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Can Populism Be Suppressed in a Democracy?

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Can Populism Be Suppressed in a Democracy? Austria, Germany, and the European UnionMarc Morjé HowardOne of the many positive effects of the end of the cold war is thatWestern Europe and Eastern Europe no longer have to be stud-ied in isolation from one another. Myriad common topics and chal-lenges now involve both regions of Europe. Unfortunately, how-ever, one such common theme is the rise in anti-immigrantpopulism, where the same disturbing trend has been taking placein both the East and the West.The rise in populism in Western Europe, particularly in Aus-tria and Germany, is my focus here. After a brief discussion onthe concept of populism, both in general and in the speci c con-text of Western Europe, the analysis moves to how and why Aus-tria and Germany, which share a common recent history and sim-ilar political systems, have developed signicant and consequentialdifferences in terms of how they deal with right-wing extremistparties and movements. Finally, I address the recent crisis betweenAustria and the other 14 European Union (EU) member states,which arose after the October 1999 elections and the emergenceof a coalition government that included Jörg Haider’s Freedomparty, and which appears to have been settled after the report ofEurope’s three “wise men” led to the lifting of “sanctions” in Sep-tember 2000. After careful consideration of the arguments fromopponents of the EU response, I argue—based on the extremelysuccessful postwar German model—in favor of the careful sup-pression of extreme-right populist movements by means of a cross-party elite consensus, while still maintaining a framework of dem-ocratic competition. Though it could not have lasted indenitely,the symbolic diplomatic response to the Austrian situation didserve its purpose, sending the appropriate message, namely thatavowed anti-immigrant extremism is unacceptable, for Austria andfor the rest of Europe.18East European Politics and Societies, Vol. 14, No. 2, pages 18–32. ISSN 0888-3254© 2000 by the American Council of Learned Societies. All rights reserved.Send requests for permission to reprint to: Rights and Permissions,University of California Press, 2000 Center St., Ste. 303, Berkeley, CA 94704-1223Populism DenedPopulism is a concept that is notoriously dif cult to dene,because its application varies widely across different countries, con-texts, and historical time periods. The particular ideologies, strate-gies, and organizational structures of populist movements do notconform to a single mold or model. Indeed, what characterizesmost populist movements is that their appeals are not necessarilyprogrammatic, coherent, or consistent, but rather all-encompass-ing. In their study of Latin America, Ruth Berins Collier and DavidCollier provide a useful general denition of populism as “a polit-ical movement characterized by mass support from the urbanworking class and/or peasantry; a strong element of mobilizationfrom above; a central role of leadership from the middle sector orelite, typically of a personalistic and/or charismatic character; andan anti-status quo, nationalist ideology and program.”1Thede ning feature of populism, especially in the context of con-temporary Europe, is what Hans-Georg Betz calls “the mobi-lization of resentment,” which can be directed against establishedpolitical parties, against the political class in general, and most fre-quently (and most effectively), against immigrants, refugees, andforeigners.2One of the confounding features of populism is that it does nott neatly into conventional conceptions of the left-center-right polit-ical spectrum. In Latin America, populist movements have gene-rally been associated with the political left, usually with the strongsupport of the urban working class. In Europe, populist movementshave been considered more of a right-wing phenomenon, fueledespecially by peasant or worker support of nationalist myths andideologies. But the distinctions are certainly not clear-cut, as left-wing populist movements can contain elements of right-wingEast European Politics and Societies191. Ruth Berins Collier and David Collier, Shaping the Political Arena: Critical Junctures,the Labor Movement, and Regime Dynamics in Latin America (Princeton, N.J.: Prince-ton University Press, 1991).2. See Hans-Georg Betz, “The New Politics of Resentment: Radical Right-Wing Populismin Western Europe,” Comparative Politics 25:4 (1993): 413–27. See also Hans-GeorgBetz and Stefan Immerfall, The New Politics of the Right: Neo-Populist Parties and Move-ments in Established Democracies (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998); and Hans-GeorgBetz, Radical Right-Wing Populism in Western Europe (New York: St. Martin’s Press,1994).nationalist ideology, and even European fascist and Nazi movementshad distinctly socialist components in their political agendas.In the post-cold war period, these distinctions have been blurredeven further, especially when one includes the countries of post-communist Europe. Vladimir Tismaneanu argues convincingly that“Left, right, center: all these notions have strange and elusive mean-ings under post-communism,” and he claims that a “new versionof radicalism combines themes of the left and right in a baroque,often unpredictable alchemy.”3Given the contradictory messagesand policies that new West European populist parties and leadersadvocate, the left-center-right distinctions may not be very help-ful for understanding the recent resurgence of populism in West-ern Europe either.4Overall, however, the central and dening fea-ture of populism, especially in Western Europe, remains hostilityto foreigners and immigrants rather than a challenge to the prop-erty relations of capitalism. In my view therefore, it still makesconceptual and analytic sense to consider Haider’s Freedom party,and others like it, as movements of the extreme right, whileacknowledging that they do not t neatly into the conventionaldistinctions of the political spectrum.Over the past decade, Western Europe has experienced a dra-matic rise in anti-immigrant populism. Broadly speaking, there arethree distinct indicators of this rise: (1) latent xenophobia andracism; (2) hostile or violent actions against foreigners; and (3) elec-toral mobilization. In terms of latent xenophobia and racism, manysurveys have demonstrated that a


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