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Populism, Nationalism and Xenophobia in Central and Eastern Europe

Fatigue-Poprebel Seminar Series

Tuesday, 23 March 2021, 17:00 GMT

While there is no a priori relationship between populism and either nationalism or xenophobia, supporters of the form of right-wing populism common in Central and Eastern Europe make frequent use of both nationalistic and xenophobia discourses in a bid to draw a clear line between the pure in-group and the corrupt out-group. As Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser explain, the related concept of ‘nativism’ – the notion that states should be inhabited exclusively by members of the native group (“the nation”) and that non-native (“alien”) elements are fundamentally threatening to the homogenous nation-state’ – is frequently used by populists to thicken the thin idea of populism (2017: 34). While ethnic minorities are often the main target of such nationalist rhetoric, other groups, such as LGBT individuals, or even Europe itself are also considered to be a threat to the nation and its identity. The aim of this seminar is to present cutting-edge research on populism, nationalism and xenophobia from researchers from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network on ‘Delayed Transformational Fatigue in Central and Eastern Europe: Responding to the Rise of Illiberalism/Populism’ (FATIGUE) and the Horizon 2020-funded project ‘Populist rebellion against modernity in 21st-century Eastern Europe: neo-traditionalism and neo-feudalism’ (POPREBEL).

Chair: Richard Mole, UCL

To register for the seminar, please go to:

Carlos Gómez del Tronco (UCL): Islamophobia beyond surveys: anti-Muslim prejudice in Czechia according to Czech citizens

Despite Czechia being home to one of the proportionally smallest Muslim populations in the EU, since 2014, several EU cross-national surveys have measured the highest levels of anti-Muslim prejudice among Czech respondents. Until 2014, Islamophobia had only been weakly embraced by a few political actors in the country and its potential to significantly mobilise voters had been repeatedly dismissed. However, at the height of the 2015-2016 European ‘refugee crisis’, many of the country’s symbolic elites normalised the use of blatant Islamophobia in public discourse, and, by the 2017 parliamentary elections, both anti-Muslim and anti-refugee party positions had become fairly widespread. While several surveys have quantitatively measured attitudes towards ‘Muslims’ and ‘Islam’ among Czech citizens, qualitative analyses remain scarce. Using a series of semi-structured interviews conducted with a diverse sample of Czech participants over the summer of 2020, this presentation will discuss the dynamics, themes and nature of the prejudice in Czechia, according to these citizens’ perceptions and forms of self and other representation. These testimonies contribute to methodological and theoretical discussions in the growing study of Islamophobia and other forms of racism in Czechia and, more generally, Central and Eastern Europe.

Agnieszka Sadecka (Jagiellonian University, Krakow): ‘A Right-Wing Counter-revolution? Analysis of Polish Right-Wing Weekly Magazine Covers’

The presentation will focus on the Polish right-wing cultural project seen as backlash to cosmopolitan and liberal values, or even as a neo-traditionalist counter-revolution. Apart from the more typically populist, anti-elitist claims, the Polish right-wing narratives attack various groups considered to be the “Other”, inscribing it in the logic of combatting Western European liberal values. This is done to defend Polish identity, defined according to a conservative worldview and based on Catholicism, patriarchy and heteronormativity. The material for analysis includes Polish right-wing magazine covers from 2020. The case studies analysed in the presentation will pertain to three important public debates – on the role of the Catholic Church in Poland, on abortion and on LGBT rights.

Joanna Orzechowska-Wacławska (Jagiellonian University, Krakow): How national populists other Europe

This presentation focuses on the discursive strategies of Othering present in the populist political narratives in Poland. Othering is understood here as a political top-down strategy of differentiation and boundary building allowing to demarcate the clear boundary between in-group and what the in-group stands for and the out-group, “the other” perceived as not only not belonging to the group, but disruptive and threatening its well-being. While the exclusivism of Othering is neither novel, not particularly unique to populism, it has indeed a long-standing tradition in (post)colonial relations, power relations and national(ist) ideologies, what is specific about the ways in which populists have used this mechanism, is its multiplicity, i.e. Othering has ceased to operate only on the level of group differentiation, but has passed onto the level of the social order and the universe of fundamental values. This presentation analyses the discursive (linguistic) and ideological (argumentative) ways in which Polish populist politicians other Europe. The material for the empirical study comes from printed interviews, commentaries and columns written by Polish politicians, published in most read Polish weeklies during 2015-2020. The sample used for this study comes from selected printed interviews from 2017.