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The End Of the Liberal Order? Central, East, and Southeast European Populism in Comparative Perspective

Jahrestagung 2017 in Regensburg

01.06.2017 - 03.06.2017

The End Of the Liberal Order? Central, East, and Southeast European Populism in Comparative Perspective

Die vierte Jahreskonferenz der Graduiertenschule für Ost- und Südosteuropa wird vom 1. bis 3. Juni 2017 in Regensburg stattfinden und sich in vergleichender Perspektive mit dem Phänomen des Populismus in Mittel-, Ost- und Südosteuropa beschäftigen. Sie findet in Kooperation mit der School of Slavonic and East European Studies des University College London statt.

Als Keynote-Speaker haben bereits zugesagt: der Autor und Journalist John B. Judis (Washington), der Medienwissenschaftler Prof. Dr. Michał Krzyżanowski (Örebro), der Slavist und Direktor der UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies Prof. Jan Kubik (London) sowie die Politikwissenschaftlerin und Wissenschaftliche Direktorin des ZOiS Prof. Dr. Gwendolyn Sasse (Berlin).

Tagungssprache wird Englisch sein. Lediglich das öffentliche Podiumsgespräch am Freitagabend wird in deutscher Sprache geführt werden.

Verantwortliche Organisatoren sind: Ulf Brunnbauer, Ger Duijzings und Björn Hansen


The dream of a united Europe seems to be on the ropes. Anti-EU platforms are on the rise, producing the first major faits accomplis such as Brexit. Hungary and Poland are governed by parties which portray Brussels as a second Moscow and oppose the European federalist ideal. Arguably the most shocking of all is that a hard-core populist ignoramus nothing has been elected as President of the United States. The big-tent parties in Europe and the United States which maintained the post-war liberal order so far have found no effective antidote to the populist insurgence that puts into question the fundamental political and economic values of the “West.”

The surge of populism is driven by deep-seated frustrations about the current political-economic order, which the post-2008 recession as well as the refugee crisis of 2015 have aggravated. Large swathes of society regard themselves as non-beneficiaries or losers of globalization and technological change and feel alienated from the so-called establishment. Be it in impoverished rural areas or in “rust belt” cities in the former industrial heartlands all across Europe, large segments of society feel let down by their government and threatened in their existence by anonymous economic forces and waves of migration. These resentments have developed into political cultures of vindictiveness and spitefulness which set up “us” versus “them” and ostentatiously embrace values that the presumed mainstream deems anachronistic, such as nativism, religious intolerance and male chauvinism. One of the rallying cries of populists is their fight against “political correctness”, which is portrayed as an infringement on the freedom of speech, or the prohibition of the articulation of genuine popular feelings: that what people really think (e.g. about foreigners) can and must not be said in public, which only increasing their sense of estrangement. The “redneck” phenomenon is not limited to marginalized areas of the United States.

Metropolitan elites have for a long time preferred to ignore these resentments, although they have also started to alleviate dissatisfaction by various forms of cooptation – yet, their policies of austerity have made this much more difficult. Populist politicians and activists skillfully exploit these frustrations by presenting the existing order as “rigged” against the “small people” or the “natives". Their wide-ranging conspiracy theories resonate, producing increasingly dismissive attitudes towards rational argument and hard facts. We live not only in an age of populism, but also of post-factualism. Ironically, the specific algorithms of social media, from which many people draw most information, help to create communicative realms in which even the most preposterous claims seem to make sense.

The roots of populism, however, run deeper; populism builds on pre-existing political languages, rhetorical tropes, symbolic realms and patterns of social identification that go back to the nineteenth century. Today’s populist insurrection is also not the first one shaking Europe (and America). It is a complex phenomenon that is deeply embedded in the social and cultural practices of democratic societies, which also explains its persistence. The conference, therefore, aims to take a multi-disciplinary and multi-perspective approach, discussing the current politics of populism, the social, economic and cultural reasons for its resonance, and its historical trajectories.

Eastern and Southeastern Europe are a perfect place to study these developments. First of all, this is a region where after the initial enthusiasm for “Europe” after 1989 populist parties now openly rally against Europe and the global liberal order – both in right- and left-wing embodiments. The region has also seen dramatic economic displacements, not only since 2008 but long before that, and it has seen some of the harshest xenophobic responses to the arrival of refugees and migrants. Many people feel powerless due to the peripheral position of the region and, therefore, think that their votes do not count (see the low turnout at elections) because whomever they vote in power, the elites will not change their policies. On the other hand mass migration from the region to the wealthier parts of the European Union has fueled xenophobic and anti-European sentiments in Western Europe – the Brexit vote being a clear indicator of that. Last but not least, Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe have a long history of anti-Western ideologies, propagated for example by the Christian-Orthodox Churches or political parties who have claimed to rule directly in the name of the people, considering checks-and-balances expendable.

The conference will discuss these issues bringing together scholars from a variety of fields, such as history, political science, sociology, anthropology, literature, linguistic and cultural studies. Its aim is to put the Central, East and Southeast European experience in perspective and also to highlight the transnational connection of a political belief system that claims to puts the nation first.

The main themes will be:

  • populist parties in past and present
  • the ‘losers’ of globalization: post-industrial and rural displacements
  • populist discourse, rhetoric, and symbolism


bis zum 22. Mai 2017 via E-Mail


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UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies

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