate patterns, often more faithful to realities on the ground.