Interview #46 — How to understand the emergence of far right parties

In this interview with Steven Van Hauwaert we discuss the reasons behind the success of the far right and its links to the dynamic processes that characterize social movements. Thinking outside the box, or beyond the classic demand and supply approach, is essential to understand the success and failure of far right parties: in particular, expanding political opportunities, mobilizing structures, and master frames —if analyzed together and combined with favorable socio-economic conditions— can offer a much more complete explanation for the emergence of far right parties.

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Interview #45 — The Vox of which populi?

In this interview with Stuart Turnbull-Dugarte we talk about Vox, the end of Spanish exceptionalism, and the turbulent changes in the Spanish political landscape. While several aspects of Vox seem to fall neatly in the populist far right category as we see it across Europe, other aspects are rather peculiar. In particular, while immigration does not seem to explain much of the vote for Vox, the Catalan issue and Spanish nationalism deeply define the motivations of Vox’s voters.

The picture above was taken in Lisbon, Portugal, and shows a poster of Chega, a populist far right party similar in many aspects to Vox. Chega obtained one seat in the Portuguese parliament in 2019, thus shaking Portuguese exceptionalism. The party’s leader, André Ventura, in the poster is conveying the following message: “Of the storms we’ll make hope. For Portugal, for Portuguese people”. The poster has been modified and now reads: “For Portugal, for everyone”.

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Interview #44 — Mapping Populism in Europe

In this interview with Maurits Meijers, we discuss the result of an expert survey that covers 250 political parties across 28 European countries. They do not simply ask if a party is populist, but how populist it is. Moreover, other dimensions of these parties are considered: their ideological position, their use of emotional tones, and much more. The data are available for downloading at Harvard Dataverse and you can play with the interactive tool to have a better grasp of the characteristics that come with populism.

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Interview #43 — Populists without borders

In this interview we talk about Benjamin Moffitt’s new book, which has the rare quality of reducing chaos and summarize the existing literature with clarity, giving examples and putting the studies out there in perspective. We discuss many topics: from transational to international populism in Europe and Latin America, nationalism and coronavirus, illiberalism, and the future of democracy.

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Interview #42 — From authoritarian regimes to democracies, and back?

Using the pandemic to introduce authoritarian measures, Poland and Hungary are drifting away from liberal democratic principles. In this interview with Anna Grzymala-Busse we link the current state of affairs to the communist legacies present in the two countries.

What happens to authoritarian parties once the country starts a process of democratization? And what consequences does this have on the newly formed democratic system and on party competition?

After the democratic transition, populist actors can succeed by exploiting the weakness of mainstream parties as well as their lack of accountability and responsiveness to the voters. As a result, populists can weaken the formal institutions of democracy, going after the courts, the media, and undermine democratic values, dividing society between loyal supporters and traitorous opponents.

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Interview #41 — Authoritarian Past and the Far right in the Iberian Peninsula

Spain and Portugal share many things: the same peninsula, long parts of their history, and —until recently— the lack of success of far right parties. This, however, is no longer true. We try to understand the rise of the far right in Spain by asking Mariana Mendes questions about Vox and Chega, the memory of Franco and Salazar, opportunity structures and stigma.

Why populist radical right parties were not successful in Spain until very recently, and what has changed in the meantime? Will Portugal follow a similar trajectory or will it remain one of the rare “exceptional countries” in Europe where the far right is not successful?

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Interview #40 — Lessons from the Great Recession

Catherine Moury has studied the effects of the last economic crisis and the subsequent Great Recession, the impact of the bailout on Portugal, the rhetoric used by political actors and institutions, the austerity measures imposed in name of the famous motto of Thatcherism: “there is no alternative”. This time, is there an alternative to austerity?

In this interview she explains whether the EU and its member states are responding in a similar way compared to the 2008-2012 crisis, she reflects on the use of Eurobonds and the European Stability Mechanism, and claims that governments are less likely to use the emergency to implement austerity reforms as it happened during the last crisis.

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Interview #39 — Democracy, Constitutions, and Populism

In this interview, Nadia Urbinati reflects on the democratic boundaries set by different types of constitutions, the evolution of Hungary from a populist democracy into an autocracy, the future of democracy in a post-pandemic scenario, the parallels and differences between this crisis and the last one. Moreover, we discuss how certain social aspects, such as education, health and climate change, should be addressed going beyond short-term, national interests. This could be the end for populism, but only if non-populist actors will manage to take advantage of the situation and restore the public sector.

How do populists undermine democracy, and in particular the separation powers, to establish an autocracy? A populist constitution, Urbinati claims, is a majority that constitutionalize itself, because the majority bends the constitution to justify an existing power instead of limiting any existing one. Democracy is now under a tremendous stress, and here we try to understand how populists actors can try to take advantage of the situation and to what extent different types of constitutions can prevent democratic erosion.  The words of Nadia Urbinati help us to understand the present and, crucially, to imagine our future.

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Interview #38 — Populism and Climate Change

Populism and climate change were supposed to be among the most crucial topics of 2020, if not of the entire decade that just started. Then the pandemic cancelled every other topic from the public debate, but climate change did not simply ‘stop’ when swans (allegedly) came back to Venice. Actually, it will be interesting to study the link between air pollution and the diffusion of viruses, because  it seems like air pollution is likely to increase coronavirus’ death rate.

After this emergency, the populist management of climate change will re-become central in the public debate not only because – separately – populism and climate change are both extremely relevant, but also because they are strictly connected to each other. Articles, studies, and reports are increasingly  focusing on the issue, making a connection between the two phenomena. For example, thirty percent of global emissions come from countries led by populist nationalist leaders, and “resistance to climate change policies has become a feature of the populist agenda.” This, however, does not mean that populist leaders have an interest in fighting climate change. In fact,  action on climate change is often seen as an elitist attempt to take away jobs and to impose new taxes. And even those right-wing populist parties that engage in some sort of ‘green patriotism’ – which strongly supports environmental conservation – do not support climate action.

Given the relevant role of populist parties in parliaments across the world, some even argue that a left-wing variant of ‘environmental populism‘ could be a solution. So far, however, this has not been the case, while right-wing populists have ‘successfully’ ignored the issue by pretending to defend the jobs linked to the coal industry. The right-wing populist ideology, based on the antagonism between ‘the people’ and a cosmopolitan elite, goes well with skeptic positions on climate change. Meanwhile, Jair Bolsonaro insists on deforestation, which could push the Amazon rainforest to an irreversible “tipping point” within two years (in his view also coronavirus, like global warming, is just a “media trick“). And in January, while Australia was literally on fire, coal helped Pauline Hanson secure a seat in the country’s Senate, where she staunchly defends Queensland’s coal industry.

Robert Huber is one of the best scholars on populism, and he recently published an excellent article about the association between populist attitudes, climate skepticism, and support for environmental protection. Let’s hear what he has to say.

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Interview #37 – The end of Portuguese exceptionalism?

Portugal has been a dictatorship for almost half a century, until the Carnation Revolution (1926-1974). In the forty-five following years (1974-2019), Portugal has become an “exception” since it seemed to be immune to far right parties, populism, and all the other phenomena that in the meantime were characterizing the rest of Europe. Last October, however, Portugal went to vote (well, not many people, the turnout was below 50%). Is Portugal still an “exceptional” country? Who are André Ventura and Joacine Katar-Moreira? We asked Alexandre Afonso to answer these and many other questions about the lesser known of Iberian democracies. In the next months, the focus will be often on Portugal and Spain, so stay tuned…

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