Op Ed #2: Patterns of Populism

By Daniel Williams

For all the show, for all the fuss, of individual populist groups often maintaining nationalistic views and policies, there is a silent overarching factor to these various groups.

In fact, Pew Research Center has recently released a series of excerpts from their findings regarding populist groups and their views on various issues important across the EU. And, wouldn’t you know it, these groups maintain notably similar stances on many issues. For instance, support for Russian President Vladimir Putin is markedly high among all right-wing populist groups throughout Europe, with small geographic variations.

But perhaps more interesting are the cases where these groups do, in fact, disagree with each other. Limiting our analysis to right-wing populists, we can find that there are differences that exist on several critical issues to populist platforms among the right. Confidence in the EU, views on Muslims, and even positive opinions of their own culture, are all points of dissonance among Europe’s various far-right populist groups. The question then is why?

Geography seems to be an element of this. Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary seem to be the nations that most commonly buck the trends set by other nations. Eastern Europe seems to have notably different ideas of what populism means, despite being some of the most fervent right-wing bases. Poland especially is known for an exceedingly far right government, yet Poland’s populist supporters are confusingly more likely to be favourable of Muslims than the average population of Poland. This is a rather bizarre trend when looking at the far right in Western Europe, but is mirrored by Slovakia’s right-wing members too.

This could be due in part due to a difference in othering within several Eastern European nations. While in Western Europe the ‘other’ is Islam and Islamic refugees, in Eastern Europe it seems that there is instead a different, resurgent threat: Russia.

Remember when we analyzed the approval of Putin among right-wing European populist parties? Well, something absent from the data on this particular issue is, you guessed it, Poland.

Further missing from the data is the influence of populists within Ukraine. Ukraine, having fought a bloody war against both separatists supporting Russia and against Russian clandestine forces, is not present on this list. Nor is Belarus, or the Baltic States.

The issue that is being seen here is one that has for a long time plagued Europe, the sense that the part of Europe that truly ‘matters’, politically and economically, is the West. Eastern Europe is, within the western world, still underrepresented, and as such trying to define patterns for ‘Europe’ as a whole results instead in defining patterns for Western Europe.

While it is not unimportant to maintain analysis of Western Europe and its influential political sphere, we must still attempt to move beyond the scope of Western Europe and instead try to encompass the true whole of the picture. Only then can we attempt to define real patterns for populism and the far-right throughout Europe.

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