INTERVIEW #52 — Protests and memory politics in Romania

In this interview, Ionut Chiruta explains how the memory of Romania’s Communist past has been used to protect and justify a corrupt system. Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, chose to exploit the traumatic memories linked to the secret police —Securitate— that for decades terrorized the population, to justify his judicial reforms. These reforms had one main purpose: to decriminalize the government’s corruption. To achieve this, Dragnea delegitimized the Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) by comparing it to the Securitate system. Dragnea consciously manipulated the country’s collective memories to create a short-circuit that protects his system of corruption by linking his enemies to the most traumatic aspects of the Communist past. A great lesson about the importance of collective memories and the politics of memory, between collective amnesia and dealing with the past.

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The Spanish party system is mutating: a journey through multiple crises

Carolina Plaza Colodro describes the mutations that characterized the Spanish party system during the last decade. Corruption scandals, the management of austerity, and the reactivation of regional identities are among the factors that brought to the end of a bipartisan system based on the centre-right PP and the centre-left PSOE. Populism found favourable opportunity structures and emerged from the necessity of democratic regeneration, marked by a triple crisis: economic, political, and territorial. Podemos, once in power, started struggling to maintain its anti-establishment rhetoric, while the growing role of VOX ended the so-called Spanish exceptionalism, introducing yet another mutation in the Spanish party system, with important implication for the country’s democracy.

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Democracy and Populism: the (Black) Mirror of Society

The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people.
― Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator


Why democracy should listen to populism

Governing well is possible —in fact, it is necessary— and not despite populism, but thanks to it. How? The first step consists in clearing the table from a classic misunderstanding: populism is not the opposite of democracy. That would be authoritarianism, or dictatorship, or fascism. Populism can actually be very helpful: it measures how much democracy is under pressure and offers a potential relief valve. When we witness Donald Trump, Recep Erdoğan, Jair Bolsonaro, or Rodrigo Duterte tearing apart democratic principles we are not observing the effects of populism, but the effects of authoritarianism on its way to become fascism.

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AUR – The Golden Dawn of Romania?

Magdalena Ulceluse discusses a new far right, nationalist and populist force within Romanian politics: AUR, Alliance for the Unity of Romanians. How did AUR become the fourth party with over 9% of the vote share? And why this came, at least in the rest of Europe, as an unexpected surprise? Their use of social media, their offline presence, and controversial style attracted many young people, especially under 30, from poor and religious regions. AUR combines conservative and religious values with anti-establishment, populist discourses, and is exploiting grievances linked to the lockdowns imposed because of the pandemic to gather attention and attract voters.

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You Won’t Like This: A Populist Addresses Donald Trump

We received a “brief polemic” article that we we decided to publish. The author is Richard D. Parker, who has taught Constitutional Law at Harvard since 1974 and is the Williams Professor of Justice. He is the author of “Here the People Rule”: A Constitutional Populist Manifesto as well as essays on constitutional argument and theory. He is now writing an essay entitled “Constitutional Law Is In Our Imagination”.

He claims that this “brief polemic”, speaking to and for populists, “has been rejected by every significant news outlet in the United States whose anti-populism is remarkably deep”.

This unconventional article, as the title says, is addressed to Donald Trump and comes from a deeply populist point of view, against the establishment and in favor of the popular right to remove an elite “deaf to the voice of the people”.

It is hard to agree that, among all the things he has done in the last four years, Trump’s problem was his betrayal of a populist upsurge, but this is what makes this article thought-provoking and unsettling in equel measure.

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Interview #51 — Turkish populism and Meral Akşener’s Good Party

In this interview we focus on a populist party from Turkey: the İYİ Party, or the ‘Good Party‘. In just three years from its foundation it started shaping Turkish politics relying on a classic populist approach. Who is the party’s leader Meral Akşener? Why do they call her she-wolf, sister, and Hayme Ana? With Tuğçe Erçetin and Emre Erdoğan we talk about populism and nationalism in Turkey, the future of Turkish democracy under President Erdoğan, and analyse how the leaders of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) modified their populist rhetoric in the last years.

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Interview #50 — Team Populism’s Video Project

This blog has been out there since February 2015, winning two knowledge transfer awards, publishing almost one hundred articles, of which fifty are interviews, for a total of over 50.000 visits! This is way beyond any expectation I had at the time, so I want to start by thanking all the readers and all those who contributed by writing articles and chatting with me over the years. To keep this space going, there is now a “donation box” on the right column, so if you can please leave a shilling in the hat, follow POP on Twitter (if you can still bear being in there) and also join POP’s Telegram channel (I am still looking for some alternative to Twitter, let’s give Telegram a chance and see if it can become a better replacement)!

So, fifty interviews we were saying…when Levente Littvay and Steven Van Hauwaert from Team Populism asked me whether I would have liked to celebrate this feat with a special interview I immediately thought it was a great idea. 2020 has gone terribly wrong, but certainly there is more material than ever when it comes to populism. Conspiracy theories (no-vax, QAnon…), Trump’s supporters storming Capitol Hill, the actual Brexit (before it was just an “idea of Brexit”, now Dutch officials actually seize ham sandwiches from British drivers), the end of Iberian exceptionalism, and much more.

For these reasons, the excellent work of Team Populism will become even more relevant, and I am happy to publish this celebratory interview number 50 with two amazing experts, taking stock of the current research on populism, broadening horizons, and looking at the future. It is with great pleasure that we announce here Team Populism’s video project, and as you will see below, it’s great stuff. More than that: it is perfectly in line with the idea moving this blog too, which is to present relevant research on populism to a broader audience and bring the content of academic work outside of the ivory tower.

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Interview #49 — Dealing with the past and the politics of memory

In this interview, Geneviève Zubrzycki explains how invented traditions constitute a pillar of modern nations and therefore how collective memories can help us understand modern nationalism. Memory is utterly political, she told POP, since it gives an explanation to collective questions about identity, who we are are where do we go.

From there, we discuss the universalization of the Holocaust and the German process of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, the Polish case and the efforts of Law and Justice to remythologize collective memories through a paradigm of victimhood. We then analyze the concept of “Christian heritage” and its implications, and discuss how the election of Donald Trump and the Black Lives Matter movement reopened in the US a discussion about the legacy of slavery and reparations, the meaning of the Confederacy and its symbols in the South.

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Interview #48 — Hindutva, from interwar fascism to Narendra Modi

Eviane Leidig brings us to India to talk about Hindutva, a very successful and powerful form of Hidu nationalism. In particular, we discuss its historical roots, including the links to fascism and Nazism, and how Narendra Modi in recent years mainstreamed this ethno-nationalist ideology. Modi, who portrays himself as a common man, son of a tea seller and victim of a news media conspiracy, has been re-elected as Prime Minister in 2019 thanks to its populist rhetoric and its references to nationalist symbols.

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Interview #47 — Trump’s Jacksonian Populism and Foreign Policy

In this interview we discuss with Corina Lacatus about the international dimension of populism, in particular how populism deals with foreign policy and international relations, often proposing economic protectionism and political isolationism. Including a much needed historical perspective that goes back to Jacksonian populism in the 1830s and agrarian populism in the 1890s, this interview offers a great journey into the international dimension of populism, a focus on Donald Trump and the way in which his rhetoric has undermined international liberalism.

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