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 #52 — Protests and memory politics in Romania

In this interview, Ionut Chiruta explains how the memory of Romania’s Communist past has been used to protect and justify a corrupt system. Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, chose to exploit the traumatic memories linked to the secret police —Securitate— that for decades terrorized the population, to justify his judicial reforms. These reforms had one main purpose: to decriminalize the government’s corruption. To achieve this, Dragnea delegitimized the Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) by comparing it to the Securitate system. Dragnea consciously manipulated the country’s collective memories to create a short-circuit that protects his system of corruption by linking his enemies to the most traumatic aspects of the Communist past. A great lesson about the importance of collective memories and the politics of memory, between collective amnesia and dealing with the past.

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Interview #14 – The Strange Case of Dr. Populist and Mr. Corruption

LZ

Lisa Zanotti

Lisa Zanotti is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at University Diego Portales in Chile and a Ph.D. researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands. She is currently working on her doctoral thesis, a project that aims at studying the factors influencing the emergence of the populist/anti-populist cleavage in Italy in comparative perspective.

In this interview POP discussed with her about the role of corruption in triggering populism both in Latin America and Europe, both theoretically and empirically, with a focus on Italy, France, the Netherlands, Chile and Brasil.


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