CfP: Populism and radical right politics in Central and Eastern Europe: rethinking the role of media, public discourse and their publics (25-28/08/15, 12th ESA – Prague, CZ); DL: 28/01/15.

Part of the 12th Conference of the European Sociological Association (25-28 August 2015, Prague, CZ), the RN32 Political Sociology organizes Session 4: The Populist Radical Right as Political Actor in Europe. The proposed panel on populism and radical right politics in Central and Eastern Europe is organized by Gabriella Szabó (CSS, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, HU) szabo.gabriella[at] and Ov Cristian Norocel (CEREN, University of Helsinki, FI) cristian.norocel[at], and is envisaged to fit within this framework.

Already a decade ago it was aptly noted that the study of populist radical right in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) resembles the efforts of aiming at a target in motion. Since then, several researchers have explored the populist radical right political landscape in the region. Still, we believe that studies of populism and radical right are facing the dilemma of whether categories of Western-oriented research properly describe the populist and radical right politics in CEE countries. A case in point, anti-immigration and Islamophobia seem to be non-issues in the CEE contexts, whilst ethno-nationalism (such as in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania), fundamentalist Catholicism (like in Croatia, Poland) and the frustration over the loss of past glories of the country (Hungary) are often hard to synchronize with Western developments. All the more important, the study of populist radical right parties needs to take into account the increasing inequality and growing intolerance to difference (be it ethnic, religious, etc.) in the societies across the CEE. The much needed comparative analyses on European trends of populism and radical right radicalism should be supported by deeper theoretical, conceptual and empirical knowledge on the regional specificities in CEE countries. It is especially true for the ‘soft’ factors of radicalization such as the role of media and public discourse in the dynamics of populism and radical right. Therefore, we seek comprehensive assessments of mainstream media response to the populism and radical right radicalism.

The panel aims to examine the extent to which public discourses are penetrated by populism and the level of visibility of the populist and radical right actors are in the public debates. We also address the question of the rather under-researched populist and radical right publics. The social media are believed to be intensively used by populist and radical actors to connect with each other and mobilize electoral support. If it is the case, we are interested in studying the impact and the patterns of this interactive way of populist and radical right communication in CEE countries. The international literature lacks reliable information on the rapidly growing media universe of populism and radical right radicalism with a powerful mix of social media, traditional formats of written press and radio and TV broadcast to balance the hostile mainstream media environment. In other words, we are interested to examine both in a comparative perspective and in case studies whether populist and radical media products have entered into the mainstream or they remain on the fringes of media sphere. We encourage contributions that investigate complex social manifestations, such as the examination of the subcultural environment in the CEE, the intersections of popular culture (skinhead music, rock festivals, and football hooliganism), mass gathering (marches, rallies, festivals) and identity construction (with particular attention to intersections of gender, ethnicity, and sexuality).

Please, send your abstract (no more than 250 words) to both organizers at szabo.gabriella[at] and cristian.norocel[at] by January 28 2015. The potential participants will be informed in due time whether their papers have been accepted and be directed to submit the abstracts through the conference official submission platform before February 1 2015.

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Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 Research No Comments

Brace Yourselves for the Storm: the 2012 Parliamentary Elections in Romania under the Sign of Radical Right Populism

There is little doubt that the mainstream political scene in Romania is presently undergoing some dramatic convulsions. The current affairs have come to be compared by foreign and native political analysts alike, matter-of-factly, with the equally tumultuous period that Romanian witnessed during the early 1990s. Indeed, besides the ideological polarization specific to the eve of such important political confrontation as the Parliamentary elections (scheduled for December 9th 2012), the tone and manner of political discourse in Romania has witnessed a return to a level that many have hoped it was a thing of the past. In this context, these elections appear to be taking place under the sign of radical right populist discourse, which seems to come also from established political entities with a different ideological profile, not only the now consecrated radical right populist parties – and in here I refer to the Greater Romania Party (PRM/ Partidul România Mare) – and some newcomers – the previously discussed Popular Party–Dan Diaconescu (PP–DD/ Partidul Popular–Dan Diaconescu).

In this context, several political events are illustrative of the said political climate. These are, in approximately chronological order: first, Dan Diaconescu’s surprising participation in the (by now failed) privatization process that the largest petrochemical companies in Romania (namely Oltchim) and in Central and Eastern Europe had undergone this September. No matter how perplexing this might sound, but Dan Diaconescu (PP–DD) has participated in the Oltchim privatization as a private person and declared he is motivated by his desire to return such a national asset back to its rightful owners: ‘the Romanian people‘. Even more perplexing, Diaconescu has later been declared the winner of the privatization bid and were to assume control over the Oltchim shortly thereof. Diaconescu played his role of being the ‘Saviour on a white horse’ (as labelled in newspapers; in Romanian, aici) very well. Despite accusations that he did not have the financial resources to perfect the privatization (accusations that are yet to be proven in court), he eventually presented no less than 1,8 million EUR in cash (several sacks allegedly filled with money had been transported in front of the Ministry of Economy in Bucharest, which was widely discussed in media; in Romanian, aici) to pay for the privatization. In this context, in decidedly populist manner, Diaconescu claimed that the sacks of money he brought to the Ministry of Economy were in fact destined ‘to pay the salaries of Oltchim workers’ (which have not received their salaried rights for several months). The governing coalition landed in a very ungrateful situation: mismanaging a significant privatization process, and coming out humiliated in such a populist manner by Diaconescu. The event signalled that the Romanian Social Democrats (PSD/ Partidul Social Democrat) are going to encounter a serious competitor in the PP–DD in their appeal for the support of Romanian working class. The few traditionally social-democratic policies implemented since the cabinet Ponta assumed office earlier this year are apparently going to be counteracted by a reputable adversary, which is versed in using the populist rhetoric.

Second, the more recent announcement that George (Gigi) Becali – former leader of a minuscule radical right populist party, the New Generation Party–Christian Democrat (PNGCD/ Partidul Noua Generaţie–Creştin Democrat), and elected EMP on the PRM list – will be joining the ranks of the National Liberal Party (PNL/ Partidul Naţional Liberal). Becali was later confirmed as the PNL candidate for a deputy seat on the common list of the Social Liberal Union (USL/ Uniunea Social Liberală). The USL consisting of, as previously mentioned, the PM Victor Ponta’s  and their allies the Center Right Alliance, which reunites the  PNL and the Conservative Party (PC/ Partidul Conservator). The fact that Becali has joined the PNL and has immediately received an eligible place on behalf of the party on the USL list for the Lower Chamber (Camera Deputaților) has determined several commentators to wonder if this was the wisest political move the PNL could have done at present, just weeks from the Oltchim privatization in which it was heavily involved. Even more so, there are serious question marks on how compatible is the PNL’s self–declared subscription to liberalism with Becali’s blatantly xenophobic, homophobic and sexist misogynistic remarks (in Romanian, aici). Some others have seen in this just another case of a nouveau riche purchasing himself an eligible parliamentary seat on the lists of a respectable party, and wondered if the PNL would actually survive past this electoral cycle (in Romanian, aici).

Right of centre on the political spectrum, the conservative Democratic Liberal Party (PDL/ Partidul Democrat-Liberal) announced to have crafted a political alliance together with the Civic Force (FC/ Forța Civică), the pocket–party of former-PM Ungureanu, and a faction of the Christian-Democratic National Peasants’ Party (PNT–CD/ Partidul Naţional Ţărănesc–Creştin Democrat). The alliance is titled the Right (or Just) Romania Alliance (ARD/ Alianța România Dreaptă) (in Romanian, aici). Among the main figures of the new alliance, Adrian Papahagi, the Vice-president of the Christian–Democrat Foundation has succeed to draw the public outrage through a xenophobic, homophobic and sexist remark, which he posted on his Facebook profile. Expressing displeasure with the acting PM Ponta and his rather chaotic months of premiership (the plagiarism scandal, which is still pending a definitive decision, the forceful change of chiefs of institutions, and the failed attempt to depose the acting President Traian Basescu, to name just a few) Papahagi argued that: “After all, if we have reached that stage to have prime minister who is a plagiarist, and a putschist and Guevarist, why shouldn’t we soon have as President a Roma lesbian atheist.” It is highly troublesome how plagiarism, intrigue–making and ideological radicalism could easily lead, what according to Papahagi was the image of absolute Alterity – yet another Evil Other – manifest in Romanian politics: a Roma (thus not Romanian, but the most discriminated ethnic minority in Romania, thereby indicating the total reversal of the ‘normal’ hierarchy of values); lesbian (thus, not only less than man – read woman –  but also sexually deviant from the heteropatriachal norm); atheist (thus, not Romanian Christian Orthodox, deviating from the allegedly one and only true way of being Romanian, and a Romanian President at it). His statement was quickly sanctioned (both original quote and the reaction to it, in Romanian, aici).  Papahagi reacted swiftly by labelling his critics as “commissars”. The word reminds both of the feared Russian “commissars” of USSR, but also closer to our present days, of the epithet usually employed by the radical right populist leader Tudor (PRM) to describe one of his female adversaries (Zoe Petre) – perhaps unsurprisingly one of Papahagi’s critics is a woman (Alina Mungiu–Pippidi) (in Romanian, aici).

Finally, the PRM leader’s return to his previous anti-Semitic discourse, manifest this time through a reiterated denial of the Holocaust in Romania, and thereby lending support to a PSD member, incumbent Minister of Relations with the Parliament in the Ponta cabinet. Indeed, the PRM leader, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, did not fail to disappoint and delivered another anti-Semitic rant. Commenting on the issue of Holocaust in Romania, and the active participation of Romanian forces in the mass killing of Jews on Romanian soil, Tudor argued that no Romanians have ever been involved into the killings, rather they have been victims of the Holocaust themselves, together with the Jews and Romani (in Romanian, aici). Tudor defended in this context Dan Șova (PSD), now incumbent Minister of Relations with the Parliament in the Ponta cabinet. In March this year, Șova, then newly appointed PSD spokesperson, argued that “no Jew suffered on Romanian territory, thanks to marshal Antonescu”, causing widespread outrage – despite expressing regret that his statement has been misunderstood, Șova has refused to apologize (in English, here).

This leaves way to a lot of questions with regard to the coming Parliamentary elections: is the Romanian political mainstream taking the road of populist xenophobic extremism? Will there be any place for a debate about viable competing solutions for the country’s economic recovery between the left (i.e. the PSD, perhaps much watered down as a result of the USL electoral alliance) and the right (perhaps in this case it would be the PDL, and their ARD centre–right conservative alliance)? Is the Romanian political mainstream, in general, becoming permeated by radical right populism, with an increasing number of mainstream parties succumbing to xenophobia, homophobia, and submission to heteropatriarchism? Is it of any help to reflect how the main political forces in Romanian plan to address the serious democratic deficit the country is witnessing (Romania has one of the lowest percentage of women involved actively in mainstream politics from the whole EU)? Why would be of any importance if any woman active in Romanian politics, would be of Roma origin or from any other ethnic minority, or if she would be a lesbian, or a professed atheist?

Parliamentary Elections in Romania (1996-2008) (Click to enlarge) (Source: NSD-EED)

In an attempt to ease the understanding of the various abbreviations present within the present post, I attach herein a succinct presentation of the main political parties and their electoral results in the Romanian Parliamentary elections between 1996 and 2008.  For this purpose, I made use of the European Election Database (EED) that has been compiled by the Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD/ Norsk samfunnsvitenskapelig datatjeneste). I do not have any copyright claims on the attached graph, which has been generated on the NSD–EED website containing information about Romania.


The total number of seats increased from 332 in 2004 to 334 in 2008. Seats: 316 (elected) + 18 assigned to ethnic minorities other than the Hungarians = 334.
2000: PSD ran as PDSR as Social Democratic Pole Alliance with PSDR
2001: PDSR merged with PSDR into PSD.
1996: PDL ran as part of Social Democratic Union (USD)
2000: PDL ran as PD
2004: PDL as part of Justice and Truth Alliance (DA: PNL-PD)
2004: PNGCD ran as PNG
1996: PNL ran as part of Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR)
2004: PNL ran as part of Justice and Truth Alliance (DA: PNL-PD)

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Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 Research No Comments

Cyber-defenders of National Pride? On Romania’s bad reputation abroad, and the discrimination of Romanians and Romas alike

Without doubt, Romania and Romanians seem to have a rather tarnished reputation in Europe. Especially the European medias do not spare any criticism when it comes to describing the country’s problematic development and its citizens’ misdemeanors. Throughout the years, British readers have been warned of the flood of Romanian immigrants that will take over the British isles once the country joined the EU. The Italians were informed that Romanians are but beggars that have rape and assault in their genes, and more recently Danish and Norwegian newspapers reached the same conclusion about the Romanians’ inherent violence from the brutal assassination of a Norwegian air hostess at the hands of a Romanian citizen, in an hotel room in central Copenhagen. Such rushed conclusions raise some serious questions about how much do the medias in Europe really know about Romania.

And to add insult to injury, no one seems to pay attention to the distinction between Romania and its citizens, generally called Romanians, and the Romani people (also known under the derogatory name of ‘Gypsies’). Indeed, some of the Romani people now present across Europe may come from Romania (there were 535,140 Romani registered in the 2002 census; link in Romanian). But they may be as well from Hungary (some 205,720, according to the 2001 census), Slovakia or any other Central and Eastern European country that has/had a significant Romani population and has an anti-Roma record (ranging from forced sterilizations and forced expulsions from local communities, to violent killings of Romani people). Such treatments are unfortunately widespread across the region.

The equation of Romanians with Romani people and the subsequent discrimination of both groups has become a common occurrence across “Old” Europe. Most recent  in France, where even the institutions supposed to combat discrimination and racism fail to act even when this takes place on the public television. Such an example is the performance of Jonathan Lambert on France 2 on April 17th. At the end of the “On n’est pas couchés” show where he was invited, he chose a rather peculiar way to express his gratitude in the sense of “performing” the so-called  “salut roumain”/”Romanian salute” (link in French). The gesture mocked Romanians- the hand trusted forward with the open palm typical for begging. The public imitated  Lambert’s gesture in a manner that made most believe it was not a spontaneous move, but a rather well rehearsed act.

However, besides official complaints issued by the various Romanian embassies there is a new trend of what I call cyber-nationalism. If official statements may be regarded as ineffective and easily overruled by the media “perpetrating” the anti-Romanian offenses, the cyber-defenders of Romanian dignity act against the very presence of the medias on the internet. The Romanian cyber-nationalists, labeled “hacktivists” by the very media they threaten with their acts, seem to have coagulated into a group suggestively called Romanian National Security [RNS]. Witness the globalization pressures and the localist-nationalist aspirations, the group’s name is in English while their messages are to most part written in Romanian.

RNS' comments on Daily Telegraph website

RNS' comments on Daily Telegraph website

Their anger and cyber skills became apparent to the whole world when a Daily Telegraph third-party website was defaced on April 14th 2010. The text, mainly in Romanian, read:

“We are tired of watching how some ‘scum’ like you mock our country. The way you portray us, which has nothing to do with the reality, and how you name-call us ‘Romanian Gypsies’ and airing such s*ite shows as TopGear. For having the guts to piss of a whole country, be aware that we won’t stop here!” and added in English “Guess what, gypsies aren’t Romanians, morons.”

The TopGear reference concerns the first episode of the series’ 14th season, which follows the TopGear team in its quest to locate and drive along one of most picturesque roads in Romania, the so-called “Transfăgărăşan”. The mentioned episode is a classical example of journalistic “faux pas” being filled with unflattering remarks about the country and its people. On top of all there is the careless editing of the episode that contains a discussion apparently taking place somewhere in Romania. The dialogue is in a Slavic language and it infuriated Romanian viewers, evidencing the journalists’ unawareness of the various sensitivities at work in that part of Europe.

RNS on Le Monde website

RNS on Le Monde website

Mass media in France did not escape RNS’ attention either. Sunday, April 18th- only shortly after the France 2 show, it was the turn of Le monde’s website to be defaced. The more elaborate text, still in Romanian, took issue with the equation of Romanians to Romani people and the undignified reaction of French media in general to the “Romanian salute” affair:

“This is not a resistance movement, nor a protest, nor a rebellion! It is the cry of the whole Romanian people calling their brothers, who have forgot that Roman blood flows through or veins too! The blood spilled on battlefields so that our people’s history can be written urges now for JUSTICE. Our national heroes will never die! The memory of those who paid with their live so that Romania exists on the world’s map will never be forgotten. We want to proudly remind our children and our grandchildren of them and to give them the honor they deserve. We’ve had enough of mockery! The Gypsies are not Romanians! The have not written our history! When you make reference to our compatriots do not use such phrases as ‘Romanian Gypsies’.” The message is concluded with the warning “We have respected your French, you will respect our ROMANIA! RNS  KEEPS GUARD for this to happen.”

According to an interview with one of the RNS members (link in Romanian), the 20-something  group members do not know one another, but they are decided to signal that Romanians’ tolerance has been abused for too long. Described as a 17-year old man whose parents are also nationalists and who know  and agree with his activities, the interviewee appears to live a “normal life” “preparing for his exams, grill parties at the weekend and dates with his girlfriend”.  In a sign of civility the young man mentions that when defacing the websites RNS abstained from collecting sensitive personal information from the websites, or infecting the computers of both editors and readers accessing the web-pages. In other words they signaled of not being mere “hackers” but people animated by a national ideal and passionate about computers. Even more intriguing is his attempt to absolve RNS from any accusation of racism, apologizing to “all Romani people that live a honest life and are know the value of honest work, and respect”. So the “Gypsies” that the texts made reference to are, by  contrast those who do not live a honest life, begging and pickpocketing in the streets of European cities, though it is rather difficult to assess if the Romani people in question had any choice in living such a life. The two messages and the interview are saturated with a rather romantic take on nationalism, remembering proud and upright masculinities, war heroes and civilized citizens alike, as opposed to the “Gypsies” that the authors want to distance from themselves and the entire Romanian nation.

Unfortunately, what the cyber-nationalists from the Romanian National Security group managed to do, was not only to draw attention on the stereotypical presentation of Romanians as beggars in European press, but also to point at the naturalized discrimination of Romani people that occurs both in Romania, but also across the EU. In their attempt to restore the dignity of Romanians they seem to have silenced the extreme discrimination and stereotyping experienced by the Romani people. Indeed, if Romania’s reputation is defended by dedicated hackers, who is willing to demand action for the integration of Romani people in the European societies? How stringent is the need to distinguish between Romanians, as in citizens of Romania (regardless of their ethnic belonging, i.e. Romanians, Hungarians, Romani people, etc), and Romani people? Can Romani people born in Romania called themselves and be called Romanians? How will RNS’ actions will impact on the situation of the Romani people?

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Sunday, April 25th, 2010 Miscellaneous No Comments