Europa | Europe - Part 21

posted by usha on 2006/10/29 07:01

[ Europa | Europe ]

In TOL Jiří Pehe writes about corruption in the Višegrad countries, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland.

Many are afraid of a repetition of history, it seems. The reason for suspecting CE countries of doing away with democracy and falling back into separatist nationalisms is connected to populist parties winning the elections in the Visegrad countries.

Well, cerainly nobody could claim that the ruling parties in those countries are democratic in the strict sense given within the article, to "respect the rights of minorities and show tolerance for different opinions". Certainly it is also true that the chosen parties are populist - or try to be - in the sense or the term given in an encyclopedia:

a political philosophy or rhetorical style that holds that the common person's interests are oppressed or hindered by the elite in society, and that the instruments of the state need to be grasped from this self-serving elite and used for the benefit and advancement of the people as a whole. Hence a populist is one who is perceived to craft his or her rhetoric as appeals to the economic, social, and common sense concerns of average people.
The German version puts it stronger, speaking of the conscious irrationalisation of political cultures by using the emotions and esp. the fears of those so-called average people.

Well, as experience shows, "average people" do not exist. They are in any case a fiction made up to address a collective individual. To be able to do that a psychological approach in rhetoric is necessary that works with triggers of emotion. In this respect, the ideological shortcut from "populism" to "racism", "fundamentalism" etc. is to be treated with cautiousness. Any sort of democratic politics, which also addresses an entirety of different people (which is a fiction, as well, as soon as they are imagined as a more or less homogenous group), and not only dispersed minorities, uses populist methods to a certain degree.

Keeping all this in mind in being aware of the unusual success of populist parties in other European countries, such as France, Germany, Austria, Italy, it is irresponsible to trace populims only in CE countries. The rise of populism is connected to fast social changes which is used as an argument for CE populism. Sure, the change from socialist to capitalist structures is close to a complete break-up. Yet, this does not explain the populist movements in Belgium, Austria, etc.

Although the change from sowjet to postsowjet to democratic structures eventually affects the traditional EU countries, as well, these countries, being proud of a long "democratic experience", according to their own philosophy, should have the maturity and the means to deal with the changes in a responsible way. Yet, they don't.

Ther isn't any convincing explanation for the indeed EU-wide rise of radical populism reviving racist, ethnic, and class-based exclusion strategies. Though, the demos in "democracy" and the populus in "populism" mean very similar things, and though addressing "the people", the fiction or creation of a communication process, can't do without populist political style and rhetoric, politicians and activists in all European countries should pay attention to whom they address: people or fantasies.


Literature online on populism can be found here (PDF), there, and there, for example.


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