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 #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 #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 #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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