On Wednesday, September 12, 2018 IRIS Fellow and London School of Economics PhD candidate Nicola Degli Esposti hosted an open discussion about the rise of populism in Europe. He discussed the recent polarization of European politics and emergence of anti-establishment parties on both sides of the political spectrum. He cited the Spanish left-wing Podemos party as an example of anti-establishment sentiment from the left aimed at highlighting corruption and inequality in the current administration, and the far right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party in Germany as a backlash against lenient immigration policies. Even if these political parties support diametrically opposed political positions, they are all labelled as populists.
The discussion focused not only on the significance and reasons behind the emergence of far-right and far-left groups, but also on the legitimacy of defining these parties and movements as “populist.” Nicola discussed the variations in tactics between party leadership and ideology across different European countries, and ultimately aimed to compare the trends in European populism to those evident in the politics of Iraq and the Middle East. The questions led to a lively debate with students, who critically questioned the assumptions through which boundaries are set between ‘legitimate’ and non-legitimate politics.
Toward the conclusion of the discussion, Nicola touched on a wide range of political contexts. From the US to Iraq, the term populist seems to describe anyone who challenges the political establishment, regardless of the content of their criticism. The discussion ended on the following considerations. Unlike the mainstream media, academia should be the place in which assumptions are critically questioned instead of taking the viewpoint of the establishment as given.