View of the A15 motorway near Paris, where the demonstration of farmers in tractors, are blocked by the police on January 29, 2024. Photo: Franck Legros.

Connection Between Populism and Identity Politics in the European Union Before the 2024 European Parliament Elections

The 2024 EU parliament election polls show the populist right and far right as the main winners. The fact that voters tend to choose populist parties could increase the populist agenda of the left to compete with the far right, as an attempt to transform xenophobic tendencies by the right into inclusionary populism, which describes the conservative elite as the other and creates further social conflicts. Therefore, we need to ask ourselves how populism (both left and right) impacts EU legislation and what forecasts we can identify for the elections in 2024.

By Katharina Diebold

The upcoming elections of the EU Parliament and the next presidency of the Council of the EU, which will be Hungary, are contentious issues for the European Community (Henley, 2024). The polls for the 2024 EU elections and the Hungarian presidency indicate a rise of right-wing and anti-Europe populist parties. These tendencies fuel the transformation of the EU towards the right and conservativism (Wax & Goryashko, 2024). 

The 2024 EU parliament election polls show the populist right and far right as the main winners. The fact that voters tend to choose populist parties could increase the populist agenda of the left to compete with the far right, as an attempt to transform xenophobic tendencies by the right into inclusionary populism, which describes the conservative elite as the other and creates further social conflicts (Henley, 2024; Suiter, 2016; Stavrakakis & Katsambekis, 2014). Therefore, we need to ask ourselves how populism (both left and right) impacts EU legislation and what forecasts we can identify for the elections in 2024.

In this essay, I propose that recently adopted EU legislation, the Green New Deal (including the Nature Restoration Regulation and Deforestation Regulation), and the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, are influenced by populism and identity politics and harm the EU. In connection with this, populist candidates driven by identity politics threaten the future of the EU. 

Theoretical Framework 

Populism is defined as a thin ideology comprising three key elements: the people, the general will and the elite, (Zulianello & Larsen, 2021; Mudde, 2004). Additionally, it incorporates the dimension of the “dangerous others,” often represented by migrants, positioned in contrast to the people (Rooduijn & Akkerman, 2015).

Even though populism is in Western Europe closely associated with the right, the left has increasingly adopted populist strategies. The negligence of academic research about the populist left can be responsible for those recent findings. This seems even more relevant when we consider the outstanding electoral performance of populist left parties compared to populist right parties for the last elections of the European Parliament in 2019, such as Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, and Sinn Féin in Ireland (Bernhard & Kriesi, 2021; Statista, 2024).

For example, The Greek Syriza Party (founded in 2004) and the Irish Sinn Féin Party (founded in 1905) were only recognized as left-wing populist parties in 2014 (O’Malley & Fitzgibbon, 2014; Stavrakakis & Katsambekis, 2014). Nevertheless, Syriza’s populism has been questionable through its government term and recent opposition in 2021 (Markou, 2021). 

Identity is a set of labels describing persons distinguished by attributes (Noury & Roland, 2020). Identity politics is the belief that identity is a fundamental focus of political work, which can be connected to lifestyle and culture (Bernstein, 2005). Politicizing immigrants as the other is an example of that. In Europe, identity politics is referred to as the protection of the “silent majority” from harmful consequences of immigration, which is used by right-wing populists (Noury & Roland, 2020). 

The effect of rising populism within the EU on the right- and left-wing can already be recognized by looking at EU-party campaigns or populist candidates for the upcoming elections. Besides the right, the left populists also employ identity politics. The left populism can be seen in promoting marginalized identities, such as racial and ethnic identities and seeking to transform the shame previously associated with these identities into pride (Salmela & Von Scheve, 2018). Accordingly, these protests generate others, including people who abide by a different value system and also the privileged elite who overlook intersectional identities as a threat. While promoting human rights, advocacy for intersectional identities can also fall into the trap of populism among leftist groups and other advocates (Stavrakakis & Katsambekis, 2014). However, intersectionality may not be the only advocacy that can turn into a populist movement in the name of advocacy. Climate and human rights activists can also be politicized and positioned as polarized identities (Mackay et al., 2021). 

Inherent Populism in EU Legislation

Environmental politics presents contention for both the right- and left-wing populist parties.  Both the right and left-wing parties instrumentalize newly adopted legislation to increase the public appeal of voters (European Commission, 2023). This can be exemplified in the recent regulations. The newest adopted legislation, the European Green New Deal, including its Deforestation Regulation and its Regulation on Nature Restoration, and the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, have elements of otherization and marginalization of identities. A closer examination of de jure analysis and how these laws, as portrayed in political language, unearths the need for more interest in realizing the general goals of protecting nature. It looks like nature is wiped of its identity within the hands of humans who instrumentalize nature as a theme broadly advocated by large swaths of society. Therefore, identity politics exploiting nature must be identified and widely discussed to protect nature and the shared values of humanity, not to sacrifice basic human dignity for politics, especially before the upcoming elections. 

The European Green New Deal

The European Green New Deal, including the Deforestation Regulation, entered into force on June 29, 2023, and the provisional agreement for the Regulation on Nature Restoration was accepted on November 9, 2023. These legislations gaining the support of the left can also be instrumentalized to boost the attention and sympathy of left-wing parties before the elections.

The populism surrounding the Nature Restoration Regulation can be approached as a case showcasing populist politics appealing to the left (The EU #NatureRestoration Law, 2023). The left uses advocacy of this legislation, especially the Greens/EFA, in the elections for greenwashing purposes and voter accumulation. However, this law focused more on economic benefits than actual environmental protection and lost its progressiveness throughout the legislative procedure. Therefore, it is based on the misconception that this regulation substantially improves nature restoration and indigenous rights protection (Pinto, 2023). Moreover, this law increases the financial burden for the forestry, fishery, and farming sectors, claims the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) (Weise & Guillot, 2023). However, these realities are dismissed in the political language of environmental advocacy. 

The Greens-European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) campaign clearly describes the people as the “citizens, farmers, fishers and business in the EU.” The elite is defined as “the conservatives, far right and some liberals” who “try to tear down a new EU law to restore nature.” The general will of the people focuses on tackling “biodiversity and the climate crisis (GreensEFA, 2023). The campaign by the Greens/EFA for this regulation plays into identity politics as the party uses a language claiming to advocate for the protection of marginalized indigenous and local communities. While this claim remains to be only a discourse, regardless, it boosts the popularity of the Greens. Zoomed closely, the ostensibly evergreen legislation advocating the protection of biodiversity promotes local cartels and exploitative companies that benefit and take advantage of the EU partnerships (Euronews, 2023). The hypocrisy and the tact in the use of language can be seen in the advocacy language of the party that left these cartels intentionally out.

Deforestation Regulation 

The Greens/EFA campaign for the Deforestation Regulation shows characteristics of populism (European Commission, 2023). Greens/EFA characterizes “the people” as the “people that must always come before profit.” Thus, this regulation favors European distributers instead of the exploited farmers in the developing countries. In this case, “the elite” is the group of companies that need to safeguard no deforestation or human rights violations along the production.” “The general will” is intended to “end EU-driven deforestation” (Greens/EFA, 2023). This is an example of how left parties connect political anti-elitism to economic anti-elitism and the argument that hardworking, ordinary citizens are betrayed by the political-economic power elite (Rooduijn & Akkerman, 2015). 

Additionally, the new regulation will only prevent EU customers from buying products derived from deforestation. However, the actual deforestation and sales of deforested products to other customers worldwide can continue (Greenpeace, 2021). The regulation also lost its progressive and ambitious character throughout the legislation procedure (Fairtraide.net., 2022).

New Pact on Migration and Asylum 

The left and the right use identity politics as a tool to increase sympathy for the upcoming elections through the usage of marginalized identities such as “migrants” and “asylum seekers” (Greens/EFA, n.d.). The recent pact on migration can be shown as an example of populist identity politics transcending the right and left binary, uniting the voters around the so-called threat posed by the influx of migrants and asylum seekers. 

The New Pact on Migration and Asylum reinforces the topic of illegal migration and thus supports the right-wing campaigning for the European Elections 2024. The political language on this regulation is laden with populist elements. Firstly, the right-wing European Peoples Party defines “the people” as “the hard-working EU citizens.” Secondly, “the elite” is defined as “smugglers and traffickers controlling illegal migration” (Press Statement von der Leyen, 2023). Thirdly, “the general will” is defined as stopping the suffering of the EU through migrants (Press Statement von der Leyen, December 20, 2023; Press Statement Schinas, 2023). 

The populist language forebears the identity politics around migration appealing to both the right and the left. The New Pact and statements by the EU Commission play into identity politics through the terminology of the “bad migrants,” positioning them as “dangerous others.” Unfortunately, the New Pact has been under debate in the EU since 2020 and is now used as a promotional tool for the upcoming elections to attract voters on the right and the left (Georgian, 2024). 

The New Pact can also be used by the Greens/EFA populist campaign for the European Elections 2024, reinforcing the idea of a unified peace union. “The people” are defined as “us and the migrants and asylum seekers, that we do not leave behind.” “The general will” is to “uphold human rights and international law” (GreensEFA, 2023). “The elite” is defined as the authoritarian national governments of developing countries, making it necessary for refugees to flee (Greens/EFA, n.d.).

Additionally, the Pact favors the reinforcement of border controls, returns and re-admissions over legal migration opportunities. Those stay symbolic, vague, and distant policy goals. Recent reviews of policy documents show that the EU prioritizes regulating irregular migration, and despite its rhetoric for “strengthening legal migration,” concrete action is missing (Sunderland, 2023). 

Identity Politics and Candidates 

Introducing inexperienced candidates tailored to resonate with particular social groups is a common strategy employed by both left and right populist parties to garner support. This practice serves as another instance of identity politics shaping the European political landscape. Following in the footsteps of their forerunners, like Marie Le Pen or Hugo Chávez from the past, these charismatic political figures engage in populist rhetoric, addressing a diverse range of social and legal issues in their political discourse—from environmental protection to EU identity and migration (Serra, 2017).

Examples for the upcoming European Parliament elections 2024 include Nicola Gehringer, promoted by the German right-wing party CSU (Christian Social Union), on place nine. Gehringer is a successful executive assistant of a big corporation “Neoloan AG” with potential to attract successful business owners. Another figure is the farmer and agriculture expert Stefan Köhler, who runs for the CSU on place six to attract farmers (Zeit Online, 2023). With the recent increasing farmer’s protests in Germany, France and the Netherlands, farmers have become increasingly crucial in the European discourse (Trompiz & Levaux, 2024). 

Legal and security experts are also running with public appeal to the voters across political divides. The German candidate for “Die Linke,” a leftist Party, is Carola Rackete. She is a human rights activist fighting for better refugee rights and asylum laws, running for the second position (MDR.DE., 2023). The human rights activist as a candidate can increase the amount of more radical voters from the left. The German Green Party is heading with a policeman on place eighteen towards the elections, trying to include more right-leaning social groups as well in the Green voter repertoiresince police officers can tend to vote for conservative and right-wing parties (Papanicolaou & Papageorgiou, 2016).

In Austria, the first candidate for the Greens party is Lena Schilling, a climate activist of “Fridays-for-future.” Schilling has a high chance of attracting young voters as she is the only young female top candidate among all running top party candidates in Austria (Völker, 2024). The second place will be Thomas Waitz, a sustainable and organic farmer who aims to attract sustainable farmers in Austria (Waitz, 2023; Schweighofer, 2024). The references to elite vs the people in their language blur the lines between the right and the left ideologies and connect these figures around a shared sentiment: fighting for the people against a designated elite. This populist sentiment fuels populism and social conflict, undermining liberal democracy and EU values. 

Conclusion 

The increasing populism of left and right parties in the EU and the fanatism of those who want to increase their share of voters for the upcoming EU elections are tremendously responsible for the outcomes of recent EU legislation. The populist rhetoric before and after the adoption of new EU legislation clearly shows how parties instrumentalize the outcomes of EU legislation procedure instead of trying to find real compromises and long-term future-oriented solutions for the problems of unregulated migration and the climate crises. 

Regulated migration is still almost not touched upon in the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, which has been part of discussions in the EU since 2020. The Green New Deal, especially with the Nature Restoration and Deforestation Regulations, was a proper start to increase sustainability, environmental protection, and indigenous rights. However, both proposals lost their progressiveness and lacked ambition and actual help for developing countries outside of the profit-making fetishism of the EU. If the upward trend of populism persists on both the left and right, EU politics and legislation may increasingly adopt populist and voter-driven approaches, potentially jeopardizing the democratic and compromise-oriented decision-making process within the EU. This heightened polarization between parties could further contribute to a climate of bashing and hinder cooperative efforts.

Remarkably, identity politics not only permeates the populist rhetoric of EU party politics but also extends to the selection of candidates for upcoming elections. If identity politics continues to embed itself deeply within the strategic political framework of EU parties, the shift towards prioritizing short-term voter turnout and popularity contests over substantive and long-term democratic considerations seems inevitable. This trend risks undermining EU values by leveraging EU legislation for immediate political gains rather than establishing enduring goals for the European Community. It is imperative to educate voters about this form of political manipulation that compromises EU values for short-term advantages. No political gain should supersede long-term EU objectives, as such a scenario would entail the erosion of EU values and identity.


 

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European Parliament offices and European flags in Brussels, Belgium on July 20, 2020. Photo: Lena Wurm.

What surrounds the 2024 European elections?

In anticipation of the upcoming 2024 European Elections, let’s take a closer look at the political landscape of Europe. The rise of populism has steadily gained momentum since the 2014 elections. The 2019 European Elections demonstrated the sustained growth of populism, which is associated with Euroscepticism. How will this trend influence the 2024 elections? This analysis explores the implications of populism for the 2024 elections within the broader context of Euroscepticism, the COVID-19 pandemic, and migration pressures. It will argue that Euroscepticism is linked to reactionary emotional responses to global challenges and changes. The psychological drivers of populism, such as fear, anger, and mistrust, have influenced the political climate, exacerbated by social media. The article underscores the need for EU member states to address these issues and strive for political consensus to foster trust in democratic institutions and counter the populist wave.

By Konstantina Kastoriadou

The European elections are approaching, with the date set for June 6-9, 2024. They are one of the most critical procedures for the European Union (EU), producing MEPs of the European Parliament, who participate in revising the regulations proposed by the European Council and are also responsible for electing the Head of the European Commission. European Parliament is the only institution directly elected by the people of the Union’s member-states and, therefore, monitors compliance with the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and highlights problems and violations in Member States (European Parliament, 2020).

In light of the upcoming elections in 2024, it is helpful to reflect on what is taking place in Europe today and what could be done. The 2019 European election showed that populism, which seemed to be established in the 2014 elections, has not ceased, but on the contrary, has risen significantly since. Thus, it is of great interest to better understand how this trend will be in the upcoming 2024 European elections, as populism is not only a European tendency but is a phenomenon that progressively spreads around the globe. 

Within the European structure, populist parties are closely linked to Euroscepticism. Euroscepticism is a broad sense, it’s as vague as populism. It emerged as a term to describe those who were sceptic about the governing model of the EU – those who opposed the further integration of their countries (ECPS, 2020). However, Majistorovic (2022) argues that Euroscepticism became a broad term used as a reference for hostile sentiments and actions against democracy. Hence, observing Eurosceptic rhetoric expressed by parties and party members will help us measure populism in Europe.

According to Treib (2021), there was a rise in Eurosceptic parties (who previously emerged in the 2014 elections) in the 2019 elections. While in 2019, there were some concerns about the size of the populist parties in the European Parliament, as results showed, there was no significant change. In 2019, more than 28 percent of MEPs belonged to populist/Eurosceptic parties (Treib, 2021: 177). Within the European Parliament, there are two major party groups, which have traditionally been in the lead – the EPP (European People’s Party (Christian Democrats)) and the S&D (Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament). Smaller party groups are Renew Europe, ID, Greens, ECR, GUE/NGL and NI (non-attached). The two major groups (European Parliament, 2019), the EPP and the S&D in the previous elections sustained some damage in the last elections, but the populist parties did not benefit from it. Interestingly, though, populist parties seemed to turn further to the right than the left. In total, in the 2019 European elections, after Brexit, 185 populist MEPs were elected, from whom, 112 were in the radical-right sphere – a number significantly bigger than the radical left populists which have 20 seats in the European Parliament (Treib, 2021: 177-179).

In 2023, after the Covid-19 pandemic and its restrictions, along with refugee pressures and inflation plaguing the world, there seems to be a concerted shift of Europe to the right, with the rise of right-wing coalitions with far-right parties across Europe (Lynch, 2023). Silver (2022) presents an extensive graph showing that since 2000, the populist trend from Greece to Sweden has progressively grown. Bergmann (2020) argues that nationalist populism emerges after a major crisis. The above is verified in Silver (2022), as especially after the economic crisis in 2008, there is a simultaneous upward trend in most European countries, but also the emergence of populist parties, such as Syriza (Greece), and Podemos (Spain). Populist parties, according to both Silver (2022) and Bergmann (2020), appeared after the migration flows in 2015. So now, after a major crisis, it is “natural” for populist parties to gain more strength and spread, especially since many countries have been unable to “recover from the shock” of 2015.

Populism in Member States

The top five radical right populist parties (by MEPs) are Lega (Italy), National Rally (France), Fidesz (Hungary), AfD (Germany) and Brothers of Italy (Treib, 2021: 178). Lega is the now ruling party of Italy, National Rally is the second party in France, and Fidesz is still the government of Hungary. On the national level, according to Silver (2022), AfD in Germany, as well as SYRIZA in Greece, for example, dropped dramatically since the previous national elections. However, in Germany, the most critical country in the European Union (in terms of administration), there seemed to be a twist, as the AfD came third in the state elections in Bavaria and Hesse, behind the CDU and CSU (Burchard and Angelos, 2023). The trend for AfD is upwards as polls show the party leading in the former East Germany with 28 percent. It is also expected to come first in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Brandenburg Thuringia and Saxony (Angelos, 2023).

In Greece, for example, SYRIZA is the opposition party but lost a fair share of votes. In the 2023 national elections, it’s the first time that three far-right populist parties made their way into the Greek Parliament. The first of them is a party named Spartans – which is a successor to the Nazist party Golden Dawn (which was in the European Parliament as well in 2014). Second came the Greek Solution – a party already in the parliament since the 2019 elections, and third came Victory (NIKI in Greek). The three combined are over 10 percent of the parliamentary seats (34 out of 300) (Ministry of Interior, 2023).

In 2023, in the elections held in the Netherlands, the populist BBB (Farmer – Citizen Movement) party, was the big winner, as it got 19 percent of the votes, securing seats in the parliament (Henley, 2023).  Netherlands’ economy is based on the farming industry, as the agricultural sector exports around €65 billions of agricultural produce per year (Ministerie van Economische Zaken, 2023). The rise of BBB is due to Rutte’s government, which wanted to pass a law to reduce nitrogen emissions by 50 percent by 2030, as the Dutch soil is severely polluted by nitrous oxide, ammonia or nitrate emission (Vallet, 2022). Farmers felt attacked and started protesting shortly after the announcement of the new policy. In the Netherlands’ case, it is evident that anger and resentment towards the government were the cause of the BBB party’s rise in the elections. 

Psychology of Populism

The above cases serve as examples, to show two things. First, it provides evidence that populism is a growing phenomenon within the European Union. Second, the Netherlands example shows that the emergence of BBB is due to negative feelings in a significant portion of the population. Maybe the case of the Netherlands can explain the rise of populism in other EU countries. 

Fear and anger are powerful emotions, believed to be the primary emotions fueling support for populist parties (Rico et al., 2017). Fear is a means for populist leaders, according to Müller (2022), but also, to some extent, it seems to be the raison d’être of their social and political existence. Anxiety stems from insecurity or rapid social and economic change. Due to the fear of the unknown, people turn to populist movements, which keeps the vicious cycle of populist tendencies and trends running (Rico et al., 2017). Nowadays, fear and anxiety are systemically being cultivated in societies, mainly via social media. 

According to Rico et al. (2017: 446): “The basic principle of evaluation is that people’s reactions to stimuli depend largely on the conscious and preconscious interpretations that each individual makes of a situation. [..] the way in which people appraise the environment in connection with their personal goals ultimately determines which particular emotion is aroused.” After a long period of economic instability within the euro area, which also caused intra-EU migration, the refugee influxes of 2015 brought the situation to a head. In the same period, terrorist attacks in Paris and Spain, for example, did not work in favor of the difficult situation created, as the European Asylum System proved problematic in managing the situation. 

Migration is a topical issue within the EU and inevitably a main factor in favor of populism. In the past few days, the EU tried to settle the irregular migration. In the pre-agreed text of the deal that was about to be sealed in Granada, Spain, on the 5th and 6th of October 2023, Poland and Hungary opposed the hosting of migrants from Middle East or Africa, while Slovakia, Czech Republic and Austria abstained in the final vote (Baczynska, 2023). In Granada, Hungary and Poland refused to sign the final text, forcing the EU to drop the migration deal (Caulcutt et al., 2023).

Thoughts on the Upcoming Elections

A general view of the hemicycle during of a plenary session on BREXIT vote of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium on January 29, 2020. Photo: Alexandros Michailidis.

The preceding analysis and examples serve as an indicator which based on comparative analysis. Thus, it shows how the populist parties of the 2019 elections are holding up today. The only way to predict the results of the European elections is to observe the political trends and results of the national elections. The results of the national elections usually indicate the results of the European elections, as there are no significant discrepancies as to which parties will enter the European Parliament.

The aftermath of the pandemic and war fueled fear, anger, and anxiety, promoted even more via social media. Social media can have a positive impact on politics, as a venue to transmit information and exchange opinions. On the other hand, it can undermine democracy by spreading mistrust about democratic institutions and civil society. This was evident, in social media about growing public opinion against the governments and their policies to tackle the pandemic, especially during the Covid-19 restrictions. Mistrust towards democratic institutions is a fuel that keeps populism going. 

Mistrust can also be transformed into anger. Anxiety and insecurity first appeared among the left-wing populist parties in the countries most heavily affected by the 2008 economic crisis (Podemos – Spain, SYRIZA – Greece). Populist parties after 2015 were mainly right and far-right parties due to a need for shielding and securing European societies from refugees and migrants. This “second wave” grew in northwestern Europe (France, Netherlands, Germany, etc.), but also, in Greece and Italy, for example, more right-wing populist parties began to rise, as both countries suffered the heaviest pressures with the 2015 flows.

All in all, it seems that in these elections, populist parties will not cease. Either the number of populist parties will remain the same, or increase. If the Member States and the EU don’t work towards stabilizing societies, the turmoil will continue to benefit the populist parties. On one hand, it seems almost impossible for the EU to achieve such a goal within the next six months. On the other hand, the sooner states start developing a political consensus to sort out their problems and differences, the sooner the EU will prove that citizens should trust the institutions and their governments – that a proper democratic solution can be found.


References

— (2019). “2019 European election results.” Europarl.europa.eu. July 2, 2019. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/election-results-2019/en/breakdown-national-parties-political-group/2019-2024/ (accessed on September 30, 2023).

— (2020). “The Lisbon Treaty.” Europarl.europa.eu. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/about-parliament/en/powers-and-procedures/the-lisbon-treaty (accessed on September 30, 2023).

— (2020). “Euroscepticism.” ECPS. December 26, 2020. https://www.populismstudies.org/Vocabulary/euroscepticism/(accessed on October 9, 2023).

— (2023). “National Elections – June 2023.” Ministry of Interior. July 12, 2023. https://ekloges.ypes.gr/current/v/home/en/ (accessed on October 9, 2023).

— (2023). “Agriculture and Horticulture.  Agriculture. Ministerie van Economische Zaken. August 7, 2023. https://www.government.nl/topics/agriculture/agriculture-and-horticulture (accessed on October 11, 2023).

Angelos, J. (2023). “Germany’s far-right ‘firewall’ cracks”. POLITICO. October 4, 2023. https://www.politico.eu/article/germany-firewall-afd-elections-thuringia/ (accessed on October 9, 2023).

Baczynska, G. (2023). “EU takes step towards overhauling migration system.” Reuters. October 4, 2023. https://www.reuters.com/world/eu-states-try-seal-migration-deal-2023-10-04/ (accessed on October 10, 2023).

Bergmann, E. (2020). “Introduction: The Rise of Nativist Populism.” In: Neo-Nationalism, Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, pp.1–28. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-41773-4_1. 

Burchard, H. von der & Angelos, J. (2023). “Far-right surge upends German state elections.” POLITICO. October 8, 2023. https://www.politico.eu/article/far-right-surge-upends-german-state-elections/ (accessed on October 9, 2023).

Caulcutt, C., Aarup, S. A., & Vinocur, N. (2023). “Poland, Hungary force EU leaders to drop migration from Granada Declaration.” POLITICO. October 6, 2023. https://www.politico.eu/article/poland-hungary-force-eu-leaders-drop-migration-granada-summit-declaration/ (accessed on October 11, 2023).

Henley. J. (2023). “Rural populist party emerges as big winner in Dutch elections.” The Guardian. March 16, 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/mar/16/rural-populist-party-farmer-citizen-movement-big-winner-dutch-elections (accessed on October 11, 2023).

Lynch, S. (2023). “Europe swings right and reshapes the EU.” POLITICO. June 30, 2023. https://www.politico.eu/article/far-right-giorgia-meloni-europe-swings-right-and-reshapes-the-eu/ (accessed on October 9, 2023).

Müller, J. W. (2022). “The Politics of Fear Revisited.” In: Schapkow, C., and Jacob, F. (eds), “Introduction.” In: Nationalism and Populism: Expressions of Fear or Political Strategies. pp. 11 – 21. De Gruyter Oldenbourg. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110729740

Rico, G., Guinjoan, M. & Anduiza E. (2017). “The Emotional Underpinnings of Populism: How Anger and Fear Affect Populist Attitudes.” Swiss Political Science Review. August 2017. Vol. 23. No. 4. Pp. 444 – 461. DOI: 10.1111/spsr.12261. 

Silver. L. (2022). “Populists in Europe – especially those on the right – have increased their vote shares in recent elections.” Pew Research Center. October 6, 2022. https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2022/10/06/populists-in-europe-especially-those-on-the-right-have-increased-their-vote-shares-in-recent-elections/ (accessed on October 6, 2023). 

Treib, O. (2021). “Euroscepticism is here to stay: what cleavage theory can teach us about the 2019 European Parliament elections.” Journal of European Public Policy. Vol, 28. no. 2. pp. 174-189. March 9, 2021. DOI: 10.1080/13501763.2020.1737881 

Vallet, C. (2022). “In the Netherlands, a drastic plan to reduce nitrogen emissions angers farmers”. Le Monde. July 14, 2022. https://www.lemonde.fr/en/environment/article/2022/07/14/in-the-netherlands-a-drastic-plan-to-reduce-nitrogen-provokes-farmers-anger_5990080_114.html (accessed on October 11, 2023).

Interview: 

Majistorovic, S. (2022). Interview conducted in the context of the course: “Foreign Policy in the Balkans” via Google Meet on January 25, 2022.

Photo: Matej Kastelic.

ECPS Academy Summer School 2023 — Populism, war and crises: How populism interacts with crises during wartime?

ECPS organized its third virtual Summer School on July 3-7, 2023, focusing on the interaction between populism and crises which were categorized into five groups: political crisis, economic crisis, cultural crisis, environmental crisis, and health crisis. Keeping in mind that crises vary in nature, and each has different consequences depending on the conjuncture in which they emerge, Summer School examined these five groups by taking into account the repercussions of the current international political context, particularly the war in Ukraine.

ECPS organized its third virtual Summer School on July 3-7, 2023, focusing on the interaction between populism and crises. Our world is going through turbulent times on many fronts struggling with complex challenges emanating from various crises in different spheres of life, and these crises create convenient environments for populist politics. In line with this, in recent years, we have observed the emergence and success of populist parties in a number of countries, and this number is on the rise, including in Europe. These developments align with the conclusion that populism usually occurs within a crisis scenario (Laclau, 1977: 175). Thus, we decided to discuss the relationship between crises and populism at this year’s Summer School. To this end, for practicality, we categorized contemporary crises into five groups and analyzed them accordingly: political crisis and populism, economic crisis and populism, cultural crisis and populism, environmental crisis and populism, and health crisis and populism. Keeping in mind that crises vary in nature, and each has different consequences depending on the conjuncture in which they emerge, we examined these five groups by taking into account the repercussions of the current international political context, particularly the war in Ukraine.

The lecturers for this year’s Summer School were Professor Kai Arzheimer, Professor Jocelyne Cesari, Professor Sergei Guriev, Dr Heidi Hart, Dr Gideon Lasco, Professor Nonna Mayer, Professor John Meyer, Professor Ibrahim Ozturk, Professor Neil Robinson, and Professor Ewen Speed. The program took place on Zoom, consisting of two sessions each day. Over the course of five days, interactive lectures by these world-leading experts discussed from various angles the nexus between populism and the crises we face today.

The opening lecture of Prof Kai Arzheimer explained how populists often benefit from events that are not crises in a strict sense but are framed as such. In turn, populist policies may lead to genuine political crises. The following lecture, carried out by Prof Neil Robinson, addressed contemporary ‘official populism’ developed in Russia in the 2010s and how certain elements of this ‘official populism’ is being contested by new actors following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Political Crisis and Populism

By Dr Kai Arzheimer

 

The Russian-Ukrainian War and the Changing Forms of Russian Populism

By Dr Neil Robinson

 

The third and fourth lectures, presented by Prof Ewen Speed and Dr Gideon Lasco, focused on the complex and contradictory topic of medical populism. Drawing on the work of Laclau, Prof Speed’s session considered how medical populism (particularly from the right) has been developed and used in the context of broader political struggles (e.g., around vaccination or abortion); while Dr Lasco’s presentation reviewed and critically engaged with the concept of medical populism, its elements of spectacularization, simplification, and forging of divisions, as well as the literature on its figurations during the pandemic in different countries.

Health Crisis and Populism

By Dr Ewen Speed

 

COVID-19 and the Evolving Nature of Medical Populism

By Dr Gideon Lasco

 

Moving onto the issue of economic crisis and populism, on the third day, Prof Ibrahim Ozturk talked about the abuse of the negative repercussions of an unmanaged globalization in economics by the populists. His engaging lecture was followed by an 8-part presentation by Dr Sergei Guriev on populism, its evolution, the role of secular economic factors related to cross-border trade and automation, the 2008–09 global financial crisis and subsequent austerity, a discussion on studies on identity politics, trust, and cultural backlash, the gap between perceptions and reality regarding immigration, and the impact of the internet and social media. 

The Abuse of the Negative Repercussions of An Unmanaged Globalisation in Economics by the Populists

By Dr Ibrahim Ozturk

 

The Political Economy of Populism

By Dr Sergei Guriev

 

Tackling the relationship between environmental crisis and populism, Dr Heidi Hart’s speech noted pro-business climate denialism and the surprising overlap between left and far-right ecological activism in Europe and also traced the history of illiberal environmentalism through the Nazi period in Germany to contemporary appropriations of “deep ecology,” with several examples from popular culture that make this ideology more appealing than it might at first appear. Following, Prof Jocelyne Cesari addressed the difference between religious nationalism and populism, highlighted the importance of political history and secular cultures on the political role of religion in any given country, and talked about the international and transnational religious forms of populism.

Populism and Environmental Crisis – From Denial to the New Deep Ecology

By Dr Heidi Hart

 

Why Religious Nationalism Is Not Populism

By Dr Jocelyn Cesari

 

On the final day of the Summer School, Prof Nonna Mayer revisited and nuanced the explanations of right-wing populism in terms of cultural backlash and cultural insecurity, taking the French case as an example. The closing lecture of Prof John M. Meyer discussed the entanglements of climate change politics with populism and argued that opportunities for effective climate change action could be found in a more encompassing conception of populism, one rooted in an inclusive conception of “the people,” and an embrace of counter-expertise grounded in local knowledge of climate vulnerability and injustice.

Cultural Explanations of Right-wing Populism… and Beyond

By Dr Nonna Mayer

 

The Ambiguous Promise of Climate Populism

By Dr John M. Meyer

 

This year’s program was participated by around 50 attendees from all over the world with various backgrounds. They found the opportunity to engage in discussions with the lecturers on the topics mentioned, and they networked with each other in small groups and practiced peer-to-peer learning in a diverse international environment. At the end of the program, participants were offered the possibility of becoming part of a lasting academic and professional network through ECRN (Early Career Researchers’ Network) and the ECPS Youth. 

Case Competition on Populism and Cultural Crisis in Ukraine

The Summer School also included a case competition scheduled as a five-day program between 3-7 July. The aim was to provide a unique learning environment to the participants in which they would learn how to transform their academic knowledge into feasible policy suggestions. 

The Competition tackled a real-life problem within the broad topic of populism, crises, and war, more specifically on Populism and Cultural Crisis in Ukraine. One of the most burning contemporary issues of populism, crises and war is connected to war-torn Ukraine at the moment; therefore, the focus of the case was Ukraine. The groups were expected to draw a broad picture of the current cultural policy of Ukraine by considering the historical and political background and then to choose a specific issue such as the politics of identity, language, cultural symbols, locations where culture constitutes a delicate/problematic matter, Russia’s cultural influence, Ukraine’s pro-western politics and more. 

Participants were divided into teams to work together on solving the case and were expected to prepare policy suggestions. The proposals of the participants were then evaluated by an assessment committee composed of scholars and experts based on criteria such as creativity, feasibility, and presentation skills. On the first day of Summer School, ECPS provided the groups with an information pack that included documents and sources that outlined the case and its context. (Please consult this document for detailed information.) Moreover, each day, a one-hour-long consultation session was arranged for the competitors when the teams could discuss their progress and partake in the case-solving activity together. On the final day of the competition, short presentations were carried out and thoroughly evaluated by the assessing committee, which gave valuable feedback to the attendees.

The Scenario

Participants had to position themselves as a member of the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture and Information Policy advisory board, responsible for advising on the country’s cultural policy. According to the scenario, the board comprised academics, experts, opinion leaders, journalists, writers, artists, civil society members, high-level bureaucrats, lobbyists, and policymakers, and each group should determine its role on the board, which in this situation, had its upcoming annual meeting. During this meeting, members evaluate and critique the previous years’ policies and suggest amendments or new policies. 

As a group, case competition teams chose a specific policy of the current government in a particular location; they tried to figure out how politics interacts with culture and how it influences Ukrainian relations with the EU and Russia, as well as discussed the shortcomings of Ukraine’s cultural policy and elaborated on what kind of policy would be in the country’s best interest. While crafting their suggestions, groups had to remember that the country is at war with Russia and enjoys Western support, particularly from the EU. Therefore, understanding the EU’s current approach to the cultural issues in Ukraine and if the approach needs to be revised were also among the main considerations of the participants.

The Groups and the Winning Project

The participants were divided into seven competing groups, each named after a symbolic Ukrainian city (Kherson, Lviv, Kharkiv, Poltava, Lugansk, Odesa, Mariupol). The teams tackled a wide range of cultural policy issues in Ukraine, such as the protection of minority rights, the conservation of collective memory of war through the creation of commemorative sites, the proposal of a cultural awareness campaign, the protection of Ukrainian cultural heritage through artistic freedom of expression against the war, the preservation of cultural sites of Odesa and active involvement of citizens in the conservation of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ukraine, and the introduction of a post-war Legislative Framework for Minority Language Protection. The winning Lviv team presented a case on Decommunization in Ukraine: Policy Recommendation for a Balanced Approach and was awarded a special recognition document for their outstanding performance. 

All in all, our five-day schedule provided young people with a dynamic, engaging, and interdisciplinary learning environment with an intellectually challenging program presented by world-class scholars of populism, allowing them to grow as future academics, intellectuals, activists and public leaders. Participants had the opportunity to develop invaluable cross-cultural perspectives and facilitate a knowledge exchange beyond European borders.

 

DOWNLOAD CASE COMPETITION INFORMATION PACK

 


 

Feedbacks From Participants

“The Summer School was a great opportunity to learn a lot. I became acquainted with so many scholars and researchers and make connections during Q&A sessions as well as during the case competition. It was an amazingly fruitful week in all senses.” 

Olena Siden, PhD Student in Philology, at Petro Mohyla Black Sea National University Mykolaiv, Ukraine.

 

“This program is greatly insightful, inspirational and challenging in terms of how to deal with the highly complex phenomena of populism. It helps a lot for me to make intellectual reflection and recalibrate the specification of my research on populism.”

Hasnan Bachtiar, LLB. PhD student at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation (ADI), Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia and Director of Research at Rumah Baca Cerdas (RBC) Institute Abdul Malik Fadjar, Indonesia.

 

“The summer school on populism studies was very comprehensive, and all the sessions were filled with fascinating insights and perspectives. It helped me to explore every aspect of populism studies in detail and foster a deeper understanding of its complexities and implications. The interactive nature of the summer school was particularly commendable. The group discussion and case competition session allowed for engaging and stimulating conversations among participants. It has truly been an inspiring and transformative journey, and I am confident that the knowledge and insight gained will have a great impact on my academic and professional life.” 

Shyam Kumar, Research Scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India 

 

“The lecturers who spoke on populism were remarkable, providing me with invaluable insights and perspectives. Additionally, the inclusion of a discussion room following the lectures was an excellent idea. It provided an opportunity for me to engage in fruitful discussions, seek clarification on any confusing aspects, and raise pertinent questions.”

Hilal Cibik, PhD Researcher in Legal Populism, Exeter University

 

“The sessions covered various aspects of populism, like, socio-political implications and its impact on contemporary democracies. The inclusion of multidisciplinary perspectives helped me gain a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. I particularly appreciated the quality of the instructors and their expertise in their respective fields. Their ability to present complex concepts in a clear and accessible manner greatly enhanced the learning experience. The interactive nature of the sessions, with opportunities for questions and discussions, fostered an engaging and collaborative environment that encouraged active participation. The selection of the case study provided us with valuable insight into the different manifestations of populism. One aspect that I found especially beneficial was the emphasis on critical thinking and analysis. The program challenged participants to examine populism from various angles, considering its advantages and drawbacks. This approach allowed for nuanced discussions and encouraged us to question our assumptions and biases.”

Junaid Amjad, PhD Scholar, Western Sydney University.

Giorgia Meloni, Italy's prime minister, reacts during a handover ceremony at Chigi Palace in Rome, Italy on October 23, 2022. Photo: Alessia Pierdomenico.

‘Foreigners’ in Radical Right Populism: Enemies or Friends?

Populist radical right parties are known to be nativist, even xenophobic, opposing foreigners and using hostile rhetoric against them. Even though “foreigners” are still the subject that populists target, their position, whether as “enemies” or “friends” in populist discourse, depends on some variables. Firstly, the position of a populist radical right party plays a vital role in determining the role of foreigners. In the opposition, they can risk being against everyone and everything, like the EU, United Nations, or human rights itself. Nevertheless, when they come into office, they need money and resources to rule correctly, which means they must balance their discourse and sometimes soften it.

By Tuna Tasir*

Europe has been highly affected by the global rise of populism (Balfour, 2017; Lazar, 2021; Jones, 2017; Crum and Oleart, 2023); especially radical right populism. In some countries, like Italy, radical right populists have won power; in others, like France, they are growing their influence. Besides European politics, scholarly debates and media are haunted by populism. Many reasons why populism is so successful have been revealed. The pragmatic flexibility of populists is crucial because it allows them to transform their discourses, policies, and targets. Populists adapt quickly to society’s changing needs (real and perceived), based on the country and its elites, which complicates the paths taken to respond to populism.

The Nature of Populism

Normative explanations cannot describe populism because it has no fixed shape with regular programs or principles. As some have argued, populism is not a full ideology like liberalism or socialism but rather is a thin-centered ideology that can be combined with other ‘thicker’ ideologies easily (Abromeit, 2017: 178; Çamurcuoğlu, 2019: 285; Canovan, 1999: 4; Mudde, 2004: 543; Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser, 2012: 168). When associated with the radical right, populism is also associated with nativism and authoritarianism (Mudde, 2007: 22). Specifically, nativism is known to set the basis for xenophobia to emerge and spread (Yıldırım, 2017: 57). However, is associating with nativism, even xenophobia, a normative feature of populism or does it adapt over time or with the conditions of a specific country?

Populists often construct the alienated others, including foreigners, immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, as scapegoats. The targeted language of populist discourse depends on various determinants like the majority and minority ethnicity or religion, the position of the populist party being either the ruling party or in opposition, and the opportunities that emerge in the country. Although left-wing and right-wing variants differ in their creation and treatment of ‘others,’ for the sake of brevity, this piece will focus solely on right-wing populism and its discursive and divisive construction of “foreigners.”

Rhetoric about “the foreigners” varies among the right-wing parties. Considering their nativist, even xenophobic politics, radical right populism might be assumed to always use hostile discourse towards foreigners. In contrast, it can vary in different contexts. In this essay, I will analyze the political rhetoric of the right-wing parties about “foreigners” by examining the cases of Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Turkey.   

Different Usages of Foreigners in Radical Right Populism

The usage of ‘foreigners’ in populist rhetoric is observed to differ according to the position of a populist party- whether in opposition or office. Italy’s Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, promised to prevent immigrants from coming by sea during her election campaign (Giuffrida, 2022). After coming to power, she enacted a code that limits humanitarian non-governmental organizations from running rescue operations in the Mediterranean (The Maritime Executive, 2023). Yet, her populist attitude against foreigners has changed slightly, especially after being criticized following a shipwreck in which at least 86 immigrants died near the coasts of Calabria in Italy in February (AFP, 2023). Recently, Italy changed its attitude towards immigration and gave the green light to sign a new Migration and Asylum Pact proposed by the European Union (EU). Meloni decided to ease her populist attitude against immigrants for now (Sorgi and Barigazzi, 2023). While some assert that Italy gained some concessions from the EU (Sorgi and Barigazzi, 2023), Marine Le Pen, the leader of a populist radical right party in France, claimed that Meloni’s seemingly more inclusive attitude results from the recovery plan offered by the EU (Basso, 2023). No matter which account is accurate, the situation demonstrates that populist radical right attitudes towards foreigners can change after coming into office and over time.

Another element that defines pragmatic changes in the rhetoric about others by the right-wing parties regards the politics of ethnicity. Ethnicity is central in the rhetoric of radical right populists. After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Ukrainians had to move to European countries. Having radical right populists in office, countries such as Poland and Hungary softened their exclusionary rhetoric and welcomed Ukrainian refugees (Palotai and Veres, 2022). It can be argued that in this case, it is situational and not related to ethnicity. It can also be claimed that these governments oppose immigrants, not refugees or asylum seekers. However, while these countries showed their hospitality to Ukrainian refugees, they were not as welcoming towards refugees of war and conflict from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East (Beauchamp, 2015; Vadhanavisala, 2020; Cienski, 2017; Witte, 2022; Ghadakpour, 2022). This double standard is not unique to radical right populists – examples can be located throughout European politics. Nonetheless, this double standard by the radical right populists is ironic when considering their typically nativist, even xenophobic, politics (Venturi and Vallianatou, 2022; Reilly and Flynn, 2022).

“Foreigners” do not always have to be enemies in the populist discourse. Religion and opportunistic considerations play a crucial role in shaping rhetoric about foreigners. The President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, embraced numerous Syrians after the Arab Spring. Besides, the EU is committed to aid 10 billion Euro to Turkey for Syrians (European Union “EU Support to Refugees in Türkiye”). Therefore, economic considerations about the ongoing refugee crisis between the EU and neighboring states feed into creating pragmatic approaches toward refugees as foreigners in a populist sense. The same pragmatism can be seen in Meloni’s attitude towards immigrants. One of the reasons for embracing Syrians might be related to the financial aid from the EU, just as Meloni’s green light to the new Migrants and Asylum Seekers Pact might be associated with the post-covid recovery funds.

Embracing Syrians seems to be associated with discursive opportunities and benefits as well. In this way, Erdogan claims he cares for Syrians (Presidency of the Republic of Türkiye, 2016), who are Muslims, as most Turkish people are. Syrians are a valuable subject to earn the support of religious and conservative identities. Additionally, Erdogan used Syrians to threaten the West to let them flow into Europe (Beaumont and Smith, 2019) and rhetorically to accuse the West of causing the tragedy not only in the Middle East but in the Aegean and Mediterranean as well (Alarabiya News, 2015; Hacaoglu and Nikas, 2021; Rankin, 2020). Although most Turkish people reported wanting Syrians to return to Syria, Erdogan used Arab and Syrian immigrants given citizenship as voters in the 2023 Turkish General Elections. Although these votes may not be enough to change the results, what will happen in the next elections when the number of Syrians gaining citizenship increases over the years? 

Conclusion

Populist radical right parties are known to be nativist, even xenophobic, opposing foreigners and using hostile rhetoric against them. Even though foreigners are still the subject that populists target, their position, whether as enemies or friends in populist discourse, depends on some variables. Firstly, the position of a populist radical right party plays a vital role in determining the role of foreigners. In the opposition, they can risk being against everyone and everything, like the EU, United Nations, or human rights itself. Nevertheless, when they come into office, they need money and resources to rule correctly, which means they must balance their discourse and sometimes soften it (Taşır, 2023). 

Moreover, the ethnicity of foreigners might change the attitudes of populist radical right parties. Two arguments can explain this change: First, some populist parties might feel close to foreigners because they share ethnic and geographic past. Second, some foreigners might be prioritized due to their ethnicity. The cases of Hungary and Poland are likely to be explained by both arguments. Furthermore, a discursive benefit of this attitude is to create antagonistic division among foreigners by separating them into “good” and “evil.” They accept foreigners according to the arguments above, in this way, can claim that they are not literally against foreigners. In the case study of Hungary and Poland, Ukrainians are considered as good and deserving of protection, while “others” are seen as evils who might corrupt the countries if they get accepted.

Finally, religion and opportunities can transform foreigners from enemies to friends in populist rhetoric. In a society that identifies as conservative and religious, it is an excellent opportunity to welcome foreigners from the same religion as natives. In this way, a message can be directed to ‘the people’ that says: I care about what you care about. Furthermore, it is a different way to make an antagonistic division and mobilize people around that. In our case, the “pure us” who embrace Syrians versus the “corrupt them” referring to the West creates a greater common enemy by using the new foreigners in the country and positioning them against a bigger alienated other. Besides, foreigners might be used as a bargaining tool, as seen in the case of allowing a large intake of Syrians into Europe.

Consequently, thanks to their flexibility, the populist radical right seems to continue to appeal to people (Mudde, 2004: 563; Moffitt, 2016: 135). Although “foreigners” will be the main topic in the future because of wars, crisis, climate change, especially with the increase of “climate refugees” (Taşır, 2023), and poor living conditions, it is hardly easy to say that they were always positioned as enemies in the rhetoric of the radical right populism. The context might change the populist undertones, including a harsher or softer discourse yet there is always an enemy. That is why, to cope with radical right populism, it is vital to produce solutions according to the context.

More questions remain to be addressed: What can prevent the disintegration of civil society under the rule of a populist regime that uses hate speech or softer and seemingly inclusive language yet still targets and creates an enemy? What can the international community do in support of civil rights in times of political targeting of specific groups within or beyond the borders of a country? What have we learned or did not learn from history, and how can we build a safer society for the most vulnerable? What can the youth and the young professionals do in times of crisis to support EU values, liberal democracy, and civil rights? These questions beget collective thinking and sharing the pain of the most vulnerable internationally and equally


 

(*) Tuna Tasir (Taşır) is currently a writer at Institute for a Greater Europe and a senior undergraduate student and researcher in Political Sciences and Public Administration. His papers have been published in several think tanks. Tuna is interested in populism and the far-right, Euroscepticism, political sociology, and comparative politics. Besides, he has been conducting his research project on “the level of Euroscepticism of would-be bureaucrats in Turkey” granted by The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey. 

Tuna participated in national and international projects, including European Solidarity Corps projects funded by the European Union. Furthermore, he is one of the owners of a project conducted in association with Izmir Metropolitan Municipality called “Eco Solutions Fest,” which aims to raise awareness of climate change and its impacts among people, especially youth. He worked as a peer reviewer for EPR 2023, run by EST Think Tank, and as an intern at “Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Research,” “Center for Diplomatic Affairs and Political Studies,” and “Bayraklı District Governorate.”  From September 2023 to January 2024, he will study at Université Libre de Bruxelles as Erasmus Student Exchange Program. 


 

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Balfour, R. (2017). “The (Resistable) Rise of Populism in Europe and its Impact on European and International Cooperation.” European Institute of the Mediterraneanhttps://www.iemed.org/publication/the-resistable-rise-of-populism-in-europe-and-its-impact-on-european-and-international-cooperation/

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Beaumont, P. & Smith, H. (2019). “Erdoğan: I’ll let Syrian refugees leave Turkey for west unless safe zone set up.” The Guardian. September 5, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/05/erdogan-ill-let-syrian-refugees-leave-turkey-for-west-unless-safe-zone-set-up

Canovan, M. (1999). “Trust the People! Populism and the Two Faces of Democracy.” Political Studies. 47, no. 1: 2–16. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9248.00184

Cienski, J. (2017). “Why Poland doesn’t want refugees.” Politico. May 21, 2017. https://www.politico.eu/article/politics-nationalism-and-religion-explain-why-poland-doesnt-want-refugees/

Crum, B. & Oleart, A. (2023). “Populist parties and democratic resilience in Europe.” The London Schools of Economics and Political Science. March 2, 2023. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2023/03/02/populist-parties-and-democratic-resilience-in-europe/

Çamurcuoğlu, G. (2019). “Çoğunlukçu Demokrasiye Yöneliş Olarak Popülizm.” İnönü Üniversitesi Hukuk Fakültesi Dergisi 10, no.1: 277–291. https://doi.org/10.21492/inuhfd.559362.

Ghadakpour, N. (2022) “Syrian and Ukrainian refugees should receive ‘same treatment’, says UN commission chair.” Euronews. July 5. https://www.euronews.com/my-europe/2022/07/04/syrian-and-ukrainian-refugees-should-receive-same-treatment-says-un-commission-chair

Giuffrida, A. (2022). “‘Left on the street’: migrants in Italy face fresh hostility as election looms.” The Guardian. September 20, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/20/all-we-want-is-to-be-able-to-live-migrants-left-destitute-in-italian-border-town

Hacaoğlu, S. & Nikas, S. (2021). “Erdogan Accuses Greece of Pushing Refugee Boats Back in Aegean.” Bloomberg. November 11, 2021. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-11-12/erdogan-accuses-greece-of-pushing-refugee-boats-back-in-aegean

Jones, E. (2017). The Rise of Populism and the Fall of Europe. The SAIS Review of International Affairs37(1), 47–57. https://www.jstor.org/stable/27001445

Lazar, M. (2021). “European Populism, From Left to Right.” Institut Montaigne. November 10, 2021. https://www.institutmontaigne.org/en/expressions/european-populism-left-right

Moffitt, B. (2016). The Global Rise of Populism: Performance, Political Style, and Representation (Stanford: Stanford University Press).

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Mudde, C. (2007). Populist radical right parties in Europe 1. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mudde, C. & Cristobal R, K. (2012). “Exclusionary vs. Inclusionary Populism: Comparing Contemporary Europe and Latin America.” Government and Opposition. 48, no. 2 (2012): 147–174. https://doi.org/10.1017/gov.2012.11

Palotai, M. & Veres, G. K. (2022). “Why Hungary and Poland Are Welcoming Ukrainian Refugees.” Hudson. March 10, 2022. https://www.hudson.org/foreign-policy/why-hungary-and-poland-are-welcoming-ukrainian-refugees

Rankin, J. (2020). “Erdoğan puts EU’s failure to agree a common migration policy in spotlight.” The Guardian. March 2, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/02/four-years-after-turkey-deal-eu-no-closer-to-new-asylum-system

Reilly, R. & Flynn, M. (2022). “THE UKRAINE CRISIS Double Standards: Has Europe’s Response to Refugees Changed?” Reliefweb (Global Detention Project). March 2, 2022. https://reliefweb.int/report/ukraine/ukraine-crisis-double-standards-has-europe-s-response-refugees-changed

Sorgi, G. & Barigazzi, J. (2023). “EU countries agree to major migration deal.” POLITICO. June 8, 2023. https://www.politico.eu/article/italy-giorgia-meloni-assylum-seekers-eu-holds-migration-deal-hostage/

Taşır, T. (2023). “The Future of Europe and the European Union in the Context of Populism and Euroscepticism.” Institute for a Greater Europe. May 25, 2023. https://institutegreatereurope.com/elementor-3601/

Taşır, T. (2023). “Populist Performance in Office Against Foreigners: The Case of Italy.” Institute for a Greater Europe. May 1, 2023. https://institutegreatereurope.com/populist-performance-in-office-against-foreigners-the-case-of-italy/.

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Vadhanavisala, O. (2020). “Radical Right-Wing Politics and Migrants and Refugees in Hungary.” European Journal of Social Sciences 3. no. 1: 1-13. https://revistia.org/files/articles/ejss_v3_i1_20/Vadhanavisala.pdf

Venturi, E. & Vallianatou, I. A. (2022). “Ukraine exposes Europe’s double standards for refugees.” Chatham House. March 30, 2022. https://www.chathamhouse.org/2022/03/ukraine-exposes-europes-double-standards-refugees

Yildirim, Y. (2017). “The Right-Populism and the Rising of Far-Right in Europe in the Context of the Crisis of Liberal Democracy.” Amme İdaresi Dergisi 50, no. 2: 51-72. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318909719_Liberal_Demokrasinin_Krizi_Baglaminda_Avrupa%27da_Sag-Populizm_ve_Yukselen_Asiri-Sag_The_Right-Populism_and_the_Rising_of_Far-Right_in_Europe_in_the_Context_of_the_Crisis_of_Liberal_Democracy

Witte, D. M. (2022). “Ukrainian refugees face a more accommodating Europe, says Stanford scholar.” Stanford News. March 24, 2022. https://news.stanford.edu/2022/03/24/ukrainian-refugees-face-accommodating-europe-says-stanford-scholar/

Photo: Matej Kastelic.

ECPS Academy Summer School — Populism, War and Crises: How populism interacts with crises during wartime? (July 3-7, 2023)

Are you passionate about global politics and understanding the dynamics that shape it? Are you looking for a way to expand your knowledge under the supervision of leading experts, seeking an opportunity to exchange views in a multicultural, multi-disciplinary environment, or simply in need of a few extra ECTS credits for your studies? Then consider applying to ECPS Summer School. The European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS) is looking for young people for a unique opportunity to assess the relationship between populism, war and crises in a five-day Summer School led by global experts from a variety of backgrounds. The Summer School will be interactive, allowing participants to hold discussions in a friendly environment among themselves in small groups and exchange views with the lecturers. You will also participate in a Case Competition on the same topic, a unique experience to develop problem-solving skills in cooperation with others and under tight schedules. 

Overview 

Our world is going through turbulent times on many fronts struggling with complex challenges emanating from various crises in different spheres of life. In parallel to this, we observe that these crises create convenient environments for populist politics and, in some cases, contribute to the emergence and success of populist parties. These developments align with the conclusion that populism usually occurs within a crisis scenario. Thus, we have decided to discuss the relationship between crises and populism at this year’s ECPS Summer School. To this end, for practicality, we categorise contemporary crises into five groups and will analyse them accordingly: political crisis and populism, economic crisis and populism, cultural crisis and populism, environmental crisis and populism, and health crisis and populism. Keeping in mind that crises vary in nature, and each has different consequences depending on the conjuncture in which they emerge; we will examine these five groups by taking into account the repercussions of the current international political context, particularly the war in Ukraine. 

The lecturers for this year’s Summer School are Professor Kai Arzheimer, Professor Jocelyne Cesari, Professor Sergei Guriev, Dr Heidi Hart, Dr Gideon Lasco, Professor Nonna Mayer, Professor John Meyer, Professor Ibrahim Ozturk, Professor Neil Robinson, and Professor Ewen Speed.  

The program will take place on Zoom, consisting of two sessions each day. Over the course of five days, interactive lectures by these world-leading experts will discuss the nexus between populism and the crises we are facing today from a variety of angles. The lectures are complemented by small group discussions and Q&A sessions moderated by experts in the field. The final program with the list of speakers will be announced soon. 

Moreover, this year, the Summer School will comprise a Case Competition on a real-life problem within the broad topic of populism, crises and war.  Participants will be divided into teams to work together on solving the case and are expected to prepare policy suggestions. The proposals of the participants will be evaluated by a panel of scholars and experts based on criteria such as creativity, feasibility, and presentation skills. 

Our five-day schedule offers young people a dynamic, engaging and interdisciplinary learning environment with an intellectually challenging program presented by world-class scholars of populism, allowing them to grow as future academics, intellectuals, activists and public leaders. Participants have the opportunity to develop invaluable cross-cultural perspectives and facilitate a knowledge exchange that goes beyond European borders.

Who should apply?

This unique course is open to master’s and PhD level students and graduates, early career researchers and post-docs from any discipline.  The deadline for submitting applications is June 23, 2023. The applicants should send their CVs to the email address ecps@populismstudies.org with the subject line: ECPS Summer School Application.

We value the high level of diversity in our courses, welcoming applications from people of all backgrounds. 

Evaluation Criteria and Certificate of Attendance

Meeting the assessment criteria is required from all participants aiming to complete the program and receive a certificate of attendance. The evaluation criteria include full attendance and active participation in lectures.

Certificate of Attendance will be awarded to the participants who attend at least 80% of the sessions. Certificates are sent to students only by email.

Credit

This course is worth 5 ECTS in the European system. If you intend to transfer credit to your home institution, please check the requirements with them before you apply. We will be happy to assist you; however, please be aware that the decision to transfer credit rests with your home institution.

 


 

Topics and Lecturers

 

Day 1: July 3, 2023

Political Crisis and Populism

 

Lecture 1

Dr Kai Arzheimer: Political crisis and populism

Bio: Kai Arzheimer is Professor of German Politics and Political Sociology at the University of Mainz, Germany. He has published widely on voting behaviour, particularly on voting for the radical right in Europe.  

Abstract: In this short lecture, I will try to disentangle the relationship between populist actors and crises. I will start with an attempt to clarify both concepts. Following that, I will show that populists often benefit from events that are not crises in a strict sense but are framed as such. In turn, populist policies may lead to genuine political crises.  

Moderator: Dr Vasiliki Tsagkroni

Bio: Dr Vasiliki (Billy) Tsagkroni is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Politics at the Institute of Political Science, Leiden University. His research interests include far-right parties, populism and radicalisation, political discourse, narratives in times of crisis, political marketing and branding and policy making. 

 

Lecture 2

Dr Neil Robinson: The Russian-Ukrainian war and the changing forms of Russian populism

Bio: Neil Robinson is Professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Limerick. His research focusses on Russian and post-communist politics, particularly the political economy of post-communism and post-communist state building. He is the author and editor of books on Russia and comparative politics, including most recently Contemporary Russian Politics (Polity, 2018) and (with Rory Costello, editors) Comparative European politics. Distinctive democracies, common challenges (Oxford University Press, 2020), and has published articles on Russian politics in many journals including Europe-Asia Studies, Review of International Political Economy, International Political Science Review, Russian Politics.

Abstract: ‘Official populism’ developed in Russia in the 2010s to provide a project from Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012. This project centred on a particular relationship that Putin claimed existed between state and people in Russia. It was developed to counter other possible populist projects based on nationalism and/or anti-corruption campaigning. The ‘official populist’ project helped to close the political space in Russia after 2012 but was at risk of failing because it proposed a way of being ‘Russian’ that was dependent on the behaviour of forces and states not under Russian control, namely the former Soviet states, and particularly Ukraine, that Russia wanted to dominate through institutions such as the Eurasian Union. The risk of failure was one factor that helped push Russia to invade Ukraine in 2022. This invasion has opened up space to contest elements of the ‘official populism’ by new actors. The talk will examine some of these and what they might mean for Russia’s political development.

Reading List

Fish, M. Steven (2018) ‘What Has Russia Become?’, Comparative Politics, 50 (3): 327-46

Morris, J. (2022) ‘Russians in Wartime and Defensive Consolidation’, Contemporary History,  121 (837): 258–263.

Putin, V.V. (2021) ‘On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians’, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66181

Putin, V.V. (2022) ‘Address by the President of the Russian Federation’ http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/67843(text and video version)

Reid, A. (2022) ‘Putin’s war on history. The thousand year struggle over Ukraine’, Foreign Affairs (101): 54-63.

Robinson, N. and S. Milne (2017) ‘Populism and political development in hybrid regimes: Russia and the development of official populism’, International Political Science Review, 38 (4), 412-25.

Tipaldou, S., and P. Casula (2019) ‘Russian nationalism shifting: The role of populism since the annexation of Crimea’, Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization, 27 (3): 349-70.

Treisman, D. (2022). ‘Putin unbound. How repression at home presaged belligerence abroad’, Foreign Affairs (101): 40-53.

 

Moderator: Marina Zoe Saoulidou

Bio: Marina Zoe Saoulidou is a PhD candidate in Political Science and Public Administration at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA). Her thesis focuses on the dynamics of both left- and right-wing populist parties in Europe in the context of economic crises. Marina Zoe is an IKY Scholar (State Scholarships Foundation) and was awarded an NKUA Compensatory Fellowship (teaching assistantship). She is a Junior Research Fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), and a member of the Hellenic Society of International Law and International Relations.

 

Day 2: July 4, 2023

Health Crisis and Populism 

 

Lecture 1

Dr Ewen Speed: Health crisis and populism

Bio: Dr Ewen Speed is a Professor of Medical Sociology in the School of Health and Social Care at the University of Essex. He has research interests in health policy, particularly in the context of the NHS. He is also interested in critical approaches to understanding engagement and involvement in healthcare, and in critical approaches to psychology and psychiatry. He is currently an Associate Editor for the journal Critical Public Health. He is also a member of the National Institute of Health Research East of England Applied Research Collaboration, contributing directly to the Inclusive Involvement in Research for Practice Led Health and Social Care theme and is Implementation Lead for this theme.

 

Moderator: Caitlin R. Williams

Bio: Caitlin R. Williams is a PhD candidate and Adjunct Instructor in the Department of Maternal and Child Health at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. She is also a researcher and advocate whose work centers on scaling and sustaining policies, programs, and practices that advance health, rights, and justice. Meanwhile, she serves as a Research Consultant with the Instituto de Efectividad Clínica y Sanitaria in Buenos Aires, Argentina and a Research Collaborator with the Black Mamas Matter Alliance (Atlanta, GA, USA). Some of her recent projects include validating measures of global policy indicators for maternal health (including abortion access), assessing the threat posed by populist nationalism to human rights-based approaches to health, and analyzing national policies on obstetric violence and respectful maternity care. Caitlin has contributed her expertise to amicus briefs for cases in front of the Supreme Court of the United States, a memo to the U.S. Office of Civil Rights, and a statement to the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

 

Lecture 2

Dr Gideon Lasco: COVID-19 and the evolving nature of medical populism

Bio: Gideon Lasco, MD, PhD is a physician and medical anthropologist. He is senior lecturer at the University of the Philippines Diliman’s Department of Anthropology, affiliate faculty at the UP College of Medicine’s Social Medicine Unit, research fellow at the Ateneo de Manila University’s Development Studies Program, and honorary fellow at Hong Kong University’s Centre for Criminology. Dr. Lasco’s research projects have focused on contemporary health issues, including drug issues, COVID-19, health systems, and politics of health, and yielded over 50 journal articles and book chapters in the past five years. They have also led to two academic books: Drugs and Philippines Society (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2021), an edited volume which features critical perspectives on drug use and drug policy in the country, as well as Height Matters, forthcoming monograph on human stature with the University of the Philippines Press. He also maintains a weekly column on health, culture, and national affairs in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, as well as acolumn in SAPIENS, the online anthropology magazine, that focuses on the relationships of humans with other species. 

Abstract: Over 3 years since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous political analyses have extensively documented the ways in which political actors have responded to the health crisis, including the resort of many of them to populist performances. Less established, however, are the ways in which these actors evolve their political styles as the pandemic also evolves politically, socially, and epidemiologically. This presentation reviews and critically engages with the concept of medical populism, its elements of spectacularization, simplification, forging of divisions, as well as the literature on its figurations during the pandemic in different countries. It then (re)applies this concept to major events in the pandemic after the initial responses – e.g. the development of vaccines, the emergence of variants, the debates over whether the pandemic is over. Overall, this longer-term analysis shows that while politicians continue to dramatize their responses, offer simplistic solutions, and divide their publics, these characteristics do not necessarily coexist at a given political moment. Medical populism, then, viewed as a repertoire of styles rather than a fixed set of characteristics.  

Reading List

Lasco, G. (2020). Medical populism and the COVID-19 pandemic. Global public health, 15(10), 1417-1429. 

Moderator: Dr Vassilis Petsinis

Dr Vassilis Petsinis is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary (Institute of Global Studies). He is a political scientist with expertise in European Politics and Ethnopolitics. Dr Petsinis has conducted research and taught at universities and research institutes in Estonia (Tartu University), Germany (Herder Institut in Marburg), Denmark (Copenhagen University), Sweden (Lund University, Malmö University, Södertörns University, and Uppsala University), Hungary (Collegium Budapest/Centre for Advanced Study), Slovakia (Comenius University in Bratislava), Romania (New Europe College), and Serbia (University of Novi Sad). He holds a PhD in Russian & East European Studies from the University of Birmingham (UK).

Respondent: Dr Maria Paula Prates

Dr Maria Paula Prates is a medical anthropologist at the Department of Anthropology at UCL. She is interested in the embodied inequalities of the Anthropocene, specially that concerning Indigenous Women in lowland South America. She has worked with and among the Guaran-Mbyá in the last 20 years. She has ongoing research projects in reproductive justice, encompassing birthing, unconsented episiotomies, sterilization and c-section, and on the imbricated relation between Tuberculosis and environmental degradation. She worked as an Adjunct Professor in Anthropology of Health at UFCSPA, Brazil and moved to the UK in 2018 as a Newton International Fellowship holder awarded by the British Academy and Newton Fund.

 

Day 3: July 5, 2023

Economic Crisis and Populism 

 

Lecture 1

Dr Ibrahim Ozturk: The abuse of the negative repercussions of an unmanaged globalisation in economics by the populists

Bio: Professor Ibrahim Ozturk is a visiting fellow at the University of Duisburg-Essen since 2017. He is studying developmental, institutional, and international economics. His research focuses on the Japanese, Turkish, and Chinese economies. Currently, he is working on emerging hybrid governance models and the rise of populism in the Emerging Market Economies. As a part of that interest, he studies the institutional quality of China’s Modern Silk Road Project /The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), its governance model, and implications for the global system. He also teaches courses on business and entrepreneurship in the Emerging Market Economies, such as BRICS/MINT countries. Ozturk’s Ph.D. thesis is on the rise and decline of Japan’s developmental institutions in the post-Second WWII era.

Dr. Ozturk has worked at different public and private universities as both a part-time and full-time lecturer/researcher between 1992-2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. In 1998, he worked as a visiting fellow at Keio University, in Tokyo, and again in 2003 at Tokyo University. He’s also been a visiting fellow at JETRO/AJIKEN (2004); at North American University, in Houston, Texas (2014-2015); and in Duisburg/Germany at the University of Duisburg-Essen (2017-2020).

Dr. Ozturk is one of the founders of the Istanbul Japan Research Association (2003-2013) and the Asian Studies Center of Bosporus University (2010-2013). He has served as a consultant to business associations and companies for many years. He has also been a columnist and TV-commentator. Dr. Ozturk’s native language is Turkish; he is fluent in English, intermediate in German, and lower-intermediate in Japanese. 

Abstract: This seminar aims to introduce the concept of populism in economics in terms of its causes (i.e., globalization, income inequality, financial crisis), its mechanism of execution in economics by the populists (i.e., macroeconomics and institutions of populism), and its consequences. The economic argument for populism is straightforward: poor economic performance feeds dissatisfaction with the status quo. It fosters support for populist alternatives when that poor performance occurs on the watch of mainstream parties. Rising inequality augments the ranks of the left behind, fanning dissatisfaction with economic management. Declining social mobility and a dearth of alternatives reinforce the sense of hopelessness and exclusion. However, unlike the argument they use when they are in opposition, in power, by denying and undermining professional and autonomous institutions, discrediting science and scientific knowledge, and rejecting resource constraints in economics, populists would give even more harm to the people they promised to help.

 

Moderator: Dr Dusan Spasojevic

Bio: Dušan Spasojević is an associate professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Belgrade. His main fields of interest are political parties, civil society, populism and the post-communist democratization process. Spasojević is a member of the steering board of the Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA) and the editor of Political Perspectives, scientific journal published by FPS Belgrade and Zagreb.

 

Lecture 2

Dr Sergei Guriev: The political economy of populism

Bio: Sergei Guriev, Provost, Sciences Po, Paris, joined Sciences Po as a tenured professor of economics in 2013 after serving as the Rector of the New Economic School in Moscow in 2004-13. In 2016-19, he was on leave from Sciences Po serving as the Chief Economist and the Member of the Executive Committee of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). In 2022, Sergei Guriev was appointed Sciences Po’s Provost. Professor Guriev’s research interests include political economics, development economics, labor mobility, and contract theory. Professor Guriev is also a member of the Executive Committee of the International Economic Association and a Global Member of the Trilateral Commission. He is also a Research Fellow at the Centre for Economic Policy Research, London. He is a Senior Member of the Institut Universitaire de France, an Ordinary Member of Academia Europeae, and an Honorary Foreign Member of the American Economic Association. 

Abstract: We synthesize the literature on the recent rise of populism. First, we discuss definitions and present descriptive evidence on the recent increase in support for populists. Second, we cover the historical evolution of populist regimes since the late nineteenth century. Third, we discuss the role of secular economic factors related to cross-border trade andautomation. Fourth, we review studies on the role of the 2008–09 global financial crisis and subsequent austerity, connect them to historical work covering the Great Depression, and discuss likely mechanisms. Fifth, we discuss studies onidentity politics, trust, and cultural backlash. Sixth, we discuss economic and cultural consequences of growth in immigration and the recent refugee crisis. We also discuss the gap between perceptions and reality regarding immigration. Seventh, we review studies on the impact of the internet and social media. Eighth, we discuss the literatureon the implications of populism’s recent rise.

Reading List

Guriev, S., Melnikov, N., & Zhuravskaya, E. (2021). 3g internet and confidence in government. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 136(4), 2533-2613.  

Guriev, S., & Papaioannou, E. (2022). The political economy of populism. Journal of Economic Literature, 60(3), 753-832. 

Henry, E., Zhuravskaya, E., & Guriev, S. (2022). Checking and sharing alt-facts. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 14(3), 55-86. 

 

Moderator: Afonso Biscaia

Bio: Afonso Biscaia is a PhD student in Comparative Politics at the Instituto de Ciencias Sociais, Universidade de Lisboa. Afonso’s research focuses on digital political communication and right wing populism. His published work includes “Placing the Portuguese Radical Right-Wing Populist Chega Into Context: Political Communication and Links to French, Italian, and Spanish Right-Wing Populist Actors” (2022), and The Russia-Ukraine War and the Far Right in Portugal: Minimal Impacts on the Rising Populist Chega Party”, both in co-authorship with Susana Salgado. 

 

Day 4: July 6, 2023

Environment, Religion and Populism

 

Lecture 1

Dr Heidi Hart: Populism and environmental crisis – From denial to the new deep ecology

Bio: Heidi Hart, a senior researcher at the ECPS and Linnaeus University (Sweden), is a researcher and educator based in the US and Scandinavia. She holds a Ph.D. in German Studies from Duke University and focuses on intersections of the arts and politics, including environmental crisis. She is currently a guest researcher at SixtyEight Art Institute in Copenhagen, where she has contributed curatorial work on climate art, and at the Linnaeus University Center for Intermedial and Multimodal Studies, where she is completing the research project “Instruments of Repair.” 

Abstract: This talk provides an overview of the various populist strains of engagement with environmental crises. Beginning with pro-business climate denialism and moving to the surprising overlap between left and far-right ecological activism in Europe, I will show how these strains are not limited to one ideological viewpoint. Examples of nationalist, agrarian, nativist, traditionalist, and protectionist viewpoints will fill this discussion with a common thread of fear-based thinking. Examples of left-wing environmental populism further complicate the picture but arise from a more critical position. I will then trace the history of illiberal environmentalism through the Nazi period in Germany to contemporary appropriations of “deep ecology,” with several examples from popular culture that make this ideology more appealing than it might at first appear. Finally, I will invite all to discuss the Malthusian temptations implicit in wishing for a cleaner, less crowded, more protected planet.  

Reading List

Buzogány, A., Mohamad-Klotzbach, C. (2022). Environmental Populism. In Oswald, M. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Populism. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-80803-7_19 

François, S., Nonjon, A. (2021). “Identitarian Ecology”: The Far Right’s Reinterpretation of Environmental Concerns. Illiberal Studies Program, 1 February 2021, https://www.illiberalism.org/identitarian-ecology-rights-reinterpretation-environmental-concerns/ 

Leigh, A. (2021). How Populism Imperils the Planet. The MIT Press Reader, 5 November 2021,https://thereader.mitpress.mit.edu/how-populism-imperils-the-planet/ 

Marquardt, J., Lederer, M. (2022) Politicizing climate change in times of populism: an introduction. Environmental Politics, 31:5, 735-754, DOI: 10.1080/09644016.2022.2083478 

Ofstehage, A. et al. (2022). Contemporary Populism and the Environment. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 47, 671-696, https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-environ-012220-124635 

Serhan, Y. (2021). The Far-Right View on Climate Politics. The Atlantic, 10 August 2021,https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2021/08/far-right-view-climate-ipcc/619709/ 

 

Moderator: Dr João Ferreira Dias

Bio: João Ferreira Dias holds a Ph.D. in African Studies from ISCTE-Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (2016). He is a researcher at the International Studies Centre of ISCTE (CEI-ISCTE) in the research group Democracy, Activism, and Citizenship. He is also an associate researcher at the History Centre of the University of Lisbon and a member of the research network of the European Center for Populism Studies. He is a regular columnist in leading newspapers of the Portuguese press. His areas of research and interest are: Religious Anthropology (Yorùbá, Candomblé, Umbanda, rituals, thought patterns, politics of memory and authenticity), Political Science (culture wars, identity politics, nostalgia and politics of memory and nationalism, populism) and Constitutional Law (Constitutional Principles, Fundamental Rights, Religious Freedom). 

 

Lecture 2

Dr Jocelyn Cesari: Why religious nationalism is not populism 

Bio: Dr Jocelyn Cesari holds the Chair of Religion and Politics at the University of Birmingham (UK) and is Senior Fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University. Since 2018, she is the T. J. Dermot Dunphy Visiting Professor of Religion, Violence, and Peacebuilding at Harvard Divinity School. President-elect of the European Academy of Religion (2018-19), her work on religion and politics has garnered recognition and awards: 2020 Distinguished Scholar of the religion section of the International Studies Association, Distinguished Fellow of the Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs and the Royal Society for Arts in the United Kingdom. Her new book: We God’s Nations: Political Christianity, Islam and Hinduism in the World of Nations, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2022 (https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/we-gods-people/314FFEF57671C91BBA7E169D2A7DA223). Other publications: What is Political Islam? (Rienner, 2018, Book Award 2019 of the religion section of the ISA); Islam, Gender and Democracy in a Comparative Perspective (OUP, 2017), The Awakening of Muslim Democracy: Religion, Modernity and the State (CUP, 2014). She is the academic advisor of www.euro-islam.info

Abstract: The lecture will offer an ideal type of the relations between religion and populism to show the difference between religious nationalism and populism; highlight the importance political history and secular cultures on the political role of religion in any given country; and include the international and transnational religious forms of populism.

Reading List

“Populism and religion: an intricate and varying relationship” by Christopher Beuter, Matthias Kortmann, Laura Karoline Nette and Kathrin Rucktäschel (pdf attached) https://forum.newsweek.com/profile/Jocelyne-Cesari-Professor-Religion-Politics-Georgetown-University-and-Harvard-University/37c1d797-c04c-4b41-9aef-8bdd4479d0de

 

Moderator: Dr Jogile Ulinskaite

Bio: Jogilė Ulinskaitė is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Vilnius University. She defended her PhD thesis on the populist conception of political representation in Lithuania. Since then, she has been part of a research team that studies the collective memory of the communist and post-communist past in Lithuania. As a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University in 2022, she focused on the reconstruction of emotional narratives of post-communist transformation from oral history interviews. Her current research integrates memory studies, narrative analysis, and the sociology of emotions to analyse the discourse of populist politicians.

 

Day 5: July 7, 2023

Culture, Crisis and Populism 

 

Lecture 1

Dr Nonna Mayer: Cultural explanations of right- wing populism… and beyond

Bio: Dr Nonna Mayer is CNRS Research Director Emerita at the Centre for European Studies and Comparative Politics of Sciences Po, former chair of the French Political Science Association 2005-2016), member of the National Consultative Commission for Human Rights (since 2016), co-PI of its annual Racism Barometer. Her current fields of expertise are electoral sociology, radical right populism, racism and anti-Semitism, intercultural relations.  

Abstract: Taking the French case as an example,  this presentation revisits and nuances the explanations of right wing populism in terms of “cultural backlash” and “cultural insecurity.” Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour both frame immigration as a deadly threat to French identity and values, nativist attitudes are the main driver of their voters. While anti feminism and sexism drive male votes for Zemmour, but not for Le Pen. However cultural  factors are tightly  mixed with social and economic factors.  

 

Moderator: Dr Sorina Soare

Bio: Dr Sorina Soare is a lecturer of Comparative Politics at the University of Florence. She holds a PhD in political science from the Université libre de Bruxelles and has previously studied political science at the University of Bucharest. Before coming to Florence, S. Soare obtained funding from the Wiener Anspach foundation for 1 year Post-Ph Programme in St. Antony’s College, Oxford University. Her work has been published in Democratization, East European Politics, etc. She taught at the Central University of Budapest, Université libre de Bruxelles, University of Palermo and University of Bucharest. She works in the area of comparative politics. Her research interests lie primarily in the field of post-communist political parties and party systems, democratisation and institutional development.

 

Lecture 2

Dr John M. Meyer: The ambiguous promise of climate populism

Bio: Dr John M. Meyer is Professor in the Department of Politics at Cal Poly Humboldt, on California’s North Coast. He also serves in interdisciplinary programs on Environmental Studies and Environment & Community. As a political theorist, his work aims to help us understand how our social and political values and institutions shape our relationship with “the environment,” how these values and institutions are shaped by this relationship, and how we might use an understanding of both to pursue a more socially just and sustainable society. His current project explores the intersection between climate politics and the political potentials and dangers of populism. Meyer is the author or editor of seven books. These include the award-winning Engaging the Everyday: Environmental Social Criticism and the Resonance Dilemma (MIT, 2015) and The Oxford Handbook of Environmental Political Theory (Oxford, 2016). He is editor-in-chief of the international journal, Environmental Politics

Abstract: The entanglements of climate change politics with populism are beginning to receive the attention they deserve. Many have argued that an exclusionary conception of “the people” and a critical account of scientific expertise make populism a fundamental threat to effective action to address climate change. While this threat can be real, I argue that it can also mislead us into reaffirming trust in mainstream political actors as a viable alternative. Instead, I explore opportunities for effective climate change action to be found in a more encompassing conception of populism, one rooted in an inclusive conception of “the people,” and an embrace of counter-expertise grounded in local knowledge of climate vulnerability and injustice.

Reading List 

John M. Meyer, Power and Truth in Science-Related Populism: Rethinking the Role of Knowledge and Expertise in Climate Politics, Political Studies, 2023.

John M. Meyer, ‘The People’ and Climate Justice: Rethinking Populism and Pluralism within Climate Politics, DRAFT.  

Kai Bosworth, Pipeline Populism: Grassroots Environmentalism in the Twenty-First Century, University of Minnesota Press, 2022. 

Aron Buzogány and Christoph Mohamad-Klotzbach, Environmental Populism, The Palgrave Handbook of Populism, 2022. 

Will Davies, Green Populism?—Action and mortality in the Anthropocene, Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity, 2019. 

Shane Gunster, Darren Fleet, Robert Neubauer, Challenging Petro-Nationalism: Another Canada Is Possible? Journal of Canadian Studies, Winter 2021. 

Amanda Machin and Oliver Wagener, The Nature of Green Populism?, European Green Journal, 2019. 

Jane Mansbridge and Stephen Macedo, Populism and Democratic Theory, Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 2019. 

Jens Marquardt and Markus Lederer, eds., Operating at the Frontiers of Democracy? Mitigating climate change in times of populism, special issue, Environmental Politics, 2022.  

Chantal Mouffe, Toward a Green Democratic Revolution, Verso, 2022. (excerpt here

 

Moderator: Dr Tsveta Petrova

Bio: Dr Tsveta Petrova is a Lecturer in the Discipline of Political Science at Columbia University. She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Cornell University in 2011 and then held post-doctoral positions at Harvard University and Columbia University. Her research focuses on democracy, democratization, and democracy promotion. Dr. Petrova’s book on democracy export by new democracies, From Solidarity to Geopolitics, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2014 and her articles have appeared in Comparative Political Studies, Journal of Democracy, Government and Opposition, Europe-Asia Studies, East European Politics & Societies, Review of International Affairs, and Foreign Policy among others. Her research has been supported by the European Commission, the US Social Science Research Council, American Council of Learned Societies, National Council for Eurasian and East European Research, Council for European Studies, Smith Richardson Foundation, and IREX. She further serves a Series Editor for the Memory Politics and Transitional Justice collection at Palgrave-Mcmillan as well as a Scholar with the Rising Democracies Network at the Carnegie Endowment and an Advisor to the Nations in Transit Program at the Freedom House.




Literature Review on Populism and Crises

 By Anita Tusor

Populism usually occurs within a crisis scenario (Laclau, 1977: 175); however, crises vary in their nature and thus have several consequences and effects, affecting populist parties differently. This literature review aims to briefly showcase how different crises have affected populist parties. We have decided to merge UNDP’s Human Security Framework (1994) and combine its seven interdependent pillars into five fields to obtain a comprehensive selection on the different possible crises. The resulting fields have been populism and political crises, populism and health crises, populism and environmental crises, populism and economic crises, and populism and cultural crises.

Political Crisis and War 

One of the main causes behind the recent rise of populism across the world has to do with the shortcomings of democracy, as can be observed in a constant weakening of traditional party identities and changing party functions (Kriesi & Pappas, 2015; Mair, 2002). This political crisis, according to Caiani and Graziano (2019) and Kriesi (2018), has reinvigorated populist actors all across the world, who have used it as an opportunity to channel popular discontent and turn it into electoral success. Furthermore, some authors have argued that rather than just triggering populist actors, populism frequently aims to act as a trigger for crisis and actively participate in the “spectacularization of failure” that underlies such crises, allowing them to pit the people against a dangerous other (Stavrakakis et al., 2017; Moffitt, 2015). So, to act as a trigger for a crisis, populist parties usually follow six major steps that are aimed at elevating a simple failure to the level of crisis and through which they also seek to divide the people from those who are responsible (Moffitt, 2015). According to Moffitt, these six major steps are (1) identity failure, which consists of choosing a particular failure and bring attention to it as a matter of urgency; (2) elevate to the level of crisis by linking into a wider framework and adding a temporal dimension, which is the act of linking the already chosen failure with other failures, locating it within a wider structural or moral framework in an attempt to make such failure to seem symptomatic of a wider problem; (3) frame the people against those responsible for the crisis, which consists of identifying those who are responsible for the crisis, and setting them against the so-called “people,” demonizing them and providing populist parties with an enemy to overcome and allowing them, first, to portray the so-alleged responsible for the crisis as a chronic problem and cause of every crisis, and, second, to offer populist parties a seemingly objective rationale for targeting their enemies, beyond outright discrimination; (4) use media to propagate performance, which is used by populist actors to disseminate and perpetuate a continuing sense of crisis; (5) present simple solutions and strong leadership, which refers to the presentation of themselves, through performative methods -such as portraying other political actors as incompetent and weak, offering simple answers for the crisis, and advocating the simplification of political institutions and processes-, as the only plausible alternative to solve the crisis; and (6) continue to propagate the crisis, which consists of the populist constant switch of the notion of crisis in order to overcome the unavoidable loss of interest by the population.

Lastly, the war in Ukraine has had a significant impact on Kremlin-backed populist parties, which have been forced to shift their positions from expressing support for Putin’s Russia to showing strong support for Ukraine to maintain their legitimacy in their respective countries (Albertazzi et al., 2022; Leonard, 2022). Notable among these Kremlin-supported populist parties are Lega, VOX, FN, and FPÖ, among others, as highlighted by Weiss (2020). The war has also led to the strengthening of mainstream pro-democratic parties, which have seen electoral successes as a result (Leonard, 2022; Pearce, 2022); however, the war has also had negative impacts on European economies and societies, which is expected to lead to dissatisfaction and distrust in democratic institutions, leading to a context that has already been beneficial for populist parties in the past, as they have been able to use sources of frustration to gain popular support (Docquier et al., 2022). Therefore, it can be assumed that European populist parties may adapt to this new context and use these sources again to gain popular support (Legrain, 2022). However, the literature on this topic is still limited. Furthermore, Farrell (2022) argues that the War in Ukraine may be actually benefiting populist radical right parties across European countries since it has put the raison d’être of such parties -the defense of the nation-state and national sovereignty- back at the top of the political agenda. This claim is supported by recent events, such as the victories of Hungary’s, Serbia’s, Sweden’s, and Italy’s radical right populist leaders, as well as in the increasing support for populist radical right leaders such as Marine Le Pen (Lika, 2022).

Health Crisis 

Health crisis refers to a situation that poses a significant threat to public health, either in a specific location or globally. It can arise from a variety of causes, including disease outbreaks, natural disasters, environmental disasters, or other public health emergencies. Most recent examples of health crises challenging governments include the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and the Zika virus epidemic. These crises had a profound impact on individuals, communities, and entire populations, and required a coordinated response from governments, public health organizations, and other stakeholders to address the immediate and long-term effects.

As with other crises, populist may look at a health crisis as a “window of opportunity” and utilize it as a way to rally public support by presenting themselves as champions of the people and promoting policies that they claim will protect citizens from the perceived threat (Caiani & Graziano, 2019). However, although populist politicians are excellent at identifying problems and thematizing public discourse at times of crisis, they may be less successful at addressing them.

Populism can sometimes itself contribute to health crises by promoting distrust of scientific and medical experts, as well as government institutions responsible for public health; and by polarizing the political discussion about public health policies, along with underrating and undervaluing public service work. Moreover, populist leaders may downplay the severity of a medical crisis or spread misinformation, leading people to ignore public health guidelines or refuse to follow vaccination programs, which then exacerbate the spread of a disease and prolong the duration of a crisis. Moffit (2015: 195) reminds us that “populist actors actively perform and perpetuate a sense of crisis, rather than simply reacting to external crisis.” They pit the ordinary/true people against the elites, who in this case can be doctors and scientists as well, not exclusively the political establishment (Schwörer & Fernández-García 2022). In the case of Mexican populism, measures taken by “the Mexican populist government were based on negative beliefs towards expert scientific knowledge from outside the government; a disinterest in searching for more information from distant or unfamiliar sources” (Renteria & Arellano-Gault, 2021: 180), and to tackle the upcoming economic crisis, the primary approach would involve bolstering the core programs. 

Summarizing the administrative steps and policies of populists during a health crisis, Lasco (2020) coined the term ‘medical populism’ which can be defined as a political style that centers on public health crises and creates a division between “the people” and “the establishment.” Medical populism has 4 main features: (1) downplaying of the pandemic, (2) dramatization or spectacularization of the crisis, (3) polarization of society where the ‘others’ include pharmaceutical companies, supranational bodies (WHO), the ‘medical establishment’ (i.e. ‘vertical divisions’) or ‘dangerous others’ like migrants that can be blamed for the crisis and cast as sources of contagion (i.e. ‘horizontal divisions’) and (4) making knowledge claims which included the spread of disinformation (Ibid.: 1418-1419). In most countries, “populist leaders have monopolized on discontent with COVID-19 policies and related conspiracy beliefs” (Eberl et al., 2021: 284) as well as created ‘populist tropes’ of testing and “shaped knowledge of the epidemic” to garner support (Hedges & Lasco, 2021: 83).

In some cases, populist could also block the coordination of a global response as they oftentimes prioritize national interests over global ones (Spilimbergo, 2021), leading to delays in sharing information and resources that are necessary to combat the crisis effectively. Cepaluni and colleagues (2021: 1) found that – although earlier research demonstrated that “more democratic countries suffered greater COVID-19 deaths per capita and implemented policy measures that were less effective at reducing deaths than less democratic countries in the early stages of the pandemic” –  at the end, populism were associated “with a greater COVID-19 death toll per capita, although the deleterious effect of populism is weaker in relatively more democratic states.” Fernandes and de Almeida Lopes Fernandes (2022) identified strong evidence of link between poor response to the pandemic and right-wing populism in Brazil, where Jair Bolsonaro was one of the most prominent denialists of the effects of the global health crisis. Furthermore, there is also a correlation between relying on social media as the primary means of obtaining information, voting for populists and being more receptive to misinformation, including conspiracy theories (Ferreira, 2021). 

Times of crisis exacerbate some of the above-mentioned effects. In addition, asking the questions, why some citizens ignore common logic, scientific results and medical advice, Eberl et al. (2021: 272) demonstrated a “positive relationship of populist attitudes and conspiracy beliefs, above and beyond political ideology.” Despite this, some state that there is no clear evidence that populists systematically mismanaged the pandemic (Spilimbergo, 2021), although the pandemic is still ongoing as of March 2023 according to the WHO. Further evaluation of the management of the Covid-19 health crisis by populist forces therefore must wait.

Focusing on the first years of the pandemic, Kavakli (2020) observed slower reaction to the pandemic by populist and economically right-wing governments. These administrations were also more likely implementing fewer health measures and required no or limited social isolation compliance due to the lack of trust in health care professionals and scientists. The uncertainties communicated in expert messaging at the wake of the pandemic has reflected the realities of the learning process among medical professionals, nonetheless the lack of clarity deepened public anxiety and distrust in the competence of officials and redoubled feelings of being left behind and alone among voters at a time when people’s need for competent elites were heightened (Csergő, 2021). This then has been exploited by populists who challenged what counts as credible knowledge. Right-wing populists have attracted the most skeptical segment of the general public and mobilized masses against ‘science-driven’ measures. Former U.S. President Donald Trump has even decided to withdraw from the WHO questioning the credibility of the organization. This disengagement from WHO was a divisive decision: According to Panizza (2005), if populism serves as a reflection of democratic institutions, then it is also true for global governance organizations such as the WHO, as argued by Reddy et al. (2018). However, Mazzeloni and Ivaldi found that “right-wing populist voters were more likely to prioritize health over the economy, and that this was very significant among those voting for Trump in the US, Alternative für Deutschland in Germany, Lega and Fratelli d’Italia in Italy, and the SVP in Switzerland.” Therefore, withdrawal from the WHO amid the pandemic seems like a surprising choice.

One of the central questions of the literature is investigating the question of whether the Covid-19 pandemic has strengthened or weakened the discursive opportunities of populist political parties. Schwörer and Fernández-García (2022) argue the latter but indicate that populist radical right parties (PRRP) “are able to electorally survive a pandemic that does not deliver favorable nativist discourses opportunities by emphasizing their populist profile and blaming elites without references to immigration” (no pagination). Their manual content analysis of Twitter discourses of populist radical right parties (PRRP) from 6 West European country found that as nativist messages become restricted with PRRP’s growing support against restrictions (post first wave); they started “using anti-elitist demonizing discourses against the national government accusing it of abolishing democracy and undermining freedom” (no pagination). By this reframing, PRRPs positioned the health crisis as a domestic political crisis instead of an international one. Some presidents and prime ministers went as far as using war metaphors such as ‘fighting the virus’, ‘defeating the virus’ or ‘the war against the virus’ (Ajzenman et al., 2020; Wodak, 2022). This discourse strategy was adopted by French president Emmanuel Macron and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán among others, although the former tried to justify strict measures by this rhetoric, while the latter aimed to fight panic and instrumentalize the crisis to further undermine Hungarian democracy.

Amid the health crisis, authoritarian orientation of populist parties in place has become evident. In line with the theory, in-group threat is central to an authoritarian attitude (Feldmann & Stenner, 1997; Adorno et al. 2019), research conducted during the pandemic has found that voters associated with right-wing authoritarian views and ethnocentric, prejudicial attitudes become more nationalistic and anti-immigrant as levels of anxiety grow generated by the perceived threat of a virus (Hartman et al., 2021: 1282).

As Spilimbergo (2021) and Eberl et al. (2021) states, the pandemic did not kill populism, it might have weakened support for it, but post-pandemic issues – fueled by economic insecurity – may lead to yet another surge of populist support among voters. Biancalana and colleagues (2021) had come to a similar conclusion after examining the emerging literature on the relationship between populism and health crisis. On the contrary, Guliano and Hubé (2021) analyzed 8 European countries in the context of the pandemic and found that the health crisis has only benefited populist parties in office (who sustained or significantly improved their primacy, while hindered their prospects in opposition. Either way, populism will stay with us.

Environmental Crisis 

The escalating environmental crisis has prompted a wide range of groups, organizations, and political parties to devise innovative strategies to address this global predicament. Eco-populist actors, organizations, and parties are playing a crucial role in demanding systemic change and attempting to overhaul the exploitative capitalist system, identified as a primary cause of the climate crisis due to its constant Greenhouse Gas emissions and exploitation of natural resources (IPCC, 2022; Torres-Wong, 2019). Such actors range from left-wing organizations, associations, indigenous groups, and NGOs to far-right political parties and right-wing extremist armed militias (see Middeldorp & Le Billon, 2019; Haggerty, 2007; Wittmer & Birner, 2005), which have seen the current climate crisis as an opportunity to gain broader support and impose their nativist ideas. In fact, there are several far-right and Populist Radical Right Parties that have renewed their interest in environmental issues, thus integrating ecological stances in their agendas ultimately aimed at promoting their nationalist views (Lubarda, 2022; Forchtner & Kølvraa, 2015).

Hence, populist parties approach the ongoing climate crisis in different ways, depending on their ideology and political agenda. Right-wing populists around the world have seriously challenged the narrative of climate change as a global challenge that rests on complex interdependencies, accumulated greenhouse gas emissions, and a threat to the world population as a whole, as could have been observed in national leaders like Donald Trump, Rodrigo Duterte, and Jair Bolsonaro, who led mobilizations against climate change mitigation efforts (Marquardt & Lederer, 2022). Nonetheless, as above-mentioned, other far-right and Populist Radical Right Parties have adopted different approaches to the ongoing climate crisis, such as the Front National’s approach of “patriotic ecology,” which aims to protect the French people, culture, and environment from climate change, pollution, and resource depletion by emphasizing French natural resources and national identity, but ultimately masks nativist and Eurosceptic policies; the United Kingdom Independence Party’s (UKIP) approach to the British countryside by politicizing the environmental debate and blaming the European Union, overpopulation, and immigration for its deterioration; or the Czech far-right’s discourse on the environment, which criticizes eco-terrorism and evokes a spiritual and nativist Czech environment (Boukala & Tountasaki, 2020; Tarant, 2020; Turner-Graham, 2020; Forchtner & Kølvraa, 2015).

On the other hand, populist parties on the left may adopt a progressive stance, and argue that the crisis is caused by the capitalist system and the exploitation of workers and natural resources by the rich and powerful elites, claiming that the climate crisis disproportionately affects marginalized communities and advocating for more redistributive and egalitarian policies to address it, as can be observed in Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa but also civil society groups like the climate justice movement, Fridays for Future or Extinction Rebellion, that have popularized progressive action on climate change through unconventional modes of protest, disruptive arguments, and demands for systemic change (Scherhaufer et al., 2021; Brünker et al., 2019; Kingsbury et al. 2019, Figueres et al., 2017). 

In sum, how populist actors tackle the ongoing environmental crisis vary in relation to their agenda and their ideological interests; while right-wing populist actors may either embrace skepticism and denial or address the issue through the implementation of nativist and protectionist policies, left-wing populist actors and parties usually opt for the design and execution of more redistributive policies that approach the problem from a more systemic perspective. 

Economic Crisis 

The vast majority of the current literature focuses on the whys and wherefores rather than the effects and impacts of populism, seeking to assess whether the rise of populism is best seen as driven by economic or cultural factors, perhaps both (Iversen & Soskice, 2019; Rooduijn & Burgoon, 2018). In the next section, cultural backlash theory (Inglehart & Norris, 2016: 30) is discussed in detail, therefore, here we focus more on the explanation of economic materialists who identify economic insecurities as the cause of populism such as financial crises, austerity and harsh economic measures, a pushback against neoliberalism and globalization (Rodrik 2018, Snegovaya 2018). 

Economic insecurity as a driver of populism has been investigated extensively following the 2008-euro crisis (Margalit, 2019). Research investigated the developments which eroded voters’ trust in the political system and led those on the losing side to opt for populist parties, to have a break from the status quo and offer seemingly appealing solutions to voters’ economic malaise – be it trade protectionism, building a border wall, or exiting the EU. Sonno et al. (2022) examined the impact of the financial crisis on the middle class suggesting that “financial crisis broadened the pool of disappointed voters, prompting, on the supply side, political parties to enter the political arena with platforms giving the disillusioned voters a new hope for simple and monitorable protection.” 

Guiso and others (2017) studied the demand for and supply of populism, both empirically and theoretically. They document a link between individual-level economic insecurity and distrust toward political parties, voting for populist parties, and low electoral participation. Economic crises are generally known to create a sense of dissatisfaction and disillusionment among citizens. In some cases, it can also create a power vacuum or a sense of uncertainty that allows populist politicians to gain more influence or even come to power. This can be seen in some recent examples of populism, such as the rise of far-right parties in Europe in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008 or the 2015 immigration crisis in Europe. As we could see, populist politicians were able to take advantage of voters’ dissatisfaction by tapping into people’s fears and offering simple nationalist solutions to complex socio-economic problems. Some specifically investigated (Beck, Saka & Volpin, 2020) why the right-wing populist parties were the ones that disproportionately benefit from crises. Populists often blamed specific groups, such as immigrants or wealthy elites, for the economic woes, or/and promised to restore jobs and prosperity through policies that may not be feasible or sustainable (Moffit, 2015).

While populist movements can offer temporary relief for those affected by economic crises, there are concerns about the long-term consequences of populism since the economic policies of right-wing populists can be controversial and have been subject to criticism from economists and other commentators. Populist leaders often promote protectionist economic policies that can harm international trade and cooperation, leading to further economic uncertainty, while their proposed tax cuts may disproportionately benefit the wealthy. Additionally, some argue that anti-immigration policies can harm the economy by reducing the size of the labour force and limiting opportunities for growth. Classical macroeconomic populism – for instance – has typically been crisis-prone and ultimately unsustainable (Kaufman & Stallings, 1991). Furthermore, populist movements often promote simplistic solutions to complex problems, leading to policy decisions that may exacerbate economic crises rather than resolve them.

According to ‘relative deprivation’ theories, economic hardships are the main causes of populist attitudes (Guiso et al., 2017: 4). Poverty – exacerbated by a crisis – is often linked with support for authoritarianism. Neerdaels and his colleagues (2022) found that “shame and exclusion from society lead to increased support for authoritarianism […] because authoritarian leaders and regimes promise a sense of social re-inclusion through their emphasis on strong social cohesion and conformity” (Hedrih 2023). Consequently, alleviating economic hardships above a certain level is not always beneficial for populist political parties. In addition, authoritarian populist policies and capturing the media might have a higher explanatory power in how populist came in power during or after a crisis. Salgado et al. (2021) investigated the junction between populism and economic crisis (Euro Crisis) and hypothesized that media coverage and the communicative and rhetorical aspects of populism are the key reasons for its allure, not the level of how the economic crisis did impact national politics (Ibid: 574).

Economic crisis facilitates populism and reinforces the division between the winners and the losers of globalization (Kriesi & Pappas, 2015), however there are findings countering these statements (Lisi et al., 2019). Examination of populist rhetoric amid economic downturn (Ibid.) in the new democracies of Southern Europe (Greece, Portugal, Spain) has proved that the economic crisis has impacted the party system on all levels, but Lisi et al. (2019: 1288) also argues that “The key factors that are likely to favor the emergence or predominance of inclusionary rather than exclusionary populism in the aftermath of an economic crisis can be argued to lie in high levels of crisis intensity, in the retrenchment of welfare states in the face of economic crisis, and in the lack of partisan programmatic responsiveness. On the other hand, exclusionary populism, which is mostly associated with transformations taking place in the cultural and symbolic dimensions, is more likely to emerge when the salience of immigration increases, and mainstream right-wing parties do not politicize or give priority to xenophobic public preferences.”

Consequently, economic, and cultural crises “have a differential impact on the emergence and consolidation of populist parties – the former are more relevant for inclusionary populist parties, the latter are more conducive to the success of exclusionary populist parties” (Caiani & Graziano, 2019: 1153). 

In conclusion, as Margalit (2019) contended, the economic-centric accounts are likely to overstate the role of economic insecurity as an explanation of the rise of populism. The author argues that the financial crisis contributed to the populist wave but views the crisis as more of a trigger than a root cause of widespread populist support. Similarly, while immigration is often a major concern of populist voters, treating it as an economic driver of populism is misguided (Hainmueller et al., 2015; Bansak et al., 2017; Hainmueller & Hopkins, 2014).

The rise of populism cannot be explained alone with the impact of the economic crisis. Other crises, namely political and cultural/moral, play a crucial role in the populist upswing as well. These crises reinforce and may interact with each other (Kriesi, 2018: 16). Caiani & Graziano (2019: 1141) found that “although the economic crisis has without any doubt provided a specific ‘window of opportunity’ for the emergence of new political actors, which have capitalized on citizens’ discontent, long-lasting political factors – such as the increasing distrust toward political institutions and parties – and the more recent cultural crisis connected with migration issues have offered further fertile ground for the consolidation of populist parties in several European countries.” The authors also posit that “the success of populist parties depend on the capacity to ‘politicize’ crises in terms of a need to rescue the ‘pure’ people from a greedy and corrupt elite” (Ibid., 2019: 1144).

In Greece, subsequent to the eruption of the economic crisis, both left-wing and right-wing populist parties could capitalize on the moment and increase their electoral support. Response to the economic crisis was expressed through the narratives of all political actors and observed across the party system. However, what happened in Athens in 2009, it was not only a crisis of economy, but overall, a crisis of democracy and political representation as well (Halikiopoulou, 2020). “This suggests that the rise of the Golden Dawn is closely related to the breakdown of political trust, good governance and the perceived efficacy of the state” (Ibid.).

As we can see, in identification of the relation between populism and economic crisis, one section of the literature aims to define populism and identify its causes, as well as models that explain how economic crises can fuel the rise of populist movements. Some of the most influential theories in this area include the concept of “populist mobilization” and the idea that economic crises create a “window of opportunity” for populist politicians to exploit. In contrast, others may examine the policy responses to economic crises and their impact on the development of populist movements by assessing the effectiveness of policy measures, such as austerity measures or stimulus programs, in addressing the root causes of the crisis and mitigating the rise of populism. Populist parties jumped to the front of the line to reject or shape the economic policies of neoliberalism. Ivaldi and Mazzeloni (2019: 202) noted that “the economic supply of radical right populist parties is best characterized by a mix of economic populism and sovereigntism.” This is exemplified by the unique political economic model of populists in power (See Poland, Hungary and Serbia).

Although the literature on the economic policies associated with contemporary populism (See Bartha et al., 2020; Markowski, 2019; Orenstein & Bugarič, 2020; Toplišek, 2020) is slowly growing; it is often discussed in the frame of causes of populist surge and does not dive deep into the new, viable illiberal economic policy model of populism, which may prove to be resilient in face of harsh economic environment (Feldmann & Popa, 2022: 236). The political economy of populism is described as the following by Orenstein and Bugaric who believe that populism arose due to both cultural and economic reasons, especially in Central- and Eastern European context: “After the global financial crisis, populist parties began to break from the (neo)liberal consensus, ‘thickening’ their populist agenda to include an economic program based on a conservative developmental statism” (Orenstein and Bugaric, 2020: 176). Feldmann and Popa’s research (2022) builds on the findings of this paper and calls for more research of the unorthodox economic model of populists.

Cultural Crisis

Cultural studies have been heavily influenced by the latest wave of populism (Moran & Littler, 2020). One major change in how we think about the intersection of culture, politics and economics occurred in 1992 when the publication of Jim McGuigan’s titled Cultural Populism came out. His book critically analyzed the ways in which popular culture functions as a source of resistance and as a means of ideological control, while he focused on (popular) culture (sport, television, film, pop music) outside of high culture (classical arts) – a popular instrument for authoritarian populism. He argued that cultural populism is a response to the growing sense of disaffection and frustration among people with the traditional political establishment, and that cultural populism offers a way for people to reclaim power and agency through cultural means. Valdivia (2020: 105) – in questioning of Mudde’s notion of populism – even states that “populism is a cultural narrative more than a thin-centered ideology.” In sum, cultural populism marks the emergence of a political frontier around cultural issues and crises.

The latter refers to a situation in which the values, norms, and beliefs of a society are being called into question. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as rapid social or economic changes, the impact of globalization and technological advancement, immigration (the mixing of different cultures), or political upheaval, which can challenge established norms and ways of life or can lead to a sense of cultural displacement and loss of identity among certain groups of people. During a cultural crisis, the basic assumptions and shared understandings that hold a society together are called into question, leading to feelings of uncertainty and anxiety among members of the society. It can manifest in different ways, such as a loss of trust in institutions, a decline in traditional values, a rise in extremism, or a fragmentation of society, which can then lead to the rise of populism and new-old cultural values, which are “usually combining anti-elite and anti-immigrant nationalism with nationally and locally bounded demands for social justice” (Palonen et al., 2018: 12), as people may turn to leaders who promise to restore traditional values and return society to a perceived past golden era.

This idea is repeated in Inglehart and Norris’ (2016, 30) concept of ‘cultural backlash’ which argues that “the rise of populist political parties reflects, above all, a reaction against a wide range of rapid cultural changes that seem to be eroding the basic values and customs of Western societies.” In this idea, traditional cultural values and attitudes are making a comeback in response to the increasing secularization and liberalization of societies as people, who perceive their social status as declining, are pushing back against the changes and express support for more traditional, conservative cultural norms and values (Bornschier & Kriesi, 2013).

In the 21st century, one of the first elected political leaders who breached modern liberal democracy and created an authoritarian regime that enjoys popular support by making empty populist promises and exploiting the political short-sightedness of ordinary people was Vladimir Putin. Natalia Mamonova (2019: 591) argues that in rural Russia, the supporters of authoritarian populism, often referred to as ‘the silent majority’, does approve of the president and Putin’s traditionalist authoritarian leadership style appeals to this archetypal base of the rural society who creates the base of populist movement. The same has been observed in Hungary and Poland, although Tushnet and Bugaric (2022: 81) warns that in the case of Orbán and Kaczyński, their authoritarianism is more important than their populism. 

Nonetheless, the social status of voters for candidates and causes of the populist right and left is under researched, although their motivations have similar cultural and economic roots (often a cultural or economic crisis). Some scholars and political analysts have argued that a cultural crisis, marked by the erosion of traditional values and a perceived loss of national identity, is one of the main drivers of populist movements in recent years, especially in Central- and Eastern-Europe (Orenstein & Bugaric, 2020; Krastev, 2017; Verovšek, 2020; Vachudova, 2020). Populist leaders often appeal to people’s sense of cultural nostalgia and offer a vision of a return to a simpler, more traditional way of life in these countries, but this rhetoric has been evident in Donald Trump speeches as well (whose populism is rather cultural than political) (Bonikowski & Stuhler, 2022; Brownstein, 2016; Elgenius & Rydgren, 2022; Goodheart, 2018).

According to Gidron and Hall (2017: 58), electoral support of populism has a common feature as a transnational phenomenon; “at its core lie key segments of the white male working class.” Support for populism is also stronger among the older generation, the less well-off, and women: essentially among citizens whose social status has been depressed by the economic and cultural developments following the fall of the Soviet Union. These changes are intertwined: people who see themselves as economically underprivileged, see their social status declining also tend to feel culturally-distant from the dominant groups in society (Ibid: 59-60). They likewise lean “to envision that distance in oppositional terms, which lend themselves to quintessential populist appeals to a relatively ‘pure’ people pitted against a corrupt or incompetent political elite.” Threats to a person’s social status evoke feelings of hostility to outgroups, especially if the latter can be associated with the threat of status. Populism grabs the essence of this threat and politicizes social status.

Social status was identified by German sociologist Max Weber (1968) as a distinctive feature of stratification in all societies, which is not synonymous with occupation or social class. It can be rather understood as a person’s position within a hierarchy of social prestige. A person’s objective social status depends on “widely shared beliefs about the social categories or “types” of people that are ranked by society as more esteemed and respected compared to others” (Ridgeway, 2014: 3). Concerns about subjective social status condition political preferences and play a role in political dynamics. Gideon and Hall’s (2017: 63) research proves how status concerns impinge on the decision to support one candidate or cause: “Just as citizens may vote for a party because they believe it will improve their material conditions, so they might support one because they believe it will improve their social status, either by altering socioeconomic conditions in ways that augur well for their social status or by promoting symbolic representations that enhance the status of the groups to which they belong.”

Even more, in many cases, populists do not need to substantially improve the material conditions or the social status of their electorate, it is sufficient to pit against and sustain hostility to outgroups and associate them with the threat of social status decline. The outgroups are clearly identified both by the European far right and cultural populists: the liberal world order, the “loose consensus” of parliamentary democracy, the supranational construction of EU, and “what they call cultural Marxism, that is individualism and the promotion of feminism and minority rights” (Laruelle, 2020). Furthermore, most scholar agrees on that cultural populism has more in common than just these well-identified enemies: “a coercive, disciplinary state, a rhetoric of national interests, populist unity between ‘the people’ and an authoritarian leader, nostalgia for ‘past glories’ and confrontations with ‘Others’ at home and/or abroad” (Mamonova, 2019: 562) In the case of cultural populism, the ‘Others’ include immigrants, criminals, ethnic and religious minorities, LQBTQ communities, feminists and cosmopolitan elites, whose subjective social status has increased in the last twenty years. This does not need to contribute to a decline in the subjective social status of the native members of the nation-state who are claimed to be the ‘true people’. However, because social status is based on a rank ordering, “it is somewhat like a positional good, in the sense that, when many others acquire more status, the value of one’s own status may decline” (Gidron & Hall, 2017: 68). The subjective social status of many men and women (without tertiary education, living outside big cities), rural dwellers and older generations is dependent on the belief that they are socially superior to the ‘Others’. 

Regional decline seems closely coupled to cultural resentment. “The cultural trends that have raised the social prestige associated with urban life and working women have drawn firms offering good jobs and social care packages while seeking away employees from smaller cities and the countryside, intensifying the regional economic disparities that may feed cultural resentment and support for right populism” (Ibid: 78; Pfau-Effinger, 2004). The weakness of support for right populism in large metropolitan centers may reflect, not only relative prosperity, but the extent to which the experience of life within big cities promotes distinctive cultural outlooks” as the electoral results of the 2018 Polish local, the 2019 Hungarian local, the 2019 Turkish local, or the 2020 Russian regional elections shows (Ibid: 60). 

All in all, socio-economic power structure in the countryside and the perceived social status of rural men and women largely defines the political posture of different rural groups. “Less secure socio-economic strata respond more strongly to material incentives, while better-off villagers tend to support the regime’s ideological appeals – often out of fear for their social status” (Mamonova, 2019: 579).

Populism and cultural crises are closely related and can be interdependent (Aslanidis, 2021). In some cases, they are mutually reinforcing and can exacerbate each other, creating a cycle of cultural and political upheaval or even culture wars (see the Brazilian case by Dias, 2022). On the one hand, Brubaker (2017: 373) stresses that “crisis is not prior to and independent of populist politics; it is a central part of populist politics.” Populism as a strong social force can contribute to a cultural crisis by challenging and undermining established values, norms, and institutions (Maher et al., 2022). Populist leaders and movements may use their power to reshape the cultural and political landscape, often in a way that promotes their agenda and ideology, which can contribute to a cultural crisis (Stavrakakis et al., 2018). This might be done by changing laws, policies, and institutions, and by promoting certain ideologies and narratives. On the other hand, some believe populism is a response to multiple major forms of crisis (see the division of present paper); as reported by Inglehart and Norris (2016), institutional distrust stemming from the economic crisis (Algan et al., 2017: 316) gives rise to populism. 

Populist leaders and movements often present themselves as outsiders and can be critical of the status quo (anti-elitism), which can lead to a sense of uncertainty and disorientation among members of society. Additionally, populist movements can also polarize societies, by promoting nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment, which can lead to a fragmentation of society and a rise of nativism (Brubaker, 2017). Right-wing populism is more likely to divide insiders-outsiders based on cultural differences by emphasizing the outsiderhood of cultural elites (Ibid, 364). According to Kyle and Gultchin (2018: 12-13), this polarization is the 3rd strategy of populists to stoke insider-outsider division. Sharp division is exacerbated, dramatized and exaggerated by “a rhetoric of crisis that elevates the conflict between insiders and outsiders to a matter of national urgency.” Rhetoric of crisis (Moffitt, 2016) spans from populist protectionism – one of the five elements of populist repertoire – which includes cultural protectionism where populists highlight “threats to the familiar life world from outsiders who differ in religion, language, food, dress, bodily behavior, and modes of using public space” (Brubaker, 2017: 364).

Populists do love a ‘good crisis’: One of the most effective strategies of cultural populism is to perform a pervasive crisis dramatizing social division. “Populists are adept at linking failures in one policy area to failures in another, making them appear part of a broad and systematic chain of unfulfilled demands” (Kyle and Gultchin, 2018: 15). Immigrants, sexual minorities, women, religious and ethnic minorities all fall victim of this rhetoric. The changing theme of populist rhetoric is a common feature among long reigning populists in power. If they perform the same crisis, wage war against the same enemy for too long, they lose support, therefore, to maintain the fundamental crisis, they look for new ‘Others’. This however leads to deep social division as the circle of pure people is narrowing.


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Maher, P.J., Lüders, A., Erisen, E., Rooduijn, M. and Jonas, E.M. (2022). “The Many Guises of Populism and Crisis: Introduction to the Special Issue on Populism and Global Crises.” Political Psychology 43:  819-826. https://doi.org/10.1111/pops.12840

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Markowski, R. (2019). “Creating authoritarian clientelism: Poland after 2015.” Hague Journal on the Rule of Law 11(1): 111–132. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40803-018-0082-5

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Moffitt, B. (2015). “How to Perform Crisis: A Model for Understanding the Key Role of Crisis in Contemporary Populism.” Government and Opposition 50: 189–217.

Moffitt, B. (2015). The Global Rise of Populism. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

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Orenstein, M. A. and Bugarič, B. (2022). “Work, family, Fatherland: the political economy of populism in central and Eastern Europe.” Journal of European Public Policy 29(2): 176-195. DOI: 10.1080/13501763.2020.1832557

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Salgado, S.,  Luengo, G. Ó., Papathanassopoulos, S., Suiter, S. and Stępińska, A. (2022). “Crisis and populism: a comparative study of populist and non-populist candidates and rhetoric in the news media coverage of election campaigns.” European Politics and Society 23(5): 563-578. DOI: 10.1080/23745118.2021.1896882

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Schwörer, J. and Fernández-García, B. (2022). “Populist radical right parties and discursive opportunities during Covid-19. Blame attribution in times of crisis.” Zeitschrift für Vergleichende Politikwissenschaft. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12286-022-00540-w

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Feedbacks From Former Participants

Chloe Smith: ECPS Summer School was an outstanding program. Over the course of a week, participants were fortunate to not only listen to – but engage with – a range of academics and experts working in the field of populism studies. The order of speakers/topics worked well, with initial discussions exploring what populism is, and later discussions centered on more specific manifestations of populism.

Maya Sopory: I had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed it! I really appreciated the clear communication and structure, the inclusive culture, and the learning opportunity. I would recommend this program to others and would happily participate in any of their programs again!

Daniel Gamez: The ECPS course was an interesting and forming experience. From time to time, I still make use of the literature that we have been given. Thank you for the opportunity.

Saurabh Raj: I am thrilled to be a part of this excellent initiative. This was a great exposure for me. For the very first time I was a part of a community of some brilliant international minds. All lectures were quite moving, informative, engaging, and insightful as well. This program helped me to understand populism as a subject, and developed my basic understanding about populism, its varieties, impact, and relevance in the current time. This gave me a critical lens to analyze populism of different countries. Now I am able to identify populist traits and rhetoric and the most significant outcome for me is that I can articulate my area of interest within the subject. I think this is a great beginning for me and I am hopeful that I will keep getting support from the ECPS community in my evolution as an expert of this field.

Political leader Geert Wilders of the Dutch center right party PVV defending his plans during a radio interview in Enschede, The Netherlands on September 5, 2012.  Photo: Robert Hoetink.

How and why do we need preventive justice?

The saying often goes that history repeats itself. However, this is not entirely accurate. It’s people who repeat history. Not necessarily because they fail to learn from it, but rather because they refuse to learn history’s important lessons. And if too many people fail to learn from past mistakes, it will only have negative consequences for society. That is why we, as an intelligent species, need to be able to spread awareness about conduits of racism and hatred across Europe. But how can this be achieved? Through learning more about the theory and practice of preventive justice, there are several things a country can do.

By Maureen van der Kris*

Only a few years ago, during the refugee crisis of the 2010s, it looked a lot like Muslims were the Jews of the twenty-first century. Islamophobia reached new highs due to terrorist attacks from ISIS, which also sparked hate crimes against innocent Muslims fleeing from ISIS (vander Taelen, 2016), as well as inciting hostility and tensions towards Muslims living around the world. Then COVID hit, and hate crimes seemed to be redirected at the East Asian community (Aziz, 2020). In 2023, the new generation is witnessing what their predecessors before them had lived through: blatant antisemitism is retaking the spotlight (Simsek, 2022).

The saying often goes that history repeats itself. However, this is not entirely accurate. It’s people who repeat history. Not necessarily because they fail to learn from it, but rather because they refuse to learn history’s important lessons. And if too many people fail to learn from past mistakes, it will only have negative consequences for society. That is why we, as an intelligent species, need to be able to spread awareness about conduits of racism and hatred across Europe. But how can this be achieved? 

Through learning more about the theory and practice of preventive justice, there are several things a country can do. Measures of preventive justice are imperative to make sure populism cannot gain momentum and take over the political and legal structures across Europe as it did in the 1940s. This essay will explain how preventive justice can help us establish a risk-averse society and what these terms mean.

What is preventive justice and how does it work?

In most cases, preventive justice is simply a concept. It entails calculating the risks of harm, before any harm has occurred and taking measures against the would-be perpetrators (Ashworth et al., 2013). It establishes a system that can make people accountable, and thus prevent potential corruption and any other crime that can violate democratic values. Elements of preventive justice exist within criminal law. Many modern criminal law systems are centered around judging and punishing criminal acts and incorporate some preventive measures. For instance, for certain crimes, a crime attempt would be as illegal as committing a crime. These crimes vary across Europe, but the consensus is if the nature of the crime is severe, even an attempt will be punished more severely compared with other criminal attempts (Kelk & de Jong, 2019). 

The criminalization of an attempt to commit certain crimes can be considered a function of preventive justice. This simplified version explains how preventive justice works in the criminal law system, but how does it help a democratic society? It is argued here that it can help in many ways -but these need to incorporate the political and criminal justice system to produce practical solutions. One of these problems is the supposedly thin line between freedom of speech and discrimination.

Pulling the reins on democracy

The line between freedom of speech and discrimination is not very thin at all. For far-right populists, the line doesn’t exist at all, and they promote that their discriminatory ideas can only be seen as freedom of speech. This freedom of speech, they argue, has to be protected at all costs (Pennacchia, 2020). The hypocrisy of that statement will not be discussed here, but it is relevant to note the way it has led to cases of domestic terrorism. In France, for example, a Kurdish community center in Paris was attacked by an active shooter just before Christmas. It was reported that this incident was resulted in three civilian deaths, and the attacker had formerly been charged with a hate crime in the previous year (NPR, 2022). It seems that he felt safe enough to repeat his actions in the current political climate of France and is an example of the danger and progression of hate speech cloaked as ‘free’ speech. 

These incidents could have largely been prevented by limiting what constitutes as freedom of speech. One may claim that this is the opposite of preserving a democratic society. Still, history has proven time and time again that having no limits on certain democratic principles will result in populists using those exact principles for their benefit and to undemocratic ends, as seen in the case of the rise of Hitler. Due to the lack of limitations on unacceptable speech, Hitler had the freedom to use his hatred for Jewish people as a campaign point (Wilde, 2020). 

Although hate speech and hate crimes were regulated more strictly after WWII (i.e. by Germany banning the Nazi flag), there are still discussions about the line between freedom of speech and discrimination. Technically, the criminalization of specific insults is a good start. However, the burden of defining what counts as a discriminatory remark, an insult, falls on the judges. Judges could be very strict when handling lawsuits, as they have been during the Wilders trial in the Netherlands. The Wilders trial concerned a statement made by Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders during a rally in the 2010s. Wilders asked his supporters if they wanted “more or fewer Moroccans” in the country, to which they responded by cheering “less, less, less!” The Moroccan community, in response, sued Wilders for his discriminatory remarks and racist mobilization. The Dutch supreme court responded by charging Wilders with spreading hate. However, the court also stipulated that hate speech had no associated intent to act (Wilders v. Plaintiffs, 2009).

The result of the hearing disillusioned some people in the Moroccan community, as Wilders’ specific statements were not considered when judging the case. Some contended that Wilders’ party should have been abolished after that statement. Ethically, one can request a more severe punishment after such incidences of racism. Legally speaking, it is much more complicated.

Preventive justice in the courtroom

In most Western countries, judges can only punish a suspect according to the material principle of legality. In many EU countries, this has been defined as the Nulla poena sine lege principle, or “no punishment without law.” It means a political party cannot be declared illegal and abolished for maintaining an ideology harmful to a democratic society without legal codes. It also means that a judge cannot declare that a statement constitutes an illegal insult when the verdict is riddled with violations of aspects of the legality principle. One of these aspects is prohibiting an overly extensive interpretation by a judge. For example, if the suspect has discursively targeted a person of color, this can be interpreted as an illegal insult under ideal circumstances, but the suspect cannot be charged with a hate crime. This would be different if the suspect used a racial slur to insult the person of color (de Hullu, 2021).

Laws that prevent hate crimes and the strict interpretation of these laws in accordance with the legality principle can work very well. But there are also cases in which laws have an adverse effect stemming from discriminatory policies, which should be illegal. Take the Dutch surcharge, for example. This so-called libertarian policy is aimed to combat fraud committed by people not legally entitled to childcare allowance. However, the policy culminated in a nationwide scandal. It used a self-learning algorithm to identify fraud and, in the meantime, asked inspectors to have much stricter and limiting judgement on childcare allowance specifically for individuals with a foreign last name. Following the outrage, the Dutch government resigned in 2021. However, from 2018 onwards, people have been suffering due to the racist nature of the Dutch surcharge policy (NOS, 2020).

The law does not exist in a vacuum. Democratic practices and a working legal system depend on society, political accountability, and social support. Here I want to add to my discussion the kinds of social context that can help create a safe space for all and a flourishing civil society. 

Living in a ‘risk-averse society’

According to German sociologist Ulrich Beck, a risk-averse society can be described as a society in which legal systems actively try to prevent the risk of certain crimes being committed (Beck, 2003). So, a risk-averse society supports the ideals of preventive justice. Preventive justice can establish the socio-legal infrastructure of a risk-averse society and vice-versa. Some speculate that preventive justice can establish foundations for a risk-averse society. Yet a risk-averse society might undermine democratic values (Barone, 2022). 

This would only be true if preventive justice is rooted in unrealistic fears and undemocratic practices. Like the two faces of the Janus or a fire that can both cook or burn, the concepts and ideals of preventive justice or risk-averse society can yield either positive or negative results depending on if they are in the hands of well-intentioned or selfish people. The dilemma of what counts as liberty, if it has limits, if so, how to develop policies that protect freedoms without violating principles of democracy remains a big question, which motivates us to do more theoretical and practical discussions about how to establish a safe space to realize the ideals of preventive justice and a risk-averse society. 

Conclusion

In an age where war crimes and injustice make us question the degree to which our civilization has actually evolved, the question is not whether we want to be risk-averse; we do not have a choice. This is strikingly clear when we acknowledge that nuclear power has become a staple of everyday discussions in newspapers, making us believe the doomsday is coming. The choice that falls upon us all is between whether we want to live in a society where the freedom to say whatever we want risks supporting the rise of far-right populism and encouraging hate and even violence. To keep our democracies afloat, we must invest in forming risk-averse spaces and use preventive justice to our advantage. Only then can we fight populism effectively on a more significant level and prevent the atrocities from history being repeated.


 

(*) Maureen van der Kris is studying Law at Utrecht University (UU) in the Netherlands. She is in the second year of her bachelor’s degree and at the very start of her legal career. Before joining ECPS, she wrote articles for the members’ magazine of Ad Informandum, the student association for criminal law at UU. Her main interests are women’s rights and preventive justice, while her favorite university subjects are international- and criminal law. As she has been personally confronted with various criminal offences during her childhood. Her goal is to become a criminal judge. She aspires to work at the Dutch supreme court or the ICC one day. 


 

References

— (2020).  “Commissie: Ongekend Onrecht in Toeslagenaffaire, Beginselen Rechtsstaat Geschonden.” NOS. December 17, 2020. https://nos.nl/collectie/13855/artikel/2361021-commissie-ongekend-onrecht-in-toeslagenaffaire-beginselen-rechtsstaat-geschonden (accessed on January 29, 2023).

— (2022). “Kurdish People Protested in Paris After Three Were Killed in A ‘Racist’ Shooting.” NPR. December 25, 2022. https://www.npr.org/2022/12/25/1145467662/kurdish-people-protested-in-paris-after-three-were-killed-in-a-racist-shooting (accessed on January 29, 2023).

Ashworth, Andrew; Lee, Ambrose & Zedner, Lucia. (2013, July). “Preventive Justice Project.” Oxford law. https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/preventive-justice-project#:~:text=’%20In%20its%20many%20guises%20preventive,lest%20they%20should%20do%20harm (accessed on January 29, 2023).

Aziz, Sahar. (2020). “Anti-Asian Racism Must Be Stopped Before It Is Normalised.” Al Jazeera. April 12, 2020. https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/anti-asian-racism-stopped-normalised/ (accessed January 29, 2023).

Barone, Michael. (2022). “The Democratic Party’s Risk Aversion Is Harming Us All.” American Enterprise InstituteOctober 13, 2022. https://www.aei.org/op-eds/the-democratic-partys-risk-aversion-is-harming-us-all/ (accessed on January 29, 2023).

Beck, Ulrich. (2003). Risikogesellschaft. Suhrkamp Publishers.

Beck, Ulrich. (2003). Risikogesellschaft. 17.” Auflage München.

de Hullu, Jaap. (2021). Materieel Strafrecht. Over Algemene Leerstukken Van Strafrechtelijke Aansprakelijkheid Naar Nederlands Recht. Deventer: Kluwer Publishers.

Kelk, Constantijn & de Jong, Ferry. (2019). Studieboek Materieel Strafrecht. Deventer: Kluwer Publishers.

Pennacchia, Robyn. (2020). “Right-Wingers Hate New ‘Free Speech’ Platform Parler, You Can’t Even Own The Libs There.” Wonkette. July 6, 2020. https://www.wonkette.com/right-wingers-hate-their-new-free-speech-social-media-site-miss-trolling-us-already (accessed on January 29, 2023).

Simsek, Ayhan. (2022). “Germany’s Jewish Community Fears Rise in Antisemitic Attacks in Winter.” Anadolu Agency. November 8, 2022. https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/germany-s-jewish-community-fears-rise-in-antisemitic-attacks-in-winter/2732965 (accessed on January 29, 2023).

vander Taelen, Luckas. (2016). De grote verwarring: Hoe moeten we reageren op het islamitisch fundamentalisme? Antwerp: Houtkiet Publishers.

Wilde, Robert. (2020). “Hitler’s Rise to Power: A Timeline.” Thoughtco. August 27, 2020. https://www.thoughtco.com/hitlers-rise-to-power-timeline-1221353 (accessed on January 29, 2023).

Wilders v. Plaintiffs. [2009] GHAMS K08/0309, K08/0374, K08/0277, K08/0444, K08/0310, K08/0328, K08/0329, K08/0330 & K08/0353https://uitspraken.rechtspraak.nl/#!/details?id=ECLI:NL:GHAMS:2009:BH0496 (accessed on January 29, 2023).

SummSchool1

ECPS Academy – Summer School 2022: “Populism in Europe: Surveying the Populist Moment” by Dr Paul Taggart

The lecture covers the nature of populism in contemporary Europe and put this into context with an overview of the study of populism in Europe in the past thirty years, and with a definition of populism and with consideration of the diversity of populist parties currently in Europe. The lecture ends by setting up a discussion of the causes of populism.

SummerSchool3

ECPS Academy – Summer School 2022: “Populism and Gender: Gender Identity in Populist Discourse” by Dr Haley McEwen

This session examines the emergence of ‘anti-gender’, or ‘pro-family’ ideology and transnational countermovement building against sexuality and gender related rights. It traces the historical emergence of the so-called ‘pro-family’ movement, and show how key concepts and ideologies informing this movement are informed by white supremacist and heteropatriarchal geo-political interests. The lecture focuses specifically on ‘anti-gender’/‘pro-family’ activities in African contexts, but will also highlight some of the movements activities at global scales. The lecture considers the following questions in its interrogation of the intersections of race, gender, sexuality and geo-politics within ‘pro-family’ discourse and ideology: What geo-political interests are at stake within anti-gender/pro-family discourses of ‘gender’ and ‘family’? What does anti-gender/pro-family discourse and ideology reveal about the intersections of white supremacy and heteropatriarchy? How does the ‘pro-family’/‘anti-gender’ movement relate to other right wing populist movements?

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ECPS Academy – Summer School 2022: “The Populist Hype and the Mainstreaming of the Far-Right” by Dr Aurelien Mondon

This lecture provides an overview of critical approaches to populism studies. In particular, it focuses on concepts such as anti-populism and populist hype and how the uses and misuses of the concept of populism can impact on the democratic process. To illustrate this impact, the lecture also focuses primarily on the far right and the role populist hype has played in its mainstreaming.

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ECPS Academy – Summer School 2022: “Populism and Economic Performance: Implications on Institutions and Good Governance” by Dr Ibrahim Ozturk

This short seminar aims to introduce the concept of populism in economics in terms of its causes (i.e., globalization, income inequality, financial crisis), its mechanism of execution in economics by the populists (i.e., macroeconomics and institutions of populism), and its consequences.  The economic argument for populism is straightforward: poor economic performance feeds dissatisfaction with the status quo. It fosters support for populist alternatives when that poor performance occurs on the watch of mainstream parties. Rising inequality augments the ranks of the left behind, fanning dissatisfaction with economic management. Declining social mobility and a dearth of alternatives reinforce the sense of hopelessness and exclusion.  However, unlike the argument they use when they are in opposition, in power, by denying and undermining professional and autonomous institutions, discrediting science and scientific knowledge, and rejecting resource constraints in economics, populists would give even more harm to the people they promised to help.