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Populist Democracies: Post-Authoritarian Greece and Post-Communist Hungary


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This article makes the case for a novel democratic subtype, populist democracy, indicating a situation in which both the party in office and at least the major opposition force(s) in a pluralist system are populist. Based on a minimal definition of populism as ‘democratic illiberalism’, and through the comparative analysis of post-authoritarian Greece and post-communist Hungary, the article reveals the particular stages, as well as the causal mechanisms, that may prompt the emergence of populist democracy in contemporary politics. It also points to the tendency of such systems to produce polarized two-party systems, and it calls for further research on the topic.
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Government and Opposition, Vol. 49, No. 1, pp. 1–23, 2014
First published online 19 July 2013
Takis S. Pappas*
Populist Democracies: Post-Authoritarian
Greece and Post-Communist Hungary
This article makes the case for a novel democratic subtype, populist democracy,
indicating a situation in which both the party in office and at least the major
opposition force(s) in a pluralist system are populist. Based on a minimal definition of
populism as ‘democratic illiberalism’, and through the comparative analysis of post-
authoritarian Greece and post-communist Hungary, the article reveals the particular
stages, as well as the causal mechanisms, that may prompt the emergence of populist
democracy in contemporary politics. It also points to the tendency of such systems to
produce polarized two-party systems, and it calls for further research on the topic.
concerned with its political emergence and, occasionally, its
electoral success. Little is known, however, about what happens
when a populist party reaches power. In principle, and rather
broadly speaking, there are two possible outcomes: either populism
in office turns out to be feeble, in which case it is soon forced back
into opposition; or it proves strong and consolidates in power.
Assuming now that populism in power is strong and sufficiently
solid, how are opposition parties to react? Will they resist populism
or will they try to emulate it? In the latter case, there may emerge
what I shall term a populist democracy – that is, a democratic subtype
in which, besides the party in office, at least the major opposition
party (and even other minor parties) are also populist.
Motivated by the foregoing puzzles, this article focuses specifically
on pluralist systems in which populism has become dominant and
asks: How does a populist democracy arise? And how may it affect
political liberalism? My arguments are based on the comparative
* Takis S. Pappas is Associate Professor of Comparative Politics at the University of
Macedonia, Thessaloniki, Greece, and Marie Curie Research Fellow in the Department of
Political Social Sciences at the European University Institute, Florence, Italy. Contact
cThe Author 2013. Published by Government and Opposition Limited and Cambridge University Press
analysis of two cases in contemporary Europe that accord with the
above definition: post-authoritarian (1974–present) Greece and
post-communist (1989–present) Hungary. Analysis will, first, offer
an empirical account of how the newly identified phenomenon of
populist democracy emerges and becomes dominant; second, it will
corroborate the diagnosis of recent research about a fundamental
tension existing between populism and liberalism (for example,
Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser 2012a); and, third, challenge the idea
that populism may be a corrective to liberal democracy (Mudde and
Rovira Kaltwasser 2012b). As it emerges from the analysis of the
cases presented here, once in power, populism stands as the major
threat to contemporary liberal democracy.
I proceed as follows: in the next section, I define my key concepts,
explain the characteristics of the country cases and contend that
populist democracy constitutes a novel phenomenon that cries out
for conceptual, empirical and theoretical comprehension. The third
section is empirical and examines the rise and consolidation of
populist democracies in Greece and Hungary; it also elucidates the
specific causal mechanisms involved in the process. The last section
includes conclusions and, taking the lead from recent political
developments in the two countries under examination, points to
some key theoretical and normative implications related to populist
Having already defined our chief unit of analysis, populist
democracy, as a democratic subtype (cf. Lijphart 1999) permeated
by competing populisms, our next task is to reconceptualize
populism in the context of contemporary pluralism. To this
purpose, I propose a most minimal definition of populism as
democratic illiberalism for the many advantages it offers: firstly, this
definition is both adequate, since the characteristics it contains are
enough to identify the referents and their boundaries, and it is
parsimonious, since no accompanying property is included among
the necessary, or defining, characteristics (Sartori 1984: 56).
Secondly, the proposed understanding of populism is encompassing
in the sense that it can accommodate, if not altogether subsume,
most previous definitions of the phenomenon, whether they have
cThe Author 2013. Published by Government and Opposition Limited and Cambridge University Press
looked at it as an ideology (for example, Laclau 1977; Mudde 2004),
a style of politics (for example, Knight 1998), a specific discourse
(for example, Hawkins 2009) or a political strategy (for example,
Wayland 2001). Thirdly, it points directly to populism’s ‘negative
pole’ (Goertz 2006: 30–5), namely, political liberalism; from this
vantage point we are now offered a clear, dichotomous view of
our object. Populism, in short, may be democratic, but it is not
liberal. Such an understanding of populism as the polar opposite
of political liberalism yields, fourthly, a useful classification of
representative democracy per genus et differentiam – in other words,
one declaring what the common genus is (that is, representative
democracy) and what makes the difference (liberalism or populism).
For, as Riker (1982: 241) has made clear, despite their incompatibility
and mutual exclusiveness, liberalism and populism ‘exhaust all the
possibilities for democratic theory’.
The problem that arises is: How are we to distinguish between
liberal and illiberal democracy? The obvious solution is to stipulate
empirical indicators that both mark the continuum from liberalism
to populism and establish clear boundaries between the two.
Political liberalism is relatively easy to assess. Largely following
Rawls (2005), it is understood as a type of democratic politics
premised upon the idea that in society coexist a pluralism of
incompatible ideological doctrines that divide otherwise free and
equal citizens by multiple, but often overlapping, class, ideological,
religious, geographic or other cleavages. For all such divisions,
however, the characteristic of liberal systems is their pursuit of
‘overlapping consensus’ (Rawls 2005: 131–72) premised upon
constitutionalism – that is, ‘the development of counterweights to
the unbalanced supremacy of the people [including among others]
enforceable human rights, constitutional courts, the territorial and
functional division of powers, and the autonomy of the central
banks’ (Me´ny and Surel 2002: 10).
Populism qua democratic illiberalism, on the other hand, is more
difficult to pin down.
This problem is solved, however, when
viewing populism in democracy as the complete opposite of political
liberalism and as featuring three interrelated –and mutually
reinforcing– characteristics: first and foremost, the idea that society
is split along a single cleavage, ostensibly dividing the good ‘people’
from some evil ‘establishment’; second, the promotion of adversarial
and polarizing politics rather than of moderation and consensus
cThe Author 2013. Published by Government and Opposition Limited and Cambridge University Press
seeking; and third, the adherence to the majority principle, as well
as a certain predilection for personalist authority over impersonal
institutions and the rule of law.
Put in a nutshell, while the key idea
in political liberalism is that voters should control officials, populism’s
key idea is that officials are to serve the voters. Table 1 presents a
of them.
As the foregoing suggest, populist democracy is a distinct type, or
species, of representative democracy and, as such, it contrasts and is
inimical to democracy’s other major variant, which is political
liberalism. A populist democracy, therefore, is not just another
democracy ‘with adjectives’ (Collier and Levitsky 1997), such as, say,
a ‘defective’ (Croissant and Merkel 2004) or ‘quasi’ (Villalo´n 1994)
democracy; nor is it to be confused with ‘competitive authoritarian-
ism’ (Levitsky and Way 2010), a hybrid regime with characteristics of
both democracy and authoritarianism.
Populist democracies, in
short, are definitely democratic but, to a larger or lesser extent,
illiberal. During the post-war decades, such democracies had been
held in check by the wide expansion of political liberalism in the
Western world and far beyond it; yet, as suggested by the experience
of the two countries examined in this article, a reversal of that trend
may already be underway. In what follows, I will try to show how
such populist democracies have come about in both contemporary
Greece and Hungary, as well as how this development has affected
political competition in these countries. Before that, however, a note
on the cases under study is in order.
Comparing Greece with Hungary is, to be sure, quite a challenge,
not least for the dissimilar historical paths those countries have
taken: Greece, with a long legacy of Ottoman rule in past centuries,
followed during the twentieth century a trajectory more akin to that
of the other states of Southern Europe (Malefakis 1995) in which
democracy has alternated with authoritarianism. Hungary, on the
Table 1
Two Faces of Representative Democracy
Liberal Populist
Multiple cleavages Single cleavage
‘Overlapping consensus’ Adversarial politics
Constitutionalism Majoritarianism
cThe Author 2013. Published by Government and Opposition Limited and Cambridge University Press
other hand, for a long time part of the Habsburg Empire, would
have turned into a typical Central East European state if post-Second
World War realities had not forced it to become a communist
regime. Be that as it may, after the collapse of authoritarianism in
Greece (1974) and of communism in Hungary (1989), these countries
made their respective transitions to pluralism with considerable success
and, albeit for only a brief time, they experienced political liberalism.
However, liberal democracy was soon substituted in both countries by
populism, which permeated parties in government and in opposition
alike. As it happened, competing populisms gave rise to party systems
characterized by two-party formats, but with polarizing mechanics that
caused in both country cases the collapse of their respective political
centre with dire social and economic consequences. By focusing
precisely on the dynamics of Greece’s and Hungary’s populist
democracies, this article tries to make sense of this new phenomenon,
as well as serve as an alert for liberal democracy’s current regression in
both Europe and other parts of the world.
As will shortly emerge from the comparative analysis of our cases,
the rise of populist democracies consists of a three-stage process,
each stage involving specific mechanisms. Setting off from a state
of nascent political liberalism (nature), those stages involve: the
emergence of a relatively strong populist opposition party, popu-
lism’s ascent to power and populist contagion to other major parties.
It will be shown that each stage is prompted by specific mechanisms
that involve agency, the production of new symbols, specific
electoral strategies and structural constraints. Significantly, the path
from political liberalism to populist democracy allows for contingency
as, at each stage, the return to original liberalism is always a likely
outcome. Figure 1 condenses the above points and may serve as an
outline of the analysis to follow in this section.
Starting Point: Nascent Political Liberalism
If Greece (along with Spain) represents a paradigmatic case of
democratization in Southern Europe, Hungary’s own passage from
communism to pluralism was perhaps Eastern Europe’s most successful.
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After their respective transitions to democracy, both countries, led by
moderate reformist governments, were quick in introducing liberal
democratic institutions, enabling multiparty systems and pursuing
pro-European Union (EU) policies. Let us, then, briefly review in
this subsection the onset of political liberalism in our two countries.
To start with Greece, the emergence of a new democratic order
in 1974 under the leadership of Constantine Karamanlis was premised
upon political liberalism, the promotion of moderation and a strong
quest for consensus (Pappas 1999). The new government legalized
all political forces, including the Communists, persecuted the leaders
of the previous authoritarian regime and organized a referendum
(during which Karamanlis insisted that his party maintained a neutral
stance) that abolished the monarchy (Diamandouros 1986). Greece
would also make a bold bid for full membership of the EU and began
earnestly to prepare for it. As soon as early 1975, the government
introduced a new constitution safeguarding the rule of law, civic
rights and individual liberties. While drafting the constitution, and in
spite of its overwhelming majority in parliament, the government
showed moderation and tried to reach consensual solutions in many
important issues (Alivizatos 1990: 134).
At the same time, Greece’s party system appeared to rest on
three poles, each dominated by a single party (Mavrogordatos 1984).
On the right, the dominant force was New Democracy (ND), the
party founded by Karamanlis and determined to institute a new
Figure 1
The Stages and Mechanisms of the Emergence of Populist Democracy
Nature: Political liberalism
Liberal opposition Populist opposition
Defeat Win
Liberal opposition Populist
• Charismatic leadership
• New symbolic division
• Polarization stepped up
• Twopartism (format)
• Systemic contagion
• Twopartism (mechanics)
cThe Author 2013. Published by Government and Opposition Limited and Cambridge University Press
liberal democratic structure. By 1977, there had also emerged within
the right camp the extremist National Front party through a splinter
from New Democracy. On the left, the dominant force was the
Greek Communist Party (KKE), rivalled by a smaller party of
reformist communists (originally known as KKE Interior) that had
split from the former as early as 1968. The most contested pole was
that of the centre, initially dominated by the liberal Centre Union-
New Forces Party (CU-NF; later renamed the Union of the
Democratic Centre – EDIK). The most puzzling formation was the
Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), a party newly founded by
Andreas Papandreou, which, while surpassing even its communist
opponents in extremist sloganeering, still made use of the traditional
practices, such as political patronage. As it soon became evident that
the Union of the Democratic Centre would not be able to hold the
liberal centre, the question became: Would Pasok move in to claim it
as a liberal reformist party or as something else?
In Hungary, the post-communist government failed to adopt a
new constitution, opting instead to revise the document that had
existed since 1949. In practice, however, reforms were extensive and
in accordance with the principles of Western liberalism, thus
providing ‘a comprehensive ideological framework for shaping the
political and economic aims of the transition’, including a programme
‘for limiting the state; separating the branches of power; depoliticizing
the economy [and] the public administration; protecting individual
freedoms and creating a constitutional state; as well as creating a
market capitalist economy’ (Ko
¨se´nyi 1999: 152). Particularly
pronounced in Hungary’s new institutional order were the limitations
imposed on the majoritarian principle (and, consequently, on majority
governments) by such means as increasing by law the prerogatives of
the parliament and parliamentary opposition; creating counterweights,
such as the Constitutional Court and the Ombudsman, or offering
opportunities for direct democracy through referendums.
As in Greece, party politics in early post-communist Hungary was
played out among a moderately large number of parties taking positions
along a left–right continuum and neatly divided into three ideological
camps: the national-conservative right, the socialist left and the liberal
centre. The former camp comprised the Hungarian Democratic
Forum (MDF), the Independent Smallholders’ Party (FKGP) and
the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP). The socialist camp
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consisted of the reformed communists, now presenting itself as the
Hungarian Socialist Party (MSzP). Finally, the liberal camp included
the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) and the Federation of
Young Democrats (Fidesz). In such a moderately pluralist political
and party arrangement, and to the extent that each camp was
characterized ‘by the very similar socio-cultural composition of their
core political elites and electoral bases’ (Ko
¨se´nyi 1999: 32), early
post-communist Hungary was effectively divided by several cross-
cutting cleavages along class, territorial and ethnic lines.
The turn of events in both countries during their earlier phase of
pluralist politics came with the collapse of the liberal centre. In
Greece, the centrist Union of the Democratic Centre, under the
pressure of increased polarization and unable to face bilateral
opposition from both right and left, won a meagre 12 per cent in the
elections of 1977, and by 1981 it had all but disappeared. Meanwhile,
New Democracy and Pasok had moved to appropriate the vacant
space created in the middle, and to lay claim to the politically
homeless centrist voters. Of the two parties, it was Pasok that was able
to advance into, and eventually capture more of, the centre space
(Nicolacopoulos 2005: 263–4). Still, rather than abiding by the
principles of political liberalism, Pasok followed a distinct populist
course whose consequences were soon to appear.
In Hungary, the liberal pole that existed between left and right
had been represented most prominently by Fidesz, initially a youth-
based party formed in 1988 to fight against communism and
promote liberalism. Priorities changed, however, when party
president Viktor Orba´n was left in unchallenged control of the
party in 1993, after which Fidesz began its march to the right and,
from there, to populism (about which more will be said below). Nor
was the Alliance of Free Democrats able to defend liberalism as,
following the 1994 elections, it entered into a political alliance with
the Hungarian Socialist Party that lasted until 2008.
What explains the decision of the leaders of the left-of-centre
Pasok in Greece and right-of-centre Fidesz in Hungary to turn to
populism rather than political liberalism, whether in its social
democratic or its liberal conservative variant? The answer lies in the
fact that, given the circumstances, populism was far more electorally
rewarding than any other option available to them. Indeed, for such
charismatic leaders as Papandreou and Orba´n, yearning for a fast
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accession to power, political liberalism appeared as a suboptimal
choice since it would have involved: (1) high costs for building, and
democratically running, party organizations; (2) an obligation to
play by the rules of the game, including a commitment to
ideological and political moderation; and (3) voter supply shortages
as, had they decided to narrow down party appeal to liberal-minded
voters, their support could not yield a majority. Instead, in both
Greece and Hungary, and due to the undisputed control they
exercised over their parties, the leaders of Pasok and Fidesz found it
cheaper and electorally more rewarding to use populism as the means
to increase their parties’ bases so as to be in a position to win state
power. This brings us to the opening stage of our analytical scheme.
Stage 1: Populist Ascendancy
How did Pasok and Fidesz develop as successful populist opposition
parties during the 1970s and 1990s, respectively? It emerges from
comparative analysis that two interrelated mechanisms have been at
work in both countries. The first was the presence of extraordinary
(that is, charismatic) leaders exercising full authority over their
parties, and aiming at the radical transformation of national politics
(Pappas 2012). The second mechanism has been the division of
society into a single cleavage, ostensibly dividing it into two broad
categories: the ‘people’ versus some ‘establishment’. The inter-
connection between the two mechanisms should not be missed.
Although it has been a common assertion that populism builds
upon a ‘we versus them’ Schmittian divide, we are often little aware
of the fact that such a divide is the handiwork of creative leaders
through a process of new symbolic production, let alone the fact
that such a process entails the deliberate formation of novel social
and political identities. The above processes are premised upon the
use of highly emotive and sharply polarizing tactics which contrast
sharply with liberalism’s rationality and moderation. As previously,
I begin with Greece and then turn to Hungary.
As early as the beginning of 1977, Papandreou had already been
able to purge, or effectively silence, all intraparty opposition to his
person, and established his unrestrained power over party cadres
and followers alike. Pasok became in effect a personalistic party
(Panebianco 1988) characterized by the lack of internal party
cThe Author 2013. Published by Government and Opposition Limited and Cambridge University Press
democracy and the omnipotence of the leader. Once the sole source of
ideology and major tactician within the party, Papandreou attacked the
new liberal foundations of the young Greek democracy, questioned its
legitimacy and rejected its goals. In complete antithesis to Karamanlis’s
liberal polity design, he aimed at a new political and socioeconomic
order based on state socialism and participatory egalitarianism. By
calling for general ‘change’, his populism had three main thrusts:
the uncompromised intransigence against the ruling New Democracy
party, an exceedingly generous social policy of radical wealth
redistribution and an ultranationalist stand against Turkey, as well as
an implicit rejection of Greece’s Europeanism.
A master at politicizing resentment, Papandreou thus offered the
Greek people a wholly new symbolic master narrative, according to
which society was divided between two inherently antagonistic
groups, an exploiting ‘establishment’, both foreign and domestic,
and the ‘people’ always standing in opposition to it. Largely as a
result of this new division, Greek politics assumed a highly
confrontational style, both in the parliament and on the streets.
Inside parliament, as Featherstone (1990: 189) describes, ‘highly
charged debates, invoking populist rhetoric . . . served to enlarge the
differences between the parties in the public mind.’ Pasok’s strategy,
more particularly, as Pridham and Verney (1991: 47) explain, was ‘not
so much to influence government policy in a particular direction, but
rather to discredit the governing party and drive it from power’. In
such a political climate, ‘rational debate about policy differences [was]
the exception. The preferred mode of political discussion has been
rhetorically emotive and ideologically heavy, allowing ample reference
to the historical sins of the opposing camp and frequently conducted
on a personalities basis’ (Pridham and Verney 1991: 47).
Turning to Hungary: when it first appeared, shortly before the fall
of communism, Fidesz was an anti-communist liberal movement
full of alternative ideas (Hanley et al. 2008: 411). Initially operating
under a collective leadership and with strong appeal, especially to a
youthful audience (at the time, the party refused to grant membership
to anyone over 35), Fidesz distinguished itself as a party supporting
minority rights, uncompromised secularism and economic pragma-
tism. However, it was not long after that that, as the party’s
popularity grew, its leadership realized that power was within reach
only if the party moved to the political mainstream. This involved a
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dilemma: would the party turn to the social democratic left by
diluting its anti-communism, or should it turn to the right by
sacrificing its liberalism? A resolution came during the party
congress held in 1993 at Debrecen, in which the model of collective
leadership was also abandoned in favour of an individual party
executive. New party leader Viktor Orba´n, a co-founder of Fidesz,
charted a clear strategy of distancing the party from the left and
penetrating deep into the right. In the process, the new leader was
to reinvent Fidesz as a typically populist party.
With the general elections approaching in 1994, and unchal-
lenged as party leader,
Orba´n modified Fidesz’s ideological stance
by labelling it a ‘national-liberal’ party. Although this did not bring
immediate electoral gains, Orba´n remained undeterred in his
decision to continue his march rightwards. Intolerant of any motion
for potential cooperation with the government after elections, he
toned down the party’s liberal and anti-clerical tenets, poaching
instead such traditional conservative themes as family, God, order
and the fatherland. ‘Family’, writes Enyedi (2005: 704), ‘became the
central category of the party’s program and the word ‘‘polgar’’
(meaning both ‘‘civic’’ and ‘‘bourgeois’’) was chosen as a new label
for identification’; at the same time, Fidesz also accepted most clerical
demands and turned into a champion of Hungarian nationalism.
To cap it all, Fidesz withdrew from the Liberal International only to
later (2001) join the European People’s Party. Evidently, Orba´n had
spotted the opportunity: with the socialists in power and the right in
disarray, he saw Fidesz ‘as now taking the leading role in the
realignment of the center-right parties in opposition to the new
government’ (Lomax 2007: 114). From now on, Fidesz would never
abandon its new discourse ‘built on the metaphorical polarization
between the communist past and present, the clash of national and
international interests, and the opposing interests of the ruling ‘‘elites
of luxury’’ and the ‘‘working citizens’’ ’ (Rajacic 2007: 650).
By 1998, two intertwined developments were clearly visible on
Hungary’s political scene. First, as the Christian Democratic
People’s Party had practically ceased to exist, and the Hungarian
Democratic Forum offered to sign an electoral agreement, Fidesz
was now the dominant force on the right. It also had become ‘the
most centralized, most homogenous and most disciplined party in
the country under the firm leadership of its charismatic leader’
(Enyedi 2005: 708). Second, largely as a result of such leadership,
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Hungarian politics became polarized along a single cleavage
between the left, represented by the Hungarian Socialist Party and
its minor allies on one side, and Fidesz, now in firm control of the
right, on the other side.
Stage 2: Populism in Office
Despite their political youth, both Pasok and Fidesz, led by internally
powerful and publicly vocal leaders who used polarization as an
integral part of their tactics to impose a view of society as being
divided between the mythical ‘people’ and an infamous ‘establish-
ment’, were able to win office by 1981 and 1998, respectively. Pasok,
with an impressive 48.2 per cent of the vote, formed a single-party
government; Fidesz received fewer voters than the Socialists but
won the most seats (148 out of 386) in parliament and formed a
government in coalition with the conservative Independent Small-
holders’ Party and the Hungarian Democratic Forum. Paradoxically,
polarization did not decrease when the populists came into office;
instead, they opted to step up polarization and mass mobilization
rather than promoting moderation.
There are two possible explanations for the intensification of
polarization: electoral expediency and overpromising. According to
the first explanation, the populist governments’ polarizing tactics
intended to achieve three goals: solidify the heterogeneous social
alliances that had elevated them to power; thwart their major party
opponents from regaining legitimacy; and compel voters from the
smaller and ideologically more proximate parties (such as leftists in
Greece and rightists in Hungary) to vote for them lest the major
oppositions return to power.
According to the second explanation,
once the populists came into office, polarization became for them
a much cheaper strategy for the maintenance of power than
implementing painful liberal reforms. By controlling the state and
its resources, the populist governments in both Greece and Hungary
were now in a position to fulfil past promises to their particular
electoral constituencies and reap further electoral gains, while
passing the cost to the entire society. As will be shown next, this logic
would also appeal to their major opposition parties, New Democracy
and the Hungarian Socialist Party, once they had returned to power.
At any rate, the acceleration of polarization had important
consequences at the party system level: to the extent that Greek and
cThe Author 2013. Published by Government and Opposition Limited and Cambridge University Press
Hungarian society had already been split into two antagonistic camps,
each country’s party system was reshaped from multipartism into
twopartism. This subsection analyses and puts into perspective those
two crucial mechanisms for the developmentofpopulistdemocracies.
Greece, first, represents a clear case in which, ‘far from subsiding,
polarization increased after PASOK’s victory’ (Kalyvas 1997: 89).
Pasok employed a discourse presenting ‘the social and political
space as divided into two opposing fields’ (Lyrintzis 1987: 671) and
portrayed Greek society as torn between the ‘forces of light’ (meaning
Pasok and sympathizers) and the ‘forces of darkness’ (meaning New
Democracy and its own well-wishers). In Pridham and Verney’s words
(1991: 46), ‘Despite PASOK’s ‘‘Socialist’’ title, its self-presentation was
essentially as a populist force which was ‘‘non-Right and anti-Right’’.’
Related to the increased polarization was also the transformation
of Greece’s party system into a simple two-party format (Pappas
2003) – that is, a system in which the two major parties could govern
alone (Sartori 1976). Indeed, after 1981, apart from Pasok and
New Democracy, all political forces were either rendered politically
insignificant or altogether eliminated: the extreme right National
Front became absorbed by New Democracy; the Reformist Commu-
nist Party (thereafter presenting under various designations) was
weakened to the point of near-extinction; and several flash parties
appeared and disappeared without trace. Only the Communist Party
maintained a continuous and stable presence in parliament, but
lacked ‘intimidation potential’, namely, the ability to determine the
overall pattern of competition within the party system. After 1981
Greek twopartism made possible the alternation in power of the two
major parties, Pasok and New Democracy, at regular intervals.
Similarly in Hungary, polarization rose sharply after Fidesz rose to
office and made its presence felt ‘in all spheres of life – from the
nomination of theater directors to the orientation of women’s
magazines’ (Illonszki and Kurta´n 2007: 1002). ‘From the late 1990s,’
writes Palonen (2009: 320), ‘there has been a steady division of the
political spectrum into two camps that continuously produce
themselves as a political unit through the construction of the other
camp as their counterpart. They are named ‘‘left’’ and ‘‘right’’,
denoting the socialists and liberals against the right-wing ‘‘civic’’
camp.’ Once in power, Fidesz became the champion of the right and
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a defender of the cultural nation, the traditionalist rural and
religious social strata. Fidesz immediately ‘established a repertoire of
specific right-wing language and policy which [it] could appropriate
and deploy in targeted fashion to make itself a credible right-wing
force for right-wing elites and voters’ (Fowler 2004: 102). It was a
kind of polarization, Palonen (2009: 324) further explains, which
did not exist so much through the articulation of differences between
the two sides, but ‘through the rejection of the other camp’.
Polarization paid off handsomely for Orba´n and his party as, by
the 2002 elections, with Fidesz in full dominance of the right,
Hungary’s politics had become a two-party system (Sitter 2011), with
the two major parties running head-to-head and together polling
83.3 per cent of the total national vote. Already by 1999, the
Independent Smallholders’ Party, the second largest party in the
government coalition, had completely disintegrated and the extreme
right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIE
´P) also disappeared.
Fidesz now stood alone to ‘represent a major case of party identity
change’ (Fowler 2004: 82). As public opinion data show (cited in
Enyadi 2005: 711), while in 1994 Fidesz was still the least authoritarian
party in Hungary’s party politics, by 2002 its electorate had moved to
the authoritarian end of the scale.
Stage 3: The Development of Populist Democracies
When the populists in both Greece and Hungary came to power, the
opposition parties were faced with a conundrum: would they stand
by the principles of political liberalism or should they also stray into
populism? As it turned out, so strong was the pull of populism that,
despite attempts to resist it – most notably in Greece – the major
opposition forces in both countries soon transformed from
proponents of liberalism to populism enthusiasts. Here is a short
review of how post-authoritarian Greece and post-communist
Hungary turned into populist democracies through contagion.
Ever since Pasok rose to power in 1981, Greek politics has developed
as an incessant struggle between liberalism and populism, with the
latter always the winner. All in all, there have been three ventures to
resuscitate political liberalism: The first was made by the New
Democracy government (1990–3) that followed a decade of Pasok’s
populist rule; a second attempt was undertaken by Costas Simitis,
cThe Author 2013. Published by Government and Opposition Limited and Cambridge University Press
Andreas Papandreou’s successor as Greece’s prime minister and
Pasok’s leader; the last abortive attempt to substitute populism with
some form of liberalism was made by George Papandreou in his
double capacity as Pasok’s leader (since 2004) and Greece’s premier
(2009–11). A closer analysis of this follows.
In 1990, after almost a decade of populism, New Democracy
returned to office under the leadership of liberal professional
politician Constantine Mitsotakis (see Featherstone 1994). In a full
reversal of previous practices, the new government moved swiftly to
reinvigorate Greece’s economy, reinforce its political institutions
and repair strained relations with its European and American allies.
With respect to the economy, more particularly, the government
established as its top priority the country’s preparation for entry into
the European single market and moved accordingly to cut public
spending and reform the civil service. It was towards the same goal
that the New Democracy government also placed privatization at the
centre of its political agenda, given that ‘the recent international
developments and more specifically the European challenge that is
embodied in the Single European Act makes it our duty, not only to
put emphasis on the institutions of a free market economy, but to
adopt with courage and the strong sense of duty to the future of our
country the policy of privatization’ (New Democracy 1987: 14).
Besides its clearly pro-EU policy, the new government also became
active in restoring ties with the US government and the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Yet, in the face of strong
populism from the opposition parties, the structural reforms and
policy alternatives proposed proved unpopular and, in 1993, the
New Democracy government collapsed, thus opening the way for a
new comeback to power of the Papandreou-led populist Pasok.
When Andreas Papandreou died in 1996, Pasok’s parliamentary
group elected Costas Simitis as his successor in both the party
leadership and the premiership. A moderate and methodical
technocrat lacking charisma and out of touch with the masses,
Simitis pursued a programme of modernization of Greece, focusing
on extensive public investment for building infrastructure, as well as
on economic and labour reforms to harmonize Greece’s economy to
European ones. Those attempts ‘marked a shift from the socialist-
populist period to one characterized by pragmatism, a managerial
discourse and a technocratic approach, all packed in a project for
the modernisation, rationalisation and Europeanisation of the
cThe Author 2013. Published by Government and Opposition Limited and Cambridge University Press
Greek society and economy’ (Lyrintzis 2005: 205). On the basis of
such a programme, Pasok under Simitis was able to win two consecutive
electoral victories (in 1996 and 2000) and to lead the country into the
eurozone. Despite his reformist efforts, though, the modernizing
group under Simitis was ‘forced to rule within the entrenched material
boundaries drawn by the party’s pro-popular policies in the 1980s’
(Fouskas 1998: 138). In a very real sense, Pasok remained a party
deeply permeated by populism, which fed cronyism, corruption and
inefficiency, all of which became more pronounced during the party’s
second term in office, eventually causing its downfall in 2004.
The last, and more recent, attempt to liberalize Pasok was
undertaken by George Papandreou, Andreas’s son, first as party
leader and, after his 2009 electoral victory over New Democracy, as
prime minister as well. Not only was it an abortive attempt to
reinstitute liberalism, it also clearly demonstrated how deeply
populism had been entrenched throughout the political and party
system, with dire consequences for the country’s ability to face the
economic and financial crisis that hit it in 2009. Defeated in his
efforts to rout populism, Papandreou was eventually forced to resign
as prime minister in November 2011.
In the meantime, after its rather dismal spell of power in the early
1990s, the story of New Democracy over the last two decades has been
one in which it has tried to regain power under three successive
leaders, each of whom has forced the party away from liberalism and
towards a distinctly populist direction. Miltiades Evert, first, not only
rebranded New Democracy as a ‘people’s party’, but also tried in the
1996 electoral contest to outbid Pasok’s already extravagant promises.
In the aftermath of electoral defeat, Evert stepped down and was
replaced as party leader by Costas Karamanlis, a nephew of New
Democracy’s founder. And still, populism did not cease growing
stronger within New Democracy. The new leader promptly expelled
from the party the most prominent proponents of political liberalism
and adopted a discourse that was more reminiscent of Andreas
Papandreou than that of his namesake uncle and mentor. Under this
leadership, New Democracy returned to power in 2004 but
immediately gave in to the accumulated clientelistic demands of its
organized base. While in opposition, the current New Democracy
leader, Antonis Samaras, having in the past distinguished himself as a
nationalist populist, followed a populist agenda despite the great
financial and economic crisis that had meanwhile befallen Greece.
cThe Author 2013. Published by Government and Opposition Limited and Cambridge University Press
In summing up the Greek case, so powerful became the allure of
populism during Pasok’s rule in the 1980s that, gradually, it was
adopted by the other major force in Greece’s party system, New
Democracy, which was thus transformed from a liberal to a populist
party. As Pasok and New Democracy alternated regularly in office,
Greece became in effect a populist democracy. Only when New
Democracy managed to win the 2012 national elections, albeit
by a thin margin, and Samaras became premier, heading a rather
precarious right–left coalition under the auspices of Greece’s
international creditors, did the new leader decide to dispense with
outright populism in favour of (timid) political liberalism.
Unlike in Greece, where liberalism initially showed some resistance
to the ascendancy of populism, in Hungary populism spread with
no particular difficulties since, once Fidesz had come to power and
intensified polarization, the Hungarian Socialist Party found it
politically more convenient to pay back using the same coin. It
therefore also adopted a two-pronged strategy to polarize its
opponents: the complete rejection of Fidesz on purely ideological
grounds; and an emphasis on overpromising rather than promoting
a policy agenda for macroeconomic stability and growth. And when
in 2002 the Hungarian Socialist Party returned to office, it far from
disengaged from Fidesz’s previous policy of overspending. Thus, in
promises made during the electoral campaign, pensioners were
offered an extra lump sum of money, families received an extra
month’s worth of childcare benefit, civil servants’ salaries rose by
50 per cent and workers on minimum wages became tax exempt.
And, on the majoritarian principle, the new government also began
to create a new clientele around itself by, for instance, replacing
all state secretaries, as well as the heads of development projects
throughout the country’s regions (Illonszki and Kurta´n 2003: 974). At
the same time, the national question became a preferred terrain for
political confrontation as both major parties chose to politicize the
notions of nation and ‘the people’ (Hanley et al. 2008: 428).
Polarization remained the staple of Hungarian politics and was
quite visible in the 2006 electoral campaign, during which ‘negative
campaigning centered around arguments that one side was
nationalist and the other opposed to the nation. Similarly, both
sides argued that the other focused only on accumulating wealth
in the hands of a certain elite, while they fought the corrupt
cThe Author 2013. Published by Government and Opposition Limited and Cambridge University Press
establishment as the other side using anti-elite rhetoric’ (Palonen
2009: 325). As in Greece, the establishment of a populist democracy
in Hungary helped solidify the division of society into two
antagonistic camps vying for political hegemony.
In a seminal article published a few years ago in this journal, it was
argued that contemporary Western democracies had been over-
whelmed by a powerful populist zeitgeist, which was seen as a reaction
of mainstream politicians to opposition populist parties. That was,
however, believed to be a temporary, or ‘episodic’, phenomenon
that was expected to ‘dissipate as soon as the populist challenger
seems to be over its top’ (Mudde 2004: 563). The present article has
presented a different, and certainly more menacing, reality in which
the populist challenger has in fact not only risen to power, but has
also contaminated formerly liberal political and party systems with
persisting populism.
This analysis, therefore, has made the case for a novel political
phenomenon – populist democracy – and has examined it by
empirically comparing post-authoritarian Greece and post-communist
Hungary. It has been shown that populist democracies, although
pluralistic, are inimical to political liberalism; they also tend to
produce an unusual party system that combines a typical two-party
format with the mechanics of polarized pluralism. Although still a rare
phenomenon, populist democracies may in the future emerge in
several places in the world (as, for instance, in Romania, Slovakia or
even Poland), where liberalism is already receding but the pretence of
democracy still remains in place. The article has moreover analysed
the particular stages through which populist democracies may emerge,
and it has explained the mechanisms involved throughout the process.
Because of the polarizing party politics they produce, however,
populist democracies are highly unstable systems and cannot enjoy
long lives. Although this should be the subject of future research,
the current political developments in Greece and Hungary are full
of insights with important political and theoretical implications.
Let us therefore have one last look at our cases.
Hard hit by financial and economic crises, which in both
countries made it necessary to call international creditors to the
cThe Author 2013. Published by Government and Opposition Limited and Cambridge University Press
rescue, Greece and Hungary are currently experiencing the collapse
of the two-party systems their populist democracies gave rise to. At
the same time, both countries seem to be drifting further away from
liberal democracy and moving towards unknown, but perilous,
directions. After the 2010 elections in Hungary, Fidesz has arisen as
the predominant party able to command the absolute majority of
seats in parliament.
Since then, under the leadership of charismatic
Prime Minister Viktor Orba´n, the government has begun a systematic
attack on liberal institutions in such sensitive areas as the judiciary, the
central bank, the media and human rights, thus further diverging
from the Western liberal norm. As for Greece, the collapse of
two-party politics after 31 years and the emergence of both left and
right (including fascist) extremist forces at the flanks of the system
pose serious obstacles to the good functioning of democracy, let alone
to a return to political liberalism. Almost certainly, Greece’s populist
democracy is not in a position to cope with the explosive crisis the
country is faced with. In that case, the capacity of liberal institutions to
withstand a new assault of polarized politics amidst economic crisis
and continued political instability will be anybody’s guess.
The author thanks for their comments and ideas Paris Aslanidis, Stefano Bartolini,
Andra´s Bozo´ki, La´slo´ Bruszt, Duncan McDonnell, Zsolt Enyedi, Leonardo Morlino,
Francisco Panizza, Cristo´ bal Rovira Kaltwasser, Nasos Roussias, Andreas Schedler,
Philippe Schmitter and two anonymous reviewers for the journal. The article is
dedicated to the memory of Peter Mair.
That democracy is Janus-faced is not a novel idea. Besides Riker (1982), Robert
Dahl (1956) has also distinguished between a ‘Madisonian’ and a ‘populistic’, or
Rousseauistic, democracy. And Margaret Canovan (1999), drawing on the work of
British philosopher Michael Oakeshott (1996), claims that democracy has two
faces, which she has termed the ‘pragmatic’ and the ‘redemptive’, respectively.
Note that the criteria for liberal democracy used in this analysis – that is,
multidimensionality of cleavage, consensus seeking and constitutionalism –
coincide to a large extent with John Gray’s (2000) three features of liberalism,
namely, plural values, liberal toleration and rival freedoms.
Consider, for instance, the fact that even in a book with the title Illiberal Politics in
Neoliberal Times (Berezin 2009), no definition is given for what this term means.
cThe Author 2013. Published by Government and Opposition Limited and Cambridge University Press
No less careless is the use of the term ‘illiberal democracy’ by Fareed Zakaria (2003: 99),
who, again without offering any definition, considers that ‘illiberal democracy runs
along a spectrum, from modest offenders like Argentina to near tyrannies such as
Kazakhstan, with countries such as Ukraine and Venezuela in between’.
Depending on the relative significance, or intensity, of these characteristics, one
may of course allow for different degrees of populism, therefore distinguishing
between ‘hard’ and ‘softer’ forms of the same phenomenon. Yet, the imposition of
a single cleavage that divides society into ‘the people’ and some ‘establishment’
yields a unidimensional, rather than multidimensional, electoral competition
space, which in turn feeds back to both adversarial politics and majoritarianism.
Populist democracies, however, bear some resemblance to O’Donnell’s (1994)
notion of ‘delegative democracy’, whose combined features of strong illiberalism
and pronounced majoritarianism enable the individual leader who wins an
election ‘to govern the country as he sees fit’.
Greece’s and Hungary’s contemporary political systems present important
similarities. Both have been characterized as ‘party democracies’ (Bozo´ki 2008;
Pappas 1999) for the central role parties play in their respective (unicameral)
parliaments and in society; in both, the president is elected by parliament and has
mostly ceremonial functions, while prime ministers are powerful and appoint
cabinet members directly; in both countries, finally, electoral law provides for a mix
of multi- and single-seat constituencies in which voters may select candidates of
their choice from party lists.
As Stathis Kalyvas (1997: 89) has straightforwardly put the matter, party system
polarization in Greece ‘is inextricably linked to the rise of PASOK. The 1981
elections were fought in a climate of great polarization, reflected in the collapse of
the traditional centrist parties.’
AfterDebrecen,themoreliberalwingofFidesz gradually departed from the party, led
by ultra-liberal Ga´bor Fodor, who eventually joined the Alliance of Free Democrats.
This logic is corroborated by strong empirical evidence. As Seferiades (1986: 83)
has shown, the distance between the perceived mean position of Pasok and the
Communist Party on the left–right scale was smaller than the distance between
Pasok and New Democracy. A similar situation has been noted in Hungary, where,
by 1998, the distance between Fidesz and the Hungarian Socialist Party was much
greater than the distance of each of them from the parties on the extremes of the
political spectrum (Enyadi 2005: 706).
The rise of polarization in Greece during the 1980s is well documented in
numerous accounts, including, for instance Mavrogordatos (1984), Seferiades
(1986) and Papadopoulos (1989).
This situation is well depicted in the following account by George Scho
¨pflin (2007,
original emphasis), a political scientist and Fidesz member of the European
Parliament: ‘Hungarian society [has become] deeply divided – in fact, it is in a state
of ‘‘cold civil war.’’ The extraordinarily deep cleavage, unparalleled in Europe after
1945, is far more than a political phenomenon. It can be described as ontological,
and is about qualitatively different and mutually exclusive visions of justice, of good
and evil, of the country’s past, and ultimately, of the ‘‘good life’’.’
cThe Author 2013. Published by Government and Opposition Limited and Cambridge University Press
Interestingly, while support for the Hungarian Socialist Party has plummeted, the
rise of Jobbik, a radical nationalist party located on the far right, represents the
new challenge to political liberalism.
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This paper analyzes how the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán uses social categorization and populist rhetoric in an anti-LGBTQ campaign. Drawing on social identity theory and the scholarship on populist rhetoric and anti-LGBTQ politics, the article examines 46 interviews, press statements, public speeches, and op-eds by Orbán. Using critical discourse analysis (CDA) and Wodak’s discourse-historical approach, it shows how the prime minister frames LGBTQ communities as an out-group that poses a threat to Hungarian values and way of living. Similar to the issue of immigration and existing anti-LGBTQ frames in other countries, Orbán presents LGBTQ groups within his well-established anti-Western narrative. In addition, he connects LGBTQ communities to other out-groups that have been portrayed as a threat for a long time. The study sheds new light on the linguistic strategies of Orbán and shows how populist rhetoric and social categorization complement each other in a political campaign.
Past research has devoted more attention to the consequences of populism for party politics and democratic governance than to its effects on public attitudes—and particularly, how populist claims interact with nationalism to exacerbate exclusionary beliefs among the public. Using online survey experiments, we examine whether exposure to populism increases out-group antipathy among Democrats and Republicans. In Study 1, we randomly assign respondents to three conditions featuring vignettes based on political speeches: a morally neutral argument, a populist critique of political elites and a morally framed anti-immigration appeal. The results demonstrate that the populist treatment generates lower feeling-thermometer ratings of minority groups than the control condition, but only among Republicans and Trump supporters. Study 2 uses a similar design to evaluate the link between left-wing economic populism and economic nationalism: the populist condition features a critique of economic elites, the nationalist condition blames China for the offshoring of US jobs and the outcome variable measures respondents’ sentiments toward China. Economic nationalism generates increased anti-China sentiment among moderate and conservative Democrats but economic populism does not. Together, these findings suggest that the effects of populism on nationalist antipathies observed in Study 1 are driven by the discursive bundling of anti-elite talk with ethno-nationalism on the political right, which stands in contrast to the decoupling of economic populism from economic nationalism on the left. The former has effectively turned populism into a form of dog-whistle politics among Republicans, and Trump supporters in particular.
This introduction to the volume Politics and Society in Hungary first outlines the three waves of institutional reforms since 1989. These are the wave of democratization, the preparation for accession to the EU and de-democratization tendencies since 2010. This sequence is not in line with conventional assumptions of democratization and EU research. We explain it by stable patterns of the behavior of political actors (instrumental access to justice, polarization) and by overlapping positions in foreign and economic policy across government and opposition. We outline previous research on Hungary and show how the volume’s analyses support the mentioned interpretation and thus contribute to a better understanding of politics and society in Hungary. In sum, the Fidesz victory in 2010 marks less of a caesura in Hungarian politics than is often portrayed. However, the democratic system’s dysfunctions have changed dramatically under Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz-KDNP governments. The chapter ends with suggestions for further research.
The article examines the impact of the euro on the political system through contrasting the experiences of eurozone countries with euro outsiders using a historical institutionalist perspective. While following the global financial crisis, many have argued that the homogeneity of rules within the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) facilitate the rise of populist movements, authoritarian challengers have emerged only outside the eurozone. The parallel application of Rodrik's political economy trilemma and the ordoliberal tradition of the Freiburg school to the EMU provides the theoretical background for explaining this puzzle. A most-similar research design based on the comparative case study of Greece and Hungary is used to uncover the causal processes through which the EMU contributes to the resilience of liberal democracy. It is shown that while the limits on economic policy autonomy strongly hinder authoritarian tendencies within the eurozone even under a populist government, being outside the EMU is a necessary though not sufficient condition for the entrenchment of authoritarian rule.
Has the Weberian disenchantment with the world finally freed people from the illusion that democracy is a panacea? For the past decade, once the glory and triumph of the western model over the socialist regimes had evaporated, we have been able to observe the numerous manifestations of popular misgivings about political participation and democratic institutions. Democratic malaise (Dahl 1998), the politics of resentment (Betz 1994, 1998a, b), political anomie, and protest movements are among the most frequent manifestations of this disillusion in many western democracies. Both electoral turnout and opinion polls testify to the endurance and extension of the problem. Nor have the new democracies which emerged from the collapse of the socialist systems escaped this general phenomenon of disillusion as shown by the return to power—in sheep’s clothing—of former communist party officials. These challenges to democratic governance vary according to the specificity of each national polity, but share some common features such as the decline of electoral support for political incumbents, a marked increase in electoral abstentionism, the volatility of the electorate, the growing fragmentation of the party system, the emergence of ad hoc social movements unrepresented by traditional political organisations, and the emergence of single-issue and/or radical parties.
Although 'populism' has become something of a buzzword in discussions about politics, it tends to be studied by country or region. This is the first book to offer a genuine cross-regional perspective on populism and its impact on democracy. By analyzing current experiences of populism in Europe and the Americas, this edited volume convincingly demonstrates that populism can be both a threat and a corrective to democracy. The contributors also demonstrate the interesting similarities between right-wing and left-wing populism: both types of populism are prone to defend a political model that is not against democracy per se, but rather at odds with liberal democracy. Populism in Europe and the Americas offers new insights into the current state of democracy from both a theoretical and an empirical point of view.
Although ‘populism’ has become something of a buzzword in discussions about politics, it tends to be studied by country or region. This is the first book to offer a genuine cross-regional perspective on populism and its impact on democracy. By analyzing current experiences of populism in Europe and the Americas, this edited volume convincingly demonstrates that populism can be both a threat and a corrective to democracy. The contributors also demonstrate the interesting similarities between right-wing and left-wing populism: both types of populism are prone to defend a political model that is not against democracy per se, but rather at odds with liberal democracy. Populism in Europe and the Americas offers new insights into the current state of democracy from both a theoretical and an empirical point of view.