Gerald Creed and Mary Taylor
In the contemporary wave of angry politics shaking the globe, eastern Europe could be seen as an epicenter. While the countries involved may be small, the number of them is noteworthy. From Lithuania and Poland, across Slovakia and the Czech Republic, through Hungary and Croatia, and down to Bulgaria, the region has seen one government after another come under the political control of insurgent politicians and new parties capitalizing on (and some would say fomenting) a groundswell of popular discontent. While varied in character, timing and objectives, all these developments have been designated as ‘populist” by observers and commentators, as well as by some politicians themselves. This has inspired journals dedicated to research on the region to devote special issues or sections to the rise of populism.1 We want to trouble this label. In contemporary usage the term populist is almost always ascribed negatively. This not only delegitimizes the objectionable programs currently pursued by many so-called populist politicians (to wit, ethno-nationalism and authoritarianism), but also diminishes the legitimacy of the motives and demands driving popular support for them and their programs. The label thus operates much like the notion of nostalgia in devaluing and dismissing what it purports to represent (Creed 200). Indeed, the label may say more about those deploying it than those described as such (D‘Eramo 2013).
According to prevailing definitions, populism is a rhetorical technique used by politicians that distinguishes a corrupt elite from a virtuous people. Many acknowledge that as such, ‘populism’ can be employed across the political spectrum. However, the recent and wholesale embrace of the technique by nationalist and authoritarian parties and politicians, and their relative success with it, has led to a conflation, whereby in many minds populism is assumed to be essentially nationalistic and authoritarian, as well as rightwing. Particularly disturbing is the way that widespread contemporary uses of the term have the tendency to reduce all popular/elite binaries (contrasts) to rhetorical constructions, conspiracy, or manipulation. They also tend to cast populism (whether left or right) as “radical,” in contrast to a “center,” reinforcing the legitimacy of the latter and constraining, if not disqualifying, political debate.2 Finally, current uses can obscure the specificities of the historical legacies of the terms “the people,” “populist/popular,” and of popular struggle itself. Our agenda is to use two cases we know to flesh out the diversity of the application of the populist label, and to provide an appreciation for why intelligent citizens might find the rather strident and extreme parties now in power palatable. We seek to look beyond the label of populism to examine what is happening and why, particularly as regards the supposed role of the people (the demos) in postsocialist liberal democracy and the seeming equation of popular with accusations of populism in the political sphere. We argue that we must approach these questions with a sensitivity to historical and geographical processes and class formation. While we see what is happening in this region as part of a global trend, we focus on the specificities of this postsocialist and semiperipheral region.
Despite the introduction of representative democracy, the restructuring of the economies of formerly state socialist societies in the age of neoliberalization “turned out to be a nightmare for the overwhelming majority of people in the region” (Fabry 2015). While those who had been close to the state apparatus benefited personally from the privatization of state resources, class and regional inequalities opened and deepened. Existing skills and infrastructure were made obsolete, as enterprises were transformed under the direction of (financial) transnational capital. Large proportions of the industrial and agricultural sectors of the socialist economy simply crumbled and mass unemployment ensued (Fabry 2015). At the same time the population faced the loss of the social safety net and benefits that had been central to their wellbeing and their understanding of democracy. Disparities unimaginable in the socialist period came to mark society, while the supposed democracy that would contrast this period from that of Party rule remained elusive.
Communist successor parties, now socialist in name and character, eventually emerged as strong contenders in the new system of electoral democracy across the region. Like other parties, when socialists came to power they became the overseers of the privatization process and advanced the neoliberal project. This was accompanied by “political capitalism” in which many former communist elites or late socialist technocrats were able to acquire wealth and power through the levers of privatization. As privatization continued these societies had less control over the assets (Borocz 2016), and were forced to adjust their social commitments, often at the direction of foreign debt holders, the IMF or the World Bank. Membership in the EU added to the list of overseers demanding that aspiring states limit deficit spending and indebtedness.
Disciples of the liberal project would contest this summary with an equally long list of positive developments in the region since 1989. Without denying those “achievements”, we believe the trajectory we outline better explains the political developments currently shaking the region. We proceed with a more detailed description of these political events in two cases we know best, then turn to a collection of additional factors that we think help us make sense of these developments. With that appreciation we return to implicate antipopulism in obscuring and delegitimizing reasonable sources of popular discontent.
Bulgaria: Desperately Seeking Deliverance
Already in 1990 Bulgarians may have anticipated the dangers ahead, because their first democratic impulse was to try to hold on to the status quo, as bad as it was. In the first free election after 1989 they gave the Socialist Party a clear majority in Parliament (the first post-communist country to do so). A unified center right coalition known as the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) mobilized popular protests to quickly destabilize the socialist government. The UDF then won a subsequent early election, and this set up the pattern of shifting power between the two parties that characterized electoral politics the rest of the decade, with the Turkish minority party, the Movement for Rights and Freedom (MRF), playing spoiler (first allying with the Democrats, then later with the Socialists).
1997 is considered by some a turning point, as the popular outcry at the economic crisis created by the socialist government (including hyperinflation, unemployment and severe food shortages), produced a popular uprising with mass protests and strikes across the country that forced the government to resign. The UDF was swept into power with a clear majority. Many described 1997 as the “real transition” in Bulgaria, as it was the first time the UDF’s victory was decisive enough to hamstring the Socialists politically. Moreover, they were able to hold power for a full 4 year term--the first government to do so since 1989—giving them time to actually secure the foundations for their neoliberal policies. But in retrospect it seems to have had the reverse effect as the UDF never returned to power. After 4 years of austerity the average Bulgarian was more frustrated than ever.
The person to take advantage of this was the last tsar of Bulgaria who had been in exile since 1946. Just two months before the election he formed the National Movement for Simeon the Second, and with virtually no party members, won a solid victory, receiving nearly 43 % of the vote. Prior monarchist parties had failed to attract any support, but he did not advocate a return of the monarchy (although he certainly trafficked in references to a glorious past and made a strong connection to the Bulgarian Orthodox church that conjured associations of divine right). Instead he cast himself as a unifier of the nation who could bring a new morality to politics and improve living conditions by attracting foreign investment, reducing taxes and uprooting corruption (all within the first 800 days no less). His administration presented a government of experts, many young and educated in the U.S., to the right of the preceding UDF government. He did attract foreign investors, too many in the eyes of some, and orchestrated Bulgaria joining NATO (which included joining the coalition of the willing against Iraq). But the promised new morality escaped him as his cabinet succumbed to corrupt privatization schemes, and he used his position to return former crown lands to himself.
While he managed to stay in power for a full term his party dropped to only 20 % of the vote in the next election in 2005. The Socialist won with 31%. This might have signaled a return to the status quo ante of left/right pendulum swings, were it not for the surprise performance of another new party, which again appeared on the scene just months before the election to snag over 8% of the vote (17% of the seats in Parliament). This coalition took its name from a cable TV show called Ataka (Attack), where its leader Volen Siderov, spent 15 minutes each evening in a purported commentary on the news, yelling into the camera that the Bulgarian people were mad as hell and not going to take it much longer. The abuses that inflamed him most were Roma crime, Turkification and the theft of national resources by the corrupt political establishment, shored up by, if not fully infiltrated by, Masons, Jews and Western foreign agents. To put this in context, no other nationalist party, of any ilk, had even come close to the 4% threshold required for seats in any prior parliamentary election. To the contrary, despite significant anti-Turkish and anti-Roma sentiment, Bulgaria had been labeled “an oasis of stability in the Balkans” for its lack of nationalist tensions, and terms such as “weak nationalism” and the “Bulgarian ethnic model” had been coined to describe its apparent regional exceptionalism.
Perhaps part of Ataka’s success was not due to its nationalistic fervor, but its leftist economic platforms. According to Venelin Ganev (2017) the main grievance Ataka vents is no longer that ethnic minorities subvert the nation’s Bulgarian-ness; it is that ‘the economic model of the country is defective’”(p. 12). The solution is a “’radical change of the economic model—from neoliberal market fundamentalism to a strong regulatory state promoting social justice!’” What such a state should do is re-nationalize privatized assets, and liquidate unemployment by means of a government funded jobs program. Ataka is also radically anti-colonial and anti-western, specifically against the U.S., the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO---all capitalist invaders bent upon looting the country.
In the 2009 Parliamentary elections Ataka raised its share of the vote to 9.4%, but it did not gain any additional seats. Instead these elections saw the ascent of Boyko Borissov and his party, Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (the Bulgarian acronym is GERB, which means coat of arms in Bulgarian). GERB received nearly 40% of the vote. Borissov was a former bodyguard of deposed communist leader Todor Zhivko and a secretary of the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior under Simeon the Second. During that tenure he apprehended a notorious mobster, which cemented his law and order reputation and insured his election as the Mayor of Sofia. Borissov seized upon the fight against organized crime and corruption and superimposed it on all issues, including his characterization of parliamentarians as liars and losers. His party is a center right formation affiliated with the European People’s Party, but his government shows a personalization of politics increasingly centered on his personality and strongman image. Decisions are described as taken personally by him with a degrading of his Council of Ministers. He uses a combative vocabulary with dichotomous images of political opponents who need to be destroyed, especially the Socialists.
Borissov was forced to resign early in 2013 amid high electricity prices and mass protests, including a spate of self-immolations and clashes with the police in which a number of protesters were badly injured. GERB won the subsequent election anyway, but only by 4%, amid accusations of fraud after the discovery of 350,000 illegally printed ballots. Borissov returned that mandate, but GERB was again elected in early elections in 2014, and again in March of this year following another early resignation in 2016. The recent elections were tainted by late electoral reforms enacted by GERB and its supporters that restricted voting locations abroad, which many saw as an effort to reduce minority voting. Borissov is now starting his third term as Prime Minister, this time in coalition with the United Patriots (UP), an alliance of three nationalist parties including Ataka. The nationalists secured two deputy prime minister posts and control over the ministries of defense, economy and environment. According to Reuters (2017), GERB and UP have agreed to raise the minimum state pension, double teachers’ salaries and increase the average monthly wage by 50%.
The GERB and UP coalition is also supported by yet another new comer on the political scene, Trump-like business man Veslin Mareshki, who preaches patriotism, strict immigration controls, friendlier relations with Moscow and, above all, the need to “sweep away the garbage” of a corrupt political establishment” (Lyman 2017). His party, Volya (Will), got 4.15 % of the vote and 12 seats in Parliament. Together, GERB, the UP and Volya make up 56% of the current Bulgarian Parliament, and the old liberal Democrats (UDF) are not even represented.
Hungary, the “bad pupil” of Europe
In 2006 anger erupted onto the streets of several Hungarian cities, communicating disdain for the newly elected Socialist (MSZP) government. Although triggered by the release of a recording of incumbent Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany admitting he lied about the state of the economy to get reelected, these protests represented perhaps both the final straw and a transition.
With the 2010 elections, the key oppositional party on the right, Fidesz, and its front man Viktor Orban, in solid coalition with the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) would become firmly entrenched in power with a 2/3 majority. In this same election, the "far right" Jobbik party (Movement for a Better/Righter Hungary) entered parliament, having entered the EU parliament in 2009. After a poor showing in the same two elections, MSZP's prior coalition partner, the Alliance of Social Democrats (SZDSZ), dissolved completely by 2013, leaving the “liberal left” in shambles and allowing Jobbik to become the third most popular party in the 2014 elections. The most consistent warden of neoliberal style dependent development since 1989 (by virtue of its number of terms in power), MSZP was now marked as an arrogant and elitist agent of neoliberal capital and liberal/anti-national values along with foreign investors, funders of “civil society,” and Brussels.
Despite the large amount of budget dedicated to social provisions, what was once seen as temporary consequences of the “regime change” (the rise of unemployment, homelessness, rates of child poverty, impoverishment of parts of the middle class, and sharpening ethnic/racial distinctions) had become regularized features of society. While MSZP’s 2006 campaign had promised “reform without austerity,” once reelected, it introduced radical austerity measures to stay within the boundaries of the Maastricht criteria (Fabry 2015). In return for an IMF (World Bank and EU) emergency loan (2008), MSZP enacted public-sector cuts and other measures aimed at reducing the country’s budget deficit.
A binary opposition distinguishing “liberal-left” globalizers from “those who protect the nation” had begun to take hold already in the early 2000s with framings introduced by the far right and amplified by Fidesz (Gagyi 2016). Embracing this opposition, the “liberal-left” claimed to defend the “democracy” it imported from the civilized West alongside neoliberal and comprador arrangements in contrast to what it perceived as the provincial and backwards nationalism of the opposition, and the opinions of the citizenry, both marking the Oriental nature of the region and the consequent need to catch up. While the language of theft was widespread, the language of class was rarely heard, as the two competing blocks attempted to establish competing elites based on a preference for either national or global, capital.
The global economic crisis hit with a vengeance, exacerbating disparities and related anxiety and anger. The third of households who had taken mortgages out in foreign currencies between 2005 and 2008 were left with no way to pay as the forint plummeted. Poverty, homelessness and unemployment spiraled upward. In the countryside, the continuing impact of the demise of socialist infrastructure combined with a liberal welfare regime and accession to the EU to underdevelop regions and reethnicize class relations. The Jobbik party, founded in 2003, began to make inroads, organizing rallies (while its paramilitary arm, The Magyar Guard, organized patrols) in depressed regions where tensions were growing between ethnic Hungarian “post peasants” and the largely Roma “surplus population,” suturing local experiences into a national rhetoric around “Gypsy crime” (Szombati 2018).
The “bifurcated structure” of postsocialist welfare provision had already functioned to separate “the striving,” (with regular earnings and/or access to income-related benefits, tax reduction, contribution-driven social security provisions) from the “undeserving” (unemployed or underemployed beneficiaries of gravely limited welfare provisions granted at the local level). The shortcomings of this system combined with effects of entry into the EU, especially in the depressed countryside. There, the welfare system and liberal projects aimed at helping minorities were seen by struggling “post peasants” as favoring the “work shy,” i.e. Roma (Szombati 2018). MSZP established a workfare program toward the end of its last term (Szombati 2018).
In 2008, Fidesz initiated a wildly successful anti austerity referendum. Once in power in 2010, the party took a significant authoritarian turn. Fidesz’ instrumental approach to formal institutions such as the constitution, which it unilaterally replaced with a fundamental law, overlaps with the appointment of individuals loyal to the government as heads of various state institutions. This “state capture” is intertwined with cronyism, through which state funds have been funneled to ‘loyalist” oligarchs via multiple paths. The open and often illegal redistribution of resources to a new oligarchy and “middle class” aligns with, and is justified by, Fidesz’ outspoken goal of creating a new national bourgeoisie, to replace the existing “foreign minded” one.
The 2011 electoral law restructured constituencies, abolished regional lists and the minimum voter turnout requirement, and introduced the one-round election, national minority lists, and a winner surplus vote, as well as the possibility to vote without Hungarian residency.3 Fidesz passed a law that same year, making it easier for more than two million “over the border Hungarians” to obtain Hungarian citizenship. This has provided a new column of votes for Fidesz. Over 95% of these nearly 130,000 new citizens voted for Fidesz in 2014.
Fidesz’ 2014 incumbent victory came despite its own paring down of the social state, the channeling of resources upward to elites, an increased shaming of the poor and the criminalization of homelessness. Mass protests against the violation of the constitution had little impact. The victory was thanks, in part, to the new electoral law and changes to voter eligibility, but also to the delegitimation and fracturing of the “liberal-left” parties and alliances. This has meant that “civil society,” mainly in the form of NGOs, has been the locus of the most effective opposition. Fidesz has assured that state funding for cultural projects and institutions is always awarded to allies, and has launched attacks on foreign-funded research projects and nonprofits. A recent law requires nonprofits receiving a certain amount of funds from abroad (including the EU) to identify their status as foreign funded in a prominent way.
The suppression of opposition dovetails with the channeling of funds and placement of cronies. This is particularly notable in the case of the media ecology, where critical outlets have been silenced via purchase by government-loyal oligarchs, often with the help of legal discrimination by the government. Large amounts of public funds are channeled into the state media which is under Orban’s control. Using the law, Fidesz also acquired a monopoly on outdoor media billboards after other parties and critics took good advantage of the medium.
Fidesz has also set in place policies, often with theatrical flair, that seem to upset the rules as usual regarding the distribution of wealth. While they might be read with hope by many Hungarians, they usually benefit the upper strata of the middle classes. In 2011, exemplifying its typical “anti-austerity” theatrics, “the Orban government intervened to enable the most solvent households to repay their loans at preferential rates.” However this affected only 10% of those borrowers, leaving tens of thousands struggling. On the scale of the EU, the symbolic act of defying dependency on the West by paying the 2008 IMF/EU/WB bailout loan back early (2012) came with less than transparent agreements with other lenders. It also allowed credit ratings to rise and freed the government to mandate that citizens move private pension funds into the state pension system. Fidesz's economic and monetary policies do seem to have lessened external vulnerability, yet, contrary to the image projected, they are quite friendly to foreign investors (Koltai 2018).4
Back in the late 1990s Orban had recognized a lacuna on the center right and over time Fidesz occupied that space, while pushing it rightward. He announced his pursuit of an “illiberal state” in 2014. Staying in power would require both authoritarian measures and the successful reproduction and tightening of the binary between liberal/foreign-minded and illiberal/national. The introduction of an internet tax in 2014 brought another round of massive protests. While Fidesz withdrew the plan, it continued with other policies contributing to the polarization of wealth.
Anger burst onto the streets once again in 2017, as “tens of thousands” protested the “Lex CEU,” that threatened the operation of the American degree granting Central European University. Thanks to protests and attempts by the university to comply with the conditions of the new law, the CEU has remained in operation. However, this attack, along with the villainization of foreign funded NGOs, works to keep the hegemonic binary active and tense (Tamas 2017). The attack on finance capitalist George Soros, a Hungarian of Jewish descent and founder of the CEU, as a symbol of the foreign minded has been the binding trope for the attacks on media, NGOs, academics, civil society writ large, and the university. Many liberal and left projects in Hungary (and the world) rely on funding from Soros’ foundations.5
While the “liberal-left” remains in shambles, Fidesz continues a delicate dance with Jobbik, selectively adopting its rhetoric and policies.6 Despite the government’s attack on the party in the lead up to the elections Jobbik constitutes a real threat. Already after the 2002 elections, “newly activated people” pushing Fidesz rightwards explicitly rejected the austerity associated with the “liberal left” government. Unlike the traditional far right, Jobbik built its popularity as a “counter-hegemonic bloc against the injustices wrought by neoliberal capitalism” (Fabry 2015). There are layers of voters who are not foremost attracted to Jobbik’s ethonationalist and xenophobic ideology, but rather, to the “strong anti-establishment attitude” (Fabry 2015). Jobbik began an attempt to move to the “center” in the last electoral cycle, dropping antisemitic language and attempting to create relationships with Jewish leadership. While it has relied on ethnonational references since the early 2000s, Fidesz’s move further right is thanks in part to Jobbik. By adopting much of Jobbik’s rhetoric, and some policies as well, Fidesz seems to have successfully taken some wind out of Jobbik’s sails. The April 2018 elections did not only seal Fidesz rule in with a supermajority, but also confirmed Jobbik as the second largest party in parliament.
Understanding the Political Choices of the Demos
Clearly, Hungary and Bulgaria do not present identical scenarios. Ethno-nationalism has held some purchase in electoral politics in Hungary since the early years of the transition; it was not a notable factor in postsocialist Bulgarian politics until 2005. Orbán traffics more explicitly in the discourse of national protection against foreign-minded and foreign-bodied threats, whereas Borisov relies more on the rhetoric of corruption and crime, although the latter carries a resounding anti-Roma subtext. Borisov is generally considered a supporter of the EU, while Orbán is often described as a Euroskeptic. Both GERB and Fidesz are affiliates of the EU’s European People’s Party, although there have been calls for Fidesz to be ousted while GERB enjoys significant support from its fellow EPP members. Borisov has been forced to resign twice as prime minister and returned each time with a different slate of coalition partners, whereas Fidesz’ 2010 supermajority in parliament, and subsequent alteration of the constitution and electoral laws, combined with the fracturing of the left liberal parties, have led to single-party dominance. There are also clear authoritarian tendencies evident in the GERB government, most notably in the campaign and election processes that have gotten it reelected twice, but Borisov has not consolidated the extent of support or exerted the degree of control that Orbán has managed.
Nevertheless, they both traffic in the binary opposition between a virtuous people from a corrupt elite, and they seem to share a comparable, and apparently compatible, political style and character.7 Rather than accounting for the obvious differences, we use the broader similarities as a provocation to think about what might account for parallels in two significantly different historical contexts, with the expectation that such factors may operate elsewhere in the region to help us understand the recent successes of these politicians. We look at the historical and contemporary factors that help us understand why the current appeal of Fidesz and GERB to the people resonates at the current conjuncture. By recovering the different meanings of ‘the people’ and “nation,” and different mobilizations around them, we not only show how resonance can be built, but also why using the term populism in the way it is being used (or perhaps at all) may get in the way of understanding what is happening.
The first factor we need to attend to is the history of appeals to “the people,” and their relationship to popular mobilizations in this region. The terms in Bulgarian and Hungarian are “narod” and “nép” respectively. In her exegesis on Russian Talk, Nancy Ries (1997:27) refers to narod, shared across most Slavic languages, as “the Key ‘Key Word’.” As Raymond Williams’ (1976) canonical text suggests, key words are usually riddled with multiple historical meaning that sometimes intertwine in present usage. In Slavic languages narod has many meanings, from simply the people in a place, to the citizens of a country, to an ethnic group, to the peasantry/folk, or working people generally. It is the same for the Hungarian cognate, nép, as it is for the German volk and Italian popolo. Some of these meanings have been more ascendant in different eras.
A constitutive period in modern Bulgarian history was the agrarian movement starting in 1899, which developed into a political party in 1901 known as the Bulgarian Agrarian People’s Union. The Union became the strongest agrarian party in the region and under the leadership of Alexander Stamboliiski gained control of the Bulgarian government from 1919 to 1923. In this iteration, narod referred explicitly to the peasant masses, which at the time constituted around 80% of the Bulgarian population. Stamboliiski supported the notion that land should belong to the people who work it and succeeded in bringing about land redistribution by setting limits to property holdings. Although certainly guilty of strongman/authoritarian tactics Stamboliiski was hardly your typical national leader, famously referring to himself as a “south Slav” when accused of not supporting Bulgarian national interests, to underline his belief in a Balkan Federation that would supersede national identities. After gaining power he took Bulgaria into the League of Nations and “in an attempt to enhance the international standing of the country took comprehensive measures to cater to the needs of minorities in Bulgaria” (Karadjov 2011: 49). He was also involved in founding the International Agrarian Bureau. Stamboliiski was overthrown (tortured and killed) by a coalition of fascists and nationalists still smarting from Bulgaria’s massive loss of territory after WWI, especially Macedonian lands. The party continued to function and was in fact one of the few parties allowed to operate under the Communist government, although not independently.
In Hungary, the “népi movement” emerged in the interwar period to challenge the government in the name of the poorest peasants: landless and land poor agrarian workers and sharecroppers, and the proletarianizing stratum of servants who emerged from this group and made up a third of the population of Hungary, and 67 percent of the peasant population (Borbándi 1989:58).8 The way the term was used reflected Hungary’s recent history. The Hungarian Republic, established upon the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire with only a third of its prior territory, soon fell victim to the associated border issues. The subsequent, but brief, Soviet Republic (which espoused a policy of land collectivization) was followed by a re-entrenchment of neofeudal rule by successive Christian National governments representing the former nobility and military officers, with Miklos Horthy as regent.
Hoping to avert attention from severe class distinctions, the Horthy governments focused on regaining lost territories, and instituted antisemitic policies in the name of developing a modern and professionally qualified “Magyar” bourgeoisie out of members of the ruling “middle class.” Two groups with competing visions of progress, népi (“of the people”) and urbanus (“of the City”), fought for land reform and the franchise for those unrepresented by this regime. The népi movement expounded a vision of an agrarian Hungary of small producers, potentially in federation with other small peoples of the Danubian basin, while urbanists sought a path of modernization and industrialization according to a Western model.9
The népi identity was a blanket term that covered an array of personalities and efforts with a diversity of opinions about ethnicity/race and Hungariannness, including antisemitic expression by some, as well as varied positions on Capitalism, socialism, and Communism. Following the March Front (1937-1938) , and tied closely with the movement to found People’s Colleges, the National Peasant Party emerged in 1939, with the goal of attracting poor peasants away from fascist and national socialist formations.
In both these cases the “populists” in question clearly challenged the predominant definitions/uses of nationalism. Dictatorial when in power, Stambolijski was an anti-war and anti-imperial federalist and internationalist. These characteristics have interesting through lines the Hungarian “populists.” Both lay emphasis on the poorest agrarian strata in countries without a significant industrial working class, and flirted with regional political forms inconsistent with the nation-state, under conditions in which nation-state borders were in flux.10 These kinds of emphases on the people remain central in contemporary historical consciousness, and are not easily assimilated to the pursuit of a Western style ethno-national state.
Another layer in the history of narod/nép shared across eastern Europe is the explicit and pervasive use of these terms by Socialists and Communists, from the widespread and varied movements across Europe, to the Russian revolutions, to the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919, and to the practices of the Bulgarian and Hungarian state socialist governments after World War II. This people/elite binary was rooted in a Marxist analysis of capitalist society in which owners of the means of production (dispossessed from the means of production) were contrasted with those who were forced to sell their labor to them. The Communist governments ruling Hungary and Bulgaria after 1948 used the terms nép and narod, as their political movements had before gaining power, identifying the people as the working class. 11 Here “the people” referred explicitly to the supposedly undifferentiated masses of (erstwhile) peasants and workers committed to the building of socialism (as well as the vanguard leading them in the effort). This usage was reflected in the naming of the polities after 1948: The People’s Republic of Bulgaria, and the Hungarian People’s Republic. On the one hand, this built upon and furthered the class-based connotations of narod/nép expounded by the interwar movements, but on the other hand it confounded the relevant class distinctions. The term then became ubiquitous in designating institutions or units of these socialist states: the people’s army, the people’s police, house of the people, etc.12 This recent and pervasive useage likely informs the contemporary resonance of the term. Certainly the increase in so-called socialist nostalgia maps nicely onto contemporary receptivity to appeals to a people defined along class terms (but not limited to them).
Given the association of narod/nép in these agrarian societies with the peasantry, it is no surprise that the terms also became entwined with the development of romantic nationalism in the 19th century. In its Herderian formulation, the peasantry/folk (older layer of society) carried the unique characteristics --language and other social practices-- that made up the treasury of national culture (deserving protection by its own state). The narod/nép and the nation could thus become metonyms, and sometimes synonyms, even while alternative notions of a nation existed and competed. The narod and nép of those interwar movements described above then, might variously signify ethnic as well as class connotations, even while they defied certain kinds of nationalist agendas. Similarly, while Communists and Socialists defined the terms explicitly by class, the term was nevertheless used in the State Socialist period, both colloquially and officially, in ways that also pointed to the ethnos (Taylor 2008, 2009). Indeed, the Bulgarian socialist state often seemed to use narod and nation interchangeably (Buchanan 2006) and was notorious for trying to make them synonymous through ethnic homogenization policies.
The fact that the major legislative body in Bulgaria has been called the Narodno Subranie since the 19th century (with different connotations in different political regimes) perhaps puts this in perspective, as does the fact that the object of those who identified as népi in interwar Hungary were agrarian workers, while today the object of the népi movement tends to be ethnic Hungarians over the borders (although particularly those who live in the countryside).13 Those multiple referents and their interactions account for why the term resonates to so many. An appeal to “the people” resonates differently, but likely deeply and symbolically to most members of these societies. The term “the people” may “interpolate” members of the struggling middle or working classes, or summon the idea of an ethnic group, a nation under threat, agrarian workers, “traditional peasants,” sometimes in combination or all at once. The point is not simply that appeals to the people have been alternatively either ethnic or class, but that both connotations co-existed in a mixture that makes the term powerfully resonate across multiple meanings, and also dangerously slippery. So-called “populists” in this region work today to produce its meaning via the use of a series of cascading oppositions that rely on these meanings and slippages among them. The people becomes equated with ethno-nation (while still connoting class) when it is contrasted repeatedly with “foreigners” (whether elite or parasitic) who are also contrasted with nation.
While the people has not always equated with the ethnos, and alternate understandings of the nation have also existed, the idea of the ethno-nation has been a central one in the region since the 19th century. As Maria Todorova points out, nationalism is said to have developed late in semi or non-Western regions such as this one. It is thus a derivative of the core Western standard. As Judith Irvine and Susan Gal (2000) write, as late as the 1920s, Western (elite) observers were disturbed by the fact that “Macedonian linguistic diversity failed to correspond to social and ethnic boundaries in the ways Western ideologies led them to expect.” In other words, the work that has gone into making seemingly straightforward “homogenous nation-states” is heavily influenced by what Gal (2007) calls “Herdarian standardizing,” which posits “a unity among language, national essence, and territory.” Since their emergence as nation-states (rather than other political forms) from the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires, governments and political actors in Hungary and Bulgaria, as in most other countries of the region, have appealed regularly to a nationalism based in this ideology.
In Bulgaria the constitution of the modern state was a nationalist liberation project defined against the Ottoman Empire. From its modern conception the nation has been defined against Turks. But the history of Western intervention in the fate of eastern Europe has made it clear that ethno-national identity matters as the Great Powers have drawn and redrawn boundaries multiple times justified by ethnic unification. The rounds of population exchange and border enforcement were most often under the tutelage of the great powers including the USA (Woodrow Wilson). There is plenty historical precedent to justify agitating for more territory with an ethno-national argument and for making sure that populations within state boundaries are homogeneous enough to deny this argument to other polities angling for territory. Largely as a result of the work of external actors ethno-nationalism was established as an imperative for political security and sovereignty.
In the state socialist period, the idea of the nation was mobilized in different ways in different polities. Leninism had put a focus on the nation as the scale of self-determination and development and a unit for internationalism. This was in part supported by the Soviet policy of “socialist in content but nationalist in form” although to quite different results when there was no territorial autonomy or even distinctions for minority groups as was provided in the USSR. The pervasive use of a national idea in Romania ended up instantiating ethno-national identity as primary, even for those who did not think of themselves as Romanian nationalists (Verdery 1991). The long-time Bulgarian leader Todor Zhivkov may have been less devoted to the nationalist strategy than Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu, but still deployed it extensively (especially in a notorious assimilation campaign against Roma and Turks). Hungary’s government had to perform a relatively non ethno-national positon, as 2/3 of its former population and millions of ethnic Hungarians lay over its borders. In Hungary, as in Poland and some republics of Yugoslavia, the nation became one terrain of dissidents, in contrast to the Communist state and its leaders, seen by many as oppressing the nation(s) (although in different ways). The ethical civil society, or antipolitical politics that “central European” dissidents became famous for relied on an ethical positions often in contrast to the State or politics proper. Slavoj Zizek argues that the community so defined was a vision of the national gemeinschaft in contrast to the gesellschaft (“society”) of the Socialist state. The first Hungarian prime minister of the post socialist era, József Antall, would state “I am in spirit the Prime Minister of 15 million Hungarians,” including the five million ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries along with 10 million Hungarian citizens, (Fox 2003:455).14
(Ethno)nationalist motivations and justifications have thus been present in politics of the region since the 19th century, and form part of a dynamic struggle around sovereignty and the form of the state. Even when it contested or resisted, as with the Agrarian government in Bulgaria (or by the form of the neighboring Yugoslavia), an opposition tends to sustain the centrality of the (ethno) national via attacks and criticism. Since few major political actors eschew the national form it can become, not an empty signifier, but an ignorable one. While it is central to some actors, for others it is seen as the perfunctory requirement of political participation. This seems to be increasingly the case (as can be seen in some “liberal” parties’ approach to migration). In short ethno-nationalist pronouncements are expected in politics so they are hardly disqualifying for the majority of the populations, even for those who are not committed nationalists. This has rendered them somewhat less useful as a means for distinguishing and characterizing political parties. As ethno-nationalism in some form has become political common sense, a non-nationalist rhetoric has become potentially disqualifying.
This means that Bulgarians and Hungarians who have not been motivated to support nationalist parties in the past may be willing to embrace the anti-neoliberal platforms of Ataka or Jobbik even if they come in an (ethno)nationalist package. This is not to deny that supporting those parties validates and promotes ethno-nationalist policies and extremes, it is simply to point to another factor to explain why people might not see the nationalist discourse as disqualifying even though they do not condone its values. As Stanislav Dodov (2016) observes for Bulgaria, “nationalism is completely in the public’s blind spot (allowing for it to be systemic)…In contrast with the recent US elections, here this narrative was not embodied in one particular subject, but was supported openly and in different ways by virtually all players.” This is evidently even the case for Roma who are the target of much of the rabid nationalist rhetoric but still vote for parties with nationalist platforms, and the DPS which has joined in coalitions with most successful parties over the years. It has become the baseline, and thus cannot be the basis for disqualifying a politician or party. In postsocialist Hungary, while being ethno-nationalist did not disqualify a party from being legitimate, the MSZP/SZDSZ coalition’s insistence on civic nationalism, while also applying techniques of liberal diversity politics under tutelage of the EU, played right into Fidesz’s delegitimation strategy.15 It reinforced Fidesz’s ability to claim their continuity with the Communists and its own antisystem status, and assured that over the border Hungarians who were finally granted dual citizenship would support the party that had ensured it. Today Roma in Hungary, themselves victims of such ethnonational rhetoric and policy, also report fear of migrants they have never encountered.
These factors help account for why ethno-national arguments (and appeals to the people) can resonate across the region, but do not explain the recent peak in that reception in the form of the popularity of certain parties. We suggest that the ubiquitous language of the nation (and its mapping onto “the people”) be considered alongside a number of factors that together contribute to the support of parties that position themselves as antisytemic. This positioning is achieved in part through use of the aforementioned oppositions (elite/people; foreign/Hungarian; unHungarian/Hungarian, Communist;Liberal; Socialist;Cosmopolitan; Jewish/Hungarian, in the Hungarian case) that make reference not just to the behavior of various actors, but essentialize the reasons for it. Here we point to some temporal provocations.
First is simply the exhaustion of options. After 20 years of experimenting and trying various options, frustration over the repeated failures, often seen as lies, reached a breaking point. In the recent past, the lack of real choices in elections had become graphically evident. While parties in Bulgaria array across the political spectrum, the different parties in power have not pursued significantly different programs, primarily because political leaders of all stripes share the primary agenda of enriching themselves and their clients/patrons (Ganev 2007), and secondarily because requirements for EU membership have dictated much domestic policy.
This lack of real democratic choices combined with continuing disappointment also led to an increasing withdrawal from political participation. Political apathy begin to set in soon after the first disappointments with “democracy” in the 1990s, but it has continued to increase in Bulgaria (see Novinite.com 2018). One could argue that as rational actors have thrown up their hands in exasperation and withdrawn from participation, political outcomes are shaped more by zealots, while those determined to participate are pushed further to the extremes in an effort to find a party that can deliver. The failure of MSZP to deliver a basic degree of equality certainly reduced its popularity. While voting numbers had become quite low in Hungary, the slightly over 70% turnout in the April 2018 elections (the highest in 20 years!) suggests that the exasperation thesis is insufficient. In addition, evidence continued to mount that the brunt of these failures was being visited on the masses while a minority actually benefits. As Kristin Ghodsee (2008:36) noted “As radical income inequality becomes more and more visible, so too, may Ataka’s nationalist economic appeal to ordinary Bulgarians” (see also Taylor 2008). She is referring to the early assent of Ataka, but the same principle would continue to operate, so that the more evident income inequality becomes, the more the disadvantaged find anti-elite or antisytemic arguments attractive.
An important question then, is how the few that benefit, the elite (or system), is defined. This is closely tied to the rhetorical fight against corruption. According to Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, Bulgaria is the most corrupt country in the EU. This has justified holds on financial transfers from the EU, and is considered by many to be the main reason Bulgaria remains excluded from the free travel agreement of the EU.16 Borisov came to power with a strong anti-corruption platform, buttressed by his reputation as a mafia buster. While observers have not been impressed with his success in this arena as PM, or even his efforts (Center for the Study of Democracy 2016), his pedigree plus his constant harping on corruption as the cause of contemporary problems allows Borisov to remain an outsider and anti-systemic.
In Hungary the language of the “stolen regime change” has been central to the way in which political capitalism distributed public resources into the hands of a few people poised to take advantage of it (Taylor 2008). Fidesz claimed to be outside those networks and promised to contribute to a legitimate middle class, thus developing its own clientelist network. While the party headed the government in 1998-2002, after its 2002 electoral defeat, Orban honed its position as antisystemic in relation to the ruling forces (MSZP and SZDSZ) in parliament. Since Fidesz’ 2010 ascent, Jobbik has used the same technique. Fidesz’ thickening network of clients (which do attract claims of corruption by many) is now overtly framed as part of its project to bolster a national middle class, while the party has worked to construct itself as antisystemic vis-a-vis the EU government. The party continues to borrow rhetoric and policy ideas from Jobbik when convenient.
Another condition contributing to the political dynamics currently evident in Eastern Europe is the continuing disqualification of leftist alternatives as a result of the experience with state socialism and the unsatisfactory performance of Socialist parties since then. It’s been taken as common sense that citizens of the formerly state socialist polities are anti-Communist. After all, dominant accounts of the “velvet revolution” imply that “the people” had overthrown a tyrannical and dictatorial Communism in order to join the West in a transition to democracy, which assumed a transition to capitalism in the moment when neoliberal globalization, characterized by a financialization that reduces nation-state sovereignty, was becoming dominant. Yet while something called Communism may indeed have been rejected, some of its tenets were not. East Europeans have approved of extensive state control in providing social welfare and have considered equality important at much higher levels than Western Europeans.
In this region, in contrast with Western Europe, far right parties, while generally not getting much of the vote early on, were considered legitimate coalition partners in Parliament. Meanwhile, what parties that held power for multiple terms offered, regardless of their ideological position, was a rollback of social goods expected by people socialized in state socialism; while industrial and agricultural enterprises crumbled, the right to employment and housing were lost. The dispossessed citizens of these nation-states did not see their “socialist,” “liberal” and “democratic” governments representing their economic interests.
It is thus that populations in the region faced a “stolen regime change.” Antisystemic parties on the right have seemed to offer an alternative to what appears now as the blatantly false promises of liberal democracy and those connected to it, as well as an alternative to the (self)colonizing narratives of backwardness and catching up, central to the seemingly never-ending “transition.” Moreover, with the left foreclosed, restricted, or “post-political,” there seems nowhere for the dissatisfied citizen to go but further right. While the disqualification of communism and/communists has kept leftist politics in the shadows, it has also required policing and a careful rearticulation of desires with the right regularly reminding citizens of the horrors of the communist past.
While antisystem in the recent period has become increasingly appealing, it is not easily sustained once a party comes to power.17 Orbán and Borisov have been able to do so. While some of their success can be attributed to authoritarian techniques, a specific incitement that appears to have helped Orbán and Borisov maintain popularity has been the production of an ongoing “migrant crisis.” A dramatic increase in refugees into the region was evident by 2013 following the escalation of the Syrian conflict, with the number surging in 2015, including not only Syrians but Afghans, Iraqis and others as well. In 2015 Hungary had 174,000 asylum applicants. Among European countries, only Germany had more. When adjusted for population size, Hungary had 1,770 per 100,000 population, the highest of any country (Connor 2016). The numbers for Bulgaria were much smaller, “but nevertheless migratory pressure reached a historic high over the past few years. A total of 58,034 have applied for status since the first surge of the migrant crisis in 2013 (Novinite.com 2017). Most did not stay.
Despite these “scary numbers”, both Hungary and Bulgaria are “transit counties”. In 2014, for example, Hungary only granted asylum to 9% of its applicants, and in any case the vast majority of asylum seekers leave quickly (often after a few days) for points further West (Pardavi and Gyulai 2015). Most migrants prefer Western Europe, where they see the possibility of work, and they regard learning eastern European languages as counter to their objective. Further, “In an Arabic language ‘Refugee Handbook,’ Bulgaria ranks first among countries asylum seekers should avoid. Refugees say xenophobia and Islamophobia are widespread and they try to skirt around the country…. .Public opinion is clearly against accepting more refugees into the country, as seen by attacks on refugees as well as demonstrations and political rallies against them. The message is always the same: Bulgaria is poor and Christian; we don’t want you!...’The Bulgarians look at these people as some kind of gypsies,’ [Sociologist Andrey] Raytchev said” (Andreev and Vaksberg 2015). As Creed (2011) has argued regarding relations between ethnic Bulgarians and Roma, and perhaps to a less degree to Turks in the few integrated communities, there is a distinction between minorities who are considered part of the community (nashiyat, ours) and minority citizens who are not local.18 Refugees, especially Muslim ones, are worse than minorities, they are outsiders. For a country unable to provide adequately for its own population in such graphic and widespread ways, indeed the poorest in Europe, they cannot afford to support needy outsiders.
While defiance of the EU’s mandates regarding re-settlement quotas signals resistance to the “liberal hegemony,” the Hungarian government’s very aggressive antimigrant stances also work symbolically to place Hungary inside Europe. By virtue of cascading oppositions, Orbán can link the “unHungarian” left-liberals, as well as Brussels, with migrants and Roma, whose liberties and rights the former support, while also insisting that his policies are in line with European values. Orbán’s defiance of the EU regarding migrant settlement links with economic and symbolic concerns Hungarians have regarding EU citizenship and Europeanness, while also echoing the treatments East European migrants have faced in the core of “Europe” (the EU) (Borocz and Sarkar 2017).
While its antisystem strategy seems to have helped Fidesz maintain power, Fidesz has had to work to cultivate antimigrant sentiment to the point that it appears to exist today.19 In 2016, despite Orban’s claims to have the mandate, the referendum on whether Hungary should reject the quota of migrants imposed by the EU failed to attract enough voters to make it valid. As in several cases before, the lack of turnout can be read as abstention (Taylor 2008). Examples abound of Hungarians helping migrants.
The “migrant crisis” solidified the alliance between Orbán and Borisov.20 Both put up fences.
Bulgaria began constructing a 201 kilometer fence on its border with Turkey in 2014, which was completed in 2017.21 Hungary approved and completed a 175 kilometer fence along its Serbian and Croatian borders in 2015, and trained and deployed a border hunting force along it in the following years. Orbán visited the Bulgarian fence with Borisov in September 2016 (see figure 1). Sounding increasingly like Orbán, “in January  Borisov called on the EU to temporarily seal off its border to new arrivals” (Novinite.com 2016). This “crisis” has given Orbán and Borisov an ax to grind with the EU, positioning them as defenders of the people against the system administered from Brussels.
Conclusion: The Dangers of Antipopulism
Critical Hungarian scholars from the Helyzet (Position) Public Sociology Working Group argue that the binary at work in Hungary between a liberal-left elite block, which relies on “democratic antipopulism” and the “national” elite block, which employs “antidemocractic populism,” has become so hegemonic that it seems impossible to introduce other angles into the debate (Gagyi 2016). In Bulgaria this opposition is less categorical. In the final two weeks running up to Bulgaria’s March 2017 parliamentary elections, GERB campaign chief Tsvetan Tsvetanov entreated citizens in the town of Dulovo to vote for GERB “to resist populism and the fear wrought by our opponents” (Leviev-Sawyer 2017). Here a party that has gained and retained power with populist ideas and rhetoric uses antipopulism against its opponents. The strategy may be an effort to deflect antipopulist opposition to the populist left or more extreme right-wing, rather than at its own center-right variant, or it may simply reflect an audacious effort to court additional votes with contrary positions. Regardless, both cases underline the increasing role of “liberal antipopulism” in the political field.
Antipopulism, the dismissal of the opinions and preferences of ordinary people, was a shared characteristic of political elite across the spectrum in the early period of transition. Used by the liberals who have governed these polities for most of the period as well as by “the West,” antipopulism functions to legitimate liberals as the apt inheritors of democracy, something that may not reflect the will of the people, but must be imposed on them (at least for now). The pointing finger of antipopulism delegitimates with the force of a civilizing discourse both those political actors and parties whom they call populist (rightwing authoritarians, at present, in this part of the world) as well as regular people who, following quite democratic impulses, feel silenced by neoliberal postsocialist “democracy.” As such, antipopulism, by misnaming and making commensurable (and dismissible) an array of critiques of liberal (and neoliberal) government and governance, works as an ideological device that reinforces the hegemonic binary, while distracting from growing disparity brought about by competing blocs of elites and their governments, the loss of a counterhegemonic socialist economic bloc, and this region’s position within the EU and the global economy. In the name of democracy it conflates the popular with the populism it delegitimates, and seeks to obscure the “democractic deficit” of (neo)liberalism and (neo)liberal governance under which populations have experienced a degree of dispossession not seen since the 1930s. This delegitimizing trick can only work for so long in conjunction with “post-political” and technocratic governance that does not address equality and distribution on different scales. Yet how can any government of a peripheralizing country begin to address these issues when the rights of finance trump state sovereignty? With no substantive choices, politics is reduced to the rhetorical, which is the wellspring of populism and antipopulism.
Andreev, Alexander and Tatiana Vaksberg 2015 “Why Do So Many Refugees Avoid Bulgaria?” Deutsche Welle September 10. http://p.dw.com/p/1GUmH.
Borocz, Jozsef 2016 “Jozsef Borocz: ‘An Incapacity to See Ourselves as Part of the Whole World, and the Insistence to see ourselves as part of Europe,” LeftEast (December 14) http://www.criticatac.ro/lefteast/jozsef-borocz-interview-2016/
Borocz, Jozsef and Mahua Sarkar 2017 “The Unbearable Whiteness of the Polish Plumber and the Hungarian Peacock Dance around “Race.” Slavic Review 76(2): 307-314.
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Center for the Study of Democracy 2016 “State Capture Unplugged: Countering Administrative and Political Corruption in Bulgaria.” http://www.csd.bg/fileSrc.php?id=22925
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Dodov, Stanislav 2016 “The Presidential Elections in Bulgaria between Systemic Nationalism and the Anti-system Vote.” LefTEasT. November 28. www.criticatac.ro/lefteast/the-presidential-elections-in-bulgaria-between-systemic-nationalism-and-the-anti-systemic-vote/ accessed March 21, 2018.
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Figure 1 ©Sky news
East European Politics and Societies, v. 15, no. 1, 2000; Problems of Post-Communism v. 55, no. 3, 2008; Slavic Review v. 76, no. S1, 2017.↩
Chantal Mouffe (2005) who along with Ernesto LaClau can be said to be responsible for the centrality of the approach to populism that focuses on what we above call rhetorical, argues that the widespread use of populist logic today is an effect of the post political condition, marked by the tendency towards consensus at the middle and the diminution of the adversarial model of politics. This consensus can be seen for example in third way Social Democracy or technocratic governance in the period characterized by neoliberalization.↩
The law was modified five times within the year prior to the elections held in 2014.↩
In another example: The workfare program, which Fidesz expanded, and which is highly criticized by those who see it as a further undoing of the social aspects of the state, combined with a criminalization of the poor, seems to have helped stem the potential of “anti Gypsy” politics and is considered better than nothing by some. It has also contributed to a decreasing official unemployment rate, even while it does not provide full time work, pays very little, and restricts access to those approved by the mayor.↩
The attack on Soros allows almost every set of oppositions to function simultaneously. Jew/Hungarian, foreigner/Hungarian, left;liberal;cosmopolitan/Hungarian, “foreign funded” /Hungarian, foreign minded/Hungarian and foreign bodied/Hungarian.↩
While allowing its language of Hungarian vs foreign/foreign-minded to do the work without actually naming “Gypsies”.↩
On the occasion of Borisov’s 2017 reelection Orbán congratulated him and expressed his gratitude for the excellent cooperation between them (Standart 2017). After Bulgaria assumed the rotating presidency of the EU, Borisov invited Orbán to Sofia in an effort to defuse EU tensions with Hungary.↩
This movement is generally not mentioned in histories of agrarianism in the region because it was not party oriented. In fact after 1947 it was the Smallholders Party, not the party that emerged from this movement, that joined the International Agrarian Bureau’s successor, the International Peasants Union.↩
It is important to note that the debate has often been reduced to antisemites (népi) vs. Jews (urbanus). We must acknowledge that antisemites did exist in the former group, but the historical record shows that there were friendships (and shared underground political activity) that reached across this seemingly absolute divide, and “conversions” occurred where people associated with one group moved to the other side (Jozsef Attila, for example). We do not wish to play down the presence of antisemitism, but in order to treat it properly we would also have to address the sociological conditions that distinguished the agrarian areas from the cities (particularly the capital, Budapest) that shaped the debate. We cannot do this justice here.↩
They shared the idea of a “third way” that would allow for a different kind of development for agrarian societies, perhaps between Communism and Capitalism.↩
While some suggest this may have rendered the term nearly meaningless we suggest it worked to make the term more flexible. Discussing the “normalization of language” in the case of the Soviet Union, Alexei Yurchak shows how “with increasing emphasis on the replication of form, what meanings or functions concrete texts and slogans had was becoming increasingly unpredictable; meaning was sliding in unprecedented directions”(2005:53). Rather than seeing the experience of socialism in binary terms, Yurchak shows how it is better to consider the reproduction/employment of authoritative discourse as resulting in a growing gap between the performative and constantive dimensions of the speech act (2005:93).↩
It should be noted that Orbán’s politics are not referred to as népi, but rather as “populizmus/populista” in Hungary.↩
Already in the late 1980s, the Hungarian government had diplomatically intervened in Romania’s “systemization” project, formally a village modernization project, but understood by many as a technique to break apart ethnic minority communities. But this intervention was after massive demonstrations, prompted by “dissidents”. The folk revival movement that had arisen in the 1970s partly from the institutional and organizational legacy of the interwar népi movement was responsible for much of the knowledge production and sentiment building behind this pressure on the government. Western observers generally lauded this “civil society” (Taylor 2008, 2009).↩
The MSZP /SZDSZ government was explicit about denying citizenship to over the border Hungarian citizenship and Fidesz (and others) then accused them of not being Hungarian. “Dissidents” of many stripes constructed the Communists as antinational already from 1956 onward, aligned as it was with the (occupying) USSR, and working against “Hungarian” culture (Taylor 2008).↩
At the time of their 2004 accession, East European states agreed to “transitional arrangements” that barred the free mobility of its citizens to work in other EU countries (a main motivator for EU membership for many) .↩
This was the Achilles heel for the Simeon II, who rode a wave of anti-systemic sentiment into the Prime Minister position, and used his popular appeal to enact some liberal reforms, but that cost him his status as an outsider and his party lost the next election.↩
Interestingly, ethnic Bulgarians are also vulnerable to being excluded from this category when used for village or regional inclusion, but they do not suffer the discrimination that minorities do as a result.↩
In the wake of the 2018 elections, the idea that Fidesz’s excessive pre-election antimigrant advertisements had swayed the vote was dominant in international news headlines. Certainly the media monopoly Fidesz enjoys may have done some work by now.↩
And is also one solid basis of the development of the Visegrad 4 into a counter bloc in the EU.↩
Ironically, a prior fence and minefield built by the Communist government had been painstakingly removed two decades earlier↩