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TOPIC: populism


Adiós Castillo: Why Latin America Is Ready To Close The Era Of "Cheap Populism"

The impeachment and arrest of Peru's Leftist president can be taken as perhaps a conclusive signal to the region that populism — from the Left and Right — may have run out of gas.

Modern populism, or "neo-populism," began in Peru with the election in 1990 of President Alberto Fujimori. The notorious arch-conservative leader, who smashed a Maoist rebellion, was a pioneer of the pseudo-arguments one hears to this day within the anti-political circles of populism. He wanted to forge a direct link with "the people" by simplified policy proposals, whipping up emotions and sidelining public institutions. He promised firm government and an end to corruption, only to turn into another violent and corrupt strongman.

Others of his type — in Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador — sought to keep power with the help of favorable economic winds, but eventually (virtually) all fell in the same way, like dominos. And now, we've seen it again in Peru, with the ouster and arrest of former President Pedro Castillo.

It's worth recalling that in the first decade of this century, all South American countries of the Andean region were dominated by the populist phenomenon, whether from the Left or Right. Peru and Venezuela succumbed to blatant authoritarianism though Venezuela's Hugo Chávez was the only one to entirely subdue the country's institutions.

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Is Israel's Far Right More Extreme Than In Italy Or The U.S.?

French writer and political scientist Dominique Moïsi was in Israel last week for the country’s latest elections, which saw the victory of a hard right coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu. He warns that there is an inherent conflict between the self-declared "start-up nation" and the anti-science, anti-liberal program of the new government.


PARIS — In his autobiography Things Seen, seminal French author Victor Hugo describes daily life in Paris during the revolution of the 1830s. He writes about the “limited reach of tragedy,” where one street is covered in barricades and the next is completely peaceful.

On Nov. 1, the day of the elections in Israel, I was walking around the streets of Tel Aviv with those images from Victor Hugo in mind. There was no indication that the future of the country might be at stake despite the huge election signs on buildings and buses. But for their fifth general election in four years, the people of the country's largest economic and cultural metropolis seemed jaded, if not indifferent.

This impression was quickly contradicted by a turnout of more than 70%, a significant increase over previous elections. But nothing seemed to suggest that Israel was on the brink of a tipping point.

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It's Not About Mussolini, Searching For The Real Giorgia Meloni

As the right-wing coalition tops Italian elections, far-right leader of the Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, is set to become Italy's next prime minister. Both her autobiography and the just concluded campaign help fill in the holes in someone whose roots are in Italy's post-fascist political parties.


ROME — After Sunday’s national election results, Italy is set to have its first ever woman prime minister. But Giorgia Meloni has been drawing extra attention both inside and outside of the country because of her ideology, not her gender.

Her far-right pedigree in a country that invented fascism a century ago has had commentators rummaging through the past of Meloni and her colleagues in the Brothers of Italy party in search of references to Benito Mussolini.

But even as her victory speech spoke of uniting the country, it is far more useful to listen to what she herself has said since entering politics to understand the vision the 45-year-old lifelong politician has for Italy’s future.

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The Wrong Meaning Of "Homotransphobia"

Hatred cannot be cured.

The term “homotransphobia” is not in any diagnostic manual of psychiatry. Phobias, like all pathologies, create suffering for those who are affected — and can be cured. Instead, the only ones who suffer from the effects of homotransphobia are its targets.

Those who are "afflicted" with this condition are people for whom prejudice and ignorance prevail; and when they act on the basis of this ignorance, they are criminals, not sick people.

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Mariateresa Fichele

A Patient's Old Habits, A Doctor’s Call For Justice

Fifteen years ago, Francesco kept busy by scamming people. He was a regular visitor to the beaches of Terracina, south of Rome, where he was caught several times selling counterfeit Ray-Ban sunglasses. Then came the drugs, which fed a serious substance-induced psychosis and eventually he tested positive for HIV.

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Carl Karlsson

Economics Of Populism: A Habsburgian Tale From Sweden

While the rise of European right-wing populism is becoming a pan-continental phenomenon, we seem determined to miss its one common driver.

STOCKHOLM — I cast my first vote in a junior-high gym in southern Sweden. I was 13 and it wasn't a real election, but a mock civic exercise to prepare students for their coming life of suffrage. I have a clear memory, back 20 years ago now, that exactly two people in my class of 30 voted for the right-wing Sweden Democrats. They were twin brothers and perhaps best described as true locals in our small city. They were also of some true (or false) local repute, not so much for their political prowess as for their protruding Habsburgian jaws — a result, rumor had it, of family relations having become too intimate in the depths of the Swedish pine forest.

That was then, when far-right affiliation was so rare that it had to have some legend attached to it. But national support for the Sweden Democrats has since jumped to roughly 18%, as similar backing for right-wing parties grows all around Europe: those that have made worldwide headlines like AfD in Germany, Rassemblement National in France, the Lega in Italy, UKIP in the UK; but also similar formations with similar ideas in Austria, Estonia, Norway, Switzerland, Poland, Hungary and the Netherlands too, as the political climate keeps trending far rightward.

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Dominique Moïsi

How Europe Can Avoid Viktor Orbán's Trap, And Save Its Soul

If Europe is to stand firm against Viktor Orbán's illiberal and anti-establishment policies, scapegoating him or excluding him from the EU risks consolidating his hold over his fellow citizens


PARIS — "Tact in audacity," Jean Cocteau famously said, "is knowing how far you can go without going too far." By enacting a repressive and retrograde law on homosexuality, has Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán gone too far? Or is he setting a trap for us by deliberately choosing a topic that is so emotionally charged in our society? He may present himself as the vanguard of a counter-revolution in the area of morality.

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American Democracy Under Assault, A View From France

The raid of Congress by a crowd of Donald Trump supporters is the culmination of a tumultuous presidency that has deeply fractured the American political system.


PARIS — Elected four years ago with the promise to "Make America Great Again," U.S. President Donald Trump is ending his term of office in shame. History will remember the date of January 6 when America's democracy was threatened — and momentarily suspended — by a mob of extremist supporters whom the president had personally encouraged to march on Capitol Hill to prevent President-elect Joe Biden from being declared the winner of the 2020 election.

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Alessio Perrone

Salvini To Bolsonaro: Risking Lives And Pushing The Limits Of Democracy

Few outside his native Italy had heard of Matteo Salvini before he emerged in 2018 as the new global star of far-right populism. Catapulted by the election success of his League party, the scruffy and sardonic northerner had grown into Italy's most talked-about and incendiary politician, solidifying power in his role as interior minister in a government led by caretaker Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Salvini's favorite topic was immigration, and he made worldwide headlines by ordering authorities to block migrant rescue vessels from docking on Italian shores. It was a radical new policy that put the lives of refugees at risk. His popularity skyrocketed.

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Rodrigo Uprimny*

How 21st Century Democracies Destroy Themselves From Within

From Venezuela to Hungary, populist leaders are carving away at fundamental checks and balances in slow and often subtle ways.


BOGOTÁ — The Intimate Enemies of Democracy is the name of a beautiful, profound book by the late Tzvetan Todorov, who died in 2017 and was one of the sharpest of modern thinkers. The work examines the dangers that threaten contemporary democracies, and that are worth considering here in Colombia, especially with regional elections looming.

Todorov's proposition is similar to the thesis presented in another, best-selling book, How Democracies Die, by Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. The idea in both books is that today's democracies don't end the way they did in the 20th century, through sudden, external interventions such as an invasion or a coup, like the the one in Chile in 1973. Their demise, rather, is slow — to the point where it's sometimes difficult to say when the collapse really took place. Today's democracies are also undone by internal enemies, rather than outside attackers.

Todorov sees three categories of internal enemies, starting with populism, which invokes majority votes to destroy horizontal controls like judicial independence. These checks constitute crucial elements of the rule of law and are a necessary condition for the existence of any democracy worthy of the name.

Today's democracies are also undone by internal enemies, rather than outside attackers.

Secondly, there is political messianism, which breaks social support networks that are essential to the cohesion of a political community. The phenomenon also fuels a sharp rise in economic inequalities that undermine democracies. Ultimately, as the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau said more than two centuries ago, a proper, functioning democracy requires that no citizen "be so wealthy as to be able to buy another, and none be so poor as to be compelled to sell himself."

Orban and his wife Aniko Levai voting at 2014 parliamentary election — Photo: Xinhua/ZUMA

The threat from internal enemies has no clear political color, as attacks sometimes come from the Left, but also from the Right.

An example is the democracy that the Left has worn away in Venezuela: the country's late, charismatic leader Hugo Chávez, who won several elections with resounding popular support, believed he had a popular mandate so robust and a revolutionary mission so messianic that he simply had to subject the judiciary and other organs of control to the Chavista vision. This did not happen overnight but in stages, making it difficult to know when exactly Venezuelan democracy died. But it did.

One great difficulty in fighting these internal enemies of democracy is in their use of democratic language and instruments to undermine the system. And that includes elections.

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Giovanni Orsina

Berlusconi's Last Dance: A Sharp Right Turn?

With a now-leaderless Democratic Party and no charismatic successor to take over from Berlusconi, his one-time backers may migrate to more extremist parties.


ROME Italy once had what was known as Berlusconiano voters.

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Alberto Mattioli

Salvini Blew It, But Don't Count Him Out Just Yet

It would be a mistake to assume that Italy has seen the last of the controversial 'Captain,' who will have a different kind of influence at the helm of the opposition.


MILAN — It's still unclear who will emerge as the winner of Italy's latest political crisis. But we do know for sure who lost: Matteo Salvini — the interior minister, deputy prime minister and leader of the far-right League party — who fell in just a few days from omnipotence to irrelevance, from the altar to dust, from the stars to the stables, from everything to nothing.

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