Three decades since the collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe, the ideal of liberal democracy is under considerable strain. Recent developments in the region show that democratic institutions do not only evolve and consolidate, but they can also decay. The article intends to provide a comprehensive theoretical account to shed light on the ongoing multifaceted and multi-layered processes of change in the region. Drawing on the literature on the role of ideas and on the body of research explaining ongoing transformations in Central and Eastern Europe, it conceptualises the normative core of anti-liberal ideas. It shows that this core is embedded in a set of narratives pitted against liberal democracy, which take the form of causal stories, put forward values and solutions, being ultimately used to legitimise institutional change in politics (i.e. agency and the social power structures) policies (i.e. how economic nationalism alters the neoliberal model) and the polity (i.e. the rules of the political game). This conceptual map, which is derived inductively from the literature, is meant to guide future empirical studies and theory building exercises seeking to understand institutional change in the region and beyond.