Framing Political Populism in Contemporary Media Ecosystem

By Peicheva, Dobrinka; Raycheva, Lilia | European Quarterly of Political Attitudes and Mentalities, October 2017 | Go to article overview

Framing Political Populism in Contemporary Media Ecosystem


Peicheva, Dobrinka, Raycheva, Lilia, European Quarterly of Political Attitudes and Mentalities


1.Introduction

Populism as a political position and rhetorical style has been the object of comprehensive research and multi-faceted social discussions. The strong critical attitude of populists towards the status quo, towards what they regard as the chimera of democracy, is generally intertwined with the function of the media to be a corrective factor with regard to government authorities.

Research attention in Bulgaria has started to be focused on populism recently, but is increasing in terms of the engagement of scholars and the expansion of the range of study. This interest was determined by the successes of newly formed populist parties during the new century - parties of the harder or softer variants - which succeeded in periodically winning considerable numbers of places in national parliaments.

The specificity of research on populism derives from the specific techniques and approaches used by populists. Among Bulgarian researchers, there is still no unanimity on populism and its specificity. Yet this does not mean there is no agreement that it involves "playing the role of the ordinary people".

Svetoslav Malinov (2007) defines populism as a form of political thought and speech, as a set of rhetorical figures and techniques, possessing a single leading characteristic: constant appeal and reference to the collective image of the "people". This characteristic is complemented by features such as "offering what people want to be offered", "brilliant promises", "identifying oneself with, and speaking in the name of, the people", etc., in the context of the seven propaganda techniques defined in the US in 1937 (How 1937).

Daniel Smilov (2008, p. 26) suggests three aspects of the concept of populism: "At times it is used to describe the process of backsliding from the achievements of liberal democracy made before the accession to the EU. At other times, it refers to the growth of nationalist or radical right-wing parties. Almost everyone agrees with Cas Mudde that this is an ideology that places the people in opposition to the corrupt political elite."

The conceptual schemes of Margaret Canovan (1981) and Cas Mudde (2007) have been used as keys to understanding and explaining the phenomenon and defining populism in Bulgaria. Scholars have emphasized Mudde's idea that "even if populism as an ideology is viewed as a basic threat, in fact the basic threat in Europe today is populism as a style" (Mudde 2007, p. 115).

Bulgarian researchers stress the moral overtone of the phenomenon, related to categories such as truth, lie, manipulation, honesty, decency, sincerity, etc. They have debated whether populism is good or bad, whether or not it is a threat to democratic processes, etc. (Malinov 2007; Smilov 2008; Kabakchieva 2009; Badzhakov 2010; Krastev 2007; Krasteva 2013, etc.).

There is no consensus in academic circles regarding the types of populism present in society. In resting upon the four types of types of populism (complete, excluding, anti-elitist, and empty populism) outlined by Jagers & Walgrave (2006), and on the indicators for them, it may be concluded that these types exist in Bulgaria, although they have not been classified in the terminology used by these two authors.

Nearly all parties in Bulgaria have displayed some populist manners and have flirted, to a greater or lesser degree, with the people, speculating on popular expectations.

Populism in Bulgaria is visible in several variants of classification:

* Classical, social, specifically "pro-European" populism;

* Hard vs. soft populism;

* Right-wing vs. left-wing populism.

Classical populism coincides with the European, mostly xenophobic populism of the 1930s; social populism, considered to be left oriented, is associated primarily with the old left-wing parties and the newly formed leftward-inclined parties; while the specific "pro-European" populism is ascribed to newly formed parties with a liberal orientation. …

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