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ECPR Standing Group on the European Union 10th Biennial Conference LUISS, Rome

Populism and Nationalism in Eastern Europe

Political Theory
Attila Antal
Eötvös Loránd University
Attila Antal
Eötvös Loránd University

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 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, Angus Stewart), 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 question, 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. According to post-Marxist, critical and discursive literature (Ernesto Laclau, Chantel 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. I am investigating here the political theoretical and historical background of nationalist populism of our time in Eastern Europe. My main hypothesis is that the 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 transnationalist perspectives. However, the contemporary right-wing nationalist populism means a significant change and fracture in this schema. 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 (according to Brubaker this kind of nationalism appears as civilizationsim). By the way, these parties belong to the political elite and use populist discourse to cover up thier corrupt politics which does not serve the interest of the people. In my view there is a new chapter in the common history of nationalism and populism in Eastern Europe, this is the emergence of populist entrepreneurs using nationalism to maintain their governing power based on populism.
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