New Voices, Old Roots. Dilemmas of Populism in Enlarged Europe

Field: Statsvetenskap, sociologi, historia
Project leader: Ann-Cathrine Jungar
Starting year: 2007
Project type: Project

This project is dedicated to the study of populism in Europe, with a particular emphasis on the Baltic Sea Area, Eastern and Central Europe. The main purpose is to produce theoretically grounded knowledge about populism based on comparative research. The researchers represent three disciplines: political science, sociology and history. The rationale for the multidisciplinary research is to address general questions on populism explicitly aimed at theory building.

More precisely, the populist parties and forces are studied as political actors that are faced with a number of inherent and delimiting dilemmas of which some are shared with other political parties, whereas others are particular for populist parties. Firstly, populism embodies the idea of a truer democracy that is closer to the people and rally electoral support with criticism of representative democracy and the political establishment. However, populist parties operate within the representative institutions and have lately increasingly come to do so, for instance in government. How do they deal with this contradiction between discourse and strategy? The second dilemma deals with the contradiction that populist parties face as they, on the one hand, present themselves as spontaneous and direct expressions of popular dissatisfaction or are formed around charismatic personalities, and on the other hand, the pressures to organize themselves in order to assume power or receive party funding. Is there resistance to institutionalization and what types of organization takes place? Thirdly, populist parties tend to resist international impulses as something foreign and intrusive that threatens the so-called heartland. Nevertheless, populist parties are nowadays increasingly involved in various types of transnational and international relations, i.e., bilateral contacts and representation in the European parliament. The third dilemma deals with the contradictions between the populist address to the nation (or core domestic groups) and the actual internationalization of populism.

An important question for the project is if and to what extent the post communist legacy renders populism in East- and Central Europe different from populism in Western Europe? Is the populist dichotomy between the political elite and the people grounded in the experiences of the communist nomenclature or is it rather a reaction to “broken promises” of democracy to be “for, by and through” the people?