The struggle over 1989: The rise and contestation of eastern European populism

Bogdan Iacob, James Mark, Tobias Rupprecht

First published in Eurozine

Eastern Europe is clearly part of a global populist wave, and is now part of the western right-wing populist imaginary as the bedrock for ‘pure’ European values. Only by looking at ‘1989’ from a new angle can we see how populist governments’ rejection of a ‘decadent’ and ‘imperialist’ West merely continues a communist stance, despite their strident anti-communist rhetoric.

The spread of populist governments in eastern Europe over the last decade, and their nationalist challenging of core tenets of western liberalism, has given currency to talk about a ‘new east-west divide’. A notion has taken hold that draws on a longer history of western views of eastern backwardness: a specifically eastern illiberal ‘infection’ is allegedly threatening the stability of the entire European project. In this vein, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called upon ‘the EU and the people of Europe to resist the backsliding we are seeing in the east’.1 Yet the parallel ascent of populist parties in much of the West, and a wave of anti-populist mass protests in the east, suggest the divide is not defined by geography alone.

As we argue in 1989: A Global History of Eastern Europe, the current wave of east European populism, while rooted in local nationalist traditions, is best understood by also considering its global ideological bedfellows. Nativists in eastern Europe, and those who embrace similar forms of ethnonationalist cultural traditionalism elsewhere, have mutually reinforced each other. Radical right-wing figures in western Europe have developed strong bonds with eastern European populists in a common push to ‘re-found’ Europe on an explicitly anti-liberal basis. Beyond Europe, leaders with an authoritarian bent, from the right-wing of the Republican Party in the United States, to Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, and Xi Jinping in China, have contributed to eastern European populists’ re-positioning against the West. Through these relationships, leading figures of such nationalist parties as PiS in Poland and Fidesz in Hungary, as well as their intellectual supporters, re-imagined their place in a broader world beyond the liberal rule of law and what they consider the neo-colonial interference of the EU in their countries’ domestic affairs. Together, they clamour for the defence of their societies’ ‘Europeanness’, allegedly threatened by Western multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, and ‘political correctness’. Continue reading “The struggle over 1989: The rise and contestation of eastern European populism”

CFP: (Re)Thinking Yugoslav Internationalism – Cold War Global Entanglements and Their Legacies

call-for-paper

When: Graz, 30 September – 1 October 2016

Where: Centre for Southeast European Studies, University of Graz, and the University of Exeter

For more than forty years, Yugoslavia was one of the most internationalist and outward looking of all socialist countries in Europe, playing leading roles in various trans-national initiatives – principally as central participant within the Non-Aligned Movement – that sought to remake existing geopolitical hierarchies and rethink international relations. Both moral and pragmatic motives often overlapped in its efforts to enhance cooperation between developing nations, propagate peaceful coexistence in a divided world and pioneer a specific non-orthodox form of socialism.

Continue reading “CFP: (Re)Thinking Yugoslav Internationalism – Cold War Global Entanglements and Their Legacies”

Writing Human Rights into the History of State Socialism

Ned Richardson-Little
Associate Research Fellow, University of Exeter

One of a number of East German postage stamps commemorating International Human Rights Year 1968. The hammer and anvil represent the right to work.
One of a number of East German postage stamps commemorating International Human Rights Year 1968. The hammer and anvil represent the right to work.

The collapse of the Communist Bloc in 1989-1991 is viewed as one of the great triumphs of the human rights movement. But this ignores how socialist elites of the Eastern Bloc viewed themselves: not as the villains in the story of human rights, but as the champions. Continue reading “Writing Human Rights into the History of State Socialism”