“Into the Mainstream: Explaining the Rise of Radical Populist Parties in Europe”


On May 2, I attended a lecture by Dr. Reinhard Heinisch from the University of Salzburg. As a renowned scholar of European politics, he offered a diverse and interesting account of the highly publicized phenomenon of once-fringe populist parties gaining considerable traction throughout Europe.

I’m familiar with right-wing populists parties such as the French National Front, UKIP, the Freedom Party and Alternative for Germany (along with their often humorous leaders), but Dr. Heinisch brought up a fascinating point that I did not know: several of these new parties are not right-wing and some are even far-left. This connected to his larger argument that while the media paints these parties as a connected occurrence and of similar agendas, they each possess key differences from one another. He gave six categories generally associated with the far-right (nativism, ethnocentricism, racism, heterophobia, religocentrism, and antisemetisim) and gave numerical figures for each party that reflect the presence of each category. The scores were all across the board. Dr. Heinisch basically wanted to prevent clumping these parties together as ideologically identical.

Despite their ideological diversity, these parties tend to share similar organization and methods. They all: “call into question liberal democracy, break rules and taboos, and preach nationalism.” They hate globalization (hence the latter characteristic). They tend to single out a group or occurrence on which to blame society’s ills. They are often represented by one, charismatic leader (although they are actually more complex behind-the-scenes). And most insidiously, they changes their ideologies to match the voters– which is why Dr. Heinisch referred to the “populist chameleon.” I also found it interesting how the parties followed regional trends. Western European parties are far-right and target immigrants and Islam as scapegoats. Eastern European parties blame Roma groups and the “liberal West.” Lastly, Southern European parties are leftits.

To conclude, I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Heinisch’s lecture. His first-hand experiences as an Austrian professor definitely shone through to make it all the more interesting. I have yet to attend a CIS lecture that didn’t leave me feeling more intrigued and informed!

image from EurActiv.













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