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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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 #31 – The Contagious Effect of the Radical Right

In this interview, Tarik Abou-Chadi explains that when radical right parties are successful (and especially when they enter parliament), mainstream parties shift toward a more anti-immigrant position. This is hardly surprising. However, according to his studies, this is a totally counterproductive move, and established parties should not go in pursuit of anti-immigration discourses because that would make them lose votes. If there is an “original” nativist and anti-immigration party, why voting an imitation?

Moreover, he claims that the shift toward more anti-immigrant positions of established parties that we have witnessed in the past 20 years is not simply a representation of public opinion, but a strategic move towards the success of radical right parties. In fact, in most Western European countries attitudes toward immigration have become more positive.

In other words: would we have seen the same anti-immigrant shift by established parties had the radical right not been successful? 

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Gender as a Rhetorical Tool for Strengthening Illiberal Democracy in Hungary

In this article, Bianka Vida explains how the Hungarian government uses gender as a rhetorical tool to strengthen its illiberal regime. The so-called “gender theory” is a threat to any right-wing populist government, including Fidesz in Hungary. Starting from the Hungarian example, Vida illustrates how gender is exploited by right-wing political parties to expand illiberal democracy. What is the role of the EU in this illiberal transformation, and what will be the future of Universities proposing courses on gender studies?

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Populism or neo-nationalism?

In this thought-provoking article, Alexander Svitych* argues that nationalism constitutes the ideological core of modern radical right and radical left parties. Hence, he proposes to use the term neo-nationalism (or populist nationalism) to describe the ideology articulated by political parties often described as radical, populist, or nativist. He argues that neo-nationalism is a broader ideology than populism, and that it can be found both in right-wing and left-wing populist parties. He claims that neo-nationalism emerges at the intersectionality of three dimensions: nationalism, populism and radicalism. The ideology articulated by contemporary radical left and radical firght parties shows both populist and nationalist traits, and therefore it should be labelled as neo or populist nationalism.


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Interview #23: Populism and emotions

Populist actors use an emotional, dramatized and colloquial language, and for this reason their messages are more convincing. Or, at least, that is what many commentators have been arguing for quite some time. In her research, Dominique Wirz* found out that this is actually the case. In this interview she explains that populist messages are very likely to trigger emotions – negative emotions towards the bad people and positive emotions towards the good people. Moreover, since negative emotions are unpleasant, people feel a strong need for immediate solutions and this seems to makes populist appeals especially persuasive.

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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.

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Interview #20 – 150 years of populism and nativism with Hans-Georg Betz

POP finally interviewed Hans-Georg Betz, one of the major experts of populism. He has been professor of political science at various North American universities (Marquette University, Milwaukee; SAIS, Washington; York University, Toronto), and author of several books on radical right-wing populism and numerous articles and chapters on the radical right, populism, and nativism. Currently he teaches political science at the University of Zurich.

Since more than twenty years prof. Betz studies American and European populism in historical perspective. For this reason POP asked him to link the present situation of intolerance, racism, and new walls, with the roots of nativist and illiberal populism in the 19th century. This is particularly important because it allows to understand under which socio-economic situations populism and nativism become successful, which lessons we can learn from past populist outbursts, and what can be done to contrast them. Enjoy the read.

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The 5 Star Movement is neither left-wing nor antifascist

I know that the right-left political spectrum is slippery. Most people consider it dead and buried. End of history, post-ideological world, and whatnot.

I know that when a politician tells you “we are neither right nor left, just #populist” it gets even more confusing .

I know the face people make when I say that (on the cultural dimension and therefore by synecdoche) the 5 Star Movement is a right-wing partyContinue reading

Interview #17: Luke March on Left Populism

In this pantagruelic interview, POP discusses with Luke March about left-wing populist actors across Europe, the US and Latin America, the legacy of the Communist past, and the evolution of different families of left parties. We also talk about the Great Recession, the migrants crisis, Brexit, neo-liberalism, and the possible directions for the Left.

luke_marchLuke March is Professor of Post-Soviet and Comparative Politics at Politics and International Relations, University of Edinburgh, and Deputy Director of the Princess Dashkova Russian Centre, also the University of Edinburgh. His main research interests include the politics of the European (radical) Left, Russian domestic and foreign politics, nationalism, populism, radicalism and extremism in Europe and the former Soviet Union. He has published in a range of journals including Party Politics, Comparative European Politics, Europe-Asia Studies and East European Politics. His books include The Communist Party in Post-Soviet Russia (Manchester University Press, 2002), Russia and Islam: State, Society and Radicalism (edited with Roland Dannreuther, Routledge, 2010), Radical Left Parties in Europe (Routledge, 2011) and Europe’s Radical Left. From Marginality to the Mainstream? (edited with Daniel Keith, Rowman and Littlefield 2016).

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