Where do we go now? – Five years of #populism (2015-2020)

They were so powerful they wrote the laws to benefit themselves. They got away with everything because they banked on us, all of us, to trust the system, that was our vulnerability and they took advantage of it. (…)
Everything we’ve been through led up to this one moment: the greatest redistribution of wealth in history. We just Robin Hooded those evil motherfuckers! *

In February 2015 appeared the first post for Political Observer on Populism. It was titled Sheep in New Zealand, Pinocchio and Robin Hood. It discussed topics such as Brexit, the role (and style) of Yanis Varoufakis in the unfolding economic crisis, the possibility of an “Italeave” promised by Five Star Movement and Lega, the political use of conspiracy theories, and so on. The benefit of using Twitter to spread the content of the blog seemed self-evident, although over time the air has become increasingly toxic, like in every other commercial social media. As long as it will be worth it, the Twitter account will remain active: probably, however, it won’t be for much longer. What matters is the content published here, the exchange of ideas it feeds, the connections it creates, the people saying “keep the good work up”. This blog already constitutes a powerful tool to better understand populism®, it gives voice to the most brilliant scholars on the topic, and if you want to contribute pass by –> here.

Half a decade later POP is still around and Brexit too, modern Godot which will surely come but not today, maybe tomorrow. Lega and Five Star Movement have formed a government together — which already ended in farce — and contrary to their promises they never mentioned leaving the Euro. The book Varoufakis wrote in 2015 (Adults in the Room) has now become a movie. Populism has been normalized and mainstreamed even in Germany and Scandinavia. Podemos governs Spain together with PSOE, crystallizing and institutionalizing the instances of the Indignados, bringing the previous cycle of struggles right into power, waiting for the new one to reject its compromises. In 2015 Obama was going towards the end of its second mandate, now Donald Trump (under impeachment) and Boris Johnson lead a plethora of populist and nativist politicians with a terrible haircut, which however does not qualify them as a working class phenomenon.

In the meantime, the unfolding of history in front of our eyeballs taught us that no country is immune to populism and nativism, Poland and Hungary can hardly be considered liberal democracies with Fidesz and PiS in power, and Green parties seem to finally be able to compete with right-wing populism for the votes of disillusioned voters who no longer feel represented by mainstream parties. After the Great Recession and the refugee ‘crisis’, climate change and global warming seem to be the third critical juncture of the 21st century. In the next decade they will probably fill the news in a cyclic repetition worthy of Sisyphus. The economy goes down, a wave of refugees, global warming cannot be ignored anymore, the economy goes down, a wave of refugees, etc etc…

Capture

Available here.

2019 saw protests raging around the world: Chile, Hong Kong, Algeria, Catalonia, Brazil, Venezuela, Iran, to mention just a few cases. The Gilets Jaunes and the scandal about Cambridge Analytica ideally connected street protests against old-fashioned capitalism and a global movement against “surveillance capitalism”. Direct democracy proved to be easily manipulated, a new nationalist wave is crossing the continents, and authoritarian tendencies confirm more than ever that democracy is not the only game in town. Spain spent months discussing about Francisco Franco’s remains, Portugal discussed the possibility of a museum (or study center) about the dictatorship in Salazar’s home town, and in Italy the crypt with Mussolini’s tomb has been re-opened to the public. The past is coming back and it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore it. It’s the fascist Zeitgeist, baby.

Two parties that are exceptionally good at exploiting the lack of historical perspective are the League and the Five Star Movement. In a country like Italy, that created fascism and then found more convenient to hide behind the Resistance, selective amnesia opened the doors of power to (post)fascists already in the 1990s. I was asked to write an article about their ideological roots, and in a few days this piece took form. It is not the first time I talk about these two parties, but I never did it at such length, and I believe that the type of populist discourse they articulate, post-ideological in one case and nativist in the other, offers an interesting insight into the kind of populism that will characterize the 2020s.

Enjoy the reading…

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Interview #36 — The Far Right Today

The Far Right Today is Cas Mudde’s new book. It is extremely recommended for academics, but its clarity, scope, and tone make it a great read for everyone interested in knowing what form the far right takes in contemporary politics, its origins and causesleadership styles, and its links to issues such as religion and gender. Most importantly, this book is a great read for those who want to know what can be done to protect liberal democracy’s pluralism and minority rights.

The book brings you across neo-Nazi skin subcultures of Mongolia and Malaysia, the Japanese gaisensha (vans covered in propaganda slogans and fitted with loudspeakers), Eastern German football hooligans, Nemzeti rock, and femonationalism, with a particular emphasis on cases such as India, Hungary, Israel, Brazil, and the United States. The variety of cases examined, the clarity of the language, and the diversity of topics considered, contribute to offer a panoramic view of the contemporary far right with vivid colors and unsettling details, but it also offers an engaging and necessary pro-active section on how to respond to the challenges posed by the far right.

Enjoy the read.


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Interview #33 – Nationalism and Populism between culture and economy

In this interview, Dr. Daphne Halikiopoulou illustrates the common denominator of nationalist and populist political actors such as Donald Trump, Alternative for Germany, and Rassemblement National: they draw on two sets of conflict lines, first between the ‘pure people’ against ‘the corrupt elites’ and second between the in-group and the out-group.

However, this does not mean that nationalism and populism are the same thing: populism, because of its ‘chameleon-like’ nature, can be associated with ideologies which have nothing to do with nationalism, while nationalism does not have to be necessariy associated to a populist rhetoric.

Moreover, while the traditional far right parties that adopt ethnic nationalism (i.e. biological justifications of national inclusion) are electorally marginalized in Western Europe, ‘civic nationalism’ is much more rewarding in electoral terms because it sheds the stigma of fascism by putting forward ideological justifications of national inclusion and emphasizing  values, democratic institutions and liberal cultures. Continue reading

Interview #30 – All you need to know about radical right parties

It is time to hear Prof. Kai Arzheimer — one of the major experts on radical right parties — talking about Germany, AfD, Great Recession, populism in Portugal and Spain, Vergangenheitsbewältigung, and much more.

He explains who are the typical voters of radical right parties, and examines the role of the media, immigration, and European integration. Why populism does not thrive whenever there are promising conditions, what is going on in Poland and Hungary , and the future of democracy in Europe. Enjoy the read.


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Interview #22: Populism in Western Europe ain’t no domino effect

In this long and insightful interview Léonie de Jonge explains why populism is so successful and widespread in certain countries or regions while it is stigmatized or unsuccessful in others; the (few) similarities and (many) differences between the radical right-wing populist parties in Europe; details about cases such as France, Germany, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, or Portugal;  last but not least she warns against the dangers of #schmopulism.

Enjoy the read.

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Interview #18: Caterina Froio on (neo)fascism, the far right, and the media

POP interviewed Caterina Froio, research fellow at the University of Oxford, to discuss about the legacy of fascism, radical right movements in Europe, the role of the media, the differences between Italy and Germany in dealing with their past, how movements such as CasaPound find space in the media, and much more.

Have a good summer, and enjoy…

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Interview #12 – Historia Magistra Vitae and the Absence of Populism in Chile

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Prof. Rovira Kaltwasser

POP came back to Latin America for an interview with Prof. Rovira Kaltwasser, associate professor of political science at Universidad Diego Portales in Santiago de Chile. He is the co-editor, with Cas Mudde, of Populism in Europe and the Americas: Threat or Corrective for Democracy? (Cambridge University Press, 2012) as well as the co-editor, with Juan Pablo Luna, of The Resilience of the Latin American Right (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014). His new book Populism: A Very Short Introduction, written together with Cas Mudde, will be published by Oxford University Press in February 2017.

The interview is very dense and full of insights about populism in Latin America and beyond, opportunity structures, political actors and parties, similarities with Europe, and peculiarities of the Chilean case. Enjoy the reading. Continue reading

Pirates, Pots and Pans: Interview #11 with Prof. Bergmann

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Prof. Bergmann

POP interviewed Eiríkur Bergmann, Professor of Politics at Bifrost University in Iceland and Visiting Professor at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia. He is also Director of the Centre for European Studies in Iceland, and he wrote Nordic Nationalism and Right-Wing Populist Politics: Imperial Relationships and National Sentiments (London: Palgrave Macmillan. Forthcoming in 2017). This (phone) interview came in the aftermath of the recent turbulent elections in Iceland, and Prof. Bergmann argues that although the Pirate Party did not win the elections, the status quo has been broken. Moreover, the key to understand the diffusion of populist discourses in the Icelandic political debate relies on the country’s nationalist and post-colonialist history. Continue reading

To break, or not to break? Brexit and the future of the UK’s relationship with Europe #2

This is the second part of Laura MacKenzie’s article about Brexit. In the first episode she presented the two opposing factions and the key political figures. Today she analyses the key arguments of the leave and remain campaigns. In the meantime, former London mayor Boris Johnson declared that the EU – as well as Hitler and Napoleon – is trying to unify Europe under a superstate and to bring it back to the golden age of the Romans.

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Zombies in Fortress Europe: the migrants as a metaphor

Lega Nord _ Abbiamo fermato l'inavsione (We stopped the invasion)

Lega Nord _ Abbiamo fermato l’inavsione (We stopped the invasion)

“In its contemporary manifestations, the migrant figure has been imagined variously as a mechanical, animalistic, spectral, zombified, vampiric or cyborg entity”

   Nikos Papastergiadis

The frame used by politicians and mass media to describe migrants and refugees recalls the tradition of horror movies. A devilish, dangerous, elusive and relentless presence threatens the borders. They come from the sea.

Zombies.

A shapeless horde, a scary multitude.

The zombies are what we do not (want to) understand. They are the American Indians, the slum dwellers, the colonized, Iraqis and Afghans, Eritreans. They are the by-product of an (internal and external) Apartheid imposed by relationships of strength.

The doors of the fortress (or hotspots) are the critical junctures of the system, the crumbling bastions of a civilization under siege: Melilla, Lesbo, Ventimiglia, Calais, Budapest, the Eurotunnel, Lampedusa. Between land and water, the entrance to “heaven” is strewn with rotting corpses, and the stench goes straight to the nostrils of all. Continue reading