Thursday 22 March 2018

Populism and Nationalism from an Eastern European Perspective

I am preparing for the 2nd Annual Workshop of Populism Specialist Group at the Political Studies Association. The workshop will be held March 23-24, 2018 at University of Bath. Its title is the following: Defining Populism: Concepts, Contexts, Genealogies.

My draft paper:

Populism and Nationalismfrom an Eastern European Perspective


In Eastern Europe the successful populist parties are mostly right-wing nationalist (for instance the Hungarian Fidesz and the Polish Law and Justice) or exceptionally left-wing populist (for instance Slovak Direction – Social Democracy in Slovakia) with a huge nationalist sentiment. It seems to be that in this region populism and nationalism have been closely related or merged. Moreover, following the traditional literature on populism (Ghita Ionescu, Ernest Gellner), we can easily say that our contemporary “populist Zeitgeist” can be seen as some kind of (post)modern nationalism. In this paper, I am dealing with the problem, how can we define and analyse populism in Eastern Europe. It is hard to say that populism and nationalism have nothing to do with each other, but I am convinced that populism cannot be identified with nationalism. That is why, I introduce the term of historical-theoretical complex of nationalism and populism. According to post-Marxist, critical and discursive literature (Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe) it is obviously that populism is not just a right-wing phenomenon and there is a thing which can be called transnational left-wing populism (Benjamin Moffitt, Panos Panayotu). This version of populism is not an unknow phenomenon in this part of Europe, because the Communist regimes before 1989 a transnational populist agenda has been created (Antal, 2017b), but the Left-wing populism is seriously underrepresented in contemporary Eastern Europe. I am investigating here the political theoretical (Antal, 2017a) and historical background of nationalist populism of our time in Eastern Europe analysing examples from the following countries of this region: Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania. My main thought is that the politics in this region has always been populist in that sense there is a constant need to contrast “the people” (as a large powerless group) and “the elite” (a small powerful group). This “never ending” political tradition of Eastern European populism turned up in the history once in nationalist and other times in transnational perspectives. However, the contemporary Right-wing nationalist populism means a relatively new phenomenon, but it has deeply historical ground in the interwar Right-wing nationalism. According to my other hypothesis, the governing Right-wing populist parties (especially the Fidesz in Hungary) use the nationalist discourse to create permanent political enemies inside and outside of the nation (Brubaker argues that this kind of nationalism appears as civilizationsim). These parties belong to the political elite and use populist discourse to cover up their corrupt politics which does not serve the interest of the people. In my view there is a new chapter in historical-theoretical complex of nationalism and populism in Eastern Europe, this is the emergence of populist entrepreneurs using nationalism to maintain their governing power based on populism, which raises several dangers.