POPREBEL (Populist Rebellion Against Modernity) is a H2020-funded research project run by a consortium of seven partners: UCL (co-ordinating institution), Jagiellonian University, Charles University, Tartu University, Corvinus University of Budapest, Belgrade University and Edgeryders.
The project aims at taking stock of the recent rise of populism – in its various forms – in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), including the Western Balkans. Its trajectory is not just interesting in and of itself: it is also the harbinger of a possible future for the whole continent. It is urgent for Western Europeans to look into the CEE mirror, just as it is urgent for the CEE region to understand itself. We describe the phenomenon, create a typology of its various manifestations, reconstruct trajectories of its growth and decline, investigate its causes, interpret its meanings, diagnose its consequences, and propose policy solutions. Our focus is on the CEE region, but we will engage in comparisons with populisms in other parts of the world, particularly Western Europe.
The present wave of populist mobilizations in Europe is more politically consequential than any of the previous waves and it has already produced an ‘extraordinary’ [Brubaker 2017a, 2017b] reconfiguration of the political map of Europe. Populist parties have become significant political players in several countries, including Italy, Holland, Austria, France, UK, and Germany, and their number has almost doubled since 2000 (from 33 to 63) [Eiermann et al. 2018]. Brexit vote in the UK might have gone the other way had it not been for the campaigning by the populist UKIP.
At the beginning of 2019, right wing populist parties govern in two countries of the region – Hungary and Poland – and in several others populists have emerged as serious contenders for political power. ‘Populists are the strongest in Eastern Europe,’ concludes a recent comprehensive report [Eiermann et al. 2018]. We propose, therefore, to study the rise of populism in this part of Europe in order to draw lessons that will be applicable also to other countries. No doubt Eastern Europe has some specific features, but since the phenomenon is so intensely pronounced in that part of the continent we believe it is easier to diagnose the causes of its emergence, reconstruct its basic features, and formulate policy recommendations that may be helpful also in other contexts. We will, however, rely also on comparisons with other parts of Europe and the world when our specific tasks call for them.
Our work in this area concentrates on the socio-economic dimensions of populism within the discipline of political economy. It aims at studying the socio-economic roots and policy consequences of populism along a “demand” and “supply” division. On the demand side, we focus on income inequality and economic insecurity, two mutually reinforcing but not necessarily overlapping phenomena. On the supply side, the we offer a comprehensive assessment on how varieties of state capitalisms have changed over time from a comparative perspective. While the demand side focuses mostly on the embryonic stage of the rise of (economic) populism and, in turn, critically assesses the effects of economic globalisation in general and the most recent economic and financial crisis in particular, the supply side analysis is more concerned about the matured (or in government) stage of populism. Both demand and supply side will lean heavily on the conceptualisation and theorisation developed in other areas of the project (see, for example, Conceptualisation).
We focus particulalry on the question of how the demand (as defined as the priority of the society given to the perception of economic insecurity) meets the supply (as defined as the “protest”, “anti-establishment” responses of the populist parties) using CEE countries as case studies. We identify the perception of economic (in)security, which is fueled by and highly interconnected with income inequality, as the main cause of the rise of populism in the CEE region. We argue that building upon the fear of economic insecurity and adopting certain elements of state capitalist regimes (such as the increasing share of state ownership, the intimate relationship between the political and business elites, etc.), in addition to the cultural and political supply, a special form of economic populism has emerged in CEE. Such populism with strong CEE–specific characteristics significantly differs from both its Western and Eastern counterparts. We coin a new term catching this phenomenon, the so-called ‘neo-feudal capitalism’, a central concept of POPREBEL.