Interview #56 — Populism and Collective Nostalgia in Turkey

In this interview, Ezgi Elçi talks about the populist use of the past. Collective nostalgia is about yearning for a time before a fall or a decline in society: populists often instrumentalize this feeling to generate an opposition between the pure people versus immoral elites. Unexpectedly, though, the nostalgia of populists is more about the future than the past. The elites allegedly betrayed the country in the past, but what really matters is to build a new society which, clearly, needs new (populist) elites.

We then move to discuss the case of Turkey, and how Erdogan’s party (AKP) exploits Ottoman nostalgia to legitimize contemporary policies: the secular elites are blamed because they cut ties between the people and the glorious Ottoman Empire, thus mobilizing mostly Islamic masses. We then talk about nostalgia in the UK, Hungary, Sweden, and the Netherlands, and the the links between nostalgia and populism.

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Populism, illiberalism and the anti-gender fight

In this article, Anna Gwiazda explains how Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the Law and Justice (PiS) party, is using LBTQ+ people in general, and transgender people in particular, to create divisions from which to gain politically. She explains how Kaczyński is following the steps of another populist radical right leader such as Orbán, who demonized sexual and gender minorities in Hungary to mobilize his voters and divide the opposition.

Under the conservative flag of nation, family, tradition’, and using a populist discourse to portray the LGBTQ+ community as an internal enemy, it is possible to propose and implement abortion bans, fight feminism or the so-called ‘gender ideology’ (just another name for anything that does not fit the conservative, traditional, and Catholic idea of family and gender roles).

Showing what rising illiberalism and democratic backsliding can do to women and LGBTQ+ people, Anna Gwiazda presents her work on these topics and confronts us with a dramatic situation but also suggests that this is not necessarily good news for PiS on the long run. Will the Polish citizens follow the party or prefer different, less conservative options at the 2023 elections? Will PiS find itself isolated on its own side of the cultural divide that it decided to erect?

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Who is a populist?

In this article, Jakob Schwörer discusses demonizing practices of mainstream parties towards the populist radical right on social media and how the term “populism” itself is used as a form of negative campaigning in political competition. In particular, he rejects Chantal Mouffe’s thesis that mainstream parties are highly engaged in demonizing populist radical right parties and sheds light on the use of the term populism in political campaigning.   

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Interview #54 — Radical Right Between Stigma and Normalization

Individuals with radical-right ideas who feel comfortable voting for radical-right parties, might not feel comfortable publicly disclosing their support. What are the causes and consequences of this mechanism?

In this interview, Vicente Valentim discusses the ongoing normalization of previously stigmatized radical-right parties. With a focus on social norms and their evolution over time, we discuss how radical-right parties break these norms, and try to understand how the perception of what is acceptable and what is stigmatized in a certain social group changes across time and space.

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The worldwide expansion of populism in power

What do populists do once in power? In what do they differ from traditional authoritrian leaders? In this article, Wojciech Sadurski answers these questions while introducing his new book “A Pandemic of Populists” (Cambridge University Press). First, all populist leaders in power, he claims, share some common characteristics: they use aggressive language about their opponents, and often demonize their enemies. The narratives they develop often draw on conspiracy theories, and their discourse deploys familiar tropes that brings it close to fascism (anti-Semitism, religious bigotry, antipathy to rationalism and Enlightenment, xenophobia). Moreover, formal institutions are viewed by populist leaders as irritants, unnecessarily throwing obstacles on the path of implementing the leadership’s will. Finally, populist regimes rely on a thoroughly corrupt symbiosis of political power with the economy.

But isn’t this just traditional authortiarianism? No, argues Sadurski, because populist regimes respect at least one civil right of their citizens: that of participating in free, fair and regular elections. Indeed, populists are unlikely to fundamentally abolish free and fair elections because their whole legitimacy relies upon the claim to represent the People. But what sort of democracy do you have if there are no checks and balances which prevent the accumulation of all powers in the hands of one person?

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Interview #53 – Euroscepticism and the radical right

In this interview, Marta Lorimer discusses the relationship between far right parties and Euroscepticism, explaining that although some of them have even advocated leaving the EU or the Eurozone, they cannot be defined as ‘naturally’ Eurosceptic, but rather Euro-ambivalent. Looking at Movimento Sociale Italiano and Rassemblement National, it becomes clear that far right parties might even advocate for more Europe, or at least a different one, and that their positions evolve over time.

Moreover, far right parties can even use their opposition to the EU as a powerful tool for legitimation which allows them to retain the support of their existing electoral base while attracting new voters by presenting them a ‘softer’ and less nationalist face. At the same time, Lorimer stresses that the reason why far right parties currently do not support the EU (and support Europe) has more to do with nationalism than with populism. 

Concerning the potential for ‘nationalist internationals’, Lorimer claims that they can only work when there is alignment between the national and the international interest, which is why it is unlikely that populist radical right parties will be able to form an alliance strong enough to take over the EU. Finally, we talk about the tools that the EU can use to defend its key values—such as rule of law—and the challenge posed by cases like Hungary and Poland.

The Populism Interviews.indd

Some of you might have noticed that the last interview (on Romanian populism) was published a year ago, which is by far the longest gap between interviews since this blog exists. There is a good reason for this long wait: a book of 30 interviews to amazing scholars will be published by Routledge in September! It will be titled ‘The Populism Interviews: A Dialogue with Leading Experts‘ and it will look like this…

While waiting for the book, enjoy this new interview with Marta Lorimer!

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Measuring Populism: New Frontiers

In this article, Jessica di Cocco discusses a topic around which different schools of thought, interpretations, and creeds exist: how to measure populism. In particular, she explores the new frontiers of the possible measurement of populism in speeches: automated content analysis, machine learning and text-as-data.

A sparkling, refreshing article, to cross old borders and chart new directions.

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Populism and Regime Change: The Andes in Comparative Perspective

Does populism in power lead inexorably to the end of electoral democracy? And if not, what explains why populism leads to regime change in some cases but not in others? In this article, Julio Carrión answers these question by comparing the evolution of populism in power in five Latin American countries from the Andes region: Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. Carrión explains that populist leaders are elected when two critical antecedents are both present: deep popular unsatisfaction with existing political choices, and deeply divided or disorganised political elites. At this point, whether democracy survives or it is replaced by authortiarian rule, it depends on the outcome of what Carrión calls “Hobbesian moment”. This is a conflict between populist leaders—who want to expand their power—and socio-institutional elements fighting to preserve the checks and balances crucial for the functioning of liberal democracy.

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Volodymyr Zelensky: Populism on the Fringes of the Virtual and the Real

Less than three years ago, Volodymyr Zelensky was not yet the president of Ukraine but was famous for a TV show in which he played the role of the Ukrainian president. In the TV show, Servant of the People, he impersonated a history teacher who suddenly becomes popular and then wins the presidential elections. The populist discourse used in the show came to (real) life when in 2018 Zelensky created a political party bearing the same name as the TV show. We were talking about “celebrity populism” not long ago, and Zelensky appeared also in that article…

A more successful version of Beppe Grillo—another comedian turned politician, Zelensky is now leading his country during the Russian invasion that is shocking the world. From actor to president, from comedian to martial leader, Zelensky’s communication skills made the jump seem almost natural. Interestingly, the powerful speeches that made him a folk hero across the world, are written together with the screenwriters of Kvartal 95, the television production company owned by Zelensky that produced Servant of the People.

Olga Baysha argues that “by means of Holoborodko—his virtual double—Zelensky was able to deliver his populist election promises not in terms of just telling but performing.” Olga Baysha has been researching this game of mirrors between fiction and reality, and presents her new bookDemocracy, Populism, and Neoliberalism in Ukraine: On the Fringes of the Virtual and the Real.”

Looking at the daily horrors of this war, it does not seem very relevant to know how Zelensky became the president of Ukraine. However, this articles helps us to understand why and how a comedian-turned-president is now the western world’s new hero, and what role populism played in this process.

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Populist Rhetoric, Slanted Causal Stories, and Polarization in Mexico

In this article, Rodolfo Sarsfield talks about the populist ideology in the discourse of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), president of Mexico, and the deep polarization it is unleashing. AMLO has been described as an authoritarian politician without any fixed ideology who inspires cultlike devotion in his followers. How does he construct the idea of people and who is part of what he calls mafia of power? Who are the fifís and who are the chairos? How does the populist discourse change from opposition to government? Sarsfield answers these and other questions…

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