Issue 33 | October 2023 |

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The Authoritarian International: Tracing how Authoritarian Regimes Learn in the Post-Soviet Space

Precarious Democracy: The East European Radical Right's Interaction with Mainstream Parties and its Effects in Comparative Perspective


Only the Pragmatic Survive: The Meloni Government’s Struggle with Migration

Erik Piccoli on the pragmatic turn of the Giorgia Meloni government on immigration issues one year after coming to office.

Destructive Ambiguity: How Polish Populist Incumbents Tinker with Electoral Fairness

Ahead of Poland's 2023 elections, Marta Kotwas and Jan Kubik catalog the ways in which the ruling Law and Justice party has undermined election fairness, to the detriment of Poland's once-applauded democratization process. 


Teun A. van Dijk on Populism, Ideology, Discursive Strategies, and the Reactionary Right

Sheri Berman discusses the causes and effects of populism, the role of neoliberalism in ushering in the populist moment, strategies for combatting populist movements, and the so-called "fascism debate." 

New Opportunity

The Amsterdam School for Regional and Transnational and European Studies (ARTES) invites applications for a fully-funded 4-year PhD position in Eastern European studies. The PhD project is funded by a starting grant from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands and will be led by Dr Gulnaz Sibgatullina.

Civilizational Populism in Democratic Nation-States explores how, across religious, political, and geographic contexts, “populists increasingly define national belonging through civilizational identity, claiming that the world can be divided into several religion-defined civilizations with incompatible values.” The edited volume discusses how civilizational populism interacts with seemingly opposed phenomena like nationalism, noting that in fact, nationalists use civilizational identity to help define ingroups and outgroups within their borders. Throughout the volume, the salience of the concept, its influence, how populists construct civilizational identities, and the factors behind the rise of civilizational populism are investigated. 

Henry Maher theorizes the contemporary convergence of neoliberal and fascist principles by examining the thinking of political actors in the 1930s and 1940s who were active in both neoliberal and fascist organizations. Maher details three points of neoliberal-fascist convergence: a belief that socialism had to be opposed by whatever means necessary, including violence and the repression of popular democracy; a racialized understanding of the foundations of the market economy, necessitating the acceptance of racial exclusion; and a belief that patriarchy was necessary for reproducing capitalism, and hence traditional gender roles had to be preserved. After detailing this convergence, Maher turns his attention to how the overlap of neoliberalism and fascism can be witnessed today, with a focus on the libertarian Mises Institute.

James A. Piazza examines the factors that mediate the effect of populism on the endorsement of political violence in the United States. He hypothesizes four elements that theoretically mediate this relationship: economic grievances; distrust of political institutions; fears of social and demographic change; and preferences for politically illiberal or nondemocratic rule. Piazza then demonstrates that the effect of populism on support for political violence is mediated through fear of social/demographic change and preference for illiberal rule but not through economic grievances or distrust of political institutions. He finds that “over 50% of the effect of populism on support for political violence is mediated through heightened anxiety about social and demographic changes in the U.S. and illiberal attitudes.”

Using Bulgaria as a case study, Sergiu Gherghina and Petar Bankov look to explain how democratic backsliding can be stopped in settings where “the usual accountability characteristics are absent.” They demonstrate how opposition political parties play a crucial role in halting democratic backsliding, by collaboration with each other and by isolating the party in power. It is shown that the rejection of competition, and the embrace of cooperation to neutralize a common opponent, is an alternative strategy to those that are often discussed in the literature. Thus, Gherghina and Bankov offer a novel contribution to the democratic backsliding literature. 

Branislav Radeljić and M. Cüneyt Özşahin unpack how the war in Ukraine has exposed a rift between Serbia and the European Union, with the former being accused of being too friendly to Russia, while the latter has been strictly pro-Ukraine. Rather than explaining away the Serbian position through references to its pan-Slavic relationship with Moscow, or authoritarian solidarity, the authors argue that this rift is the byproduct of the opportunities created by major power rivalry. They reflect on the poor performance of the EU’s norms and values promotion, and on the rising influence of Russia and China in the Western Balkan region, arguing that “Serbian foreign policy aims to maintain the domestic regime’s power and maximize benefits by exploiting the escalating rivalry between the two blocs rather than to pose a direct normative challenge to the established EU standards.”

Dustin N. Sharp explores why, in the United States in particular, there has been a centering of various “axes of difference,” seen through the deployment of categories like BIPOC, LGBTQ+, or Latinx, and through the use of concepts such as cultural appropriation, white privilege, and intersectionality. Sharp notes that some critics dismiss this phenomenon as “wokeness,” view it as an illiberal threat, or worry that it diminishes the possibility of worker and class solidarity. Sharp rather views it as a spiritual conundrum, contrasting what he calls the ‘connective worldview’– drawn from the idea that “deep ecology, spiritual practices, and mystical insights common to many religious traditions” view identities as “interdependent, ephemeral and, ultimately, subject to transcendence” – with the ‘particularistic worldview,’ which defines individual and group identities in sharp relief, emphasizing the need to respect and manage difference. Sharp concludes by arguing that activists will need to embrace an ‘integrated’ perspective, one that strikes a balance between both worldviews, if they want to instigate social change. 

Using Britain and Spain as case studies, Stuart J. Turnbull-Dugarte and Alberto López Ortega probe the concept of homonationalism, i.e., the combination of nativist attitudes and support for LGBTQ+ rights. They argue that anti-immigrant and pro-LGBTQ+ sentiments can be “causally connected, theorizing that exposure to sexually conservative ethnic out-groups can provoke an instrumental increase in LGBT+ inclusion.” Turnbull-Dugarte and López Ortega provide causal evidence to prove this theory and demonstrate that “in a context where sexuality-based liberalism is nationalized, increasing tolerance toward LGBT+ citizens is driven by a desire among nativist citizens to socially disidentify from those out-groups.” Their contribution adds a needed level of complexity to the story that is often told about increasing support for LGBTQ+ rights, showing that instrumentalized inclusion should not be construed as an entirely genuine shift in support. 

Bálint Mikola zeroes in on the use of so-called “national consultations” – quasi-referenda to obtain popular approval for illiberal policies – in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, as well as in Slovakia, Italy, and France. Mikola suggests that, while these national consultations are flawed according to democratic normative ideals, and fall short of impartiality, transparency, and accountability, they effectively serve the governing party’s chances for reelection. They do this by enabling large-scale mobilizations of a party’s base, financed by the state budget; by providing an unprecedented opportunity to collect supporter data; and by offering a powerful tool to shape the public agenda. The author thus argues that “even though such consultations’ impact on policy-making is extremely limited…the aforementioned features may still induce a learning effect, leading to the adoption of similar tools by both domestic and international actors,” an effect Mikola demonstrates by the focus on Slovakia, Italy, and France.

Nikos Christofis charts the effort of Turkey’s ruling AKP party to develop a new historical narrative that seeks to challenge and replace the dominant ideological doctrine of Kemalism. Christofis shows how the Turkish government “recycles the past selectively” to create a new counter-memory of once-hegemonic historical myths, focusing specifically on the core socioeconomic and political program of “New Turkey.” The article analyses the methods, discourses, and repertoires employed to “cast a new narrative to hegemonize Turkish society and politics into the future,” and acknowledges the similarities between Erdoganism and Kemalism. 

Daniel Palm argues that neo-colonial knowledge production in the autocratizing regimes of Hungary and Nicaragua reflects the rising importance of China, as both governments seek to “set forth new schools of thought suiting their worldview,” contra the collective West. As such, China “serves as a narrative fix point for legitimizing dissociative diplomatic agendas via comprador academics supported by their government” and takes on the role of a counterweight to U.S. and liberal hegemony. Palm asserts that “compradors colonializing academia” utilize these discourses as a means of promoting nationalist agendas and ultimately the government line within their own countries.

For resources on illiberal, populist, and authoritarian trends across the globe, consult our growing Resource Hub aggregating hundreds of published academic articles on illiberalism and other topics relating to illiberal movements. From security and international affairs, to democratic backsliding and public policy, this center of longstanding and recently-published literature continues to document ongoing global trends of growing illiberal movements around the world.

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Illiberalism Studies Program
Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES)
Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University
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