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Mapping European Populism: Panel V —Populist radical right/left parties and far-right movements in the Balkan countries

Moderator

Dr Emilia Zankina (Dean of Temple University, Rome).

Speakers

“Normalization and radicalization: the paradoxes of populism in Bulgaria,” by Dr Evelina Staikova-Mileva (Associate Professor of political science at New Bulgarian University).

“Speaking for the transnational people: the Alliance for the Union of Romanians,” by Dr Sorina Soare (Researcher at the University of Florence).

“The trends of the Radical Right in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” by Dr Nedžma Džananović Miraščija (Professor and researcher at the University of Sarajevo’s Faculty of Political Science).

“Populists in government in young democracies, normalizing the defects of the young establishment: the case of Kosovo,” by Dr Avdi Smajljaj (Associate Professor in the department of Political Sciences and International Relations at Epoka University in Tirana, Albania).

Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Likud party. Photo: Alexandros Michailidis.

Civilizational populist Netanyahu’s election victory and rise of Religious Zionist Party in Israel

Netanyahu and Likud return to power as Israeli voters usher in perhaps the most right-wing government in the nation’s history. The government will be dominated by parties of the center-right and far-right including Likud, the Haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, and the Religious Zionist Party. Even if the new coalition government collapses within the next year or two, it would not cause a reversal of any of the long-term trends in Israeli politics. Rather, the further decline of the Israeli left and the continued rise of right-wing populism and religious nationalism seem all but inevitable as the population grows more religious over time.

By Ihsan Yilmaz & Nicholas Morieson

In one of the most consequential elections in Israel’s history, Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud return to power as Israeli voters usher in perhaps the most right-wing government in the nation’s history. 

While the previous government was made up of parties from across the political spectrum, the new government will be dominated by centre-right and far-right parties, including Likud, the Haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, and the Religious Zionist Party. The right-wing bloc led by right-wing civilizational populist Netanyahu (Yilmaz and Morieson, 2022a) is expected to win 65 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel’s parliament, with Likud winning more than 30 seats and Shas and United Torah Judaism together winning a further 20 seats (Parker & Rubin, 2022). The right-wing populist, ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Shas party also had a particularly good election result. Indeed, if party leader Aryeh Dery was worried that it might lose voters to the Religious Zionist Party (RZP), he was entirely incorrect, as his party won at least 8 seats and got back into the governing coalition (Haaretz, 2022).

Much of the post-election media commentary has focused, perhaps surprisingly, not on the return of Netanyahu but on the rapid rise of the Religious Zionist Party, which emerged as the third largest party in the Knesset, winning as many as 15 seats. What, then, is the Religious Zionist Party? The Religious Zionist Party is a far-right, religious nationalist group created in 2021 when three parties, the Betzalel Smotrich-led National Union/Revival Party, the Itamar Ben-Gvir-led Jewish Power party, and the far smaller Noam party, “formally headed by Avi Maoz but whose real leader was Rabbi Zvi Tao,” merged to form a single party (Hermann, 2022). It must also be said that Netanyahu played an important role in creating the RZP. Desirous of new coalition partners, Netanyahu is said to have personally convinced Ben-Gvir and Smotrich to join forces and form a party capable of winning enough votes to receive representation in the Knesset (Hermann, 2022). Netanyahu’s plan paid off in the November 2022 Israeli elections when the RZP helped propel Netanyahu back into the Prime Minister’s office. 

Itamar Ben Gvir, speaking in election conference at Ale Zahav in Samaria/Isreal on September 9, 2019. Photo: Barak Shacked.

Some commentators have speculated that the RZP’s rise, while seemingly advantageous to Netanyahu, could pose long-term problems for both his government and Israel. RZP leaders – particularly Itamar Ben-Gvir, have a history of political extremism, which may cause alarm among Israel’s allies, including the United States. Equally, it is not yet known whether Netanyahu’s coalition can remain intact without Likud agreeing to some of RZP’s more extreme demands, some of which may prove unpopular with the broader Israeli public. For example, Bezalel Smotrich, a self-described ‘proud homophobe’, wholly represents these extremisms. Among other things, he co-founded an NGO which initiates legal action against Arab construction activities in the West Bank and Israel; told developers in Israel that they should not sell their property to non-Jews; suggested that Arab and Jewish women ought to be separated in different maternity facilities; and expressed regret that Ben Gurion did not expel the entire Arab population from Israel (Gilholy, 2022).

The other key RZP leader, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has “described Israeli-Arabs as enemies of both Jews and the Israeli state,” once belonged to the now banned violent extreme-right Kach Party, and has “advocated the expulsion of Arab-Israelis who ‘are not loyal’ to the state” (Gilholy, 2022). Additionally, his party supports the deportation of “Arab extremists” regardless of citizenship, including Party Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh and the Neturei Karta Jewish antizionist sect, and calls for the annexation of the West Bank by Israel (Gilholy, 2022). The RZP furthermore calls for greater government support for Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, including the “authorization of 70 West Bank outposts, which it calls ‘young communities’, either as new settlements or as neighborhoods of existing ones” (Gilholy, 2022). While Netanyahu is no stranger to controversy, even he might be concerned about the extremism of the RZP, a party Likud now relies upon to hold government. 

What, then, do these election results tell us about Israeli politics and society, and the direction they are heading? Perhaps the first key takeaway from the result is that it conforms to the long-term pattern of Israeli politics in which right-wing parties grow stronger over time, while the left has become progressively weaker. Much of the growth of right-wing power in Israel is due to the success of Likud, the largest right-wing party, and its growing domination of Israeli politics since 1977 when it defeated the ruling Labor Party for the first time (Porat & Filc, 2022). Since the 2000s, Likud has rarely been out of government, and Netanyahu has proven himself to be his generation’s most successful Israeli politician, transforming the Israeli political landscape and reducing the once powerful Israeli Left into a shadow of itself. Yet Likud is not the only right-wing party to have experienced great electoral successes at the expense of left-wing parties. The minority Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews of Israel, neglected by Labor and often living in economic hardship, have increasingly turned away from Labor and toward right-wing religious parties which are dedicated to increasing Sephardi and Mizrahi representation in Israeli politics and society, such as the right-wing populist Shas (Yilmaz and Morieson, 2022b). 

The election results also indicate that right-wing populism remains a powerful force in Israel. Since its populist turn in the 1990s under the leadership of Netanyahu, Likud has used a populist-nationalist discourse through which Israeli society finds itself divided between ‘the people’ (understood as Jewish people who have faced two millennia or more of persecution and now have a homeland they must defend at all costs), ‘elites’ (left-wing parties, academics, activists, and journalists who oppose Likud’s right-wing populism and in doing so allegedly weaken Israel), and ‘dangerous others’ (especially Arab Muslims, whom Netanyahu portrays as intruders in the land of Israel) (Prota & Filc, 2020; Yilmaz & Morieson, 2022c). 

Likud’s key coalition partner Shas is another example of the rise of right-wing populism in Israel. However, Shas divides Israeli society somewhat more narrowly than Likud, finding a divide between the corrupt secular ‘elites,’ ‘dangerous others’ in which they include LGBTQ+ Israelis, and the virtuous ‘people’ of Israel the party claims to represent. This final group is comprised of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews, who are portrayed by Shas’ leaders as the authentic people of Israel, and as an “oppressed” people who – with Shas’ help – will one day restore Sephardic culture to “its former glory” (Shalev, 2019).

Another important lesson we might take away from the election result is recognizing the growing influence of religious parties in Israel. It is interesting to observe how, unlike Western Europe and North America, Israelis are growing more – not less – religious. This is reflected in “Netanyahu’s emphasis on Israel’s Jewishness,” which “points to a conflation of religion with the national vision” (Rogenhofer & Panievsky, 2020: 1395). Thus, in Netanyahu’s Israel, “religious language and symbols accentuate fears and shape demands for action, to protect the nation and its borders…consequently, more and more leaders, not only in the Likud, adopt religious tropes and symbols to demonstrate loyalty and garner support” (Porat & Filc, 2022: 74). According to Netanyahu, the secular parties of the left are “detached elites not committed to Jewish nationality and to the Jewish State” and should therefore be considered traitorous and illegitimate (Porat & Filc, 2022). 

Furthermore, the rise of religious populist and religious nationalist parties, including United Torah Judaism, The Jewish Home, Noam, Shas, and now the Religious Zionist Party, indicates a growing desire among many Israelis for a non-secular Israel in which Jewish belief and practice dominate while other religions are marginalized. Part of the reason for the rise of religious parties is the nation’s changing demographics. Once dominated by secular European Ashkenazi Jews, many of whom survived the horrors of the Holocaust, today’s Israel has an ever-increasing Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) population which rarely votes for left-wing parties. By 2040, it is predicted that one in four Israelis will be Haredi, largely due to the exceptionally large number of children produced by the majority of Haredi Jewish families (Maltz, 2022). As the number of Haredi Jews increases, it is likely that the right-wing religious parties they typically support will increase their share of Knesset seats and become more significant political actors in Israel. 

Finally, the election results suggest that there will be no return to the ‘peace process,’ nor will there be a Palestinian state in the near future. This, perhaps, hardly bears writing. Indeed, the election results signal a crushing defeat for the Israeli Left and for Israelis who desire a secular state, peace with the Palestinians, and a viable Palestinian state. 

At the same time, this does not mean that the new government has a stable coalition. Rather, there is good reason to think that, should the more extreme RZP demands not be met by the Likud-led government, Ben-Gvir may quit the government, forcing Netanyahu to find another coalition partner or face fresh elections. Yet even if the new government were to collapse within the next year or two, it would not cause a reversal of any of the long-term trends in Israeli politics identified in this article. Rather, the further decline of the Israeli Left and the continued rise of right-wing populism and religious nationalism seem all but inevitable as the population grows more religious over time and increasingly hostile towards non-Jewish people living in Israel and in the Palestinian territories. 


 

References

Gilholy, Georgia L. (2022). “Who are Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich and why are they so controversial?” The Jewish Chronicle. November 2, 2022. https://www.thejc.com/news/israel/who-are-itamar-ben-gvir-and-bezalel-smotrich-and-why-are-they-so-controversial-2IHXvSOfGUAzqJqqclk170 (accessed on November 2, 2022).

Hermann, Tamar. (2022). “The Religions Zionist Sector at Bay.” Religions, 13, no. 2: 178. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13020178

Maltz, Judy. (2022). “Nearly One in Four Jews Will Be ultra-Orthodox by 2040, New Study Says.” Haaretz. May 3, 2002. https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/2022-05-03/ty-article/.premium/nearly-one-in-four-jews-will-be-ultra-orthodox-by-2040-new-study-says/00000180-98a2-dab4-a187-9babda7e0000 (accessed on November 2, 2022).

Rabinowitz, Aaron. (2022). “Shas relives days of glory: UTJ sticks with its base.” Haaretz. November 3, 2022. https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/elections/2022-11-03/ty-article/.premium/shas-relives-days-of-glory-utj-sticks-with-its-base/00000184-39fe-dfd0-a9a7-3dfeee910000 (accessed on November 2, 2022).

Parker, Claire & Rubin, Shira. (2022). “Israeli results show a Netanyahu comeback powered by the far right.” The Washington Post. November 2, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/11/02/israel-election-results-netanyahu-coalition/ (accessed on November 3, 2022).

Yilmaz, Ihsan & Morieson, Nicholas. (2022a). “Civilizational Populism: Definition, Literature, Theory, and Practice.” Religions, 13, no. 11: 1026. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13111026

Yilmaz, Ihsan & Morieson, Nicholas. (2022b). “Religious populism in Israel: The case of Shas.” Populism & Politics. European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS). March 30, 2022. https://doi.org/10.55271/pp0011

Yilmaz, Ihsan & Morieson, Nicholas. (2022c). “Nationalism, Religion, and Archaeology: The Civilizational Populism of Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud.” Populism & Politics. European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS). October 10, 2022. https://doi.org/10.55271/pp0015

Porat, B. Guy & Filc, Dani. (2020). “Remember to be Jewish: Religious Populism in Israel.” Politics and Religion. 1-24. doi:10.1017/S1755048320000681

Rogenhofer, M. Julius. & Panievsky, Ayala. (2020). “Antidemocratic populism in power: comparing Erdoğan’s Turkey with Modi’s India and Netanyahu’s Israel.” Democratization.  Vol. 27, no. 8, 1394-1412. DOI: 10.1080/13510347.2020.1795135 

Shalev, Shivanne. (2019). “Israel’s Ultra-orthodox Parties Explained.” Israel Policy Forum. February 21, 2019. https://israelpolicyforum.org/2019/02/21/israels-ultra-orthodox-parties-explained/ (accessed on November 3, 2022).

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva participates in meetings with women during his pre-candidacy for the presidency of the Brazil in São Paulo on October 3, 2022. Photo: Isaac Fontana.

Lula is back! Third time lucky or will his return lead to the revival of Bolsonaro?

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defeated far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro to win the 2022 Brazilian elections by a margin of just 0.8 percent. However, he has a huge task ahead of him and it is still unknown how he plans to go about confronting key challenges facing the country. What is certain is that to succeed he is required to recognise and respond to the conservative, nationalist and anti-elite narratives that still dominate public political debate in Brazil. 

By Nicole McLean*

On Sunday 30th October, former President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), defeated far-right incumbent President, Jair Bolsonaro, to win the 2022 Brazilian elections by a margin of just 0.8 percent. It was a tight race, with Lula one stride ahead receiving 50.9 percent of votes and Bolsonaro close behind with 49.1 percent. Despite the socialist’s victory, Lula’s third term in office will no doubt be his toughest. It will be extremely difficult to govern a country that is completely divided. 

Twelve years has passed since Lula last held the presidency. During this time, the country’s greatest corruption scandal came to light under his party, the Workers’ Party (PT), giving birth to a fierce wave of right-wing populism, nationalism, and ultra-conservatism. 

Lula’s strategy was to create a ‘frente ampla’ – a vast front of support. He managed to bring together previous rivals from all sides of politics to overcome Bolsonaro. In perhaps his most tactical move, Lula secured former Governor of São Paulo and former leader of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), Geraldo Alckmin, as his Vice President. This shocked many because Alckmin was a strong critic of Lula and the PT during the investigations into the sprawling corruption allegations. Despite all the lengths that the opposition parties went to in order to topple the Far Right, Lula only managed to win by the tightest of margins. Bolsonarism is far from over. 

Bolsonarism Has Spread Across Brazil Despite Lula’s Victory

In the first round of the elections on 2nd October, Bolsonaro’s party, the Liberal Party (PL), elected 99 deputies from across Brazil. This is almost double the 52 deputies elected to his party in 2018 and can be attributed to the growth in nationalism, social conservatism and, particularly, Evangelicalism. 

The federal deputy to receive the most votes (over 1.4 million) in all of Brazil was the highly conservative and religious 26-year-old Nikolas Ferreira from the state of Minas Gerais. The most voted female federal deputy was conservative and nationalist Carla Zambelli, who was re-elected in São Paulo receiving 12 times more votes than she did in 2018. Both Ferreira and Zambelli were elected to the PL party and are fierce advocates of Bolsonaro, using their various social media accounts as media vehicles to disseminate pro-Bolsonaro propaganda (McLean, 2022). They received immense public support at the polls for their role as political propagandists promoting Bolsonaro, more so than for their own policy ideas. 

The state of São Paulo even elected a Carioca (person from Rio de Janeiro) as Governor, Tarcísio de Freitas who is a conservative neoliberal, over the progressive candidate, Fernando Haddad. Economic freedom and social conservatism are clearly valued more than place of origin in the state that is home to South America’s largest metropolis. To ensure the Far Right does not return to power, Lula needs to listen and respond to conservative views.   

Lula Must Address Concerns of Conservatives to Overcome Far Right

If Lula fails to address the concerns of conservatives, Bolsonaro could revive his political career in four years’ time.Bolsonaristas (supporters of Bolsonaro) are for the most part ultra-conservative and are primarily concerned with the family and traditional values. Lula needs to find ways to portray his party’s progressivism that do not alienate and marginalise conservatives. There must be space in the public sphere for multiple voices and opinions along the political spectrum that are debated in a constructive manner. Otherwise, segments of society risk experiencing social marginalisation, particularly when traditional values are no longer reflected in elite discourse (Gidron & Hall, 2019: 7). 

In 2018, Bolsonaro was elected on an anti-corruption and anti-elite agenda. The far-right President’s anti-elitism targeted the cultural establishment including the media, arts, and education institutions. His dissent was expressed through a discourse of us, “the good citizens,” versus them, “the corrupt elite,” and was populist in nature. The separation of society into two homogeneous and antagonistic camps, where good rivals against evil, is a typical trait of populism (Mudde & Kaltwasser, 2017: 6). What Brazil urgently needs now is to unite as one, and not be divided into two separate camps, to overcome the severe polarisation that plagues society. 

Another feature of Bolsonarism is nationalism. Certain views of deforestation in the Amazon are a good representation of this. Silvia Nobre Waiãpi, an indigenous woman, ex-army officer and proud supporter of Bolsonaro, was elected federal deputy in the northern state of Amapá for the PL party. She believes that efforts to curb deforestation in the Amazon prevent inhabitants from cultivating and making money off their land. To Silvia, these efforts are North American ideals that are intended to keep people poor. She calls for freedom to make economic profit off the land. 

During the previous PT governments, between 2004 and 2012, deforestation declined in the Amazon and law enforcement was central to reducing illegal logging (Tacconi et al., 2019). These were efforts to half climate change and were supported by the Amazon Fund, to which foreign countries make performance-based payments to the Brazilian government for reducing deforestation. Under the Bolsonaro government, the idea of what the Amazon needed protecting from changed from deforestation to international interference. Addressing these nationalist views, focusing specifically on the people living in the Amazon as well as on property and land rights, should be front and centre of Lula’s mission to stop illegal deforestation in the world’s largest rainforest.

Lula has a huge task ahead of him and it is still unknown how he plans to go about confronting these challenges. What is certain is that to succeed he is required to recognise and respond to the conservative, nationalist and anti-elite values of the Brazilian public. 


 

(*) Dr Nicole McLean holds a joint-PhD from The University of Melbourne (Faculty of Arts) and University of São Paulo (Faculty of Law). Her thesis analysed the major protest movements of the Brazilian New Right and their impact on the formation of different right-wing publics. As such, Dr McLean’s interdisciplinary study covered the fields of political science, anthropology, sociology, social media and law. McLean is the author of the book entitled Protest Movements as Media Vehicles of the Brazilian New Right which was published in 2022. 


 

References 

Gidron, N. & Hall, P. (2019). “Populism as a Problem of Social Integration.” Comparative Political Studies, 53 (7), 1027–1059. https://doi.org/10.1177/0010414019879947

McLean, N. (2022). Protest Movements as Media Vehicles of the Brazilian New Right. Palgrave Studies in Populisms. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-4379-9  

Mudde, C. & Kaltwasser, C., R. (2017). Populism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 

Tacconi, L., Rodrigues, R. J., Maryudi, A. (2019). “Law enforcement and deforestation: Lessons for Indonesia from Brazil.” Forest Policy and Economics108 (101943), 1389–9341. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.forpol.2019.05.029

Illegal deforestation to make land for agriculture and cattle pasture in Para, Brazil.

A pivotal election: Reversing Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental legacy?

The policies of far-right populist leader Jair Bolsonaro, who claimed that environmental protection “suffocates” the economy, have decimated large swaths of rainforest that serves as a key carbon sink and a haven for biodiversity. On Sunday, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won enough votes to defeat Bolsonaro. “Let’s fight for zero deforestation,” Lula said in a victory speech. He pledged to unite the country and restore the regulatory agencies needed to protect the rainforest and Indigenous lands. However, even if these efforts are successful, the Amazon rainforest’s return to health will take far longer. 

By Heidi Hart

Photographer Sebastião Salgado, known for his sweeping black-and-white images of Earth’s plains, mountains, ice sheets, and sites of environmental destruction, recently spoke out about the presidential election in Brazil. Citing far-right president Jair Bolsonaro’s “brutal” policies against the environment (and Brazil’s own people, with staggering numbers of Covid-19 deaths), Salgado noted that “[t]he government has massively destroyed the Amazon rainforest, without respecting indigenous communities and other minorities” (The Limited Times, 2022). Salgado himself, together with his wife Lelia, have been actively reforesting degraded land in Aimores in Brazil for the past 20 years. Restoring 2.7 million trees and 293 varieties of plant species in 555 acres as part of the Instituto Terra project, the couple and over 70 employees offer hope in a country where Bolsonaro’s policies have decimated large swaths of rainforest that serves as a key carbon sink and a haven for biodiversity. 

That hope became a larger reality on Sunday, as former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won enough votes to defeat Bolsonaro, who (as of this writing) has not yet conceded. “Let’s fight for zero deforestation,” Lula said in a victory speech. “Brazil is ready to resume its leading role in the fight against the climate crisis, protecting all our biomes, especially the Amazon forest,” (Lula, Twitter, 2022).

Brazil’s elected President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva and former President Bolsonaro participated in the debate over Brazil in São Paulo on October 16, 2022. Photo: Isaac Fontana.

In the close runoff election, police blockades in Lula-supporting northeastern parts of Brazil led to fears of voter suppression, but a tense Sunday yielded to jubilant celebrations in the streets. Despite a prison term for corruption (later annulled), Lula will return to office and has pledged to unite the country and restore the regulatory agencies needed to protect the rainforest and Indigenous lands. During his previous terms, Amazon deforestation fell by 43.7 percent (2003-2006) and 52.3 percent (2006-2010), while under Bolsonaro, the rate of deforestation increased by 72 percent in favor of “Amazon development serving as a key policy plank” (Freedman, 2022). 

Deforestation in Brazil is nothing new. In the western area of Rondônia, for example, the rate of clearing has been especially rapid: “4,200 square kilometers cleared by 1978; 30,000 by 1988; and 53,300 by 1998” and by 2003, “an estimated 67,764 square kilometers of rainforest—an area larger than the state of West Virginia” (NASA Earth Observatory, 2009). Sounding alarms about the large-scale efforts to push back the rainforest using legal and illegal roads, encroachment by small farmers, and eventually large cattle operations, Brazil’s National Policy on Climate Change founded in 2009 was an attempt to place checks on this rampant destruction. But policy and practice diverged: deforestation rose 215 percent in 2014-15, while official government reports at the Paris climate talks in 2015 placed that rate at only 16 percent (Redy, 2016: 4).  

Enter Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right populist leader who has claimed that environmental protection “suffocates” the economy. Even before he took office in January 2019, Brazil reneged on its offer to host the 25th United Nations Conference of the Parties on climate change in November 2018 (Viscidi and Graham, 2019). By 2020, resulting from changes to the Brazilian Forest Code in 2012 and further loosening of environmental enforcement after Bolsonaro’s rise to power, deforestation in the Amazon rose to the highest rate in a decade, to 182 percent above the climate target established by the National Policy on Climate Change in 2009 (Anderson, 2021: 144). 

In the first half of 2022, the rate of “slashing and burning to raze the jungle” rose 11 percent beyond the past year’s record to a record high of “4,000 square kilometers (1,540 square miles)” (Freitas, 2022). This rate of destruction not only depletes biodiversity and carbon-absorbing tree cover but also raises the risk of wildfires during the dry season, with respiratory threats as a result, and increases the spread of disease due to habitat loss, releasing of pathogens, and favorable conditions for mosquitoes (Kaminsky, 2020). 

In a still fiercely divided country, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has vowed to reverse the trend of deforestation, massive fires, and attacks on Indigenous communities, but during the election season he performed poorly (not surprisingly) in logging and palm oil regions such as Roraima (Cowie, Costa, and Prado, 2022). Brazil still faces economic crisis and related social stresses after its mismanaged Covid response, and as Bolsonaro’s party still rules Congress, its support of the cattle industry will make policy reversals difficult (Jones, 2022). How effective Lula’s presidency will be in restoring what has become, in some areas, a carbon source rather than a sink – a tipping point that has ripple effects in accelerating global heating (Knutson, 2021) – is still an open question. 

As climate policy advocate Christiana Figueres has noted, “We have brought our natural world to several perilous brinks from which it may not be able to recover on its own. It is like an elastic band that stretches and contracts normally but if stretched too far will snap” (Figueres and Rivett-Carnac, 2020: 72-73).

At this point in the inexorable global heating trajectory, adaptation, and mitigation, at least, are still possible. In his 2017 handbook for ameliorative climate strategies, Drawdown (referring to bringing carbon back to Earth, with more optimism for “reversing” global warming than sounds workable today), Paul Hawken describes several ways humans can help to restore some level of tropical forest health. These include “mosaic” restoration, which combines forest and agricultural land; releasing land from “non-forest use” to “let a young forest rise up on its own, following a course of natural regeneration and succession,” with protective strategies to mitigate fire risk; and the more aggressive approach of removing invasive plant species and planting native seedlings in their place (Hawken, 2017: 115-116). 

Though governmental policy is crucial to these practices, especially in fraught countries like Brazil, where regulatory agencies have been weakened under Bolsonaro, Hawken notes that “[r]estoration cannot be done in the halls of power alone” and requires local, collaborative efforts (116). Reforestation projects such as Sebastião Salgado’s will continue to make a difference. At the same time, the next several years will be a crucial period for Lula’s administration to listen to Indigenous communities while enforcing environmental policies to block illegal logging and to regulate commercial farming and mining. Even if these efforts are successful, the Amazon rainforest’s return to health will take far longer. 


References

Anderson, Liana. (2021). “The Brazilian Amazon deforestation rate in 2020 is the greatest of the decade.” In: Nature Ecology & Evolution, Vol. 5, February 2021, 144-145.

Figueres, Christiana and Rivett-Carnac, Tom. (2020). The Future We Choose: The Stubborn Optimist’s Guide to the Climate Crisis. New York: Vintage. 

Hawken, Paul. (Ed.) (2017). Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. New York: Penguin. 

Kaminsky, Valéria; Ellwanger, Joel Henrique; Kulmann-Leal, Bruna and Valverde, Jacqueline. (2020). “Beyond diversity loss and climate change: Impacts of Amazon deforestation on infectious diseases and public health.” In: Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências, 92 (1), DOI 10.1590/0001-3765202020191375.

Photo: Melinda Nagy.

ECPS Youth Seminars – From Trance to Identity Rock: Music and Far-right Manipulation

Date/Time: Monday, November 14, 2022 / 18:00 (CET)

Click here to register!

Moderator

Celia Miray Yesil

Speaker

Dr Heidi Hart

This talk will explore the wide range of musical genres and styles used in populist and particularly far-right propaganda in European context. From feel-good folk songs appealing to young people in Germany to nationalist mehter band music in Turkey and “identity rock” and political chants in Italy, musical forms that appeal to a sense of belonging, heritage, and ressentiment are especially powerful when they hook into embodied cultural associations. Dr Heidi Hart will illustrate the phenomenon of “entrainment” or rhythmic synchronization between body and sound, as well as culturally dependent forms of sonic association that take on new ideological meanings in a world veering toward authoritarianism. Because music can reach the body more directly than text by itself, it is an effective tool for manipulation, especially among young people who are still forming a sense of purpose and identity.

Dr Heidi Hart is an arts researcher based in Denmark and in North Carolina, US. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and a Ph.D. in German Studies from Duke University (2016). Her research focus ranges from ideology in words and music to sound and music in environmental art. She has published monographs on Hanns Eisler’s activist art songs and on music in climate-crisis narrative, as well as numerous articles on sound in environmental art, film, and literature. Her book Climate Thanatology was published in August 2022. Dr Hart serves as an Art and Humanities Research Fellow at SixtyEight Art Institute in Copenhagen and as a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow in the Environment & Climate sector of the European Center for Populism Studies. In 2022-23 she will complete the research project, “Instruments of Repair,” with Crawford Foundation funding through the Centre for Intermedial and Multimodal Studies, Linnaeus University, Sweden.

Celia Miray Yesil is a master’s student of International Political Economy at Warwick University. Her undergraduate degree was in European Politics at King’s College London, where she studied the historical background of Europe in the global context. Miray is interested in the impact of far-right populism on foreign policy, the political language of populist leaders, and its political economy.

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Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson is greeted by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on October 20, 2022. Photo: Alexandros Michailidis.

The losers are winning in Sweden thanks to the Sweden Democrats

The 2022 election results from Sweden testify to the fact that the far-right has reached governmental power. The Tidö agreement conveys several illiberal policy recommendations. It seems futile to suggest that the small Liberal party in the government will stop the realization of these policies. The immediate future looks indeed bleak both for Swedish and international politics.

By Anders Hellström*

On October 17, 2022, Ulf Kristersson, party leader of Moderaterna, became Sweden’s Prime Minister. He will lead a coalition government, which apart from his own party consists of the Christian Democratic party and the LiberalsThe losers (in terms of electoral support) can govern thanks to the support of the Sweden Democrats (SD), founded in 1989 by members of the white Aryan movement, the far-right music industry, and neo-Nazism. In this commentary, I will present three arguments behind why this government took office: 1. Crisis framing; 2. Credibility; and 3. Original versus copy.

From Pariah to Mainstream Party

This rather remarkable journey from the murky shadows of the far right as a pariah party to now become a kingmaker in Swedish politics can thus be understood as sign of populist normalcy, according to Cas Mudde (2019). In short, the mainstream has become extreme.

In 2010, the SD crossed the parliamentary threshold, and its members were seated in the Swedish parliament. Since then, the party’s support has continued to increase. After the 2022 elections, the SD has become kingmaker in Swedish politics. The process of normalization has gone on for decades and is clearly not a new phenomenon, when the SD is now the largest opposition party. What were refuted as extremist views on immigration yesterday have become accepted as mainstream ideas today –common-sense knowledge shared by much of the public, by respectable mainstream politicians, and by editorial writers.

According to Mudde (2019), despite their many differences and failure to communicate a joint common message, the populist parties and movements could be seen before as normal pathologies and normal counter-reactions. Following Mudde’s genealogy of the development of far-right parties in Europe, the advent of the current wave follows from the eruption of three crises that the far-right parties, electorally, have profited from (ibid: 20). These are the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Great Recession of 2008, and the refugee crisis of 2015.

The Swedish National Elections of 2022

Let us begin by returning to the national elections Sweden held on September 11 of this year.

According to the editors on a volume about the mainstream right and the populist wave, Tim Bale and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser (2021:11) explained that the mainstream right — although divided between liberals, conservatives, and Christian democrats — hold two main attributes in common: 1. all inequalities in society are natural; and 2. defending existing norms and values is intrinsic to a liberal democratic society. 

Moderaterna (19.1 percent of the vote, down 0.74 percent from the last election) adheres to liberal economic policies and usually rallies against high taxes and — in their view — too much public spending. Additionally, the party also espouses conservative values of national defence and the family. Their emphasis in the election campaign was centred on “law and order” — frequently associated with immigration — and investments in nuclear energy. The Christian Democratic party (5.34 percent of the vote, down 0.98 percent) has, traditionally, focused on social welfare. The third party in the government coalition, Liberalerna (4.61 percent of the vote, down 0.88 percent), is internally split between a fraction propagating for high levels of foreign aid (similar to the Christian Democrats), protecting the right to asylum, and generally progressive ideas against a faction who wants to replace the Social Democrats at any costs. The latter fraction won. 

Bale & Kaltwasser (2021: 1) begin their book on the mainstream right in crisis by noting that Social Democracy is in decline, while the populist radical right has gained a massive amount of electoral support, especially following the refugee crisis of 2015. While the second assertion is at least partly right (I will return to this later), the first statement does not apply to the Swedish national elections of 2022. The Social Democrats became by far the largest party, with 30.33 percent of all electoral votes (up 2.07 percent from the 2018 elections). 

This is confusing. How is it possible that the losing parties are now going to run the country? The answer lies in the results from the far-right party, the Sweden Democrats (SD) who won 20.54% of the vote (up 3.01%) — fewer votes than the Social Democrats but more than Moderaterna. The SD will not take part in the government but is part of Kristersson’s winning team and supports him as the new prime minister.

In the negotiations, the SD was successful at having their own policies elevated into governmental policies (specifically through the Tidö agreement) without having assigned seats in the new government. For instance, foreign aid will decrease, there will no longer be a special department devoted to environmental issues, the quota of refugees to Sweden will decrease from 6400 annually to 900, repatriation programs for immigrants will be encouraged, family re-unification will become harder, and a wage demand will be introduced to limit labour migration. Immigrants also risk expulsion if they misbehave and do not live up to Swedish norms. All these proposals can be found in the election manifesto of the SD and will now become official governmental policies. 

Jimmie Åkesson is Happy

SD Leader Jimmie Åkesson is happy. He should be. He appears to have attained a golden seat: not being part of the government but having achieved almost all his party’s political goals without having to take full responsibility for the consequences. The party can remain a radical underdog; at the same time, it can have most of its policies implemented by other parties. Jimmie Åkesson leads, but Ulf Kristersson will be ultimately responsible. 

How did this happen? Of course, we cannot foretell the results yet without resorting to speculation. But we can look at what has happened in other countries. Not being part of the government has been detrimental to the Danish People’s Party (currently 3 percent at the polls). Being part of the government has been detrimental to Italy’s Matteo Salvini (party leader of the League), who was deputy minister and interior minister; his party won only 8.9 percent in recent parliamentary elections, clearly beaten by the newly elected prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, whose party Brothers of Italy won approximately 25 percent of the votes. Salvini was in the previous Italian government, whereas Meloni was not. What we learn from this, is that it can be good or bad for a far-right party to be in the government.

Reasons for the Electoral Outcome

We do not know what will happen in the future in terms of electoral support for the SD. But I will now present three reasons for why the SD has continued to gain electoral support.

First: The political agenda centred around gang violence and fuel prices. Even if the crime rate in many categories has declined according to statistics presented by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, the number of murders has increased significantly. More policemen and tougher stances on law and order have been suggested by almost all the parties. If it was depicted as extreme to link this development to immigration and integration ten years ago, it is seen as rather mainstream today. This emphasis on law and order — rather than on the climate crisis, the Coronavirus pandemic, NATO, or the illegitimate Russian invasion of Ukraine– has most benefitted the SD. 

Second: When Ulf Kristersson says that the SD was right and warns the Swedish people of the lethal consequences of a generous immigration policy, he also says that a vote for the SD is a credible option. And though other parties now mimic his tone, why should voters prefer the copy over the original? 

Three: As mentioned before, all parties present in the new coalition government experienced electoral losses in 2022. Ulf Kristersson, for instance, could have focused on more traditional mainstream right views, like the economy, but he did not. Instead, he continuously linked deplorable murder rates with immigration. When Ulf Kristersson barks, Jimmie Åkesson gains votes. 

Hope on the Horizon

It is easy and perhaps also understandable to become puzzled and dispirited about the recent political developments in Sweden. But I would say that there are several reasons to hope

First, a lot of things have changed. Sweden does not look the same today as it did in the past. Society is dynamic and this requires continuous reflection, as well as reconceptualization of the analytical instruments and categories needed for studying contemporary European societies. What became apparent– not least with the refugee crisis of 2015– was the rise of both progressive and regressive forces (Bevelander & Hellström 2019), which cling on to meta narratives of both nostalgia and hope (Norocel et. al 2020). 

This isn’t the first-time events have changed values. The resistance to value changes in post-Industrial societies, as a result of the 1968 student protests, was labelled by Ignazi (1992) as the “silent counter-revolution,” which he associated with the rise of Jean-Marie Le Pen and la novelle droite (the new right) in France in the early 1970s.[1]

Second, the crisis, which dominated the electoral campaign in 2022, was based on law and order and the link between criminality and immigration. This link became normal to voters. The climate crisis has attracted massive global attention. In an election campaign, there is only space for one crisis at a time. This brings forward an important lesson: there are several latent crises that might or might not erupt as the crisis in a future election. Empirically, there are many examples of latent movements in Swedish society that want to help refugees to integrate into their new home country (Bevelander & Hellström, 2019). There are examples of countries hostile to immigrants—like Poland—that have become more accepting towards refugees from Ukraine. Additionally, there are today many more companies who would like to invest in fossil-free fuel. According to Margaret Canovan (2005), across history, the “people” has been used as an authority in reserve– “an authority to be drawn on in an emergency…” (ibid: 20).

Third, does the new immigration policy mean a veritable paradigm shift in Swedish politics? The end of Swedish exceptionalism? Maybe – but maybe not. The new policies still need to live up to signed international treaties, such as the Paris agreement and respect the universal and individual right to seek asylum.

The 2022 election results from Sweden testify to the fact that the far-right has reached governmental power. The Tidö agreement conveys several illiberal policy recommendations. It seems futile to suggest that the small Liberal party (which, at the time of writing faces expulsion from the liberal group in the European parliament due to collaboration with the SD) in the government will stop the realization of these policies. The immediate future looks indeed bleak both for Swedish and international politics. What is important to remember is that the future is not set in stone, though. A deeper investigation of progressive elements in civil society shows that there are several emancipatory initiatives and potential latent crises that might pop up and become the crisis in future elections.


 

(*) Anders Hellström is an associate professor in political science and a senior lecturer in IMER. He is an affiliated member of the research institute Malmö Institute for Studies of Migration, Diversity and Welfare (MIM) at Malmö University. His research interests include discourse theory and representation of migration, populism, and nationalism. He has published widely in academic journals, such as Government and Opposition, Journal of International Migration and Integration, and Ethnicities. His most recent article is “Populism as Mythology of the People: Anti-Immigration Claims in the Swedish Socially Conservative Online Newspaper Samtiden from 2016 to 2019” (forthcoming 2022) and will be made available to open access. His most recent monograph is Trust Us: Reproducing the Nation and the Scandinavian Nationalist parties. His most recent anthology is Nostalgia and Hope: Intersections between Politics of Culture, Welfare, and Migration in Europe together with Ov. Cristian Norocel and Martin Bak-Jørgensen.



References

Bale, Tim. & Kaltwasser, Cristóbal Rovira. (eds). (2021). Riding the Populist Wave: Europé’s mainstream right in crisis.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapters

Bevelander, Pieter & Hellström, Anders. (2019). “Pro- And Anti-Migrant Mobilizations in Polarized Sweden.” In: Rea, A., Martinello, M, Mazzola, A. and Meuleman, B. (eds.) The refugee reception crisis in Europe: Polarized Opinions and Mobilizations. Bruxelles: Éditions de l´Université de Bruxelles (available open access). 

Canovan, Margaret. (2005). The People. Cambridge: Polity.

Ignazi, Pierro. (1992). “The Silent counter-revolution: Hypotheses on the emergence of extreme right-wing parties in Europe.” European Journal of Political Research 22. 

Mudde, Cas. (2019). The Far Right Today

Norocel, Ov Cristian; Hellström, Anders & Bak Jørgensen, Martin. (2020). Nostalgia and Hope: Intersections between Politics of Culture, Welfare, and Migration. Cham: Springer (available open access).


[1] Bale and Kaltwasser (2021) provide further elaboration on the silent-counter revolution and the various manifestations of both reactions and counter reactions to this in different countries.

YouthSeminar4

ECPS Youth Seminars #4 —Populism versus European Values in the Digital Era: The Case of Romania

The decline of trust in the political institutions of liberal democracy and in traditional journalism (print, radio, television) has been fueled by populists and anti-liberal ideologies. The rise of digital populism has especially generated “a cultural chaos of fake news” that is tremendously damaging the democratic culture. Populist leaders accused conventional media of generating fake news or of “being fake news.” In Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), the people’s loss of trust in the media amplified as they became poorly financed, unprofessional, increasingly politicised, and partisan. Meanwhile, digital populists successfully convince these people of possible opportunities created by direct democracy thanks to the online environment. At this ECPS Youth Seminar Dr Antonio Momoc speaks on “Populism versus European Values in the Digital Era: The Case of Romania.”

Dr. Antonio Momoc is an Associate Professor at the Department of Communication Sciences and Cultural Anthropology. He is also the Dean of the Faculty of Journalism and Communication Sciences at the University of Bucharest. Dr. Momoc teaches various aspects of communication and media, the new media theories and political communication, fashion, branding and politics, and electoral campaigns.

Moderator Celia Miray Yesil is a master’s student of International Political Economy at Warwick University. Her undergraduate degree was in European Politics at King’s College London, where she studied the historical background of Europe in the global context. Miray is interested in the impact of far-right populism on foreign policy, the political language of populist leaders, and its political economy.

Sudents1

Be part of ECPS Early Career Researchers Network

Despite some attempts of extolling individualism, human history has already proven that humans, through cooperation and alliances, can overcome any challenge posed by life. Therefore, ECPS is looking to empower PhD candidates and early-stage post-docs by launching the Early Career Researchers Network (ECRN) platform that ultimately aims at boosting cooperation, knowledge-sharing, and socialization amongst like-minded individuals.

Our contemporary society is becoming increasingly interconnected granting us unprecedented access to international knowledge. Having said that, this has also transformed academia, forcing scholars to become more competitive and innovative. This has resulted in academics having to be constantly up to date with the most advanced methods and theories. Hence, one vital element of current times is carrying out an ongoing dialogue between one’s work and other inspiring thinkers’ insights.

The ECPS recognizes the importance of a constant bilateral exchange of ideas, and it is acting accordingly. This time, we have decided to help PhD candidates and early-stage post-docs to connect, exchange perspectives, and collaborate with other candidates for their professional work. We want to make young researchers an integral component in the mosaic of ideas that are currently explaining the world we are living in. 

Young researchers have to face a myriad of challenges and problems when doing their work. Suffering from mental health issues, lacking a professional network or being unaware of job and project opportunities are all concerns that are exacerbated by the solitary nature of research work. This is why belonging to a multidisciplinary network that is comprised of a wide variety of scholars from different fields is believed to be very beneficial to PhD candidates and early-stage post-docs. 

With this in mind, we are looking to empower PhD and post-doc candidates by launching an international researchers’ network. We are happy to present our latest initiative: the Early Career Researchers Network (ECRN), a platform for PhD candidates and early-stage post-docs that ultimately aims at boosting cooperation, knowledge-sharing, and socialization amongst like-minded individuals.

What do you gain from becoming an ECRN member?

By becoming an ECRN member, you will get immediate access to inspirational discussions with other scholars from diverse disciplines. Moreover, you will have the chance to propose events aligned with your interests, as well as help in their design, elaboration, and execution. Further, ECRN members will enjoy the possibility of attending seminars, workshops and conferences that will increase their knowledge on multidisciplinary methodologies and new theoretical trends as well as provide them with career advisory focused on both the public and private sectors. 

In addition to the aforementioned benefits, this network for PhD candidates and early-stage post-docs will be used to share job opportunities and potential collaborations with the media, specialized magazines, and other research institutes. It will also serve as a reminder for upcoming events, call for papers in academic journals, and deadlines for job applications!

Do you want to contribute to ECRN? If so, do not hesitate to contact us through our email ecps@populismstudies.org if you want more information about the next steps in becoming a member of this network.

For more info Download PDF.

A man chanting songs with a dummy cow in the background during the Golden Jubilee
celebration of VHP - a Hindu nationalist organization on December 20, 2014 in Kolkata, India. Photo: Arindam Banerjee.

How has Hindutva populism blurred the line between caste and religion in Indian democracy?

Traditionally, caste and religion have been the two most prominent cleavages in India. Before 2014, upper-caste people used to identify strongly with the ideology of Hindu nationalism. However, the rise of Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) and the socio-political mobilization of lower caste people happened during the same period, post-2014, and both received massive public support. It is no longer possible to separate populism from caste, religion, and democracy. Therefore, as Rahul Mukherji noted, Indian democracy is more about populism rather than welfare.

By Saurabh Raj*

One of the historic grounds in the world’s largest democracy and the traditional host of the Jay Prakash (JP) movement[1]—Gandhi maidan, Patna (state capital of Bihar, India)—was full of saffron flags and caps during the 2019 parliamentary elections. A 23-year-old young man who was holding a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) flag and had a locket of the Hindu lord Krishna around his neck was shouting, “Modi-Modi-Modi & Jai Shri Ram.”[2] India’s prime minister and the most popular leader Narendra Modi was just about to come on stage. This young man looked impossibly excited to see Modi for the first time. The name of this young boy was Rakesh Yadav (his first name has been changed). Yadav belonged to the “Yadav caste”—socially and politically one of the most influential and historically disadvantaged[3] castes in Bihar. 

Being a Yadav and cheering for Modi tells a lot about the shift happening in the socio-political landscape in India: this caste used to be traditional voters for their caste group leader, like Lalu Yadav. Any political scientist would have been surprised to see that many youths like Rakesh Yadav from the Yadav caste would have shifted their political leaning towards Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from the Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD). Like any curious and politically active citizen, I asked Rakesh Yadav, “Why are you here? I mean shouldn’t you be at Tejasvi Yadav’s (the son of Lalu Yadav) rally?” He bluntly told me, “Bhaiya jaat-paat bahut dekh liye, ab desh aur dharam dekhna hai”—I am done with caste politics and now it’s time to focus on my religion.

His prompt answer was a surprise: caste has always been an integral part of the Indian political system, and most of the voters used to prefer only voting for their caste leaders. Nevertheless, Narendra Modi’s populist Hindutva[4] nationalism changed the caste calculus in Bihar to some extent; religion has become a wider political plank. One could not imagine that a Yadav would vote against Lalu Prasad Yadav and his party Rashtriya Janta Dal. Also, if someone would vote, she/he couldn’t afford to be vocal about this before 2014. 

Narendra Modi’s populist style of leadership has changed the socio-political equations in the world’s largest democracy. The line of caste has been blurred, and “caste populism” has been taken over by “Hindu nationalist populism,” at least with respect to electoral behaviour. This is one of the biggest shifts in Indian democracy we have witnessed. Before 2014, especially in North Indian states, caste played a primary role in voting behaviour; this has changed (Verniers, 2022). This article attempts to understand this shift and its implications for democracy in India, specifically through the lens of populism. The first part will discuss layers of populism, giving examples from the caste system to understand Hindu populism. In the second part, I will discuss caste populism and my focus will be specifically on the Yadav community. The third part will explain the rise of Hindu populism and its implications for Indian democracy. I will end by looking at the contemporary impact on democracy of these two cleavages.

Indian Democracy and Populism

Caste and religion are the two most prominent cleavages in Indian democracy. There are six main religions, around 3000 castes, and more than 25,000 sub-castes in India (BBC News, 2019). These groups were united under the same roof post-independence, in 1947; democracy was described as “perhaps the only mechanism to hold India together” (Mehta, 2017). Nonetheless, these cleavages have often influenced Indian democracy. The question of the rights of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (the lowest and the historically disadvantaged groups) was settled right after independence: they were granted reservation as a constitutional right. But the concerns of historically disadvantaged classes/castes—also known as Other Backward Classes, or OBCs[5]—and religious minorities were left unaddressed, as their demands for reservation were unfulfilled. Due to such diverse pluralism and these unaddressed concerns, populism has played a crucial factor in maintaining the existing social frictions in Indian democracy. Political parties, caste leaders, and religious groups are used as tools to mobilize one group against another. 

After the 1970s, historically disadvantaged class leaders started mobilizing and demanding their rights, and Yogendra Yadav called this “the second democratic upsurge” (Yadav, 1996). During this period, democracy had taken social root, and many unheard communities started speaking out. Nonetheless, community leaders also made it a battle between the “forward caste vs historically disadvantaged castes.” The Hindu-Muslim fight had already been an integral part of democracy. Therefore, it is difficult to separate the element of “populism” from caste, religion, and democracy. According to Rahul Mukherji, Indian democracy is more about populism rather than welfare (Mukherji, 2014). The author argues that post-independence policies cater to the electoral voter bank instead of promoting the equitable welfare of the masses.

Caste Populism and the Socio-political Rise of Yadav

The Mandal commission movement (a movement to demand reservation in government jobs for historically disadvantaged caste groups) was largely led by the Yadav community in Uttar Pradesh (UP) & Bihar during the 1980s. Leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Yadav mobilized the historically disadvantaged classes (OBCs). After the successful implementation of the B.P. Mandal recommendations, (27 percent of central and state government jobs should be reserved for OBCs), the Yadav community suddenly emerged as a hero among the OBCs and lower caste people. In one of the largest states in India, Bihar, Yadav is the largest caste, with more than 14 percent of the population. 

Lalu Yadav founded Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) in 1997. RJD is an entirely Yadav caste-dominated political party, most prominent in Bihar. He mobilized Yadav, Muslims, and some other castes and formed a formidable equation to win elections.[6] He raised a popular slogan against upper caste people: “bhoora baal saaf karo” (Removing the Brown Hair)—a Hindi slogan referring to acting against upper castes[7]—to win elections. His populist rhetoric separated society into two separate groups: “the forward caste vs the historically disadvantaged caste.” His populist style of campaigning helped in the mobilization of the historically disadvantaged castes. He became the first OBC chief minister in Bihar, and the socio-political structure changed irrevocably. “When a caste captures the space in the political space as ‘samaj (society)’ is mobilized by a political party, rather than weakening the democratic process, it actually strengthens and deepens it” (Michelutti, 2020), and this is exactly what happened in Bihar. 

After becoming the Chief Minister of Bihar, Yadav gave special attention to the Yadav community and used democracy as a tool in their socio-economic uplift. The Yadav were given preference in government jobs. There used to be special wards for Yadavs in public hospitals, where they received free treatments. A caste that had been unheard of and unrepresented in Indian democracy since independence suddenly started ruling one of the largest states in India.

This would’ve been impossible without the Yadav’s electoral alliance with Muslims, forged during the 1990s. This was an important shift that changed the socio-political landscape of democracy in India. 

The political rise of Yadav also influenced other castes as well. Many lower castes started speaking out, and beliefs in Indian democracy deepened as the ‘elite capture’ of political spaces started disseminating and trickling down to the masses. Ram Vilas Paswan founded a Scheduled caste-dominated political party—Lok Janshakti Party—in 2002, and Nitish Kumar founded Janta Dal United—largely a Kurmi-based[8] party—in 2003. The power dynamics shifted from upper-caste people to historically disadvantaged castes.

Local people throwing flowers on Volunteers of Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) during march past in Vasundhara, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh on October 19, 2018.

 

Hindu Nationalism and the New Caste Calculus

The Ram Temple movement[9] was a game-changer for India’s politics. This movement is partly responsible for the rise of both the BJP and Hindu nationalism. In a 1991 manifesto, the BJP promised to construct the Ram Temple to restore a symbolic righting of historical wrongs and to end the long and unhappy chapter of the supposed Muslim suppression of Hindus. Since the Ram Temple was highly sensitive, with a strong religious and emotional meaning, even non-BJP parties like the Indian National Congress, Samajwadi Party, and Bahujan Samajwadi Party, did not openly oppose the idea of constructing the temple on controversial land—even though many of those parties relied on Muslim electoral support (Rashid, 2021). Between 1989 to 1991, during the Ram Temple movement, the BJP saw the biggest jump in its vote share: it increased its stake 1.8 times, winning 20.1 percent of the vote nationally (Kishore, 2019). This made the BJP a national player in Indian politics and mainstreamed the sentiment of Hindu nationalism.

Nevertheless, despite its significant rise, the BJP was known as the party of Brahman and Bania (the upper and privileged caste groups of the Hindu community). Hindu nationalism was viewed as an upper-caste movement. The rise of Hindu nationalism and the socio-political mobilization of lower caste people happened mostly in the last decade (Jaffrelot, 2002). During the parliamentary elections in 2014, the BJP successfully mobilized non-Yadav historically disadvantaged groups’ votes in their favour, all while running on the plank of Hindutva. Under the umbrella of Hindutva, Narendra Modi played the ‘politics of presence’ card to attract other castes, many of whom felt unrepresented during the wave of caste populism. According to KM Panikkar, “many social groups earlier unaware of this political change suddenly realized their strengths…that even they can also come to power” (Mehta, 2017).

The image of Modi as a chaiwala (tea seller) who could become the Prime Minister resonated with the lower strata of society; he was their voice as opposed to the elite Congress which was caught in several scams in 2014. Many ‘backward’ castes like Kurmi, Koeri, Kushwaha, etc. could not get a share in power in the state or central governments. BJP tapped this unfulfilled desire and mobilized these castes against Yadav in the UP. The Lokniti-CSDS survey data suggests that this new social engineering of Hindu nationalism has worked quite well. BJP bagged over 40 percent of the OBC votes in the 2019 parliamentary election (Banerjee, 2018). BJP mobilized these castes against Yadav and Muslims, specifically on the plank of Hinduism, and united a more extensive section of castes under the umbrella of Hindu nationalism. For instance, the BJP’s main promise in 2014 was employment and everyone’s social and economic development (“Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas”). However, in 2019 the BJP’s main electoral agendas were aggressive nationalism (as there was high tension between India and Pakistan)[10], the construction of the Ram Temple, and the abrogation of article 370.[11] As per the study, Modi’s speeches focused on aggressive national security, and the vote share of the BJP increased by 4.6 percentage points in the home constituencies of soldiers killed in the India and Pakistan violence (Arya & Bhatiya, 2021). 

Hindus have rarely, if ever, been so united post-independence. This unity also influenced the Yadav community to some extent. Data from the Trivedi Political Centre, Ashoka University, suggests that the BJP-NDA alliance has more than 50 Yadav MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) in their camp, which is around 23 percent of the total MLAs in the Bihar state assembly (Nissa, 2020). The major takeaway from this data is that Hindu nationalist populism has blurred the line of caste populism, and a large section of the population has started identifying more with religion than caste. I believe the Narendra Modi-led BJP understood the new aspirations of these social groups earlier than other opposition political parties. As many opposition parties, including the Indian National Congress, are seen as pro-Muslim parties, Modi establishes this narrative among the majority of Hindus in his electoral speeches (Rao, 2018). Therefore, they are able to form new social identities under the umbrella of Hindu nationalism.

New Power Dynamics and a Majoritarian Democracy

This new caste calculus has directly influenced the nature of Indian democracy, and I believe now all political parties want to dock with “the majoritarian horse” and mobilize Hindus against others. For instance, while all political parties used to appease Muslims for their votes, Muslims are now mostly ignored. This is also reflected in the Modi government’s policies like CAA-NRC[12], the abolition of article 370, etc. Recently, the Samajwadi Party leader and a very well know Yadav, Akhilesh Yadav said, “Lord Krishna comes in his dreams every night and tells that he will set up Ram Rajya (the rule of Lord Ram) in Uttar Pradesh” (Press Trust of India, 2022). By using the names of Lord Krishna and Ram together, even he is also trying to fuse Yadav and the entire Hindu community together for the coming UP state assembly election. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also started visiting temples across the country and claimed that he is a Kashmiri Brahmin (The Economic Times, 2018).

Changes in socio-political power relations and the expansion of democracy across the castes and communities have penetrated the Indian political imagination and have “begun to corrode the authority of the social order” (Khilnani, 1999). There should not be any debate in saying that democracy has changed the fate of many lower castes in India. Many unheard voices have been heard and shared in state power. But this current form of Hindutva nationalism’s populist politics has overshadowed other cleavages within Indian democracy like Muslims, Tribals, etc. Hindus have mobilized and have also started voicing their unheard historical pain[13] and grief against the imposition of “secular India” on them.

Nevertheless, what about those who have been left behind because of this democratic upsurge? What about the largest minority of the world’s largest democracy—a group currently living under fear and threat? If democracy is perhaps the only tool to hold India together, then why is it failing to provide a safe environment to other minorities like Muslims, Tribals, and women? I don’t know what the solution is. I am not sure whether there is a need for another democratic upsurge or not, but I firmly believe that the solution lies in democracy itself. As in the words of PB Mehta, “When we praise or blame democracy, we are often like the person looking for his lost key under the lamp post—not because he has lost it there, but because it is bright there.”

 


(*) Saurabh Raj is a student of M.A. in Public Policy & Governance at Azim Premji University, India. He was also a participant in ECPS Civic Leadership Program, in 2021. His area of interest is party politics, far-right populism, and electoral & democratic reforms. He has also work experience in political and democratic reforms for more than five years.


 

References 

— (2018). “’My gotra is Dattatreya, I am a Kashmiri Brahmin’: Rahul Gandhi in Pushkar.” The Economic Times.November 27, 2018. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/rahul-gandhis-gotra-is-dattatreya-he-is-kashmiri-brahmin-priest/articleshow/66820708.cms?from=mdr (accessed on October 6, 2022).

— (2019). “What is India’s caste system?” BBC News. June 19, 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-35650616 (accessed on September 16, 2022).

Arya, Y. & Bhatiya, A. Y. (2021). “The Salience of Political Messages: Evidence from Soldier Deaths in India.” SSRN Electronic Journalhttps://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3955198

Banerjee, A. (2018). “BJP goes all out for 41% OBC votes in 2019.” India Today. June 19, 2018. https://www.indiatoday.in/elections/lok-sabha-2019/story/bjp-goes-all-out-for-41-obc-votes-in-2019-1263850-2018-06-19 (accessed on September 16, 2022).

Desk, O. W. (2022). “Hindutva: The Growth of Violent Hindu Nationalism.” Outlook India. February 3, 2022. https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/hindutva-the-growth-of-violent-hindu-nationalism/217969 (accessed on October 6, 2022).

Jaffrelot, C. (2002). India’s Silent Revolution (ed.). Columbia University Press.

Khilnani, S. (1999). The Idea of India (1st Ppbk Ed, 1999 ed.). Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Kishore, R. (2019). “How the temple movement helped BJP.” Hindustan Times. November 15, 2019. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/how-temple-movement-helped-bjp/story-VXQd0EgOAwvY4RStFndbVN.html (accessed on October 12, 2022).

Mehta, P. B. (2017). Burden Of Democracy. India Penguin.

Michelutti, L. (2020). The Vernacularisation of Democracy. Taylor & Francis.

Mudde, C., & Kaltwasser, R. C. (2017). Populism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press.

Mukherji, R. (2014). Political Economy of Reforms in India: Oxford India Short Introductions (Oxford India Short Introductions Series) (1st ed.). Oxford University Press.

Nissa, B. A. V. G. U. (2020). “What does the caste profile of MLAs in Bihar tell us about politics?” Hindustan Times.November 16, 2020. https://www.hindustantimes.com/bihar-election/what-does-caste-profile-of-mlas-in-bihar-tell-us-about-politics/story-OgMg2zkzFAWwdP9qQs2klK.html (accessed on September 16, 2022).

Rao, P. V., Jr. (2018). “How BJP & Congress play politics over Muslims.” The Asian Age. July 17, 2018. https://www.asianage.com/opinion/oped/170718/how-bjp-congress-play-politics-over-muslims.html (accessed on October 6, 2022).

Verniers, G. (2022). “Role Of Caste in Elections.” Outlook India. February 3, 2022. https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/role-of-caste-in-elections/295807 (accessed on October 6, 2022)

Yadav, L. P. (2019). Gopalganj to Raisina Road (Hindi Edition). Rupa Publications India.

Yadav, Y. (1996). “Reconfiguration in Indian Politics-State Assembly Elections, 1993-95.” In: Economic and Political Weekly: Vol. Vol. 31 (Issue Issue No. 2-3). 


Footnotes

[1] The JP (Jay Prakash) movement was against Emergency and the Indira Gandhi-led Congress government in 1975-77. It was the first nation-wide movement against the Indian National Congress post-independence.

[2] Lord Sri Ram is a mythological Hindu God, and the slogan “Jay Shri Ram” has become a war cry of the BJP against Muslims.

[3] I will be using “historically disadvantaged groups” to refer to Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in this piece- 

[4] A modern political ideology that advocates for Hindu supremacy and seeks to transform India into a Hindu nation (Outlook India, 2022). 

[5] The Indian Constitution categorizes three classes in India – Forward/Upper caste, Other Backward Caste and Scheduled Caste and Tribes

[6] Electoral alliances between Muslims (17%) and Yadav (14%).

[7] BhooRa Baal represents four upper castes of Bihar – Bhumihar (Bhoo), Rajput(Ra), Brahman(Baa), and Lala(L).

[8] Kurmi is also one of the influteinal castes in Bihar after Yadav and they also belong to the historically disadvantaged class

[9] Ram is Hindu mythological god and Hindus believe that Ayoydhya was his birthplace, where Babri Mosque was built. Hindutva supporters demolished Babri Mosque in 1992. The case about Ram Temple eventually went to the Supreme Court of India. Recently, Hindus won the case, and the Ram Temple construction got a green light to proceed.

[10] A terrorist attack on an army convoy in Pulwama (Kashmir) in 2019 just a few months before the parliamentary elections of 2019. In response, the Modi government launched counter airstrikes in Balakot (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir). 

[11] The 1954 presidential order constituted a founding legal document for Jammu and Kashmir (as it was a disputed land between India and Pakistan at that moment); Article 370 and 35A protected the exclusive law—such as the bar on outsiders buying property and women marrying non-Kashmiris losing their property rights—of the State. The Modi Government revoked this in 2019.

[12]  CAA stands for Citizenship (Amendment) Act (2019) that was passed in Parliament on December 11, 2019. The Modi government amended the Citizenship law to grant citizenship to religious minorities of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh but not Muslims (Press Information Bureau, 2019).

[13] The narrative of the politics of Muslims’ appeasement. BJP claims that Congress was/is a pro-Muslim party. Hence, Hindus’ concerns were ignored by the Congress governments in the name of secularism. 

Chess-Map

‘Talk Series on Sharp Power’ jointly organized by ECPS, ADI and Deakin University

Sharp Power is a new concept that emphasizes the policy transition from “soft” to “hard” in a global/local context. The European Centre for Populism Studies (Brussels), in collaboration with the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalization (ADI), and Deakin University (Melbourne), is proud to announce a new Talk Series on the topic of Sharp Power.

Registration

Public and cultural diplomacy are hugely employed by global powers to project their soft powers. In the hands of autocratic regimes, these concepts have been instrumentalized to serve autocratic interests. Such autocratic regimes have widely used the concepts of public diplomacy and cultural diplomacy to achieve their foreign policy objectives.

Sharp Power is a new concept that emphasizes the policy transition from “soft” to “hard” in a global/local context. Chris Walker and Jessica Ludwig defined sharp power as authoritarian influence techniques used by countries such as China and Russia that, while not openly coercive, are also not “soft.”

The European Centre for Populism Studies (Brussels), in collaboration with the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalization (ADI), and Deakin University (Melbourne), is proud to announce a new Talk Series on the topic of Sharp Power. These series aim to explore and broaden the existing scholarship on ‘sharp power,’ an innovative and emerging field of research. 

Having found a gap between the concepts of hard- and soft-power, scholars from across many disciplines have sought to dissect the authoritarian regimes’ new and harmful tactics and activities in third countries. Thus, the concept of sharp power is developed to frame harmful transnational activities of some certain, authoritarian powers, predominantly coming from countries like Russia and China. This growing scholarship has the additional vocation to alert liberal democracies against the subversive activities of authoritarian regimes who are hostile to democratic institutions and values that they seem as existential threats to their ‘authoritarian values’ and stability of their regimes.

The talk series will make up of eight live-streamed seminars every Wednesday starting from October until mid-December. The live streams will be also published on the YouTube channel. During the sessions, theoretical background, country contexts (China and Russia), European and Asian cases, impacts on digital environment, and human rights perspectives will be held by distinguished experts in the field. 

 

Event I – Seminar

Christopher Walker: “Authoritarian mobilization and sharp power”

Wednesday, November 9, 2022 / 12:00 (CET)

China, Russia, and other countries ruled by repressive regimes have dramatically scaled up their investment into spheres commonly associated with soft power, including into media, education, technology, and entertainment. Most free societies are still not adequately prepared to meet the multidimensional sharp-power strategies applied by China, Russia, and like-minded states. Open societies will be vulnerable so long as they maintain a blind spot about the compromising and corrosive aspects of such forms of authoritarians’ outward-facing influence.

Christopher Walker is Vice President for Studies and Analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy, an independent, nonprofit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world. In this capacity, he oversees the department that is responsible for NED’s multifaceted analytical work. Prior to joining the NED, Walker was Vice President for Strategy and Analysis at Freedom House. Walker has testified before legislative committees, appears regularly in the media, and frequently conducts briefings on critical issues relating to democratic development.

Walker has been at the forefront of the discussion on authoritarian influence on democratic systems. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, and the Journal of Democracy. He is co-editor (with Larry Diamond and Marc Plattner) of the edited volume Authoritarianism Goes Global: The Challenge to Democracy (2016), and co-editor (with Jessica Ludwig) of the reports Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence (2017), and Sharp Power and Democratic Resilience (2021). His article, “Rising to the Sharp Power Challenge,” appears in the October 2022 issue of the Journal of Democracy.

 

Event II – Seminar

 

Gavin Wilde: “Russia’s information warfare as regime insecurity”

Wednesday, November 16, 2022 / 11:00 (CET)

If a unified theory of Russian information warfare exists, its core tenet might well be its historic indivisibility from regime security in Russian strategic thought. Rather than as an aggressive or expansionist expression of Moscow’s foreign policy, the Kremlin’s “information war” should primarily be viewed through a domestic political and security prism—as much a counterinsurgency as an expeditionary strategy, less an escalation than a projection.

Gavin Wilde is a senior fellow in the Technology and International Affairs Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he applies his expertise on Russia and information warfare to examine the strategic challenges posed by cyber and influence operations, propaganda, and emerging technologies. He previously served on the US National Security Council, and in analytic and leadership roles in the US intelligence community for 15 years—including as a coauthor of the IC assessment of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. He is also an adjunct lecturer on information conflict at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

 

Event III – Seminar

 

Julia Bader: “The Chinese Communist Party’s international networks”

Wednesday, November 23, 2022 / 11:00 (CET)

The talk addresses a largely overlooked actor in China’s foreign relations, the International Department of the Communist Party of China. Building on an intense travel diplomacy, the ID-CPC maintains a widely stretched network topolitical elites across the globe. The ID-CPC’s engagement is not new; but since Xi Jinping took office, the CPC has bolstered its efforts to reach out to other parties. Party relations not only serve as an additional channel to advance China’s foreign policy interests. Since President Xi has come to power, party relations also emerged as a key instrument to promote China’s vision for reforming the global order. Moreover, China increasingly uses the party channel as a vehicle of authoritarian learning by sharing experiences of its economic modernization and authoritarian one-party regime. The cross-regional analysis of the CPC’s engagement with other parties helps us to better understand the role of the CPC in Chinese foreign policymaking, pointing to a new research agenda at the intersection of China’s foreign relations, authoritarian diffusion, and transnational relations.

Julia Bader is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam. Before joining UvA in July 2012, she worked as a research fellow at the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) in Bonn (Germany). Dr Bader holds a MA in Politics and Management from Konstanz University and a PhD in Political Science from Heidelberg University.

Dr Bader’s research focuses on China’s foreign relations, regime transition and autocratic stability, international relations and foreign policy, development assistance and human rights. Dr Bader is the author of the monograph China’s Foreign Relations and the Survival of Autocracies which has been published with Routledge. Her work has appeared in academic journals such as International Studies Quarterly, European Journal of Political Research, Journal of Peace Research, Foreign Policy Analysis, Democratization, International Studies Review, Contemporary Politics, and in several collective book projects. Her research on the Chinese Communist Party’s International Department has been featured in The Economist and in the South China Morning Post. She has been interviewed for the VPRO’s Tegenlicht Future Shock Podcast (in Dutch).

 

Event IV – Seminar

 

Vincent Charles Keating: “Sharp Power, or something more? Conceptualizing Russian influence beyond ‘unwanted flows of information’”

Wednesday, November 30, 2022 / 11:00 (CET)

Sharp power is one of several recent attempts to conceptualize the influence that illiberal states have on liberal states. Characterized as not ‘hard power,’ involving direct military or potentially economic coercion, sharp power attempts to theorize coercion, that although not as severe as hard power, nonetheless has the potential to undermine and damage liberal states. This talk aims to show how this conceptualization of illiberal state influence, one that can be grouped together with other similar concepts under the heading ‘unwanted flows of information,’ has led to a cognitive blind spot in our understanding of the scope of Russian influence in the West. By focusing on manipulation and subversion, it rejects the possibility that the messages coming out of the Russian state can be more than this – that they can also be ideologically attractive. In making this claim, this talk suggests that we need to characterize the influence of illiberal states not simply as ‘unwanted flows of information,’ such as sharp power, but consider how the influence is also ideological, and how that changes how we might think of solutions to this problem.

Vincent Charles Keating is an Associate Professor and Head of Section for International Politics, Center for War Studies, University of Southern Denmark. He holds an MSc in Nationalism Studies from the University of Edinburgh and a PhD in International Politics from Aberystwyth University. Dr Keating’s co-authored work on Russian soft power has been published in International Politics and the Journal of International Relations and Development. Before coming to SDU, he held a previous position at the University of Durham and has been an invited guest professor at Université Paris-Panthéon-Assas (Paris II). In addition to Russian soft power, Keating’s research spans a number of other topics, including the challenges of the War on Terror on international human rights, the role of trust and distrust in international security, and how international non-governmental organizations maintain their global legitimacy.

 

Event V – Panel

Tihomira Doncheva, Viktor Denisenko and Grigorij Mesežnikov

Wednesday, December 7, 2022 / 11:00 (CET)

Viktor Denisenko: “Kremlin’s information war against the ‘collective West’: View from Lithuania”

The Baltic States, including Lithuania, were between first states that faced attacks of re-born Kremlin propaganda in the 90s of the XX century. Many narratives (about discrimination of Russian-speaking communities, neo-Nazism, Russophobia) used later against Ukraine firstly were tested in information warfare against Lithuania (as well Latvia and Estonia). Today, the challenge of Kremlin information warfare become very hot not only for former Soviet states. Moscow is waging a global information war against the “collective West”. In this situation very important is to discuss traditions (i.e. some stable narratives) and transformations (i.e. vanished boundaries between disinformation and diplomacy) of Kremlin propaganda and disinformation.   

Viktor Denisenko is an Associate Professor at General Jonas Žemaitis Military Academy of Lithuania and Vilnius University. He got PhD in communication and information in 2016 at Vilnius University. The field of his scientific and professional interests includes propaganda, information warfare, and political communication. Viktor Denisenko is the author of the book “In the Encirclement of Propaganda” (Vilnius University Press, 2021).

Grigorij Mesežnikov:Russia’s sharp power in post-communist Europe: From disinfo narratives to military aggression”

Promoting its interests abroad, Russian state does not focus primarily on championing their own positive, attractive and viable alternatives but rather on undermining and destroying socio-political models that exist in the countries where it tries to advertise its concepts, therefore such a model of asserting influence abroad can be referred to as “sharp power.” Russia strives to debilitate or dismantle liberal democracy as a system, which is why it considers almost every enemy of liberal democracy around the world and particularly in Europe, including central Europe to be their ally – either a strategic or a situational.

The mission of Russian sharp power mechanism is to encourage mutual mistrust between people, relativize distinctions between democratic and non-democratic systems of government, blur differences between facts and fiction, between truth and lies, between trustworthy knowledge and its “alternative” interpretations in peoples’ perception and thus create an atmosphere of precarity.  Since 2014, the year of annexation of Crimea and occupation of part of the Eastern Ukraine, Russia is leading the information aggression against the post-communist Central European countries. Actors of this aggression try to spin the narratives that the very concept of liberal democracy is not suitable for Central European nations, that it is obsolete and should be replaced by another concept based on national, traditional, conservative, collectivist and ethnic values. According to such and interpretation, liberal democracy is not a system that creates optimum conditions for citizens’ freedom, democratic system of governance and implementation of human rights but rather merely a tool to promote power interests of large states while simultaneously harming vital interests of small European nations. Sharp power is a tool used by Russian expansionist authoritarian regime in efforts to reach its ultimate goal – to disconnect Central European nations from the West, to revise and reverse the results of their transformation processes and thus to reconstruct the past.

Grigorij Mesežnikov is a political scientist, president of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), Bratislava, Slovakia. He has published numerous expert studies on party systems’ development and political aspects of transformation in post-communist societies, illiberal and authoritarian tendencies, populism, extremism, nationalism and hybrid threats in various monographs, collections and scholarly journals in Slovakia and other countries. He regularly contributes analyses of Slovakia’s political scene to domestic and foreign media. Since 1993, he has been an external correspondent for Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe. He has edited and authored dozens of books, including the Global Reports on Slovakia (1995 – 2011), the comprehensive analysis of country’s development in all relevant sectors of society. He was a key author of the report on Slovakia in Nations in Transit published by Freedom House (1998 – 2014). In 2006 he was awarded by Reagan-Fascell Fellowship by the National Endowment for Democracy (Washington, D.C.), in 2012 he was a research fellow of Taiwan Fellowship Program at the Department of Political Science of National Taiwan University in Taipei where he researched similarities and differences of democratization and civil society development in Taiwan and in Central Europe. In 2019 – 2020 he was a fellow of the Institute for Human Science – Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (Vienna) at the Europe’s Futures program.

Tihomira Doncheva: “Russia’s footprint in the western Balkan information environment”

This talk will be about information influence activities in the Balkans as an example of sharp power. Doncheva will go in-depth into what are some of the factors that enable information influence activities, as well look into specific examples of Russian case.

Tihomira Doncheva is director of Center for Information, Democracy, and Citizenship (CIDC). She is an experienced communicator, researcher and project manager on multi-disciplinary topics related to the problems and challenges, opportunities and values of a liberal democratic society. She has joined AUBG in the summer of 2022, heading the university’s flagship initiative to reinvigorate AUBG’s founding mission. Through the CIDC, Doncheva aims to educate students and interested stakeholders to be engaged, informed, critical democratic citizens who will be committed to the rule of law, pluralism and inclusiveness, and open discussion, free press, and respect for human rights.

Doncheva has worked as a journalist for one of Bulgaria’s most professional media outlets, Capital, and has been a Researcher for the NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence in Riga, working on malign influence across the Western Balkans. Over the last three years, she worked for a strategic communications company based in London, the UK, where her portfolio included a variety of projects from countering disinformation and propaganda, media development and information resilience, to countering violent extremism and terrorism in countries across the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. She is a published author of reports on information influence activities in the Western Balkans and has also developed two separate apps on countering disinformation for journalists.

Tihomira has a First-Class Honours BA degree in Journalism from the University of Robert Gordon (Aberdeen, the UK) and a BA Honours degree in Europe in the World from the Hogeschool Utrecht and the Danish School of Media and Journalism (Utrecht, the Netherlands and Aarhus, Denmark). She has also completed an MA degree in Strategic Communications from the War Department at King’s College London (London, the UK).

As the Director at the newly founded CIDC, Doncheva will focus her efforts on strategizing and developing the CIDC as a think, talk, and act platform to provide academic opportunities for students and faculty, to generate new resources in collaboration with the civil society, business and public sector, and elevate AUBG as the go-to place for shared resources, partnerships, research and advocacy efforts within Bulgaria and the region.

 

Event VI – Panel

Ibrahim Öztürk and Imdat Oner

Wednesday, December 14, 2022 / 12:00 (CET)

Ibrahim Ozturk: China’s heading towards sharp power politics 

Sharp power is defined as the ability of countries to influence others to achieve the desired outcome, not by attracting them as in soft power, but by influencing them, disseminating and manipulating information. In this seminar, we are interested in the sharp power politics of authoritarian regimes because, as underlined by several experts like J. P. Cardenal (2017) and later J. Nye (2018), they are increasingly taking recourse to it in pursuing not only their national interests but also the interest of their particular type of regime. As a combination of soft, smart, and hard power politics, China has been implementing sharp power politics to gradually and systemically penetrate developing and developed countries and legitimize and disseminate its authoritarian state capitalism globally. This aspect of China has become more visible, particularly after Xi Jinping’s ascendance into power in 2013. During his governance, China has been actively pursuing “sharp power politics” through 

(1) investing significant political capital and monies, 

(2) the use of various organs of its government -the United Work Front, Ministries of Public Security, State Security and Foreign Affairs, 

(3) deploying media, culture, academia, tourists, and the diaspora abroad,  

(4) implementing coercion, persuasion, political power, and inducements  

As a result, China’s foreign policy has transitioned in recent years from soft power (attraction-based) to sharp power, leveraging mainly its economic might to manipulate and co-opt culture, education systems, and media. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the most comprehensive and long-term project China has developed in its long history, including the historic Silk Road, should be considered entirely within this context. 

BRI was initially seen as an opportunity, especially by governments who distanced themselves from the West, the embattled populist leaders of poor countries, and finally by some developed Western countries in the hope of finding financing for big projects, more penetrating the Chinese market, and jointly entering projects with China. However, the BRI implementations in the falsifying and fake Chinese contracts, especially in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Kenya and Macedonia, have increasingly turned into a debt trap diplomacy and have begun to be seen as a threat as many strategic national assets come under the control of China. Several examples of sharp power “tactics” and “manoeuvres” used by China have taken attention in the mentioned process. 

Besides, the Chinese approach also takes advantage of the asymmetry between systemic differences. In that regard, the Communşist party shields China from outside influence through censorship, eliminating free expression, and use of manipulation to undermine the integrity of independent institutions whereas distorting political environments in democracies.  

The international community allowed China’s increasing integration into the liberal multilateral global order, mainly, through membership in global organizations like the WTO in 2001, with the belief that China will continue “normalizing” through further opening based on reciprocity and “converging” to the rule of the game. However, empirical pieces of evidence both in (Honk-Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang internment camps) as well as outside China have shown that the view of “China as an opportunity” has been falsified and, instead, “China as thread” school is gaining prominence globally. Today, we come to the stage where ignorance of China’s use of sharp power to prioritize profit and Chinese market access is not sustainable anymore when China crosses the line of national security in many countries. 

Ibrahim Oztürk has been a visiting professor of economics at the University of Duisburg Essen (Germany) since 2017.  Since his PhD at Keio University (Tokyo, Japan, 1998) with a dissertation on the rise and decline of Japan’s developmental institutions post-WWII, Dr Öztürk has been working on the Japanese, Chinese and Turkish economies.  He has been working at (1) the UDE since 2017 as a visiting research fellow and (2) the European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS) since October 2020 as a senior economic researcher. 

Before, he worked at both Marmara University (full-time: 1993-2016) and Bosporus University (part-time: 2003-2014) (İstanbul, Turkey), at Tokyo University (2004), Institute of Developing Economies (Tokyo, Japan, 2005), at North American University, (Houston/Texas, the USA, 2014-2015).  He is one of the founders of the Istanbul Japan Research Association and Asian Studies Center of Bosporus University. 

He served as a consultant to business associations, companies, and the government. Also, he was a columnist and TV commentator in Turkey at different media outlets for long years.  

His research area includes Japanese economic development, China and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), governance, the political economy of Turkey, and the role of institutions in economic development.  His native language is Turkish, and he is fluent in English, advanced (C1) in German and Lower intermediate in Japanese as a spoken language.  

Imdat Oner: Great power competition in Latin America through strategic narrative  

China, Russia, and the US are globally competing for political leadership and spheres of influence. This discussion, in particular, focuses on the instrumental role of narrative power projected through social media and international broadcasting in great power competition and rivalry for global influence. How do China, Russia and the US seek to undermine each other through negative messaging in their respective state-led media outlets? To answer this question, this discussion will offer an analysis of the narrative conveyed by China’s CGTN, Russia’s Sputnik and the US’s Voice of America. In addition, this discussion will also provide a context of narrative convergence between China and Russia against the United States. 

Imdat Oner is a former Turkish diplomat who recently served as Deputy of Head of Mission and Political Officer at the Turkish Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela. He is currently a Senior Policy Analyst at the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy at Florida International University, where he is a Ph.D. candidate in International Relations. 
 

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