The populisms that have emerged in contemporary Europe have been largely of the political right, framing ‘the people’ in nationalist and nativist terms and viewing the nation as expressed by set conservative, traditionalist or religious values. Often this has developed into assertive forms of right-wing euroscepticism allowing even dominant governing parties to frame themselves as populist outsiders: in such discourses authentic national communities and national sovereignty are presented as under attack by (neo-) liberal elites in Brussels, aided and abetted by domestic minorities.
The political experience of populism in Central and South-Eastern Europe illustrates these trends in often stark terms. It also highlights the complex linkages between (social/electoral) ‘demand’ and party-political ‘supply’; historically rooted political traditions and external pressures; performance-driven economic concerns, delayed reaction to years of market reform and shifting narratives and identities that underpins the rise of populist parties. At the same time, the region’s experience of populist politics has diverged from that of Western Europe in important ways. In older West European democracies, the most typical vehicle for populism are, for the moment, new or previously marginal illiberal challenger parties which confront an essentially liberal, non-populist mainstream by exploiting socio-cultural divisions opened by globalisation and Europeanisation. The politics of Central and South-Eastern Europe, however, underline that populism cannot always be understood purely in terms of outsider parties confronting the mainstream, nor is always the preserve of the political right. Far from challenging the mainstream, populists have themselves emerged through, or as, the mainstream.
Our aim is to examine these relatively advanced forms of populist politics in Central and South-Eastern Europe, considering both the emergence and supply of populist ideas, narratives and political identities; the importance and impact of more dominant populist parties; and the variegated and changeable forms of populism the region exhibits.