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Review Annual Conference “The End of the Liberal Order?”

Fourth Annual Conference of the Graduate School addresses populism in Central, East, and Southeast Europe


From 1st to 3rd June the Fourth Annual Conference of the Graduate School for East and South East European Studies in cooperation with the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies took place in Regensburg. Amongst the participants were well known scholars of various disciplines of social sciences and humanities. From Thursday night until Saturday afternoon discussions were covering the researcher’s findings on the phenomenon of populism in Central, East, and Southeast Europe.

Four panels with research presentations and a round table discussion with prominent journalists open to the public addressed different aspects of contemporary populism and discussed the findings, interpretations, and theoretical conclusions of the presented case studies.

“The language of Populism” was one of the main fields of interest, focussing on a populist particularity in language and rhetoric. Panels as “Typologies of Populism” and “Historical Trajectories” attempted to classify populist policies of today and the past. The fourth panel addressed “Populist Subjectivities”. Apart from discussing the respective case studies, an eminent need for questioning and challenging common definitions of populist action became apparent.

In essence, populists aim to create a contrast between a seemingly definable “elite” of society and an also seemingly homogenous people. Populists attempt to sharpen this contrast and derive a mandate of action from this split to change the politics and the shape of a society. They stigmatise the “elite” as incompetent, corrupt and hostile to the people – a characteristic that they also label all kind of “foreigners” with. “Foreigners” are therefore excluded from the idealised “people” and are characterised as potential threats.

The participants found populists on both sides of the political spectrum. In most cases these politicians claim to be the only representatives of the true will of the “people”. However, the presented case studies on populistic practices in Central, East, and Southeast Europe were dominated by examples of a right-wing conservative environment.

The conference was opened by a keynote of the American publicist John B. Judis (Washington, D.C.) on “The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics”. Other keynotes were given by the media scientist Michał Krzyzanowski (Örebro/Liverpool) on "Populism in/and Politicisation and Mediatisation of Immigration: The Case of the ‘Refugee Crisis'” and Jan Kubik und Marta Kotwas (London) on "Beyond Populist Politics: Communities of Despair, Rudderless Lives, and Cultures of Redemption".