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Session Overview
Panel 314: Populist Rebellion Against Modernity in 21st Century
Monday, 02/Sep/2019:
3:00pm - 4:30pm

Session Chair: Natasza Styczynska, Jagiellonian University
Location: Room 12.08

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Populist Rebellion against Modernity in the 21st Century

Chair(s): Natasza Styczynska (Jagiellonian University, Poland)

Discussant(s): Zdzislaw Mach (Jagiellonian University, Poland)

Populism is a loose and broad concept, yet most forms of populism share the common characteristics of having a solid basis in polarised societies, where the dominant distinction is between the “pure people” versus “the corrupt elites”. The main aim of the panel is to identify, conceptualise and operationalise emerging political and economic populism and the most important explanatory variables behind this phenomenon. The panel will include a study of the socio-economic and political roots and policy consequences of populism in Eastern Europe. Two key concepts will serve as our point of departure: neo-feudalism and neo-traditionalism which are crucial in understanding Central and Eastern European societies, and which can be used as cornerstone concepts for interpreting socio-economic phenomena with populist characteristics in other regions. The presentations in the panel will investigate characteristics of the demand side of populism (such as income inequality and economic insecurity) and the nature of the supply side (how varieties of state capitalisms changed over time). The panel also raises the question of how the demand (defined as the priority of the society given to the perception of economic insecurity) meets the supply (as defined as the “protest”, “anti-establishment” response of the populist parties) in certain cases and over various historical periods. The panel brings together a wide range of scholars of economists, political scientists and historians working in the framework of the H2020 project entitled: ‘Populist rebellion against modernity in 21st-century Eastern Europe: neo-traditionalism and neo-feudalism’.


Presentations of the Symposium


Post-transformational Dissatisfaction in Poland and Rise of Populism

Agnieszka Sadecka
Jagiellonian University

The paper will focus on diagnosing various forms of cultural expression of insecurity, marginalization and failure, experienced in the course of almost three decades of post-communist Poland. While mainstream parties and elites have often heralded the successes of economic transformation, this did not always translate into individual experiences, creating frustration and disappointment. In order to diagnose this cultural and social transformational fatigue, the paper will explore cultural narratives that feature various dimensions of individual insecurity: personal (biographic), based on region (urban/provincial), and based on relation to significant Others (neighbours and Western Europeans). The material analysed in the paper will primarily involve nonfictional narratives (reportage and longform journalism), which illustrate the post-transformational frustration and a sense of insecurity leading to neo-traditionalist attitudes. These works of nonfiction, while adopting a subjective, often personal take on contemporary social issues, provide a voice and a space to protagonists that are otherwise often overlooked, whose emotions, aspirations and frustrations are not given much space in public discourses. It is the sum of these insecurities and frustrations that constitutes a fertile ground for populist, neo-traditionalist discourses, which provide meaning and purpose, at the same time raising expectations for new solutions in political and social realms.


Finding the Roots of Neo-traditional Populism in Poland. ‘Cultural Displacement’ and European Integration.

Francesco Melito
Jagiellonian University

Using the concept of populism as a political frontier between the underdog and the establishment (Laclau 2005), this paper investigates the roots of populism in Poland in its current traditional-conservative fashion. In contrast with the neoliberal hegemony and, more specifically, with its ‘true European values’, right-wing populists in Poland claim to speak in the name of those people that refuse this external system of values and that experienced a ‘cultural displacement’. The paper examines whether the consensual process of EU integration, characterized by a lack of political agonism, has created room for a populist moment. Special focus is placed on the importance of culture in the construction of an alternative neo-traditional project. While the post-structuralist literature on populism has mostly focused on Western Europe and on socio-economic demands, the concept of neo-traditionalism will allow observing the confrontation of two different blocs also in Central and Eastern European and in cultural terms. Following an analysis of the integration process, the author will relate the nationalist-populist party PiS and its political discourse with the actual impact of the European Union in Poland. Opposing mainstream EU values, PiS appealed to the “true Poles” and adopted a traditional conservative narrative. The study will show how the neglect of a neo-traditional worldview by the European elite, and the resulting feeling of insecurity, have been exploited by right-wing populists.


“Fighting against Two Plagues”: When Migration and European Elites Meet Polish Populist Political Parties

Elodie Thevenin
Jagiellonian University

The increased number of migrants and refugees coming to Europe since 2015 triggered huge changes in the rhetoric on migration, as well as on the role of the European Union (EU). In spite of receiving a rather small number of asylum applications in comparison to other EU member states (approximately 12,000 in 2015 and 2016 – the number is decreasing since then), migration has been framed as a major problem in Poland by several political parties. Furthermore, migration has been increasingly discussed in relation to other issues, especially the further development of European integration and the power transferred to EU institutions.

The aim of this paper is to analyse how migration and the disapproval of the European project are associated and instrumentally referred to by populist parties. In other words, this research investigates the extent to which anti-(social)pluralism and anti-elitism unite in the populist claims of members of parliament (MPs). A comparison of two right-wing populist political parties – Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – PiS) and Kukiz’ 15 – constitutes the main case study of this research. The methodology used is primarily discourse analysis, applied on parliamentary debates collected from 2015 onwards in the Sejm.

Prime consideration is given to the supply side of political populism by analysing political parties’ populist rhetoric in the discussion around migration in the national parliament. Thus, the results of this study will contribute to further understanding of the nature of populist parties’ criticisms towards ‘the European Elites’, as well as the subsequent vision of ‘the People’.


Re-emerging Populism in Southeast Europe.

Haris Dajc
University of Belgrade

Southeast Europe is avant-garde of populism. Together with the one in Russia and USA, populism appeared already in mid-19th century and since then several times renewed its might and came in power. That makes analysis of populism in that part of Europe interesting, for it gives opportunity to notice regularities and causalities and to check hypothesis that populist regimes come to power in outbreaks of social insecurity, regardless if they were caused by economic crises, crises of previous order, system of values or cultural model. Examples from former Yugoslavia, can serve to verify that populism is a thin ideology, with minimal common conceptual nucleus, but in specific historical situations that ideology is filled with additional contents that define if that is going to be regime of left or right populism. The example of Western Balkans is especially important, as in those countries communism was replaced by nationalistic populism that in just few years brought about breakdown of common state and bloody war when crimes were committed (including a genocide), not seen in European soil since WW II.

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