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Tatsiana Kulakevich: Belarusian People Await a Window of Opportunity to Usher in a New Regime

Dr. Tatsiana Kulakevich underscores the resilience of the Belarusian protest movement amidst systematic repression and violence. Despite recent parliamentary elections failing to incite significant dissent, she suggests that future electoral events, especially presidential elections, could ignite substantial change. Despite the challenges ahead, the Belarusian people remain hopeful for a window of opportunity to usher in a new regime and reclaim their rights and freedoms. Kulakevich also draws attention to the plight of political prisoners in Belarus, whose uncertain fate mirrors Navalny’s tragic end.

Interview by Selcuk Gultasli

In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, numerous post-Soviet countries have struggled to establish and consolidate liberal democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental rights and freedoms. After two and a half decades, a concerning trend toward populismauthoritarianism, and autocracy has emerged among several of these nations, with some, such as Belarus, never having experienced a functioning democracy. Giving an exclusive interview to European Center for Populism Studies, Dr. Tatsiana Kulakevich, an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida’s School of Interdisciplinary Global Studies and a research fellow and affiliated faculty at the USF Institute for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies, sheds light on the underlying causes of these failures and their implications for Belarus.

Kulakevich begins by addressing the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent expectations of reform and democratization among former Soviet Republics. However, disillusionment soon followed as many countries experienced kleptocracy and oligarchic rule. The global financial crisis of 2008 further eroded confidence in liberal democracy, leading to the rise of populist leaders who capitalized on public discontent.

Belarus, under the authoritarian rule of Alexander Lukashenko, stands out amidst this backdrop. Kulakevich emphasizes the regime’s shift towards “Sultanism,” characterized by the consolidation of power in the hands of one man. However, to her, unlike traditional totalitarian regimes, Belarus lacks a unifying ideology, instead revolving around the arbitrary exercise of power.

Dr. Kulakevich underscores the resilience of the Belarusian protest movement amidst systematic repression and violence. Although recent parliamentary elections on February 25 did not evoke significant dissent, she notes that future electoral events, particularly presidential elections, could catalyze meaningful change. Despite the formidable challenges ahead, Dr. Kulakevich emphasizes that the Belarusian people remain hopeful for a window of opportunity to usher in a new regime and reclaim their rights and freedoms.

Dr. Kulakevich said the murder of Alexei Navalny, a prominent Russian opposition figure, casts a grim shadow over Belarusian dissidents. Kulakevich highlights the plight of political prisoners in Belarus, whose uncertain fate echoes Navalny’s tragic end. The regime’s ruthless tactics, exemplified by Navalny’s assassination attempt, resonate with Belarusian dissidents, who face similar threats to their lives and freedoms.

Here is the transcription of the interview with Dr. Tatsiana Kulakevich with some edits.

Dr. Tatsiana Kulakevich, an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida's School of Interdisciplinary Global Studies and a research fellow and affiliated faculty at the USF Institute for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies.

Tatsiana Kulakevich: Belarusian People Await a Window of Opportunity to Usher in a New Regime

Dr. Tatsiana Kulakevich underscores the resilience of the Belarusian protest movement amidst systematic repression and violence. Despite recent parliamentary elections failing to incite significant dissent, she suggests that future electoral events, especially presidential elections, could ignite substantial change. Despite the challenges ahead, the Belarusian people remain hopeful for a window of opportunity to usher in a new regime and reclaim their rights and freedoms. Kulakevich also draws attention to the plight of political prisoners in Belarus, whose uncertain fate mirrors Navalny’s tragic end.

Interview by Selcuk Gultasli

In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, numerous post-Soviet countries have struggled to establish and consolidate liberal democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental rights and freedoms. After two and a half decades, a concerning trend toward populism, authoritarianism, and autocracy has emerged among several of these nations, with some, such as Belarus, never having experienced a functioning democracy. Giving an exclusive interview to European Center for Populism Studies, Dr. Tatsiana Kulakevich, an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida’s School of Interdisciplinary Global Studies and a research fellow and affiliated faculty at the USF Institute for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies, sheds light on the underlying causes of these failures and their implications for Belarus.

Kulakevich begins by addressing the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent expectations of reform and democratization among former Soviet Republics. However, disillusionment soon followed as many countries experienced kleptocracy and oligarchic rule. The global financial crisis of 2008 further eroded confidence in liberal democracy, leading to the rise of populist leaders who capitalized on public discontent.

Belarus, under the authoritarian rule of Alexander Lukashenko, stands out amidst this backdrop. Kulakevich emphasizes the regime’s shift towards “Sultanism,” characterized by the consolidation of power in the hands of one man. However, to her, unlike traditional totalitarian regimes, Belarus lacks a unifying ideology, instead revolving around the arbitrary exercise of power.

Dr. Kulakevich underscores the resilience of the Belarusian protest movement amidst systematic repression and violence. Although recent parliamentary elections on February 25 did not evoke significant dissent, she notes that future electoral events, particularly presidential elections, could catalyze meaningful change. Despite the formidable challenges ahead, Dr. Kulakevich emphasizes that the Belarusian people remain hopeful for a window of opportunity to usher in a new regime and reclaim their rights and freedoms.

Dr. Kulakevich said the murder of Alexei Navalny, a prominent Russian opposition figure, casts a grim shadow over Belarusian dissidents. Kulakevich highlights the plight of political prisoners in Belarus, whose uncertain fate echoes Navalny’s tragic end. The regime’s ruthless tactics, exemplified by Navalny’s assassination attempt, resonate with Belarusian dissidents, who face similar threats to their lives and freedoms.

Here is the transcription of the interview with Dr. Tatsiana Kulakevich with some edits.

Disappointments in Anticipated Changes Led to Rise of Populism in Eastern Europe

After nearly three and a half decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, numerous post-Soviet countries continue to struggle with consolidating liberal democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental rights and freedoms. Many of these nations have experienced a recent trend toward populism, authoritarianism, and autocracy. What are the underlying and shared causes of these failures?

Tatsiana Kulakevich: I would start with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the definition of Eastern Europe. Some countries experiencing a shift towards right-wing politics, such as Poland and Hungary, are often categorized as Eastern Europe by the United Nations, although some prefer to be called Central Europe. These countries, numbering around 10, are situated close to the former Soviet Union, with some being members of the European Union and others not.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, people in the former Soviet Republics had high expectations. However, many experienced kleptocracy and oligarchic rule, including Russia, Moldova, and Ukraine, as well as certain European Union countries that were not yet members at that time. Upon joining the European Union in the 2000s, there was an expectation of economic reform and a reduction in kleptocracy. However, the reality fell short of expectations, and kleptocracy persisted, leading to a second disappointment.

Furthermore, the global financial crisis of 2008 further eroded confidence in liberal democracy, prompting some to seek alternative solutions. This disillusionment paved the way for populist leaders who offered different promises, resonating with the discontented populace. Ultimately, historical disappointments in anticipated changes have gradually led to the rise of populist politics in these regions.

After the Protests of 2020, Belarus Shifted towards Sultanism

We are witnessing a resurgence of populism in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, while Belarus solidifies its authoritarian rule under a one-man regime. What are the fundamental differences between the experiences of Eastern European countries and Belarus in terms of populism, and are there any notable similarities? How has the war in Ukraine impacted the consolidation of the authoritarian regime in Belarus?

Tatsiana Kulakevich: Here, it’s important to make a clear distinction between European Union members and post-Soviet Republics that are not part of the EU. While European Union countries may be experiencing a decline in certain values, they still maintain democratic structures. It’s crucial to recognize that democracy is not a one-size-fits-all concept; there are varying degrees of democracy among nations, as indicated by different democracy rankings.

European Union countries, despite any decline, continue to uphold democratic principles. On the other hand, countries like Belarus, and Moldova and Ukraine, which aspire to EU membership, are on a different trajectory. While they may be EU candidates, they are not yet EU members and thus have different processes and challenges to contend with.

When discussing Belarus, it’s evident that the country is under an authoritarian regime, which has only strengthened following the crackdown on the 2020 protests, the largest in Belarusian history. Presently, Belarus seems to be veering towards a form of Sultanism, characterized by the consolidation of power in the hands of one individual. Some may refer to the Belarusian regime as “new totalitarian,” but I hesitate to categorize it as such. Unlike traditional totalitarian regimes, Belarus lacks a unifying ideology and widespread mobilization of the populace. Instead, politics in Belarus revolve around a single individual, akin to a Sultan. Such a system doesn’t necessarily rely on a coherent ideology but rather on arbitrary exercises of power. Therefore, while Belarus can be classified as an authoritarian regime, labeling it as totalitarian may not capture all its nuances.

In Belarus, the shift towards Sultanism began to manifest after the protests of 2020, when Lukashenko’s previous balancing act became untenable due to opposition pressure and the closing of doors to the European Union. With limited options and a desire to cling to power, Lukashenko aligned himself more closely with his ally Vladimir Putin. It became apparent that Lukashenko had little choice but to acquiesce to Putin’s demands, allowing Russian military presence and missile launches from Belarusian territory. The crackdown initiated in 2020 has persisted and intensified, rather than commencing in 2022.

Given the erosion of the so-called pillars of Lukashenko’s populism—his alleged proximity to the people, his self-portrayal as a guarantor of peace, and promise of economic and political stability—what internal and external factors contributed to this erosion?

Tatsiana Kulakevich: The erosion of Lukashenko’s populist regime accelerated after 2020, particularly undermining his image as a guarantor of stability. The imposition of numerous sanctions post-2020, exacerbated by Belarus’s involvement in the war, further destabilized the economy and shattered the illusion of economic stability. The brutal suppression of the 2020 protests, documented by the United Nations with reports of violence including rape with batons and deaths, tarnished Lukashenko’s perceived proximity to the people, eroding trust and fueling disappointment. With nearly 1500 political prisoners, the regime’s repression has intensified. Moreover, Lukashenko’s claim as a guarantor of peace disintegrated following Belarus’s complicity in allowing Russian missile launches from its territory during the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, rendering the country a co-aggressor in the war.

Pervasive Atmosphere of Fear Prevents Meaningful Dissent 

Alexander Lukashenko’s main election rival was Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in the 2020 election in Belarus. People attend a pre-election meeting in Minsk, Belarus, on September 7, 2020. Photo: Shutterstock.

In your presentation at an ECPS panel last year, you noted Lukashenko’s success in creating an image of the political elite as working for the people. How has this perception evolved among Belarusian citizens, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, which brought about economic and security challenges?

Tatsiana Kulakevich: People witnessed the true nature of the Lukashenko regime and became disillusioned, realizing they had been misled on multiple fronts. For instance, during the 2020 presidential election, people wore white bracelets as a symbol of support for the opposition candidate, Svyatlana Tsihanouskaya. They observed each other at polling stations, noting the widespread presence of these bracelets. When Lukashenko claimed an implausible 80% victory while allocating only 10% to Tsihanouskaya, it was a blatant manipulation that many found incredulous. Reflecting on this, one might speculate that if Lukashenko had claimed a more plausible 60%, the situation might have unfolded differently, but this is not to defend the regime; rather, it’s a facetious assessment.

This pivotal moment exposed the regime’s deceit, galvanizing people to protest even before the brutal crackdown ensued. They rallied around symbols like the historic opposition colors of white, red, and white, distinct from the regime’s associations with bloodshed and the official red and green flag. This newfound solidarity formed the basis of a new imagined community, which resonated deeply with those seeking change.

Once people have witnessed such truths, they cannot simply forget or unsee them. Since the regime’s efforts to suppress dissent and stifle civil society, individuals who oppose the regime within Belarus live in constant fear. The regime’s reach extends to monitoring social media activity and intercepting individuals at the border. This pervasive atmosphere of fear and intimidation prevents meaningful dissent, as people are acutely aware of the potential consequences of speaking out.

Lukashenko’s Regime Does Not Fully Exercise Sovereignty

You argue that Russia unofficially controls Belarus, which has significantly influenced Lukashenko’s alignment with Putin’s interests. Could you elaborate on how this control manifests in Belarusian governance and decision-making processes, particularly in matters concerning pro-Putin foreign policy and military cooperation with Russia?

Tatsiana Kulakevich: In this context, it’s crucial to recall the concept of sovereignty as defined in political science: the monopoly of violence within specific borders. Lukashenko’s regime does not fully exercise sovereignty throughout Belarus, lacking complete control over the use of force within its borders. When we refer to violence here, we’re not discussing crime, but rather the authority of police and military to maintain order and security within a territory.

If you look at Ukraine, Ukraine doesn’t have complete sovereignty because the Russian forces are on Ukrainian territory. Similar situation is happening in Belarus but in a different aspect. While the Ukrainians are paying for their sovereignty with blood, Belarusian sovereignty has been challenged peacefully by moving Russian forces on the Belarussian territory. The trainings are happening, and I hear that Russian military officers have been in control of some army units.

Another aspect of this challenge to sovereignty is the presence of tactical nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil, which are under Russian control. While these weapons are not owned by Belarus, their presence directly challenges Belarus’ monopoly of violence within its borders. This gradual erosion of sovereignty occurs quietly but significantly, posing a threat to the Belarusian people who are not aligned with the regime.

Hence, it’s crucial to recognize that Belarus, too, faces a threat, as its people are not necessarily aligned with the Belarusian regime. While the conflict unfolds on Ukrainian soil, Belarus finds itself under a similar, albeit quieter, threat of gradual erosion of its sovereignty.

In your article “Anti-authoritarian learning: Prospects for democratization in Belarus based on a study of Polish Solidarity,” you explore the anti-Lukashenko protest movement in Belarus through a comparative lens with the Solidarity movement in Poland. Why do you believe the anti-Lukashenko democracy movement has not achieved success comparable to the Solidarity movement in Poland? What are the primary differences and similarities between the two movements?

Tatsiana Kulakevich: In this article, we discussed the four stages that social movements undergo to succeed or falter. In Belarus, however, the movement did not achieve the bureaucratization phase, which is crucial for its progression. The movement must initiate with people seeing each other, symbolizing its inception. Subsequently, as people continue to unite, the movement begins to bureaucratize, ultimately culminating in either success or failure.

In Belarus, we witnessed the initial two stages unfold. A significant number of people, approximately half a million, gathered to protest during weekends, demonstrating a collective realization that they are not alone in their desire for change. However, the third stage, bureaucratization, which entails the emergence of leadership, faced challenges. Bureaucratization primarily occurred outside the country’s borders, presenting difficulties as it was forced into exile.

Comparatively, in Poland, bureaucratization occurred internally, albeit amidst regime suppression, signifying a contrasting dynamic. Although the process of bureaucratization did occur in Belarus, its efficacy was hindered by external factors, resulting in minimal progress. It’s essential to acknowledge that successful movements, such as Polish Solidarity, often require significant time to achieve their goals. The Polish example illustrates that it took eight years and persisted until the collapse of the Soviet Union for success to be realized.

Despite the challenges, there is hope that a similar solidarity movement is brewing in Belarus, albeit underground. Viewing these processes positively is crucial, recognizing the existence of the movement and its leadership. The Belarusian people and opposition await a potential window of opportunity, which, if seized, could usher in a new regime.

The Upcoming Presidential Elections Could Serve as Catalysts for Opposition

Peaceful protests on Niezaliežnasci street in Minsk. People rallying and marching towards Independence Avenue in Minsk, Belarus on August 23, 2020. Photo: Shutterstock.

In the same article, you assert that “the 2020 presidential election generated the largest protests in the history of independent Belarus. Masses of Belarusian citizens took to the streets to protest what they considered to be a corrupt and fraudulent election.” However, in the recent elections on February 25, characterized by the Council of Europe as a “travesty of democracy,” there were not many public demonstrations. Why do you think Belarusians did not mobilize to protest the fraudulent elections this time around? Has the demand for change in Belarus been killed by systematic repression and violence? Or how do you assess the state of resilience and determination of the protest movement in the face of such adversity?

Tatsiana Kulakevich: It’s important to differentiate between the parliamentary and presidential elections in Belarus. Parliamentary elections typically don’t elicit significant public outcry or protest; historically, the turnout for dissent is minimal, often involving only a handful of individuals or none at all. This lack of mobilization is unsurprising given that parliamentary candidates are often regime-appointed, with little chance of electoral success for opposition candidates. People in Belarus have lost faith in the prospect of meaningful change through these elections due to pervasive fear and skepticism. The fear of imprisonment or reprisal discourages many from participating in dissent, especially when they perceive the current electoral cycle as lacking in critical opportunities for change. The next presidential election is likely to be the focal point for more substantial protest, especially considering President Lukashenko’s indication of running again. Therefore, while the recent parliamentary elections may not have spurred significant protest, future electoral events could serve as catalysts for more meaningful dissent.

What is the significance of parliamentary and local elections held on Feb. 25 in Belarus? What do the elections tell us about the nature of the regime in the country?

Tatsiana Kulakevich: Historically, these elections have failed to provoke dissent or resentment among the populace because people perceive little opportunity for meaningful change. The prevailing fear within the country suppresses protest during parliamentary elections, underscoring the belief that President Lukashenko remains firmly entrenched in power and is willing to crack down on any signs of dissent.

Opposition Closed the Door on Lukashenko’s Balancing Act

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What role does Putin’s Russia play in the consolidation of Lukashenko’s regime and the suppression of popular dissent? How has this suppression in Belarus affected the support for Russia’s actions in Ukraine?

Tatsiana Kulakevich: Let’s delve into the events of 2020, when Lukashenko’s regime was known for its balancing act. This approach involved seeking financial support from either Russia or the European Union depending on the circumstances. For instance, if Putin withheld funds or made unfavorable demands, Lukashenko would turn to the European Union, often promising to release political prisoners in exchange for financial assistance. They were deeply entrenched in their relationships, and this strategy proved effective for decades. 

However, everything changed after 2020 when Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya emerged and sought refuge in the European Union, specifically Lithuania. Tsikhanouskaya’s lobbying efforts with leaders in the European Union and the United States effectively closed the door on Lukashenko’s previous balancing act. Consequently, Lukashenko found himself heavily reliant on Putin’s support. Let’s turn our attention to Russia and the onset of the protests. 

In 2020, we witnessed a two-week period of inaction by the Lukashenko regime. During this time, there was a noticeable absence of activity, with people peacefully protesting. Despite the confusion apparent within Lukashenko’s regime, he remained passive, even seen riding with a rifle but making no significant moves. Then, suddenly, there was a sharp escalation, depicted graphically as a sudden crackdown. The question arises: why?

The answer lies in Lukashenko’s newfound confidence, gained through promises of financial and political support from Putin. This support emboldened him to quash the protests decisively. It’s as if Putin whispered, “Enough is enough, Alexander,” signaling the end of the two-week grace period. From then on, Lukashenko relied heavily on Putin to maintain his grip on power, trading sovereignty for political survival. Putin, in turn, kept Lukashenko in his pocket, utilizing Belarus for strategic purposes such as missile launches and nuclear deployments.

While Putin holds considerable sway, Lukashenko maintains a semblance of autonomy, albeit within the confines of Putin’s influence. He navigates a delicate balance, ensuring his own rule while serving Putin’s interests in Belarus. Thus, while Putin remains in power, Lukashenko recognizes the necessity of compliance while preserving his own domain, however limited it may be.

Lukashenko Continues to Suppress Dissent Thanks to Russia’s Support

(L-R) Iran President Hassan Rouhan, Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the session of the supreme Eurasian Economic Council in Yerevan, Armania on October 1, 2019. Photo: Asatur Yesayants.

Belarus’ strategic significance for Russia in the context of the Ukraine war is underscored by its long border with Ukraine and its role as a staging ground for Russian military operations. Considering this, what are the potential long-term implications of Belarus’ cooperation with Russia on regional security dynamics and the broader geopolitical landscape in Eastern Europe?

Tatsiana Kulakevich: Belarus appears poised to remain in its current state, with hopes pinned on a favorable outcome for Ukraine. Should Ukraine find itself mired in a frozen conflict or an unfavorable peace agreement, it’s unlikely they will willingly accept it. Any peace accord would likely be imposed rather than voluntary. Thus, the anticipation rests on the United States to provide crucial foreign and financial aid to Ukraine, potentially opening a window for change in Belarus. If Ukraine emerges victorious and triggers shifts within the Russian government, Belarusian opposition forces may find an opportunity for change. However, absent such developments, the outlook for change appears grim. Lukashenko maintains the support of Russia and continues his crackdown on dissent, with reports indicating an escalation in repression, including fatalities in Belarusian prisons. Unfortunately, there seems to be little prospect for improvement at present.

The presence of Russian troops in Transnistria presents a significant obstacle to Moldova’s territorial control, a crucial condition for EU membership. How do you foresee Moldova addressing this issue as part of its EU accession process? 

Tatsiana Kulakevich: In this case, Moldova finds itself in a fortuitous position. While Belarus grapples with challenges to its sovereignty and Ukraine fiercely defends its own, Moldova could have easily been the next target had Russian forces advanced into Transnistria. Moldova lacks a strong military presence to resist such aggression.

The aspiration in Moldova is to align with the European Union, a path that includes Transnistria. Despite the presence of Russian troops in Moldova, the hope remains alive. However, understanding the context is crucial. Even before 2014, prior to Russia’s conspicuous intervention in Ukraine, a murky situation existed along the border with Transnistria and Ukraine, characterized by arms smuggling.

Following the events of 2014, Ukraine bolstered its border control, recognizing Russia as an adversary. With Russian soldiers stationed in Transnistria, Ukraine tightened its grip on the border, impeding movement into Transnistria through its territory. Moldova’s capital also intensified its vigilance over these activities.

Russian soldiers traverse into Transnistria, officially Moldovan territory, including through Moldova’s airports, under watchful eyes. Moldova’s stance is clear: why permit further incursions of soldiers into its territory, even if destined for Transnistria, where they’ve been stationed since 1992. Consequently, accessing Transnistria via Ukraine has become increasingly challenging for Russian officers.

Given that the frozen conflict in Transnistria has persisted since the early 1990s, specifically since 1992, the original Russian soldiers involved have long been replaced. The current soldiers are often descendants of those initial officers, hailing not necessarily from Russia but predominantly from Transnistria itself. For them, Transnistria is their homeland, not Russia; hence, their loyalties are complex, tethered not solely to Russia but also to their own land.

This complexity plays into Moldova’s favor to some extent. These soldiers may prioritize the interests of Transnistria over those of Russia. For Transnistria, ties with Russia have been beneficial, offering retirement benefits and subsidized gas. Meanwhile, Moldova has cultivated strong trade relations with the European Union, particularly through its close cultural affinity with Romania. Consequently, Transnistria finds itself in a position where it benefits from both Russia and Moldova yet leans more towards the EU due to the advantages gained through Moldova’s EU agreements. This dynamic underscore Moldova’s desire to integrate Transnistria, despite the challenges involved. Russia’s persistent influence and disturbance in Transnistria complicates this goal, as it continues to support disruptions in the region, thereby hindering Moldova’s aspirations for stability and unity.

Navalny’s Death Sparked Awareness of Political Prisoners in Belarus

People mourn for Alexei Navalny in Budapest, Hungary on February 16, 2024. Photo: Alexey Gorovoi.

Lastly, today (on Friday) Alexei Navalny’s funeral was held in Moscow. Does the death of Navalny say anything to dissidents in Belarus?

Tatsiana Kulakevich: Yes, indeed, we mustn’t forget. That’s the first thing Belarus compels us to consider, especially after Navalny’s death sparked awareness of the numerous political prisoners in Belarus. Among them are relatives and opposition figures, unheard of for almost a year, or even longer. Their uncertain fate is alarming. We’re not talking about just one person; it’s a matter of concern for many. Navalyn is a big name in Russia. Belarus is no stranger to such cases; there are several prominent names whose fates remain uncertain. It is crucial to emphasize the severity of the situation in Belarus, particularly regarding political prisoners. While overshadowed by the Ukrainian conflict due to its smaller scale and lack of direct bloodshed, Belarus suffers its own form of anguish through the erosion of its citizens’ freedoms.

A few days ago, we received news of yet another political prisoner’s death. His name was somewhat elusive, not quite fully captured, but his passing marks the fifth such tragedy within Belarusian prisons. It’s a grim reality we’re confronting. Reflecting on the demise of Navalny, personally, I found it not entirely surprising. After all, the regime had attempted on his life previously. So, in a sense, they simply finished what they started. It’s a ruthless strategic move, reminiscent of how they dealt with Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin, illustrating that traitors meet their demise. However, Belarus has its own harrowing story, particularly concerning its treatment of political prisoners. The details remain obscured at this point, leaving much to be uncovered.

VediHadiz

Professor Vedi Hadiz: Prabowo’s Election Heralds a New Level of Danger for Indonesian Democracy

Emphasizing the pressing challenges confronting Indonesian democracy, Professor Hadiz stressed, “The current concern with Prabowo’s election lies in his deep ties to the oligarchy.” He highlighted Prabowo’s track record of human rights violations and his family’s (his brother) involvement in questionable economic activities, resulting in outstanding debts to the state. Additionally, Prabowo’s disregard for democratic processes, principles, and human rights was underscored. Acknowledging Indonesia’s enduring struggle with its oligarchic tendencies, Professor Hadiz warned that Prabowo’s election heralds a new level of danger for Indonesian democracy.

Interview by Selcuk Gultasli

Amidst the global rise of populist movements, Indonesia emerges as a captivating case study, where the intricate interplay between populism, democracy, and Islamism unfolds amidst socio-economic transformations and political contests. The recent electoral triumph of Prabowo Subianto has ignited fervent discussions regarding the trajectory of democracy in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. In an exclusive interview with the European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS), Professor Vedi Hadiz, Director and Professor of Asian Studies at the Asia Institute, and Assistant Deputy Vice-Chancellor International at the University of Melbourne, provides insights into the nuanced dynamics of populism, Islamism, and democracy in Indonesia.

Professor Hadiz underscores the prevailing notion that Indonesia is often lauded as a model of successful democratic transformation, a reputation he acknowledges as, in many respects, well-deserved. However, he also draws attention to the darker realities overshadowing Indonesia’s democratic journey. Despite its strides towards democracy, Indonesia has long grappled with deep-rooted issues such as corruption and significant flaws, casting a shadow over its democratic credentials.

Moreover, Professor Hadiz highlights a pressing concern regarding the entrenchment of oligarchic power structures and the erosion of democratic norms, particularly under Prabowo’s possible leadership. He emphasizes that the rights of minorities and vulnerable groups have consistently faced limitations within the Indonesian context. Crucially, Indonesia remains under the sway of what he terms an oligarchy—an alliance between the upper echelons of the state bureaucracy and the bourgeoisie elite. This oligarchy wields influence over virtually all major political parties and exerts dominance over key state institutions and mass organizations, shaping the trajectory of Indonesian politics and governance.

Highlighting the imminent challenges facing Indonesian democracy, Professor Hadiz emphasized, “The current concern with Prabowo’s election lies in his deep ties to the oligarchy.” As the former son-in-law of Suharto, the former dictator, Prabowo epitomizes the entrenched habits of the oligarchy that democratic reforms aimed to mitigate. Professor Hadiz pointed out Prabowo’s history of human rights violations and his family’s (his brother) involvement in questionable economic activities, which have left outstanding debts to the state due to these connections. Furthermore, Prabowo has displayed scant regard for democratic processes, principles, and human rights.

While acknowledging Indonesia’s longstanding struggle with its oligarchic nature, Professor Hadiz warned that Prabowo’s election heralds a new level of danger for Indonesian democracy, amplifying concerns about its future trajectory.

By unpacking the concept of populism and Islamic populism within the Indonesian context, Professor Hadiz also emphasizes its class dimensions and nuanced manifestations in the archipelago. Professor Hadiz elucidates how populism intersects with Islamism, shedding light on the distinctive features of Islamic populism and its historical evolution in Indonesia. Drawing parallels with other Muslim-majority countries, particularly Turkey and Egypt, he navigates through the intricate tapestry of socio-political forces shaping Islamic populism across diverse contexts.

Here is the transcription of the interview with Professor Vedi Hadiz with some edits.

Inauguration of Argentinian President Javier Milei in Buenos Aires on December 1, 2023. Photo: Facundo Florit.

ECPS Regional Panel — Old and New Facets of Populism in Latin America

Date/Time: Thursday, March 7, 2024 / 15:00-17:30 CET

Click here to register!

Moderator

Dr. Maria Puerta Riera

(Adjunct Professor in the Political Science at Valencia College)

Speakers

“Populism and Socio-Political Transformation in Latin America,” by Dr. Ronaldo Munck (Professor of Sociology and Director of the Centre for Engaged Research at Dublin City University).

“Varieties of Populism and Democratic Erosion: The Case of Latin America,” by Dr. Julio F. Carrión (Professor of Comparative Politics, University of Delaware).

“Global Power Dynamics and Authoritarian Populism in Venezuela,” by Dr. Adriana Boersner-Herrera (Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina).

“Libertarian Populism? Making Sense of Javier Milei’s Discourse,” by Dr. Reinhard Heinisch (Professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Salzburg and Head of the Department of Political Science) and Dr. Andrés Laguna Tapia (Director of the Center for Research in Communication and Humanities and head of Communication Studies at UPB in Cochabamba).

“The Phenomenon of ‘Bolsonarism’ in Brazil: Specificities and Global Connections,” by Dr. Victor de Oliveira Pinto Coelho (Professor of the Human Sciences at Universidade Federal do Maranhão).

Click here to register!

 

 

Brief Biographies and Abstracts

Dr. Maria Isabel Puerta Riera is a political scientist with a Ph.D. in Social Sciences. She serves as an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Valencia College and holds the position of Research Fellow at GAPAC. She also chairs the LASA Venezuelan Studies Section and is a proud member of Red de Politólogas. Previously, Dr. Puerta Riera was an Associate Professor and Chair of Public Administration at Universidad de Carabobo in Venezuela. Her research interests are democratic backsliding, hybrid regimes, authoritarianism, illiberalism, populism, and immigration in Latin America. Email: mpuertariera@valenciacollege.edu Website: www.maripuerta.com

 

Populism and Socio-Political Transformation in Latin America

Dr. Ronaldo Munck is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Centre for Engaged Research at Dublin City University and was a member of the Council of Europe Task Force on The Local Democratic Mission of Higher Education. Professor Munck was the first Head of Civic Engagement at DCU and drove the ‘third mission’ alongside teaching and research. As a political sociologist Professor Munck has written widely on the impact of globalisation on development, changing work patterns and migration. Recent works include Migration, Precarity and Global Governance; Rethinking Global Labour: After Neoliberalism and Social Movements in Latin America: Mapping the Mosaic.

Professor Munck has led large-scale social research projects funded by The British Academy, Economic and SocialResearch Council, Human Sciences Research Council, The Horizon Fund (EU), EU Peace and Reconciliation Fund, EUCorporate Social Responsibility Project, EU AGIS framework, EU Science and Society framework, HEA/Irish AidProgramme of Strategic Co-operation, South African Netherlands Partnership for Development, Social Science andHumanities Research Council, Canada.

He is a member of the editorial board of the following international journals: Globalizations, Global Social Policy, Global Discourse, Global Labour Journal, Latin American Perspectives and Review: Journal of the Fernand Braudel Center. He is a lead author of Amartya Sen’s International Panel on Social Progress Report ‘Rethinking Society of the 21st Century.’

Abstract: In both popular and academic parlance, the term “populism” has taken on a more or less uniformly negative connotation. It implies being an enemy of democracy, anti-immigrant and, most obviously, irrationally under the sway of a charismatic leader. Yet in Latin America, populism has been an integral element of the development and democratization process and plays an important role in the contemporary process of social transformation under the left-of-centre governments that have emerged since the turn of the century. Thus, we need to deconstruct the term “populism” and explore its diverse historical manifestations, to rethink its meaning and its prospects moving forward. The term “populism” today spells, for most people in the global North, something akin to racism and with dark memories of fascism lurking in the background. The “populists” who come to mind are Orbán, Le Pen, Farage or Trump, who cultivate a mass base around the needs of the “left behind” or native-born. The political elites are cast as globalizers, not from somewhere in particular, and dangerously complacent about the dangers of being swamped by mass immigration.

In Latin America, the same term has had a very different resonance. It is bound up with democratization, the incorporation of the working classes, and the making of the national developmental state. Its emergence is marked by the crisis of the conservative export-oriented state in the 1930s that burst into the open after the Second World War, with the growth of an organized labour movement and the consolidation of nationalism in the new world order that emerged. This gave way to what can be called a compromise state that replaced the old oligarchic state, and in which the popular masses were both mobilized and controlled by what became known as populist state politics.

There have been many interpretations of populism in Latin America. Early studies tended to place it in terms of the modernization of society and the emergence of disposable masses, waiting to be captured by an ideology that would promote social change while maintaining the stability of the dominant order. This perspective was closely tied to the dominant modernization perspective promoted by the US following the Second World War, as it sought to dominate the postcolonial world. It was also deployed in a different way by the advocates of national development, a conservative modernization from above, led by the state. It was thus often seen as tied to the emergence of national inward-looking development strategies that were an integral component of the postcolonial era. National industrialists would thus support these movements, as would the military in some cases due to their national developmentalist ambitions.

 

Varieties of Populism and Democratic Erosion: The Case of Latin America

Dr. Julio F. Carrión holds the position of Professor of Comparative Politics, specializing in Latin American Politics and Populism, at the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware. Dr. Carrión’s current research focuses on the relationship between populism, illiberalism, and democracy. He teaches courses in Latin American Politics, Research Methods, and Democratization more broadly, drawing upon his extensive experience in survey data analysis and both quantitative and qualitative methods. Dr. Carrión is the author of numerous books and articles. His most recent book is A Dynamic Theory of Populism in Power: The Andes in Comparative Perspective (New York: Oxford University Press, 2022). His most recent publication is “Illiberalism, Left-Wing Populism, and Popular Sovereignty in Latin America” (a chapter in the Oxford Handbook of Illiberalism, edited by Marlene Laruelle, 2024). He is currently working on a book manuscript tentatively entitled Public Opinion and Democracy in Peru, co-authored with Patricia Zárate and Jorge Aragón.

Abstract: Recent experience in Latin America shows that the erosion of democratic rule emanates from different sources. However, it is still the case that the most severe cases of democratic backsliding in recent years have come from populist chief executives seeking to aggrandize their power. The prominence of these cases has led many to conclude that populism in power, whether of the left or the right, leads inexorably to regime change. I argue that the record does not support this conclusion. The ascension of populism to power generally opens a moment of severe political confrontation that may or may not lead to the end of democratic rule. Thus, the relationship between populism and democracy depends on the variety of populism that crystallizes in power. The variety of populism that eventually develops is the result of the combination of permissive and productive conditions as well as the ability of non-populist actors and judicial institutions to successfully confront its autocratic predispositions. When analyzing populism in power, the most important distinction to make is not the nature of its discourse or the political coalition behind it but whether it can be constrained by non-populist actors. I also argue that those who extol the democratizing effects of populism in power are similarly mistaken. The record shows that in no instance of populism that lasted a decade or more in power resulted in a significant increase in the exercise of popular sovereignty. 

 

Global Power Dynamics and Authoritarian Populism in Venezuela

Dr. Adriana Boersner Herrera is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at The Citadel, The Military College of Charleston. Dr. Boersner Herrera’s main areas of research are Venezuelan foreign policy, the presence of Russia in Latin America, and leadership studies focusing on the personality of dictators. Dr. Boersner Herrera has years of teaching experience both in Venezuela and the United States.

Abstract: Due to changes in global power dynamics and different centers of power having global ambitions and mutual distrust of the West, liberal democracy, neoliberalism, and the liberal international order seem to be facing a challenging test. Populist leaders have exploited this to push for a more authoritarian agenda and populist rhetoric, positioning themselves as strong leaders who will protect national interests against liberalism and what’s perceived as a failed model of liberal democracy. They have used different strategies, including institutional attacks to diminish checks and balances, hegemonic parties, surveillance, repression, and scapegoating. However, these authoritarian strategies have not been implemented separately from changes in the international context. Rather, the changes in global power dynamics in the 21st century have helped populist leaders to openly model other populists in implementing various strategies through economic dependency, geopolitical authoritarian alliances, and regional dynamics. In the case of Venezuela, since Nicolas Maduro took power in 2013, it has been prominent Venezuela’s economic dependence on China and Russia, solid and expanded authoritarian alliances with Cuba, China, Iran, Syria, and Russia, and regional isolation while Maduro’s authoritarian power has been consolidated. The focus here is to trace the rise of authoritarian populism in Venezuela and how it has been viable due to changes in global power dynamics in the 21st century.

 

Libertarian Populism? Making Sense of Javier Milei’s Discourse

Presenters:
Dr. Reinhard Heinisch
 is Professor of Comparative Austrian Politics at the University of Salzburg and Head of the Department of Political Science. He earned his PhD at Michigan State University, USA. His research focuses on comparative populism and democracy. He is the author of over 40 peer-reviewed research articles and more than 50 other academic publications, including 12 books. His research been funded by numerous grants including a Marie Curie fellowship and Horizon 2020 grant. He is a faculty affiliate of the University Pittsburgh and a regular visiting lecturer at Renmin University of China.

Dr. Andrés Laguna Tapia is director of the Center for Research in Communication and Humanities and head of Communication Studies at UPB in Cochabamba. He holds a PhD from the University of Barcelona. He won several journalism awards and was program director of the International Film Festival of Huesca and jury member in various film and literature competitions. He has contributed texts to journals, books, and media in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Spain, United States, France, and Mexico. His areas of research focus on film studies, the cultural and entertainment industries, philosophy of technology and aesthetics.

Abstract: Argentina’s Javier Milei is a self-proclaimed political insurgent promising radical political change. Upon assuming the presidency, he vowed to wrest power from la casta, a conceived illegitimate elite that he said had robbed the people of their resources and dignity. Milei, who is also known for his flamboyant style, cultivates the image of an anti-politician and a “madman,” meaning that only a madman, a “loco,” could take on and accomplish this task. Not surprisingly, political observers and the international media have identified Milei as a populist. Upon closer examination, however, it is unclear whether he is indeed a true populist, and even if Milei turns out to be such, it is not immediately apparent what kind of populist he is. While Milei’s anti-elitism is undisputed, his people-centeredness is. Since he is clearly also a libertarian, that means a defender of an extreme form of individualism, whereas populists generally construct some form of collective that they vow to defend. Populism without the construct of “the people” as a central reference category is unusual. Moreover, despite the bombastic rhetoric, Milei’s policy positions cannot simply be dismissed as typically shallow populist appeals to the lowest common denominator, because Milei is a serious economist. He has consistently backed up his calls with more substantive arguments. Furthermore, his proposals are not designed to be “popular,” as they promise painful medium-term cuts for long-term gains, which is also unusual for populist discourses. Lastly, he operates in a country shaped by past populist politics, which Milei blames for Argentina’s misfortunes. All of this raises the question of whether Milei is an anti-populist populist or a populist without an inherently popular agenda. More generally, our two-part research question asks whether Milei is indeed a populist and, if so, what kind of populist he is. Our goal is not merely to classify Milei’s political agenda, but more importantly to determine whether Milei represents a new type of populist, perhaps anticipating a fourth wave of populism that has emerged in Latin America in response to the wave of left-wing populism of before. To this end we undertake a comprehensive text analysis of Milei’s speeches, interviews, and social media presentations.

Authors:

Oscar Gracia Landaeta oscargracia@upb.edu  (Universidad Privada Boliviana)

Reinhard Heinisch – reinhard.heinisch@plus.ac.at (University of Salzburg, Austria)

Andres Laguna – andreslaguna@upb.edu (Universidad Privada Boliviana)

Claudia Muriel –  claudiamuriel@upb.edu (Universidad Privada Boliviana)

 

The Phenomenon of ‘Bolsonarism’ in Brazil: Specificities and Global Connections

Dr. Victor de Oliveira Pinto Coelho is Professor of History at Universidade Federal do Maranhão (UFMA) and a faculty member at the Postgraduate Program in History (PPGHis/UFMA). He holds a leadership role in the CNPq Research Group ‘Powers and Institutions, Worlds of Labor, and Political Ideas’ – POLIMT (UFMA). Additionally, he is a member of CNPq research groups ‘Peripheral Studies Network’ – REP (UFMA) and ‘Myth and Modernity’ – MiMo (UFMG). Dr. Coelho is affiliated with the Schmittian Studies Group, part of the International Network of Schmittian Studies – RIES. Furthermore, he serves as the Vice-coordinator of the Political History Working Group of History National Association – ANPUH Brazil for the biennium 2023-2025. He is also a member of the State Committee to Combat Torture under the State Secretariat for Human Rights and Popular Participation – SEDIHPOP/Government of the State of Maranhão for the biennium 2023-2025.

Abstract: The presentation aims to succinctly outline the primary characteristics of Bolsonarism, a far-right phenomenon in Brazil. While summarizing the features highlighted in local analyses, I seek to delve into its distinct aspects within the Brazilian context and identify the traits that make it a global phenomenon. Lastly, against the backdrop of “new populisms,” I intend to define the distinguishing characteristics that classify Bolsonarism as a conservative or reactionary phenomenon, contrasting it with left-wing movements.

Professor Vedi Hadiz, Director and Professor of Asian Studies at the Asia Institute, and Assistant Deputy Vice-Chancellor International at the University of Melbourne.

Professor Vedi Hadiz: Prabowo’s Election Heralds a New Level of Danger for Indonesian Democracy

Emphasizing the pressing challenges confronting Indonesian democracy, Professor Hadiz stressed, “The current concern with Prabowo’s election lies in his deep ties to the oligarchy.” He highlighted Prabowo’s track record of human rights violations and his family’s (his brother) involvement in questionable economic activities, resulting in outstanding debts to the state. Additionally, Prabowo’s disregard for democratic processes, principles, and human rights was underscored. Acknowledging Indonesia’s enduring struggle with its oligarchic tendencies, Professor Hadiz warned that Prabowo’s election heralds a new level of danger for Indonesian democracy.

Interview by Selcuk Gultasli

Amidst the global rise of populist movements, Indonesia emerges as a captivating case study, where the intricate interplay between populism, democracy, and Islamism unfolds amidst socio-economic transformations and political contests. The recent electoral triumph of Prabowo Subianto has ignited fervent discussions regarding the trajectory of democracy in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. In an exclusive interview with the European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS), Professor Vedi Hadiz, Director and Professor of Asian Studies at the Asia Institute, and Assistant Deputy Vice-Chancellor International at the University of Melbourne, provides insights into the nuanced dynamics of populism, Islamism, and democracy in Indonesia.

Professor Hadiz underscores the prevailing notion that Indonesia is often lauded as a model of successful democratic transformation, a reputation he acknowledges as, in many respects, well-deserved. However, he also draws attention to the darker realities overshadowing Indonesia’s democratic journey. Despite its strides towards democracy, Indonesia has long grappled with deep-rooted issues such as corruption and significant flaws, casting a shadow over its democratic credentials.

Moreover, Professor Hadiz highlights a pressing concern regarding the entrenchment of oligarchic power structures and the erosion of democratic norms, particularly under Prabowo’s possible leadership. He emphasizes that the rights of minorities and vulnerable groups have consistently faced limitations within the Indonesian context. Crucially, Indonesia remains under the sway of what he terms an oligarchy—an alliance between the upper echelons of the state bureaucracy and the bourgeoisie elite. This oligarchy wields influence over virtually all major political parties and exerts dominance over key state institutions and mass organizations, shaping the trajectory of Indonesian politics and governance.

Highlighting the imminent challenges facing Indonesian democracy, Professor Hadiz emphasized, “The current concern with Prabowo’s election lies in his deep ties to the oligarchy.” As the former son-in-law of Suharto, the former dictator, Prabowo epitomizes the entrenched habits of the oligarchy that democratic reforms aimed to mitigate. Professor Hadiz pointed out Prabowo’s history of human rights violations and his family’s (his brother) involvement in questionable economic activities, which have left outstanding debts to the state due to these connections. Furthermore, Prabowo has displayed scant regard for democratic processes, principles, and human rights.

While acknowledging Indonesia’s longstanding struggle with its oligarchic nature, Professor Hadiz warned that Prabowo’s election heralds a new level of danger for Indonesian democracy, amplifying concerns about its future trajectory.

By unpacking the concept of populism and Islamic populism within the Indonesian context, Professor Hadiz also emphasizes its class dimensions and nuanced manifestations in the archipelago. Professor Hadiz elucidates how populism intersects with Islamism, shedding light on the distinctive features of Islamic populism and its historical evolution in Indonesia. Drawing parallels with other Muslim-majority countries, particularly Turkey and Egypt, he navigates through the intricate tapestry of socio-political forces shaping Islamic populism across diverse contexts.

Here is the transcription of the interview with Professor Vedi Hadiz with some edits.

Islamic Populism Replaces “the People” with “the Ummah”

How do you define populism (or Islamist populism) within the context of Indonesia and the broader Islamic world, and what are its distinguishing features compared to other forms of populism? Can you discuss the relationship between Islamist populism and illiberalism & authoritarianism in Indonesia, particularly how these dynamics intersect and influence each other within the political landscape?

Vedi Hadiz: First of all, let’s delve into populism in a broad sense, followed by a discussion on populism within Indonesia, specifically Islamic populism, and its correlation with various forms of illiberalism. At its core, populism can be succinctly defined as a political inclination that frames societal dynamics as a struggle between the elites and the masses, portraying the elite as corrupt, exploitative, rapacious, or culturally detached, while depicting the people as inherently good and virtuous. However, this definition merely scratches the surface, and it’s crucial to acknowledge the contextual nuances inherent in contemporary populisms worldwide. In my analysis, I argue that all contemporary populisms in the world invariably stem from the socio-economic and political repercussions of neoliberal globalization, manifesting differently across diverse societies and impacting domestic social structures in various ways.

The second proposition I advance is that populism contains a class dimension, a facet often overlooked in scholarly discourse. Specifically, within the contemporary framework of neoliberal globalization, populism reflects varying class alliances in different contexts. I posit that these alliances are products of social and historical circumstances intersecting with globalization, resulting in asymmetrical class compositions. For instance, in some contexts, populism may represent the interests of segments of the bourgeoisie, middle class, working class, or peasantry, with power dynamics skewed towards particular classes or class relationships. The asymmetry arises because the driving force within these populist alliances can stem from a specific class or a complex interplay between different classes, where power and influence are not distributed equitably.

In Indonesian populism, there exists an alliance among the classes I mentioned, predominantly comprising individuals from the middle and lower middle classes. These are people with aspirations for upward social mobility yet find themselves hindered by the structures shaped by neoliberal globalization, resulting in widespread social inequalities evident in major economies globally. However, in some instances, such as in America, populist movements receive backing from sections of big business. Nevertheless, the primary social agents driving these movements are often from the lower middle class, whose socio-economic aspirations remain unfulfilled amidst processes of social and economic development. Similarly, aspirations of the lower classes are impeded, albeit with less organization and access to socio-economic and political resources compared to the educated middle classes.

Returning to Indonesia, and focusing directly on the concept of Islamic populism, it presents a distinct form of populism where the notion of “the people” is replaced by the idea of the Ummah, the community of believers. Despite globalization, this concept becomes increasingly nationally defined, as the struggles of the Ummah are framed within national borders. The social agents of Islamic populism in Indonesia typically represent the lower middle classes, whose social mobility has been impeded despite education and efforts at advancement. These individuals articulate their grievances through the lens of social justice, drawing upon Islamic cultural resources rather than liberal or leftist ideologies.

The distinction between Indonesian and Turkish Islamic populism lies in their class dynamics. Indonesian Islamic populism primarily emerges from the middle class, unable to establish alliances with segments of the big bourgeoisie. In contrast, Turkish Islamic populism has been fueled by the Anatolian bourgeoisie—a group of businesses from the provinces challenging the traditional Kemalist elite. This alliance offers resources to uplift the poor, including urban populations, by leveraging the organizational capacity of the middle class and financial backing to implement social welfare initiatives.

Whereas in Indonesia, the challenge arises from the fact that the big bourgeoisie is predominantly ethnically Chinese and not considered part of the Ummah. Consequently, the formation of alliances akin to those in Turkey is considerably restricted. This limitation significantly hampers the ability of the social agents of Islamic populism, primarily concentrated in the urban lower middle class, to uplift the lower classes through initiatives such as social welfare and education. These constraints underscore the broader issue of responses to social inequality and competition stemming from neoliberal globalization in Asia.

Populisms vary in manifestation and expression due to socio-historical disparities and the availability of cultural resources. For instance, in Muslim-majority countries, particularly where the left is either absent or weak, Islam often serves as the framework for political discourse, allowing ideas about social justice to be articulated within an Islamic context. Conversely, in countries like Brazil where Islam does not play a significant role in shaping political discourse, alternative cultural resources are sought to frame a language that can foster the cross-class alliances previously mentioned.

Islamist Populists in Indonesia Are Not Entirely Anti-Democratic

What are the key characteristics of Islamist populist movements in Indonesia since the 1960s, and how have they interacted with democracy in the post-Suharto era? Can you provide a historical overview of the relationship between populism and Islamism in Indonesia, and explain their impact on governance, societal dynamics, political mobilization, policymaking, social cohesion, and identity politics?

Vedi Hadiz: I draw a distinction between what I term as older forms of Islamic populism and newer forms of Islamic populism. The former tends to be rooted in the petty bourgeoisie, traditional traders and small landowners. In contrast, modern Islamic populism is centered around the urban lower middle class and the educated middle class, whose aspirations have been thwarted despite promises of modernity. Unlike the 1960s, Islamic populism in Asia is no longer primarily fueled by these traditional traders and small landowners, but rather by a new segment of society emerging from the modernization process—the urban middle and lower middle classes. Consequently, their aspirations and motivations differ as well.

In older forms of Islamic populism, there typically exists a suspicion of capitalism, rooted in its association with foreign dominance through colonialism and imperialism. However, in newer forms, attitudes toward capitalism can vary. On one hand, there may be strong anti-foreign sentiments, particularly in Indonesia, where anti-Chinese sentiments arise due to the perception of ethnic Chinese control over big business. On the other hand, there’s an acknowledgment that capitalism can offer avenues for upward social mobility, leading to a willingness to compromise with it. This perspective is influenced by examples such as Turkey, where capitalism facilitated upward mobility and access to state power for social agents previously marginalized under Kemalist rule. In Indonesia, however, such outcomes have been limited, if not entirely absent, highlighting a key distinction between old and new Islamic populism.

In Indonesia, the relationship between this new Islamic populism and democracy is also a bit complex. On one hand, some social agents argue that democracy is incompatible with Islam due to the concept of a Caliphate. However, others recognize that, alongside opportunities within the market, democracy offers avenues for upward social mobility and access to state power. Consequently, there are Islamic populists who establish political parties and engage in democratic competition. They are not entirely anti-democratic; in fact, they show sympathy towards democratic mechanisms, acknowledging instances where democracy has facilitated upward social mobility and enabled control over certain aspects of the state.

Islamic Populists in Indonesia Lack Material Resources to Secure Votes of Poor

Former Minister of Defense and winner of the February 14, 2024, Presidential election, Prabowo Subianto, pictured at the 77th-anniversary celebration of the Indonesian Air Force in Jakarta on April 9, 2023. Photo: Donny Hery.

How do you assess the role of populist rhetoric and strategies in the recent Indonesian elections, particularly regarding Prabowo Subianto’s victory? What factors contributed to his success, and how significant was the influence of populism in shaping voter preferences? 

Vedi Hadiz: This case is intriguing because in the previous elections of 2014 and 2019, there was significant mobilization of popular sentiment from both nationalist and Islamist factions. However, in the 2024 election, the rhetoric was notably restrained. This shift occurred partly because Prabowo, the candidate, abandoned his previous allies within the Islamic populist community in favor of aligning with status nationalists who wield control over the state bureaucracy. This strategic move stemmed from the Islamic populists’ inability to provide Prabowo with the necessary material resources to secure the votes of the poor.

Consequently, there was a concerted effort to distribute social aid such as food and rice to the poor, orchestrated by the state machinery, to portray Prabowo as a nationalist populist. Notably, Anies Baswedan, a former ally of the Islamists, failed to mount an effective Islamic populist challenge against this state bureaucratic-led mobilization effort. Such activation would have necessitated alliances with specific state social agents, including the military and local government, which were mobilized in favor of Prabowo. This highlights the limited influence of Islamic populism in Indonesia compared to Turkey, where its upward and downward connections are stronger.

In Indonesia, Islamic populism requires alliances with particular state social agents to be effective. However, in this instance, those alliances were directed away from Islamic populists toward a more nationalist-oriented form of populism exploited by the winning candidate, General Prabowo.

What implications does Prabowo Subianto’s recent electoral victory have for democracy in Indonesia? Are there concerns regarding the consolidation of populist leadership and its impact on democratic institutions and processes, and how might this victory influence societal divisions, governance structures, and the overall political landscape in the country?  

Vedi Hadiz: Indonesia is often hailed as a successful example of democratic transformation, and in many ways that reputation is well deserved. However, it’s crucial to recognize that Indonesia’s democracy has long been plagued by corruption and significant flaws. The rights of minorities and vulnerable groups have been consistently limited. Additionally, Indonesia remains under the control of what I’ve termed an oligarchy—a coalition between the upper echelons of the state bureaucracy and the upper echelons of bourgeoisie. This oligarchy was established during the authoritarian era under Suharto, and despite democratization efforts since 1998, it has persisted and entrenched itself within Indonesia’s democratic and governance institutions. Today, this oligarchy holds sway over virtually all major political parties and dominates key state institutions, mass organizations and so on. Thus, Indonesian democracy has always been characterized by oligarchic domination.

The current concern with Prabowo’s election lies in his deep ties to the oligarchy. As the former son-in-law of Suharto, the former dictator, he epitomizes the entrenched habits of the oligarchy that democratic reforms aimed to mitigate. This includes a history of human rights violations and his family’s (his brother) involvement in questionable economic activities, with outstanding debts to the state due to these connections. Moreover, Prabowo has shown scant regard for democratic processes, principles and human rights. While Indonesian democracy has long grappled with its oligarchic nature, the Prabowo’s election adds a new level of danger.

Indonesian Democrats Should Worry Whether Substantive Democracy Will Endure

The New York Times ran a story right after the elections claiming that ‘Prabowo Subianto’ victory has cast doubts on the future of one of the world’s most vibrant democracies.’ And added that: ‘The era of liberty that followed the ouster of Suharto, critics say, could now be under threat with Mr. Prabowo’s ascent to power.’ Let me ask you bluntly is the biggest Muslim democracy and the third largest democracy in the world in danger?

Vedi Hadiz: The reality is that many rights have regressed over the past decade, signaling a troubling trend. What Prabowo’s rise to power signifies, in my opinion, is an acceleration of this regression—a further erosion of rights and a deepening crisis for Indonesian democracy. It’s reasonable for supporters of democracy in Indonesia to worry whether substantive democracy will endure beyond the mere act of holding elections.

With Subianto in power with nationalist populism and Islamism, are we going to witness a replay of Narendra Modi in India or Donald Trump in US meaning the era of liberal democracy has ended?

Vedi Hadiz: First and foremost, it’s essential not to romanticize Indonesia’s recent past in terms of liberal democracy, as there have never been strong liberal democratic or social democratic parties. The major political forces in Indonesia have typically been nationalist or Islamic nationalist in nature. Thus, Indonesia has never experienced a liberalized democracy that could be dismantled. Instead, what Prabowo’s potential ascension represents is a significant setback. It threatens to extinguish the impulses within Indonesian society that have historically sought to counter the illiberal tendencies of the oligarchy and advocate for the expansion of rights across society despite oligarchic dominance.

Ultimately, Prabowo’s rise would likely signify the oligarchy’s near-total control over Indonesian democracy. This would stifle challenges aimed at securing and broadening rights, achieving greater social equality, and expanding access to power and economic resources.

Preemptive Adoption of Islamic Rhetoric Contributes to Illiberalism in Indonesia

DKI Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan with residents of Kampung Akuarium in Jakarta, Indonesia on April 14 2018. Photo: Shutterstock.

In your article ‘No Turkish delight: the impasse of Islamic party politics in Indonesia,’ you compare the cases of AKP (The Justice and Development Party) and PKS (The Prosperous Justice Party – Partai Keadilan Sejahtera). Where did PKS fail to achieve where AKP in Turkey succeeded? What results does this comparison between AKP and PKS yield in terms of populisms the respective parties employed?

Vedi Hadiz: It’s evident in Turkish elections that the AKP consistently emerges victorious, while the PKS tends to suffer defeats, including in its support for presidential candidates. This underscores what I mentioned earlier: Islamic populism in Indonesia, although present, has not developed to the extent seen in Turkey. Consequently, it relies on alliances and compromises to exert influence, yet remains largely outside the core of power. However, this doesn’t mean it lacks influence altogether. On the contrary, forces outside Islamic networks often adopt Islamic rhetoric preemptively, as seen in recent legislation incorporating moralistic concerns advocated by Islamists regarding sexual relations.

This preemptive adoption of Islamic rhetoric serves to preempt Islamist forces from using such issues to attack those in power. Yet, despite their electoral losses, the mainstreaming of their ideas contributes to the illiberalism of Indonesian democracy. This is because many of these ideas lean towards the illiberal end of the spectrum, further shaping the political landscape even in their absence from power.

Alright. And the lastly, Professor, how does the phenomenon of Islamist populism in Indonesia compare and contrast with similar movements in other Muslim-majority countries, and what insights can be drawn from these comparative analyses? What are the similarities and differences especially between Islamist populism in Indonesia and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region?

Vedi Hadiz: These phenomena have a long historical trajectory, traceable back to at least the early 20th century. However, in the past, they were dominated by older forms of populism, which have since evolved into more modern iterations. This trend is evident in the MENA region as well. For instance, in Egypt, supporters of the now-defunct Muslim Brotherhood included professionals such as doctors, engineers, and lawyers, marking a departure from the provincial figures of the 1950s. Similarly, in Turkey, Islamic populism encompasses a diverse range of individuals. While the social transformations brought about by capitalist development and globalization have impacted the MENA region in a similar manner, the specific histories and interactions with neoliberal globalization have resulted in distinct manifestations in each country.

In Turkey, Islamic populism has largely dominated both the state and a significant portion of civil society. In contrast, in Egypt, Islamic populism once held sway over civil society but failed to extend its influence on the state. In Indonesia, Islamic populism has thus far been unable to exert dominance over either the state or civil society.

Symposium

The Third Annual International Symposium on “The Future of Multilateralism Between Multipolarity and Populists in Power”

Virtual Symposium by European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS), Brussels/Belgium.

March 19-20, 2024


Click here to register!

 

Day I (March 19, 2024)

13:00–17:00 (Central European Time)

 

Opening Speech

Irina VON WIESE (Honorary President of the ECPS).

 

Keynote Speech

Moderator: Dr. Simon P. WATMOUGH (Non-Resident Fellow in the Authoritarianism Research Program at ECPS).

“The Implications of Rising Multipolarity for Authoritarian Populist Governance, Multilateralism, and the Nature of New Globalization,” by Dr. Barrie AXFORD (Professor Emeritus in Politics, Centre for Global Politics Economy and Society (GPES), School of Social Sciences and Law, Oxford Brookes University).

 

Panel -I-

Interactions Between Multilateralism, Multi-Order World, and Populism

14:00-15:30 (Central European Time)

Moderator: Dr. Albena AZMANOVA (Professor, Chair in Political and Social Science, Department of Politics and International Relations and Brussels School of International Studies, University of Kent).

“Reimagining Global Economic Governance and the State of the Global Governance,” by Dr. Stewart PATRICK (Senior Fellow and Director, Global Order and Institutions Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace).

“The World System: Another Phase of Structural Deglobalization? A Comparative Perspective with the Former Episode of Deglobalization in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries,” by Dr. Chris CHASE-DUNN (Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for Research on World-Systems, University of California, Riverside).

“Multipolarity and a post-Ukraine War New World Order: The Rise of Populism,” by Dr. Viktor JAKUPEC (Hon. Professor of International Development, Faculty of Art and Education, Deakin University, Australia; Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences, Potsdam University, Germany).

 

Panel -II-

The Future of Democracy Between Resilience & Decline

15:30-17:00 (Central European Time)

Moderator: Dr. Nora FISHER-ONAR (Associate Professor of International Studies at the University of San Francisco).

“Global Trends for Democracy and Autocracy: On the Third Wave of Autocratization and the Cases of Democratic Reversals,” by Dr. Marina NORD (Postdoctoral Research Fellow at V-Dem Institute, University of Gothenburg).

“Resilience of Democracies Against the Authoritarian Populism,” by Dr. Kurt WEYLAND (Mike Hogg Professor in Liberal Arts, Department of Government University of Texas at Austin).

“The Impact of Populist Authoritarian Politics on the Future Course of Globalization, Economics, the Rule of Law and Human Rights,” by Dr. James BACCHUS (Distinguished Professor of Global Affairs; Director of the Center for Global Economic and Environmental Opportunity, School of Politics, Security, and International Affairs, University of Central Florida, Former Chairman of the WTO Appellate Body).

 

Day II (March 20, 2024)

13:00-17:30 (Central European Time)

 

Keynote Speech

“How Globalization, under Neoliberal Auspices, Has Stimulated Right-wing Populism and What Might Be Done to Arrest That Tendency?” by Dr. Robert KUTTNER (Meyer and Ida Kirstein Professor in Social Planning and Administration at Brandeis University’s Heller School, Co-Founder and Co-Editor of The American Prospect).

 

Panel -III-

Globalization in Transition

14:00-15:30 (Central European Time)

Moderator: Dr. Anna SHPAKOVSKAYA (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, China Research Analyst at Institute of East Asian Studies, Duisburg-Essen University).

“China’s Appeal to Populist Leaders: A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed,” by Dr. Steven R. DAVID (Professor of Political Science at The Johns Hopkins University).

“Belt and Road Initiative: China’s vision for globalization?” by Dr. Jinghan ZENG (Professor of China and International Studies at Lancaster University).

“Predicting the Nature of the Next Generation Globalization under China, Multipolarity, and Authoritarian Populism” by Humphrey HAWKSLEY (Author, Commentator and Broadcaster). 

Special Commentator Dr. Ho Tze Ern BENJAMIN (Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, Coordinator at the China Program, and International Relations Program).

 

Panel -IV-

Economic Implications of Rising Populism and Multipolarity

15:30-17:00 (Central European Time)

Moderator: Dr. Shabnam HOLLIDAY (Associate Professor in International Relations at the University of Plymouth).

“Demise of Multilateralism and Politicization of International Trade Relations and the Multilateral Trading System,” by Dr. Giorgio SACERDOTI (Professor of Law, Bocconi University; Former Chairman of the WTO Appellate Body).

“China Under Xi Jinping: Testing the Limits at a Time of Power Transition,” by Dr. Alicia GARCIA-HERRERO (Chief Economist for Asia Pacific at Natixis).

“From Populism to Authoritarianism: Unraveling the Process, Identifying Conditions, and Exploring Preventive Measures,” by Dr. Paul D. KENNY (Professor of Political Science at Australian Catholic University).

 

Closing Remarks

17:00-17:15 (Central European Time)

Dr. Cengiz AKTAR (Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Athens and ECPS Advisory Board Member).

 

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Brief Bios and Abstracts

Keynote Speech

The Implications of Rising Multipolarity for Authoritarian Populist Governance, Multilateralism, and the Nature of New Globalization

Dr. Barrie Axford is professor emeritus in political science at Oxford Brookes University (UK), where he was founding  Director of the Centre for Global Politics, Economy and Society (GPES) and Head of the Department of International Relations, Politics and Sociology (IRPOSO). He has been Visiting Professor/Fellow/Academic at the Universities of Genoa, California (Santa Barbara), Warwick and the Middle Eastern Technical University (METU), Ankara. He serves on the International Editorial Boards of the journals Globalizations and Telematics and Informatics and is Senior Research Associate at the consultancy Oxford XX1. He is Honorary President of the Global Studies Association (UK and Europe). His books include The Global System: Economics , Politics and Culture; New Media and Politics (with Richard Huggins); Theories of Globalization; The World-Making Power of New Media: Mere Connection? and Populism vs the New Globalization. His work has been translated into ten languages.
 
Abstract: What is it about the current phase of globalization that feeds and is fed by the populist zeitgeist? In what follows I will tie the discussion of populism to the changing character of globalization, sometimes called the “new” globalization, though that label does less than justice to the overlapping nature of historical globalizations. The “new” globalization is both a description of the de-centered and multi-polar constitution of globality today and a reflex to safeguard against the roils of an ever more connected and turbulent world. It is a reminder that globalization has always been a multidimensional and contradictory process, moving to no single constitutive logic, and historical variable. The new globalization is the context for the current populist surge and, in turn, that surge is testimony to its emergence as a serious political force, perhaps as an embedded global script. In the same context the much-rehearsed failures of multilateralism are set against a burgeoning multipolarity which are themselves expressions of the changing face of political modernity. 
 

Panel I: Interactions Between Multilateralism, Multi-Order World, and Populism

Moderator Dr. Albena Azmanova is Professor of Political and Social Science at the University of Kent and Honorary Fellow at the Institute for Global Sustainable Development, University of Warwick, and Senior Fellow at OSUN Economic Democracy Initiative, Bard College. In her latest book,Capitalism on Edge (Columbia University Press, 2020) she identifies ubiquitous precarity as the overarching social harm of our times that is at the root of the far-right insurgencies. The book has received numerous awards, among which is the Michael Harrington Award, with which the American Political Science Association “recognizes an outstanding book that demonstrates how scholarship can be used in the struggle for a better world.” Professor Azmanova has held academic positions at the New School for Social Research in New York, Sciences Po. Paris, Harvard University, the University of California Berkeley and the University of Kent’s Brussels School of International Studies. Her writing is animated by her political activism. She participated in the dissident movements that brought down the communist regime in her native Bulgaria in 1987-1990. She has worked as a policy advisor for a number of international organisations, most recently, as a member of the Independent Commission for Sustainable Equality to the European Parliament and as consultant to the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (see Azmanova, A and B. Howard, Binding the Guardian: On the European Commission’s Failure to Safeguard the Rule of Law [2021]). Professor Azmanova is co-founder and co-Editor in Chief of Emancipations: a Journal of Critical Social Analysis.
 

Multipolarity and a Post-Ukraine War New World Order: The Rise of Populism

Dr. Viktor Jakupec is Hon. Prof. of International Development, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University, Australia and Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences, Potsdam University, Germany. Throughout his academic career, he was affiliated with several universities in Australia, and as a consultant with international development agencies in MENA, Asian, Balkan, and the Asia-Pacific countries. His most recent publications are “Dynamics of the Ukraine War: Diplomatic Challenges and Geopolitical Uncertainties” (Springer 2024) and “Foreign Aid in a World in Crisis: Shifting Geopolitics in the Neoliberal Era” (co-authored with Max Kelly and John McKay, Routledge 2024). He holds a Dr. phil. From FU Hagen and Dr. phil. habil. from Giessen University.  

Abstract: This presentation explores the increased shifts away from liberal democratic governance towards multipolar populism. It is argued that people in the Global North are losing faith in liberal and neo-liberal governments and political parties. The voters in the Global North are increasingly turning to national populism and governments in the Global South perceive the geo-political and geo-economic global problems caused by the West.

Turning to the current most prevalent geo-political and geo-economic crisis, namely the Russo-Ukraine war as a catalyst for the shift towards populism, it is argued that much is going wrong for the Western Alliances. This includes the emergence of multipolar alliances in opposition to the USA-led alliances, such as BRICS Plus. Against this background, the discussion turns to the nexus of multipolarity and populism. Concurrently, the surge of populism, driven by diverse socio-political factors, has reshaped both domestic politics and multipolarity. Examining the convergence of these forces unveils the complexities in navigating a post-Ukraine War New World Order, presenting both challenges and opportunities for the global community.

Panel II: The Future of Democracy Between Resilience & Decline

Moderator Nora Fisher-Onar is Associate Professor of International Studies at the University of San Francisco and academic coordintor of Middle East Studies. Her research interests include the theory and practice of international relations, comparative politics (Middle East, Europe, Eurasia), foreign policy analysis, political ideologies, gender and history/memory. She is author of Contesting Pluralism(s): Islamism, Liberalism and Nationalism in Turkey (Cambridge University Press, in-press) and lead editor of Istanbul: Living with Difference in a Global City (Rutgers University Press, 2018 with Susan Pearce and E. Fuat Keyman). She has published extensively in scholarly journals like the Journal of Common Market Studies (JCMS), Conflict and Cooperation, Millennium, Theory and Society, Qualitative and Multi-Method Research, Women’s Studies International Forum, and Middle East Studies. Fisher-Onar also contributes policy commentary to fora like Foreign Affairs, the Guardian, OpenDemocracy, and the Washington Post (Monkey Cage blog), as well as for bodies like Brookings, Carnegie, and the German Marshall Fund (GMF). At the GMF, she has served as a Ronald Asmus Fellow, Transatlantic Academy Fellow, and Non-Residential Fellow.

Global Trends for Democracy and Autocracy: On the Third Wave of Autocratization and the Cases of Democratic Reversals

Dr. Marina Nord is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the V-Dem Institute and one of the authors of the Democracy Reports published by the V-Dem Institute. Her research interests cover a broad range of areas pertaining to autocratization / democratic backsliding and democratization processes, with special focus on economic sources of regime (in)stability. She holds a PhD in Political Economy (Hertie School, Berlin), has worked on a number of research projects related to democratic backsliding and economic governance, and is passionate about bridging the gap between academic research and policy domains.

Abstract: This talk will discuss the latest trends for democracy and autocracy in the world and across regions based on the most recent Democracy Report from the V-Dem Institute. Among other things, the speaker will show that 42 countries of the world are now affected by the ongoing wave of autocratization; the level of democracy enjoyed by the average global citizen is down to 1985-levels; less than 30% of people worldwide are now governed democratically; and that autocratization often continues after democratic breakdowns taking countries further into more harsh dictatorships. Rising polarization and disinformation, growing threats on freedom of expression and civil liberties, coupled with shifting balance of economic power make for a worrying picture. At the same time, the speaker will show that historically, almost half of all episodes of autocratization have been eventually turned around. The estimate increases to 70% when focusing on the last 30 years. The vast majority of successful cases of re- democratization eventually lead to restored or even improved levels of democracy. The speaker will also present some important elements uniting the most recent cases of democratic resilience and discuss how they could be critical in stopping and reversing contemporary autocratization.

Resilience of Democracies Against the Authoritarian Populism

Dr. Kurt Weyland is Mike Hogg Professor in Liberal Arts, Department of Government, University of Texas at Austin since September 2014. Professor Weyland’s research interests focus on democratization and authoritarian rule, on social policy and policy diffusion, and on populism in Latin America and Europe. He has drawn on a range of theoretical and methodological approaches, including insights from cognitive psychology, and has done extensive field research in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Peru, and Venezuela. After receiving a Staatsexamen from Johannes-Gutenberg Universitat Mainz in 1984, a M.A. from UT in 1986, and a Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1991, he taught for ten years at Vanderbilt University and joined UT in 2001. He has received research support from the SSRC and NEH and was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC, in 1999/2000 and at the Kellogg Institute, University of Notre Dame, in 2004/05. From 2001 to 2004, he served as Associate Editor of theLatin American Research Review. He is the author of Democracy without Equity: Failures of Reform in Brazil (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996), The Politics of Market Reform in Fragile Democracies: Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela (Princeton University Press, 2002), Bounded Rationality and Policy Diffusion: Social Sector Reform in Latin America (Princeton University Press, 2007), several book chapters, and many articles in journals such as World Politics, Comparative Politics, Comparative Political Studies, Latin American Research Review, International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Democracy, Foreign Affairs, and Political Research Quarterly. He has also (co-edited two volumes, namely Learning from Foreign Models in Latin American Policy Reform (Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2004) and, together with Wendy Hunter and Raul Madrid, Leftist Governments in Latin America: Successes and Shortcomings(Cambridge University Press, 2010). His latest book, Making Waves: Democratic Contention in Europe and Latin America since the Revolutions of 1848, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2014.

Abstract: After Trump’s election, many observers depicted populism as a grave threat to democracy. Yet my systematic comparative analysis of thirty populist chief executives in Latin America and Europe over the last four decades shows that democracy usually proves resilient. With their power hunger, populist leaders manage to destroy democracy only under special restrictive conditions, when distinct institutional weaknesses and exceptional conjunctural opportunities coincide. Specifically, left-wing populists can suffocate democracy only when benefitting from huge revenue windfalls, whereas right-wing populists must perform the heroic feat of resolving acute, severe crises. Because many populist chief executives do not face these propitious conditions, they fail to suffocate democracy; indeed, their haphazard governance often leads to their own premature eviction or electoral defeat. Given their institutional strength and their immunity to crises and windfalls, the advanced industrialized countries can withstand populism’s threat; even a second Trump administration is exceedingly unlikely to asphyxiate democracy.

Keynote Speech

How Globalization, under Neoliberal Auspices, Has Stimulated Right-wing Populism and What Might Be Done to Arrest That Tendency?

Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect magazine and Meyer and Ida Kirstein Professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School. He was a longtime columnist for Business Week, the Boston Globe, and the Washington Postsyndicate. He was a co-founder of the Economic Policy Institute and serves on its board and executive committee. 
 
Kuttner is author of thirteen books, most recently his 2022 book, Going Big: FDR’s Legacy, Biden’s New Deal, and the Struggle to Save DemocracyHis other books include Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?(2018) and the 2008 New York Times bestseller, Obama’s Challenge: American’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency. His best-known earlier book is Everything for Sale: the Virtues and Limits of Markets (1997), which received a page one review in the New York Times Book Review.
 
His magazine and journal writing, covering the interplay of economics and politics, has appeared in The Atlantic, Harpers, The New Republic, New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine and Book Review, New York Magazine, Mother Jones, Foreign Affairs, New Statesman, Political Science Quarterly, Columbia Journalism Review, Harvard Business Review, and Challenge.

Kuttner has contributed major articles to The New England Journal of Medicine as a national policy correspondent.  His previous positions have included national staff writer on The Washington Post, chief investigator of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, executive director of the National Commission on Neighborhoods, and economics editor of The New Republic.

He is the winner of the Sidney Hillman Journalism Award (twice), the John Hancock Award for Financial Writing, the Jack London Award for Labor Writing, and the Paul Hoffman Award of the United Nations for his lifetime work on economic efficiency and social justice. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, Woodrow Wilson Fellow, Demos Fellow, Radcliffe Public Policy Fellow, German Marshall Fund Fellow, Wayne Morse Fellow and John F. Kennedy Fellow.

Robert Kuttner was educated at Oberlin College, The London School of Economics, and the University of California at Berkeley. He holds honorary doctorates from Oberlin and Swarthmore. He has also taught at Boston University, the University of Oregon, University of Massachusetts, and Harvard’s Institute of Politics.  He lives in Boston with his wife, Northeastern University Professor Joan Fitzgerald.

Panel III: Globalization in Transition

Moderator Dr. Anna Shpakovskaya is Associate Researcher at the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of Duisburg-Essen. Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, she spent ten years in Shanghai and the last 14 years in Duisburg. After receiving her PhD in Political Science with Focus on China in 2017, Anna has worked as China Analyst on several international research projects in Germany. She was an Associate Professor at Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main in 2020-2021. Anna also gives regular lectures at Université Paris-Est Créteil in France.

China’s Appeal to Populist Leaders: A Friend in Need is A Friend Indeed

Dr. Steven R. David is a Professor of Political Science and International Relations at The Johns Hopkins University whose work focuses on security studies, the politics of the developing world, American foreign policy, and turmoil in the Middle East. David’s scholarship emphasizes the impact of internal politics on foreign policy, particularly among developing countries. David introduced the theory of “omnibalancing,” which asserted that to understand the foreign policies of developing countries it was necessary not only to consider external threats to the state, but also internal challenges to regime survival.

Abstract:China is aggressively courting populist leaders throughout the world in an effort to spread its influence and rewrite the rules of the Liberal International Order. The theory of omnibalancing does much to explain the tools China employs in this endeavor and explains why it may succeed. Omnibalancing argues that leaders pursue policies to advance their personal interest (and not the national interest) and their most important interest in remaining in power. This is especially the case for populist leaders whose fall from power my also result in imprisonment or death. As such, these leaders will turn to the outside country who is has the will and capacity to keep them in office. Since most of the threats these leaders face are internal, they will align with the state that can best protect them from the domestic threats (coups, revolutions, insurgencies, mass protests, assassinations) they face. China’s toolkit of digital surveillance technologies, indifference to corruption, and sheer economic power makes it increasingly the partner of choice. At the same time, China has significant weaknesses in attracting clients including resentment over exploitative labor practices, undercutting of local businesses, and racism. In order to wean countries away from China’s embrace, the West should not compromise its principles by backing populist leaders, but instead exploit China’s shortcomings while presenting a more attractive model for the citizenry of states under populist rule. Over time, China’s attraction will wane, populist leaders will lose their appeal, and the West will emerge as the patron of choice.

Predicting the Nature of the Next Generation Globalization under China, Multipolarity, and Authoritarian Populism

Humphrey Hawksley is an author, commentator and broadcaster, former BBC Beijing Bureau Chief and Asia Correspondent. He is Editorial Director of Asian Affairs and host to the monthly Democracy Forum debates. His latest non-fiction book is ‘Asian Waters: The Struggle over the Indo-Pacific and the Challenge to American Power.’ His current Rake Ozenna thriller series is based in the Arctic which he believes is an unfolding theatre of conflict. His earlier works include the ‘Dragon Strike’ future history series based in the Indo-Pacific, and ‘Democracy Kills: What’s So Good About Having the Vote’ which tied in with his television documentary, ‘Danger: Democracy at Work’ examining wider lessons to be drawn from the Iraq intervention. His television and other documentaries include ‘The Curse of Gold and Bitter Sweet’ examining human rights abuse in global trade; ‘Aid Under Scrutiny’ on the failures of international development. His work has appeared in The Guardian,The TimesThe Financial TimesThe New York Times and Nikkei Asia, amongst others.

Abstract: Humphrey Hawksley will argue that the Indo-Pacific lies at the cross-roads between what the West categorises as autocracy and democracy.  Unlike in North America and Europe, the Indo-Pacific is not united by any one political system or culture. Polarising definitions, therefore are unhelpful. There needs to be change of mindset in the West, an understanding of what drives the vision of a China-influenced Indo-Pacific.

 

Panel IV: Economic Implications of Rising Populism and Multipolarity

Moderator Dr. Shabnam Holliday is Associate Professor in International Relations at the University of Plymouth. She completed her PhD on Iranian national identity discourses (2008) at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter. Her publications include Defining Iran: Politics of Resistance (Routledge, 2011) and ‘Populism, the International and Methodological Nationalism: Global Order and the Iran–Israel Nexus’, Political Studies, 2020. She is the co-editor (with Philip Leech) of Political Identities and Popular Uprisings in the Middle East (Rowman and Littlefield International, 2016).

Demise of Multilateralism and Politicization of International Trade Relations and the Multilateral Trading System

Dr. Giorgio Sacerdoti is emeritus professor at Bocconi University where he was professor of International Law and European Law (J. Monnet Chair 2004) from 1986 to 2017, focusing on the law of international economic relations, trade and investment, international contracts and arbitration, on which subjects he has published extensively.  He was a Member of the WTO Appellate Body from 2001 to 2009 and its chairman in 2006-2007. He is on the ICSID Roster of arbitrators and has served frequently as an arbitrator in commercial and investment disputes under BITS and the ECT.

Abstract: In recent years one of the basic tenets of the multilateral trading system established after WWII by the GATT in 1947, confirmed and reinforced by the WTO in 1995, has been threatened by unilateral actions of several of the main State actors, a sign of mounting geopolitical tensions in a multipolar world. That tenet was the ‘depoliticization’ of trade relations (and, similarly, of investments) in the interest of the development of international trade based on cooperation, non-discrimination, reduction of border barriers, fair competition, and consumers’ benefits, with the ultimate aim to reinforce friendly relations beyond borders.

This liberal approach does not exclude the recognition in the GATT/ WTO system of grounds for unilateral control of trade flows in the interest of economic and non-economic national interests, such as through safeguard measures and recourse to exceptions under Article XX GATT for the protection of non-trade values (morality, human health, environment, exhaustible resources), or in case of international emergencies (Article XXI GATT). Recourse to those actions and countermeasures are, however, in case of abuse subject to impartial rule-based evaluation by the WTO dispute settlement system.

Recently, we have witnessed instead a host of unilateral trade-restrictive measure, both at the micro (enterprise) or at macro (sectoral) levels invoking political commercial and non-commercial (security) reasons, introduction of national industrial policies based on subsidies aiming at protecting national industries well beyond the GATT rules. This has destabilized multi-country supply chains and hampered international economic cooperation. Affected countries have in turn reacted with countermeasures in the form of further restrictions. Basic positive aspects of globalization and multilateralism have been under attack, possibly beyond the intent of the individual actors involved.

An increased attention by States to domestic needs is unavoidable and should not be opposed per se nor labeled protectionism or the poisoned fruit of populism. Attention to protecting employment, ensuring national control of the economy through industrial policies, preserving local manufacturing capability (such as in facing pandemics, a situation that has made this tendency more evident) incapsulates, in any case, the current mood towards deglobalization.

This does not require, however, disregarding existing obligations and commitments, paralyzing global institutions such as the WTO, and brushing away the broader imperative of international cooperation in an interdependent world, lest long-term economic ties, beneficial for all, be seriously disrupted. This is exactly what has happened since 2018 due to  policies putting national political objectives first (such as MAGA, workers-centered trade policy, strategic autonomy). This has lead to increased fragmentation of trade relations and supply chains (near- and re-shoring, self-reliance) with dubious benefits to national and global welfare and development.

China Under Xi Jinping: Testing the Limits at a Time of Power Transition

Dr. Alicia García Herrero is Chief Economist for Asia-Pacific, NATIXIS, und Senior Fellow, Bruegel, Hong Kong. She also serves as Senior Fellow at the Brussels-based European think-tank BRUEGEL and a non-resident Senior Follow at the East Asian Institute (EAI) of the National University Singapore (NUS). Alicia is also Adjunct Professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Finally, Alicia is a Member of the Council of Advisors on Economic Affairs to the Spanish Government and an advisor to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s research arm (HKIMR) among other advisory and teaching positions.

In previous years, Alicia held the following positions: Chief Economist for Emerging Markets at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA), Member of the Asian Research Program at the Bank of International Settlements (BIS), Head of the International Economy Division of the Bank of Spain, Member of the Counsel to the Executive Board of the European Central Bank, Head of Emerging Economies at the Research Department at Banco Santander, and Economist at the International Monetary Fund. As regards her academic career, Alicia has served as visiting Professor at John Hopkins University (SAIS program), China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) and Carlos III University.

Abtsract: For long we have been discussing the increasingly strong strategic competition between the US and China but cracks in both regimes, as well as the rise of India, have pushed the boundaries towards multilateralism.  At the same time, growing populism is pushing leaders of middle powers to become more independent instead of relying on the two hegemons. This also means that populism is pushing us away from a cold war towards fragmentation of our economic system. How fragmented trade and investment will become with a multipolar world is still to early to tell.

Closing Remarks

Dr. Cengiz Aktar is an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Athens. He is a former director at the United Nations specializing in asylum policies. He is known to be one of the leading advocates of Turkey’s integration into the EU. He was the Chair of European Studies at Bahçeşehir University-Istanbul.

In 1999, he initiated a civil initiative for Istanbul’s candidacy for the title of European Capital of Culture. Istanbul successfully held the title in 2010. He also headed the initiative called “European Movement 2002” which pressured lawmakers to speed up political reforms necessary to begin the negotiation phase with the EU. In December 2008, he developed the idea of an online apology campaign addressed to Armenians and supported by a number of Turkish intellectuals as well as over 32,000 Turkish citizens.

In addition to EU integration policies, Dr. Aktar’s research focuses on the politics of memory regarding ethnic and religious minorities, the history of political centralism, and international refugee law.

Samina Yasmeen

Professor Yasmeen: Radical Islamists and Islamist Populists Employ Similar Tactics, Albeit with Different Objectives

Drawing a comparison between radical Islamism and Islamist populism, Professor Samina Yasmeen emphasized the parallel communication styles utilized by both radical and populist Islamists, highlighting their reliance on simplicity and Islamic references to connect with the populace. However, she pointed out that while radical Islamists aim for a fundamental alteration of the state, populist Islamists, exemplified by figures such as Imran Khan, prioritize the establishment of a “well-governed state.”

Interview by Selcuk Gultasli

In an exclusive interview with the European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS), Professor Samina Yasmeen, the Director of the Centre for Muslim States and Societies at the University of Western Australia, delves into the complex landscape of Pakistani politics, exploring the roots of populism and its intersection with Islamism. 

While a coalition consisting of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has agreed to form the next government of Pakistan, thereby preventing the party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan from assuming power despite garnering the most votes in the election, Professor Yasmeen has pointed out that populist Islamism shares certain techniques with radical Islamism in many respects. When asked to differentiate between radical Islamism and Islamist populism, Professor Yasmeen highlighted the parallel communication styles employed by radical and populist Islamists, underscoring their use of simplicity and Islamic references to resonate with the populace. According to her, while radical Islamists seek a fundamental alteration of the state, populist Islamists, exemplified by figures such as Imran Khan, prioritize the establishment of a well-governed state.

Professor Yasmeen begins by shedding light on the historical antecedence and foundational underpinnings of populism in Pakistan, emphasizing the significant influence of the public’s inclination towards charismatic personalities. She attributes the prevalence of populism to the prevailing low level of literacy, creating a susceptibility to external influences and reinforcing the importance of oral transmission in shaping political narratives.

Drawing on historical examples, particularly the emergence of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party in the 1960s, Yasmeen underscores the role of illiteracy and emotional connections in fueling populist movements. She then transitions to the contemporary political landscape, highlighting the disillusionment of a population that feels unheard and a deep connection between populist leaders like Imran Khan and the public.

The interview further delves into the strategies employed by Islamist parties to resonate with the public, with a particular focus on Imran Khan’s use of religious narratives and references. Yasmeen explores the influence of Imran Khan’s populist agenda on elections and his unprecedented success without military backing, analyzing the impact of his narrative on public sentiment.

Discussing the challenges posed by Islamist populism to democratic values, Professor Yasmeen raises concerns about the potential for closed-mindedness and a lack of critical thinking among supporters. She highlights the importance of guiding populist appeal towards constructive messages and fostering a genuine democratic spirit to ensure long-term stability.

Finally, the interview touches on the impact of Islamist populism on the rights and representation of religious minorities in Pakistan. Professor Yasmeen acknowledges the indirect consequences of Islamization, contributing to an atmosphere that may alienate minority communities. She emphasizes the need for a nuanced understanding of the complex relationship between Islamization, democracy, and minority rights.

In addressing the external influence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s anti-Islam stance on Islamist populism in Pakistan, Professor Yasmeen notes the shaping of negative perceptions about India’s Hindu-centric policies but emphasizes the overarching focus on internal challenges within Pakistan.

Throughout the interview, Professor Samina Yasmeen provides a comprehensive analysis of the intricate interplay between populism, Islamism, and democratic values in the context of Pakistani politics, offering valuable insights into the historical, contemporary, and geopolitical dimensions of these complex dynamics.

Here is the transcription of the interview with Professor Samina Yasmeen with some edits.

ECPS-MGP9

Civilizational Populism and Religious Authoritarianism in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives

Please cite as:

Nguijoi, Gabriel Cyrille & Sithole, Neo. (2024). Civilizational Populism and Religious Authoritarianism in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS). February 15, 2024. https://doi.org/10.55271/rp0051                    

 

This brief report provides a summary of the 9th event in ECPS’s monthly Mapping Global Populism panel series, titled “Civilizational Populism and Religious Authoritarianism in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives,” which was held online on January 25, 2024. Dr. Syaza Shukri moderated the panel, featuring insights from four distinguished scholars specializing in populism from the aforementioned countries.

Report by Dr. Gabriel Cyrille Nguijoi & Neo Sithole 

This report gives a summary of the 9th session of the ECPS’s monthly Mapping Global Populism panel series titled “Civilizational Populism and Religious Authoritarianism in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives,” which took place online on January 25, 2024. Moderated by Dr. Syaza Shukri, Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia, the panel featured speakers by Mr. Bobby Hajjaj, Department of Management, North South University, Bangladesh, Dr. Maidul Islam, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, Dr. Rajni Gamage, Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), National University of Singapore, and Dr. Mosmi Bhim, Assistant Professor at Fiji National University.


In her opening speech, Dr. Syaza Shukri provided an overview of populism and authoritarianism in the three South Asian countries under discussion. She emphasized that civilizational populism and religious authoritarianism have become entrenched as a societal process shaping the contemporary geopolitical landscape of the Indian subcontinent. According to her, this phenomenon represents a convergence of populist parties through languages, civilizational narratives, and religious identity.

Dr. Shukri highlights a significant observation: an examination of these three countries suggests similar populist economic statuses and rationales for the effectiveness of civilizational populism and religious authoritarianism. These phenomena are not only domestic political strategies but also significant instruments for regional stability and international relations. This reality is evident in Bangladesh, where the narratives of conservative Islamic elements have at times dominated constitutional obligations and assumed political control.

Dr. Shukri further specifies that the political landscape in Sri Lanka has been characterized by the cultivation of national sentiments, which have exerted significant influence on the government and often resulted in different policies, violent conflicts, civil wars, and communal clashes. Nationalist groups sometimes redefine national identity and frequently marginalize minority groups such as the Tamils, Veddas, and Muslims. This has led to an increase in conservative religious norms, tensions between economic liberalism and religious conservatism, and conflicts between global connectivity and local religious political dynamics.

Bobby Hajjaj: “Islamic Extremism, Populism and Formation of National Identity in Bangladesh”

Bobby Hajjaj highlights the growing possibility of an Islamist populist movement gaining ground in Bangladesh, albeit slowly. Some see this as the sole alternative to Bangladeshi authoritarianism. Nevertheless, many others remain skeptical due to the lack of comprehensive governance and associated agendas within Islamist populism.

As the first speaker of the panel, Bobby Hajjaj’s discussion emphasizes the reasons and nature of national identity formation in Bangladesh, specifically how and why it has been constructed as we perceive it today. Hajjaj began his introduction with a brief overview of the populist configuration in Bangladesh.

For Hajjaj, two main ideas prevail in the construction of this identity, significantly influencing the development of populist movements over the last sixty years in the country. The first is language-based (Bengali), and the second is religious-based (Bangladeshi). Language serves as the foundational element that gave rise to Bangladesh as a nation. However, over the last fifteen years, there has been the emergence of a new kind of populist movement with a significant opposition base: religious extremism. Meanwhile, religious extremism has been influenced by two important elements, both within and outside the mainstream political agenda. Different perceptions and reasons are discussed to illustrate how things are viewed in a certain way in the literature, structured around institutions, historical context, and international developments.

The nature and creation of institutions play a significant role in the development of populist movements in Bangladesh. Institutions often function as top-down mechanisms, reflecting the country’s status as a patrimonial state, which in turn shapes these institutions.

Historically, the Muslim identity in Bangladesh has undergone various transformations over the last sixty years. Initially, there was a Muslim Bengali identity that was portrayed as a cultural identity in the country. The rise of the Bangladesh Liberation Movement also fostered the development of a cultural identity based on Bengali, creating a void where legislative elements were required. 

However, since 1977, the new leadership under President Ziaur Rahman attempted to introduce a new form of Islamic nationalism. This occurred during the Cold War era when ideological expansionism was favored. Consequently, Salafist Islamism began to emerge as a significant element in the country, coinciding with a large-scale migration from Bangladesh to the Middle East. This migration contributed to the dissemination of conservative Salafist ideas among Bangladeshis abroad, leading to the rise of conservative Islamism, or political Islamism. Many of these ideas were propagated through the leadership of political parties, resulting in the formation of identity narratives such as “us” versus “them.”

These developments also played a crucial role in the emergence of Islamic extremism in Bangladesh, particularly originating from the middle-class and upper-middle-class families with non-Aliya Madrassa education. These factors significantly influenced identity formation and facilitated the proliferation of radicalized ideas. The interplay of historical and global developments has influenced perceptions of Islamism and extremism, shaping the idea of national identity.

Hajjaj also underscores the polarization of national identities instigated by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the primary opposition party that championed the idea of nationalism and began distancing itself from Islamist parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami. The rise of Bangladeshi authoritarianism has influenced the level of acceptance of Islamism within society today. However, there is a growing compassion for Islamist parties observed. One significant issue is that Islamic parties lack a comprehensive political agenda; instead, they focus on narrow and specific Islamic agendas. Therefore, the emergence of a significant Islamic political movement in Bangladesh poses a challenge for future governments, particularly regarding how the Bangladesh Awami League is creating an authoritarian space. Over the last three consecutive national elections, held every five years, there has been a desire among the populace for a populist movement to challenge the Awami League’s grip on power. This sentiment intensified in the last six months of 2023, with attempts at populist movements seeking to distance themselves from religious political parties, which the BNP attempted but failed to achieve. This failure could be interpreted as a setback for non-Islamist parties, especially considering the secular agenda being promoted in certain areas, such as education policy, by the Bangladesh Awami League. These dynamics are influenced by the global scenario, particularly with the marginalized status of Muslims in Palestine and incidents such as the demolition of a Babri Masjid to build a new Hindu temple in India.

In conclusion, Bobby Hajjaj noted that these factors collectively contribute to the increasing likelihood of an Islamist populist movement gaining traction in Bangladesh, albeit gradually. Some view this as the only alternative to Bangladeshi authoritarianism. However, many others remain skeptical as Islamist populism lacks comprehensive governance and related agendas.

Dr. Maidul Islam: “Religious Extremism and Islamic Populism in Contemporary Bangladesh”

Dr. Maidul Islam reflected on recent developments of Islamic populism in Bangladesh’s political landscape and pondered the future trajectory of Islamist populism in the country. He noted that it remains largely a historical remnant, sporadically manifesting in mobilizations. Currently, there isn’t substantial resonance or favorable response to such surging Islamic populism in Bangladesh.

The second speaker on the panel, Dr. Maidul Islam, took a transversal approach, examining the historical dynamics of Religious Extremism (RE) and Islamist Populism (IP) in Bangladesh. His presentation began with a definition of the two concepts under discussion: RE and IP.

Religious Extremism, as he defines it, involves the use or manipulation of religious sentiments to incite individuals to commit violent acts. It encompasses a range of behaviors, including targeted attacks on religious minorities, persecution of sexual minorities, and involvement in outright terrorist activities. Islamist Populism, on the other hand, represents a peaceful approach to political mobilization within diverse segments of the Muslim population. It leverages the symbolic language of Islam against secular nationalist governments in Muslim-majority countries. This movement frequently participates in democratic elections, mirroring Religious Extremism within the Muslim world.

Dr. Islam highlighted a resurgence of extremist groups such as the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) in contemporary Bangladesh. These organizations operate as religious extremist entities. The presentation underscored the roots of the Islamic Extremism crisis in Bangladesh, which began with the 1960s elections and evolved into a new form of terrorism by 1985, during General Hussain Muhammad Ershad’s dictatorship. Dr. Islam provided statistical insights into the dynamics of Religious Extremism in the country. Notably, the peak periods of RE occurred in the 1990s and between 2013 and 2016. The presentation revealed that Bangladesh witnessed a total of 743 terror-related incidents between 1971 and 2020, attributed to both religious extremist and non-religious extremist entities.

In 1996, the reported number of terrorist incidents was 150, marking a significant increase from 22 incidents in 1990 and 161 in 1996. The trend showed a gradual rise from 42 incidents in 1991 to 71 in 1992, 68 in 1994, and 74 in 1995. The escalation of terrorist activities coincided with the emergence of Islamist populist groups like the Army league, which came into power the same year.

From 1997 to 2012, Religious Extremism activities in Bangladesh remained below 50 per year. However, starting from 2013, these activities began to rise again, reaching 138 incidents in 2013 and 130 in 2014. The peak was observed in 2015, with 479 recorded incidents, the highest in the country’s history. This period coincided with the trial of several Islamic leaders by the International Crimes Tribunal. Subsequently, from 2016 onwards, the incidence of RE started to decline, with 89 incidents in 2016. Since 2017, the number has consistently been below 50 per year, with 41 incidents in 2017, 26 in 2018, 32 in 2019, and 30 in 2020.

Furthermore, Dr. Islam highlighted that the dominance of the Awami League party’s populist policies has posed challenges for political Islamist populist parties like the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami. He clarified that this circular approach of the Awami League should not be equated with the Western model of secularism, which advocates for a clear separation of religion and politics. In Bangladesh, negotiations between political and religious leaders are common, with religious leaders often resorting to religious symbols and accommodation while attempting to promote the principles of Islamic populism. However, such political struggles between Islamist and national populist forces are not unique to Bangladesh but are prevalent throughout the Muslim world. This historical struggle can be traced back to the 1975 elections, which led to the banning of Sheikh Mujib’s Single Party, considered the largest Islamic populist party in the country at that time. Subsequently, in the 1979 elections, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party emerged as a significant political player in the country.

In his conclusion, Dr. Islam reflected on recent developments of Islamic populism in Bangladesh’s political landscape and pondered the future trajectory of Islamist populism in the country. He noted that it remains largely a historical remnant, sporadically manifesting in mobilizations. Currently, there isn’t substantial resonance or favorable response to such surging Islamic populism in Bangladesh.

Dr. Rajni Gamage: “Civilizational Populism and Buddhist Nationalism in Sri Lankan”

Dr. Rajni Gamage, delved immediately into characterizing the concepts of populism and civilizational populism while seeking to contextualize the historical background and contemporary manifestations of Buddhist nationalism in Sri Lanka. She explored the intricacies of the Sinhala Buddhist nationalist discourse, which she identified as the primary vehicle for civilizational populism in the country. Within the Sri Lankan context, this discourse echoes the anti-colonial rhetoric commonly found in the Global South.

The discussion by the panel’s third speaker, Dr. Rajni Gamage, delved immediately into characterizing the concepts of populism and civilizational populism while seeking to contextualize the historical background and contemporary manifestations of Buddhist nationalism in Sri Lanka. Dr. Gamage noted that while populism is not a recent phenomenon, it has garnered increased attention due to its resurgence, particularly in Western democracies. This renewed focus is often attributed to economic disparities and perceived declines in national status, with leaders emerging from outside the political establishment and challenging democratic institutions.

First, Dr. Gamage’s presentation provided a recap of populism and civilizational populism, highlighting how populism mobilizes people around narratives of threat, often framing issues in an “us versus them” paradigm. Dr. Gamage also emphasized the trend of populist leaders coming to power by positioning themselves as ‘outsiders’ to the existing political order but then undermining democratic institutions once in power, leading to a weakening of democracy. Recent populist movements exhibit distinct features in how they frame themselves, typically focusing on economic inequalities and the erosion of democratic norms. These movements capitalize on anti-establishment sentiments and often target minority communities.

Similarly, civilizational populism extends the narrative to encompass perceived threats at a civilizational level, transcending national boundaries. This concept draws on historical discourses of imperialism and domination, particularly evident in post-colonial contexts. In countries like Sri Lanka, civilizational populism intertwines with anti-colonial sentiments, targeting Western values and minority groups. Dr. Gamage highlighted how the historical divide between the Global West and the Global South has contributed to a unique form of civilizational populism. In the Global South, the shared history of colonialism fuels a civilizational populist discourse infused with anti-colonial sentiments.

When discussing how civilizational populism is expressed in Sri Lanka, Dr. Gamage explored the intricacies of the Sinhala Buddhist nationalist discourse, which she identified as the primary vehicle for civilizational populism in the country. Within the Sri Lankan context, this discourse echoes the anti-colonial rhetoric commonly found in the Global South. Dr. Gamage provided an analysis of figures like Anagarika Dharmapala, illustrating how civilizational concepts are employed within Sri Lankan populist discourses. Dharmapala’s rhetoric challenged colonial narratives by portraying Western colonizers as “barbarians” and emphasizing the cyclical nature of history. His ideas laid the groundwork for Sinhala Buddhist nationalism in Sri Lanka, significantly shaping the country’s political landscape.

Dr. Mosmi Bhim: Will Rise of Religious Nationalism and Populism in the Maldives Lead to Another Authoritarian Reversal?”

Dr. Mosmi Bhim highlighted the characteristics of populism under President Abdulla Yameen, including anti-pluralism and illiberalism, which eroded democratic norms and institutions. Despite losing the 2018 elections to President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Yameen’s legacy of religious nationalism and authoritarianism continues to influence the political landscape in the Maldives.

In this final presentation, the audience were introduced to the presence of religious nationalism and populism in the Maldives. Dr. Mosmi Bhim began by providing a contextual overview, sharing a personal experience of visiting the Maldives in 2017. He highlighted the densely populated nature of the capital city, Male, and emphasized how urban density can contribute to political instability during contentious issues or elections. Dr. Bhim also discussed the Maldives’ transition from a Buddhist nation to an Islamic state, its historical reliance on fishing and tourism, and its colonial past under British protection.

During her field trip, Dr. Bhim navigated a delicate situation due to the authoritarian rule of President Abdulla Yameen at the time, emphasizing the risks associated with researching democracy in such an environment. These risks persist despite the Maldives gaining independence in 1965. According to her presentation, the Maldives did not experience democracy following the independence, with power concentrated in the hands of autocratic rulers until the introduction of multi-party elections in 2008.

Dr. Bhim’s presentation focused on the leadership of Presidents, beginning with Ibrahim Nasir, who invoked nationalism to gain independence from Britain, and President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who introduced political Islam and laid the groundwork for Islamic nationalism in the Maldives. Under Gayoom’s rule, there was a regression in women’s rights, a focus on re-Islamization, and the stifling of political dissent. Following was a section looking at President Abdulla Yameen, who continued the trend of religious populism and authoritarian rule, aligning himself with Islamic nationalism and forging closer ties with authoritarian regimes. Yameen’s government promoted religious intolerance and undermined democratic institutions, leading to widespread repression and human rights abuses.

Throughout, Dr. Bhim highlighted the characteristics of populism under President Yameen, including anti-pluralism and illiberalism, which eroded democratic norms and institutions. Despite losing the 2018 elections to President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Yameen’s legacy of religious nationalism and authoritarianism continues to influence the political landscape in the Maldives. President Solih, while initially signaling a commitment to democracy, has faced challenges from Islamic extremists and political opponents, leading to questions about the future of democracy in the Maldives. In wrapping up, Dr. Bhim discussed recent developments, including Solih’s India-out campaign and the ongoing tensions between religious nationalism and democratic governance.

ECPS-MEP-Video-Panel8

Mapping European Populism – Panel 8: Populism, Gender and Sexuality in Europe

Please cite as:

Guidotti, Andrea. (2024). Report on “Mapping European Populism – Panel 8: Populism, Gender and Sexuality in Europe.” European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS). February 15, 2024. https://doi.org/10.55271/rp0050           

 

This brief report offers a summary of the 8th event in ECPS’s monthly Mapping European Populism panel series, titled “Populism, Gender and Sexuality in Europe” which took place online on January 26, 2023. Professor Dr. Agnieszka Graff moderated the panel, featuring insights from four distinguished populism and gender scholars.

Report by Andrea Guidotti

This report provides a brief overview of the eighth event in ECPS’s monthly Mapping European Populism (MEP) panel series, titled “Populism, Gender and Sexuality in Europe” held online on January 26, 2023. Moderated by Dr.Agnieszka Graff, Professor at the American Studies Center, University of Warsaw, and a feminist activist, the panel featured speakers Dr.  Elżbieta Korolczuk, Associate Professor in Sociology at Södertörn University, Sweden, Dr. Eric Louis Russell, Professor in the Department of French & Italian and affiliated with the Program in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Davis, Nik Linders, PhD candidate at Radboud Social and Cultural Research for Gender & Diversity Studies, Dr. Pauline Cullen, Associate Professor in sociology at Center for European and Eurasian Studies, Maynooth University, Ireland.

Panel moderator Professor Agnieszka Graff began her speech with an overall assessment, choosing to define the word “gender” with two distinct meanings. Firstly, she explained its function in gender studies within the field of sociology. Secondly, she addressed the meaning that gained popularity following the rise of anti-gender campaigns across Europe, ascribed to the word by both right- and left-wing populist parties. Specifically, gender is portrayed as something unsettling, casting doubt on liberalism itself and warranting challenge. In essence, it represents excessive individualism, consumerism, and the erosion of communities due to declining fertility rates.

Professor Graff’s speech focused solely on the cultural repertoire amassed by anti-gender campaigns. According to Graff, this repertoire varies across different countries: Italian anti-gender imagery exudes chicness; Polish anti-gender repertoire leans towards raw, peasant-oriented themes; the French anti-gender narrative often incorporates references to the French Revolution. Despite these differences, there are resonances between these images, with recurring motifs such as dissolving families juxtaposed against images of united families often depicted in silhouette. Additionally, there are perverted image of people whose gender is ambiguous and threatening, along with disturbing portrayals of alienated and suffering children, sometimes represented by fetuses but more commonly as four or five-year-olds appearing terrified or even being depicted as for sale with barcodes attached. The underlying idea behind these images is to establish a link between gender equality, sexual rights, and the capitalist system, portrayed in its most menacing form. Consequently, anti-gender propaganda presents itself more as a cultural phenomenon rather than a collection of arguments. It operates in close alignment with populism on various fronts: one being the association of gender with elite versus ordinary people gender conservatism, and another in the economic dimension where both discursive and political-institutional connections come into play.

Professor Graff then presented three significant examples from European countries, each illustrating the collaboration between politicians and ultra-conservative organizations in targeting gender ideology to mobilize electorates. The first example is from Poland, where several local authorities staged protests in response to the mayor of Warsaw signing a declaration against discrimination towards sexual minorities. The second example comes from Spain, where Vox has collaborated with HazteOir, a conservative Catholic community founded by Ignasio Arsuaga. Together, they launched a campaign known as the ‘stop feminazis buses’, arguing that the issue pertains to domestic violence rather than gender violence specifically. The third example is from Hungary, where parliamentary elections coincided with a referendum on children’s education, gender identity, and sexuality. Citizens had to vote on whether to support the implementation of events concerning sexual orientation for minors in public education institutions without parental consent. The referendum aimed to legitimize Viktor Orban and his party as defenders of children. These examples demonstrate that populist actors strategically use anti-gender rhetoric with both long- and short-term objectives: the former to portray themselves as defenders of ordinary people adhering to traditional gender roles against perverse elites, and the latter to intensify campaign efforts to garner a larger share of votes.

The aim of the introductory speech is to not only inquire about the impact of gender on populists but also to explore the consequences when individuals label those parties, often referring to them as illiberal movements, using the concept of populism.

Dr. Elżbieta Korolczuk: “Explaining the Relation Between Populismand Gender in Europe”

The adoption of anti-gender rhetoric enables populist leaders to reinforce the core ideological principles of their rhetoric, thereby delineating boundaries between the ‘authentic traditional citizen’ and the ‘pervert deviant citizen.’ Sexuality is framed as a question of morality in a broader sense, allowing populists in power to depict elites (rather than themselves) as the ones demoralizing children and undermining the country’s integrity.

In her presentation, the first panelist, Dr. Elzbieta Korolczuk began by emphasizing that the rise of the anti-gender movement can be attributed to the alignment of far-right parties with populism, particularly their adept adoption or proposition of a populist version of anti-gender rhetoric. The objective of her speech was to explore the theoretical connection between populism and gender, highlighting the gaps in existing literature on this subject. These gaps stem from the predominant focus of analyses on either the supply or demand side. For instance, some scholars argue that gender is significant for the supply side, as the presence of a charismatic leader is often crucial in populist politics. However, exceptions like the case of the uncharismatic Polish populist leader Jarosław Kaczyński challenge this notion. On the demand side, women have been increasingly identified as more inclined to vote for right-wing populist parties in recent years.

Dr. Korolczuk suggests that the most insightful conceptualizations of the relationship between gender and populism are currently being proposed by scholars engaged in anti-genderism or anti-gender campaigns. Some propose viewing anti-gender rhetoric as a means to sanitize extreme discourses, while others advocate for an engendering approach, focusing on ethnic scandals, the gendered nature of social inequalities, or even the concept of gender colonization. Additionally, scholars discuss populism as a project of masculinist identity politics, underscoring the effectiveness of right-wing parties in identity politics compared to the left. 

Another perspective is to examine the common roots of populism and illiberal anti-gender mobilization in both their economic and cultural dimensions. These conceptualizations enable us to recognize similarities between different movements while also cautioning against oversimplifications, advocating for a dynamic and relational approach. In essence, the proposal articulated is not merely to explore how populism is ‘gendered’, but rather to examine the role of gender in shaping relationships and specific discursive structures employed by populist leaders. An important aspect here is also the organizational and financial dynamics of this relationship.

In summary, according to Dr. Korolczuk, the adoption of anti-gender rhetoric enables populist leaders to reinforce the core ideological principles of their rhetoric, thereby delineating boundaries between the ‘authentic traditional citizen’ and the ‘pervert deviant citizen.’ Sexuality is framed as a question of morality in a broader sense, allowing populists in power to depict elites (rather than themselves) as the ones demoralizing children and undermining the country’s integrity. In conclusion, these narratives enable populist leaders and parties to bridge the cultural and economic arenas, as seen in the cases of Hungary, Poland, and Sweden, positioning themselves as protectors of social welfare provisions for children.

Dr. Eric Louis Russell: “Language of Reaction: European Populist Radical Right and LGBTQA+ Rights”

Language should be perceived as a verb, existing in a dynamic manner rather than in the static form we typically envision. The concept involves examining what speakers accomplish when they ‘do’ language, as well as their actions when they ‘do’ ideology. The focus is on the linguistic and discursive output of actors as a manifestation of their actions. Various examples can illustrate this approach: a formal linguistic division based on in-group and out-group framing; a structural linguistic positioning, whether of a populist hero in relation to the ‘true people’ or of the ‘true people’ against others; semantic transitivity associated with an ‘allochthonous Other’; and relational or functional juxtapositions between the ‘true’ and ‘other.’

The panel’s second speaker, Dr. Eric Louis Russell, approached the topic from a slightly different angle, drawing on his background as a critical linguist and his research agenda focused on how language activity reflects Weltansichten, or cognitive contexts. Expanding on this, language should be perceived as a verb, existing in a dynamic manner rather than in the static form we typically envision. The concept involves examining what speakers accomplish when they ‘do’ language, as well as their actions when they ‘do’ ideology. The focus is on the linguistic and discursive output of actors as a manifestation of their actions. Various examples can illustrate this approach: a formal linguistic division based on in-group and out-group framing; a structural linguistic positioning, whether of a populist hero in relation to the ‘true people’ or of the ‘true people’ against others; semantic transitivity associated with an ‘allochthonous Other’; and relational or functional juxtapositions between the ‘true’ and ‘other.’

Regarding discourse, according to Dr. Russel, it can be viewed in various ways: as textual, oral, or multimodal; as the ‘bounded residue’ of language action in a specific domain; and as describable using linguistic methods. Based on this, certain core features of populist discourse can be distinguished: the representation of a ‘strong man’ as a savior; the reframing of modernity juxtaposed with the ‘allochthonous Other’; the portrayal of autochthonous people as under threat; a narrative of role reversal with victims depicted as victimizers, such as LGBTQ+ communities; and complex intersectionalities with hegemonic structures.

A final theoretical consideration is the phenomenon of enregisterment, the process by which a linguistic repertoire becomes associated, within a culture, with particular social practices and individuals engaging in those practices. In this sense, the populist linguistic repertoire serves to connect different cultural domains with various practices. The mechanism operates through the circulation of register, its clasp, relay, and grasp. In other words, it links to areas of social action, connects across different arenas, and ultimately implants into a new arena, often with superficial or contradictory meanings.

The first example presented pertains to Dewinter’s populism in Flemish Belgium and his discourse. The warranting principles rely on superficially pro-LGBTQ+ stances, while in reality being homophobic, thus reinscribing LGBTQ+ people as instruments of both populism and illiberalism. This represents a table-turning strategy, re-articulating them in a manner that can be perceived as homophobic. 

Another significant example is Poland, where discourse revolves around using gender to denote an ideologized ‘Other’ by the Law & Justice Party (PiS). The clasping of registers of nationalism and historical victimization is employed to rearticulate traditional discourse formations of sex, personhood, and belonging to the Polish nation. These example illustrates how populist discourse practices ultimately extend into various domains, portraying gender ideology as a threat to Polish existence.

A final example concerns Italy after the election of Georgia Meloni as Prime Minister, which sheds light on key elements of the linguistic landscape surrounding non-binarity and non-binary linguistic interventions in Italy. While the predominant populist reaction denies the potential expansion of identity beyond man/woman binaries, other reactions assert various mechanisms of representation through language. Here, the articulation of language is crucial, as it reflects both the actor’s ideational world and their material reality, including or excluding categories and possibilities.

Dr. Russell also provided some concluding remarks on the issue of futurity. Given the central role of language in populism, there should be greater focus on the ecological systems of meaning-making and how they can be disrupted, as well as on the pathways through which illiberalism hybridizes and grafts onto pre-existing meaning-making processes, and how these can be disrupted.

Nik Linders: “Gender & Sexuality in Dutch Populist Voter Profiles”

While it’s possible that populist leaders have influenced their voters with conservative ideas, the key point is that gender and sexuality may carry similar effective connotations as ideas of nationhood and citizenship. This highlights the interconnectedness of these concepts and their importance in shaping political attitudes and discourse.

As the third panelist, Nik Linders focused on examining the attitudes towards gender and sexuality among the Dutch popular radical right electorate, and how these attitudes intersect with other beliefs often associated with populist radical right politics. Pim Fortuyn, the first Dutch populist radical right politician to gain popularity, positioned himself as a gay politician, arguing that his sexual orientation uniquely qualified him for leadership and presenting a form of progressive radical right-wing populism. While his positions were primarily directed against immigration and Islam, they were also informed by the amalgamation of Dutch identity with what he termed ‘sexual modernity.’ His somewhat progressive stance and legacy on gender and sexuality continue to resonate in parts of the Dutch electorate and contemporary political parties.

Turning to the present and the 2021 elections, we observed three populist radical right parties with varying positions on gender and sexuality: PVV, FVD, and JA21. The PVV is the most progressive among them, consistently supportive of gay and lesbian rights as well as transgender rights, even outside discussions on Islam or immigration. FVD, on the other hand, is the most conservative on the topic, as evidenced by their sarcastic campaign slogan “how many genders do you have today?” However, they still publicly position themselves as pro-gay rights. As for JA21, while they do not explicitly address gender and sexuality, when they do, they appear to be more progressive than FVD.

The speaker discussed how these positions were correlated with the preferences of the Dutch electorate, utilizing nationally representative survey data from the Dutch parliamentary election study and employing latent class analysis. In his study, along with other colleagues, they identified different voter profiles within the populist radical right electorate. They selected respondents who not only claimed to have voted for these parties but also expressed the intention to do so.

The first item extracted from the dataset measures whether the respondent supports adoption by same-sex couples. The second item assesses support for sex change operations, while the third item examines whether the respondent believes there is something wrong with individuals who identify as neither man nor woman. These items serve as pivotal points in the Dutch public political debate and thus act as reliable proxies for gender and sexual preferences.

To complement these measures, according to Linders, other issues such as nativism, colonialism, nationalism, anti-Islamism, and anti-immigration were included. It’s important to note the distinctions between nativism and nationalism: while nationalism refers to the belief that anyone could theoretically assimilate into the national identity through adaptation to the idea of national hegemony, nativism specifically pertains to individuals born in the Dutch context, i.e., in the Netherlands to Dutch parents, who are considered the only ones legitimately entitled to become part of the citizenry.

Linders stated that the researchers identified five profiles of voters: gender-conservative; solely nativist; undecided or divided on gender; gender-moderate; and atypical for the populist radical right, yet gender-moderate. One key finding is that only 9% of the electorate consider voting for parties that are truly gender conservative. Despite some evidence of increasing sentiment in this direction, the majority of people still generally don’t feel threatened. Consequently, an important distinction between progressive and moderately progressive voters can be drawn on three levels.

First, there appears to be an overlap between conservative or orthodox religiosity (Christianity) and the more gender conservative outlook, as evidenced by the relatively higher popularity of the Dutch Orthodox party among the small gender conservative group.

Second, considering that 60% of the profiles are men, it’s notable that the most gender-progressive group consists of 55% women, while the most gender-conservative group is composed of approximately 73% men. This indicates that the anti-gender sentiment remains closely linked with an overrepresentation of men and masculinity.

Third, while all groups consistently exhibit highly nationalist conservative tendencies, only the truly conservative group and the group that is undecided or divided on gender and sexuality attitudes demonstrate ethno-nativist thinking. This suggests that individuals with gender-progressive values are placing less stringent demands on what nationality means to them, and that gender essentialism aligns with traditional ideas about the family and nativist notions about citizenship.

In conclusion, Linders offered an analysis of the relationship between anti-gender sentiment and populism. While it’s possible that populist leaders have influenced their voters with conservative ideas, the key point is that gender and sexuality may carry similar effective connotations as ideas of nationhood and citizenship. This highlights the interconnectedness of these concepts and their importance in shaping political attitudes and discourse.

Dr. Pauline Cullen: “Populism and the backlash against gender equality: Feminist responses to right-wing populism in Europe”

The resistance to gender equality, notably observed in extreme right opposition movements, thrives due to the neglect of gender equality goals by more centrist forces. There is also a concern about a radical flank effect, which allows those seeking cover to hinder progress on gender justice. Moreover, the professionalization of EU feminist civil society organizations, their adherence to certain aspects of EU discourse, and their reliance on EU funding opportunities pose additional risks. These factors can weaken feminist arguments for gender justice and their ability to oppose right-wing parties effectively.

As the final speaker, Dr. Pauline Cullen presented the findings of her paper published in the Journal of European Politics and Society. The central question addressed in the research was how the rise of populism has impacted political opportunities for civil society organizations in the European Union (EU). The study focused on feminist civil society organizations, specifically an urban women’s lobby with a transnational scope, funded by the EU and emblematic of European elite technocrats.

The main argument of the paper is that feminist opposition to anti-gender equality interests and ideas is complicated by the co-optation of constructions of gender justice by right-wing populists, along with the proximity between right-wing populist ideas and feminist critiques of economic governance based on austerity. The findings suggest that while feminist and pro-gender organizations work to counter right-wing populist grievances, they are still constrained by EU imperatives and weakened by multiple crises.

Furthermore, the study highlights that these grievances, along with the ideas, actors, and institutions behind them, benefit from the absence of a strong political commitment to gender equality at the European level, the neoliberal instrumentalization of gender equality, and the lack of tactics from the center-right flank.

From a sociological perspective, European integration can be viewed as a relational ecosystem comprising organized societal groups that often benefit from the financial opportunities provided by the European Commission. This enables these organizations to serve as agents of policy integration and disseminators of EU policy ideas. As a result, women’s and feminist civil society organizations have experienced a decline in influence, particularly in terms of access.

Conversely, populist forces have created a challenging environment for these organizations. Currently, we observe a more crowded and conservative landscape of right-wing competitors operating at the European level and exerting influence across European institutions.

In response to this evolving landscape, according to Dr. Cullen, these organizations have attempted to adapt, drawing on insights from the social movements literature. Strategies include adaptation, exit, abeyance, professionalism, radicalization, and the adoption of new managerial and communication techniques. Furthermore, there are emerging collaborative efforts to establish common frameworks and approaches while maintaining strategic differentiation based on the focus of each civil society group.

The challenge lies in avoiding the reinforcement of right-wing populist anti-feminist frames and staying focused on equality and democracy. This involves minimizing conflict, engaging in less visible front-stage actions, and emphasizing more informal and backstage initiatives, resulting in a general decrease in their formal presence.

Dr. Cullen’s paper also explores the dynamics of the relationship between feminism and populism at the national and regional levels. There is a growing recognition of a backlash narrative, acknowledging the long-term impact of these processes, which have become embedded in the institutional fabric, reinforcing social gender conservatism and nationalism. This perpetuates existing patriarchal power relations through the guise of seemingly reformist agendas.

Ultimately, European civil society groups face challenges when aligning with EU values that are often technocratic and insufficient for their broader scope and goals.

One notable aspect, Dr. Cullen said, is that both European feminist civil society groups and right-wing populist movements share a common critique of the European project, viewing it as undemocratic, disconnected from the realities of European women, and committed to austerity measures. The challenge for feminist organizations is to craft frames that acknowledge the limitations of EU integration for gender equality while avoiding alignment with right-wing populist narratives of Euroscepticism.

Merely employing tactics of vilification, debunking, and frame-saving may not always suffice, as they tend to construct adversaries in a negative light. The central argument suggests that by employing specific framing and counter-framing techniques aimed at depoliticizing gender equality, particularly as a European ideal, and portraying feminism as a project for the common good, it is possible to revitalize a stagnant policy context. This approach can be directed towards EU elites to highlight the link between illiberal threats to gender equality and broader threats to European democracies.

In other words, gender equality should serve as the battleground for shaping Europe’s future. By reframing the discourse and emphasizing the importance of gender equality in safeguarding European democracies, feminist organizations can contribute to a more inclusive and democratic European project.

Dr. Cullen’s conclusion highlights that the resistance to gender equality, notably observed in extreme right opposition movements, thrives due to the neglect of gender equality goals by more centrist forces. Additionally, there’s a concern about a radical flank effect, which allows those seeking cover to hinder progress on gender justice.

Moreover, the professionalization of EU feminist civil society organizations (CSOs), their adherence to certain aspects of EU discourse, and their reliance on EU funding opportunities pose additional risks. These factors can weaken feminist arguments for gender justice and their ability to oppose right-wing parties effectively.

Some current strategic developments include the emergence of “feminist Europe 2.0,” represented by organizations such as the European Institute for Gender Equality. Other strategies involve incorporating gender experts into policymaking, fostering feminist critical voices within EU and national institutions, disseminating feminist critiques through academia and research, and empowering and establishing feminist think tanks.

The KMT’s presidential candidate, Han Kuo-yu, held a momentum party about 350,000 people in the Triple Happiness Water Park in New Taipei City, Taiwan on September 8, 2019. Photo: Ricky Kuo.

Mapping Global Populism — Panel #10: Various Facets of Populist, Authoritarian and Nationalist Trends in Japan and Taiwan 

Date/Time: Thursday, February 29, 2024 — 10:00-12:00 (CET)

 

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Moderator

(Emeritus Professor at the Institute of Political Science at National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan).

Speakers

“The State of Populism in Japan: A Comparative Perspective,” by Dr. Yoshida Toru (Full Professor of Comparative Politics at Doshisha University in Japan).

“The Nature of Populism in Japan: Japan As an Uncharted Territory of Global Populism?” by Dr. Airo Hino (Professor, School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University)

“Populism in Taiwan: Rethinking the Neo-liberalism–Populism Nexus,” by Dr. Szu-Yun Hsu (Assistant Professor, Political Science, McMaster University).

How Professionalized Are Parties’ Populist Communication Strategies on Facebook? A Case Study of 2024 Taiwan National Election,” by Dr. Jiun-Chi Lin (Postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Marketing Communication, National Sun Yat-sen University).

 

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Brief Biographies and Abstracts

Dr. Dachi Liao is a Distinguished Professor and leading authority in the field of Comparative Politics, specializing in Comparative Legislatures, Politics, and Information at National Sun Yat-sen University, Taiwan. With an illustrious career, she has served as the Director of the Department of Political Science at Sun Yat-sen University for multiple terms. Her global academic influence extends to prestigious institutions such as the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the Department of Political Science, University of Michigan, US, where she has held positions as a Visiting Professor.

In addition to her academic leadership, Professor Liao has played a significant role in shaping Taiwan’s political science landscape. She served as the President of Taiwan Political Science Association and contributed to the development of political education as the Director of the Continuing Education Center at Sun Yat-sen University.

Professor Liao’s comprehensive expertise, spanning research, education, and evaluation, reflects her commitment to advancing political science and shaping the next generation of scholars.

The State of Populism in Japan: A Comparative Perspective

 Dr. Yoshida Toru is full professor of comparative politics at Doshisha University in Japan. Specialist on political science, French politics and comparative politics. After served at The Japan External Trade Organization, he owned his master and Ph.D degree at the Tokyo University (social science). He was Visiting Professor at Sciences Po Paris and now associate researcher at Fondation France-Japon (FFJ) EHESS in France. His English publication includes “Populism in Japan: actors or institutions?” in D. B. Subedi et al.(eds.) The Routledge Handbook of Populism in the Asia Pacific, Routledge, 2023; “Parliaments in an age of populism” in C. Benoit & O. Rozenberg, Handbook of Parliamentary Studies, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2020; “Populism Made in Japan: A new species?” in Asian Journal of Comparative Politics, 4(3),2019.

Abstract: While the research on contemporary populism has advanced our understanding for its definition and commonalities, its diversity across countries, regions, and time appears to be insufficiently understood. This may be due in part that Western-centred understandings of populism were on the centre. In this contribution, we take the contemporary Japanese populism as a case study and argue that it arises not only from cultural but also from institutional factors. It concludes that the type of populism can be change through various reasons. We believe that the case study will contribute to research on “the varieties of populism.”

 

The Nature of Populism in Japan: Japan As an Uncharted Territory of Global Populism?

 Dr. Airo Hino is Professor of Political Science at School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan. He received his Ph.D from the University of Essex in 2006. After having been a recipient of the Flemish Government Scholarship and worked at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and having worked as a FRS postdoc fellow at Université catholique de Louvain, he worked for Tokyo Metropolitan University as Associate Professor and joined Waseda University in 2010. His research on party systems, electoral systems, and voting behaviour has been published in journals such as the Journal of Politics, Comparative Political Studies, International Journal of Public Opinion Research, and Government and Opposition. He is the author of New Challenger Parties in Western Europe: A Comparative Analysis(Routledge, 2012), and a co-author of “How populist attitudes scales fail to capture support for populists in power” (published in Plos One in 2021). He is currently running two JSPS-funded projects on populist attitudinal scales and the database of populist discourse in Japan.

Abstract: The extent to which the phenomenon of populism is found in Japan’s politics is a contested topic on which scholars have asserted positions ranging from claims that it simply does not exist in Japan, to opposing claims that Japan’s most powerful and influential recent prime ministers have been populists. Some of this contestation arises from different definitions of “populism” that were developed in parallel in Japanese and Western literature, both of which also further differ from the vernacular usage of the term in Japanese political and media discourses. With this observation in mind, this talk aims to give a reflection on the notion that “Japan is immune to populism” and to show that Japan has experienced its own populism much earlier than the global trend. The implications that one can draw is that such experiences have prevented the surge of full-fledged populism as seen elsewhere in the world and have made the phenomena subtle.

 

Populism in Taiwan: Rethinking the Neo-liberalism–Populism Nexus

Dr. Szu-Yun Hsu is Assistant Professor of Political Science at McMaster University, Canada. Her scholarly interests include neoliberalism, international political economy, geopolitics and geoeconomics, with a regional focus on East Asia. Her research tackles issues from trade politics, populism, nationalism, democratization, to developmental state transformation. Dr. Hsu’s latest publication with the Journal of Contemporary Asia, Populism in Taiwan: Rethinking the Populism–neo-liberalism Nexus, employs Gramscian hegemony theory in analyzing the intrinsic dynamics between neoliberalization, social class relations, and populist politics in post-democratization Taiwan.

 

How Professionalized Are Parties’ Populist Communication Strategies on Facebook? A Case Study of 2024 Taiwan National Election

Dr. Jiun-Chi Lin is postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Marketing Communication, National Sun Yat-sen University. He received his doctoral double-degree diplomas at the National Sun Yat-sen University (NSYSU, Taiwan) and the Catholic University of Leuven (KU Leuven) in 2022. His research mainly touches upon political communication, internet politics, populism, comparative politics, European politics, and digital methods. Comparing similar and discrepant populist communication patterns in various social contexts, his PhD dissertation examines how political actors in Taiwan and Germany employ populist frameworks on Facebook over campaign periods. His PhD thesis has led to several awards, including the 2022 Best Doctoral Dissertation (Taiwan Political Science Association, TPSA) and the Prize for Excellent Doctoral Dissertation (NSYSU). Dr. Jiun-Chi Lin is also a member of Early Career Researchers Network (ECRN) of the ECPS.

Abstract: On January 13, 2024, Taiwan voters selected their new government in the latest national election (Presidential and Legislative elections). According to the results, William Lai (DPP) wins the majority of votes (5.58 million votes). DPP successfully retains the presidency after President Ing-wen Tsai’s two terms between 2016 and 2024. However, none of the major parties (DPP & KMT) obtain over half of the ballots in the national parliament. TPP (Taiwan People’s Party) is the only small party that maintains its parliamentary seats with eight legislators recommended by the party. It is expected that TPP will exert more political leverage in the future. In contrast, their counterpart NPP (New Power Party), another small party in the current parliament, fails to maintain its political influences in the national parliament. This election gained high international attraction because it is seen as a leading signal that influences the direction of Cross-strait relations. Nevertheless, manipulating China’s threats did not overwhelmingly dominate political debates over the campaign. Instead, political parties had more room to manipulate domestic issues (e.g., housing, corruption). In particular, opposition parties have mainly appealed to anti-elite resentment and voters’ feelings of relative deprivation. It, hence, gives us a chance to scrutinize relationships between party campaign strategies and populist communication. While scholars are concerned about the future of democracy under the grip of authoritarian populism, the recent development of Taiwan’s populism has nothing to do with authoritarianism, rather democratic competition. This presentation aims to guide the audience to understand current Taiwan’s populism from a communication perspective. Following the notion of professionalization of populist communication (Lin, d’Haenens & Liao, 2022), I attempt to outline the populist features of parties’ campaign narratives on Facebook.