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The Politics Of Authenticity And Populist Discourses: Media And Education In Brazil, India And Ukraine [1 ed.]
 3030554732, 9783030554736, 9783030554743

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Table of contents :
List of Contributors
Manifestations of Populism and Lessons Learnt
Claims to Authenticity in Populist Discourses: General Introduction to the Volume
Populist Discourses and Claims to Authenticity
Authentication Strategies in Populist Discourses: India, Brazil, and the Ukraine
New Media and School Textbooks as Arenas of Populist Discourses: Chapter Outline
Materializations of Populism in Today’s Politics: Global Perspectives
The Cinderella Complex
The Rise of the Concept of Populism
Strategies of Populism
Distrust of Traditional Media
Defensive Strategies for Dealing with Populism
Ignore It
Quarantine It
Adapt the Concerns and Rhetoric of Populists
Positive Strategies for Dealing with Populism
Confront It
Active Discussion
Inclusive Political Participation
Media Awareness and Education
Socio-Economic Welfare and Cultural Openness
Theorizing Populism: Lessons Learned from the Indian Example
Re-signifying Progressive Politics
Technocratic Liberalism and Demagoguery
Culture, Passions, and the Emergent Social Psychology
New Cultural Subalterns
Conclusion: Economic Elites Versus New Cultural Subalterns
Populism and the Media
Populism and the Media: Introduction to Part II
Populism and the Media in Brazil: The Case of Jair Bolsonaro
In Search of a Concept
Populism in Brazil
Is Bolsonaro a Populist?
The Power of the New Media
“Matters of the Heart”: The Sentimental Indian Prime Minister on All India Radio
The Populist Prime Minister: From Nehru to Narendra—Continuities in Indian Political Oratory
Modi “Online” on All India Radio? Populist Hybrid Media Technologies
Mann Ki Baat as a Sensational Form: The Nation as an Aesthetic Formation
Modi and the Registers of Populistic Rhetoric
The Sentimental Prime Minister: Of Tears and Emotional Connections
Direct Hotline with the Aam Aadmi (Common Man): The PM and/as ‘the People’
Historical Authenticity: The Prime Minister and Civilization Speak
The 2019 Presidential Election in Ukraine: Populism, the Influence of the Media, and the Victory of the Virtual Candidate
Introduction: Presidential Elections in 2019
Zelenskyi vs. Poroshenko: Introducing the Main Rivals
Volodymyr Zelenskyi
Petro Poroshenko
Poroshenko vs. Zelenskyi: Rhetoric and Key Messages
Poroshenko’s Rhetoric
Zelenskyi’s Rhetoric
Media and Digital Technologies in the 2019 Presidential Election
Claims to Authenticity in the Election Campaign
Educational Media and Populism
Educational Media and Populism: Introduction to Part III
Impacts of Textbooks
Impacts on Textbooks
Against Indoctrination: The Movement Escola Sem Partido in Educational Media of Present-Day Brazil
Escola Sem Partido (ESP)
Right-Wing and Extreme Right Movements in Present-Day Brazil
Improvements to the Brazilian Educational System. Ethno-Racial and Gender Problems and Textbook Production
Threats to Educational Media in Brazil
Final Considerations
Populist Pulp in a Democracy: Propagandist Textbooks of the Hindu Right
The Textbooks of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh
The Curricular Revolution of 2004–2008
What Is Nationalism?
Sewing It Together
Gender and Patriotic Education: Populist Discourses and the Post-Colonial Condition in School Media
Ukraine as a Postcolonial Society
Populism: Theoretical Considerations
Methodological Considerations
Education and Formation of a Nation
Patriotic Education and Gender
“Defence of the Homeland”
“Family Values” Textbooks and the “Ethics of Family Life” Course

Citation preview


The Politics of Authenticity and Populist Discourses Media and Education in Brazil, India and Ukraine Edited by Christoph Kohl · Barbara Christophe · Heike Liebau · Achim Saupe

Global Political Sociology

Series Editors Dirk Nabers International Political Sociology Kiel University Kiel, Germany Marta Fernández Institute of International Relations Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Chengxin Pan School of Humanities and Social Sciences Deakin University Waurn Ponds, Australia David B. MacDonald Department of Political Science University of Guelph Guelph, ON, Canada

This new series is designed in response to the pressing need to better understand growing complex global, transnational, and local issues that stubbornly refuse to be pigeon-holed into clearly-defined established disciplinary boxes. The new series distinguishes its visions in three ways: (1) It is inspired by genuine sociological, anthropological and philosophical perspectives in International Relations (IR), (2) it rests on an understanding of the social as politically constituted, and the social and the political are always ontologically inseparable, and (3) it conceptualizes the social as fundamentally global, in that it is spatially dispersed and temporarily contingent. In the books published in the series, the heterogeneity of the world’s peoples and societies is acknowledged as axiomatic for an understanding of world politics.

More information about this series at

Christoph Kohl · Barbara Christophe · Heike Liebau · Achim Saupe Editors

The Politics of Authenticity and Populist Discourses Media and Education in Brazil, India and Ukraine

Editors Christoph Kohl Georg-Eckert-Institute for International Textbook Research Braunschweig, Germany

Barbara Christophe Georg-Eckert-Institute for International Textbook Research Braunschweig, Germany

Heike Liebau Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient Berlin, Germany

Achim Saupe Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam, Germany

Global Political Sociology ISBN 978-3-030-55473-6 ISBN 978-3-030-55474-3 (eBook) © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover illustration: © Dennis Cox/Alamy Stock Photo This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


Manifestations of Populism and Lessons Learnt Claims to Authenticity in Populist Discourses: General Introduction to the Volume Barbara Christophe, Christoph Kohl, Heike Liebau, and Achim Saupe


Materializations of Populism in Today’s Politics: Global Perspectives Florian Hartleb


Theorizing Populism: Lessons Learned from the Indian Example Ajay Gudavarthy


Populism and the Media Populism and the Media: Introduction to Part II João Feres Júnior and Juliana Gagliardi





Populism and the Media in Brazil: The Case of Jair Bolsonaro João Feres Júnior and Juliana Gagliardi “Matters of the Heart”: The Sentimental Indian Prime Minister on All India Radio Anandita Bajpai The 2019 Presidential Election in Ukraine: Populism, the Influence of the Media, and the Victory of the Virtual Candidate Olga Mashtaler




Educational Media and Populism Educational Media and Populism: Introduction to Part III Barbara Christophe


Against Indoctrination: The Movement Escola Sem Partido in Educational Media of Present-Day Brazil Luciano M. Roza


Populist Pulp in a Democracy: Propagandist Textbooks of the Hindu Right Anil Sethi


Gender and Patriotic Education: Populist Discourses and the Post-Colonial Condition in School Media Yuliya Yurchuk


List of Contributors

Anandita Bajpai Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, Germany Barbara Christophe Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research, Braunschweig, Germany João Feres Júnior Institute of Social and Political Studies, State University of Rio de Janeiro (IESP/UERJ), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Juliana Gagliardi Institute of Social and Political Studies, State University of Rio de Janeiro (IESP/UERJ), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Ajay Gudavarthy Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India Florian Hartleb Hanse Advice, Tallinn, Estonia; Catholic University of Eichstätt, Ingolstadt, Germany Christoph Kohl Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research, Braunschweig, Germany Heike Liebau Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, Germany Olga Mashtaler National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”, Kyiv, Ukraine Luciano M. Roza History Department, Federal University of Ouro Preto (UFOP), Mariana, Minas Gerais, Brazil




Achim Saupe Centre for Contemporary History, Potsdam, Germany Anil Sethi Pokhrama Foundation, Hyderabad and Pokhrama, India Yuliya Yurchuk Department of History and Contemporary Studies, Södertörn University, Huddinge, Sweden

Manifestations of Populism and Lessons Learnt

Claims to Authenticity in Populist Discourses: General Introduction to the Volume Barbara Christophe, Christoph Kohl, Heike Liebau, and Achim Saupe

Orbán in Hungary, Duterte in the Philippines, Trump in the United States, Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Modi in India—populism is on the rise all over the world and has already shaped the post-1989/1990 understanding of democracy. One particularly disturbing side effect of this development is certainly the uniformity with which populist politicians, embedded in all the different national contexts they (have to) address, speak with a degree of calculation that was unthinkable until quite

B. Christophe · C. Kohl (B) Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research, Braunschweig, Germany B. Christophe e-mail: [email protected] H. Liebau Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, Germany e-mail: [email protected] A. Saupe Centre for Contemporary History, Potsdam, Germany e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 C. Kohl et al. (eds.), The Politics of Authenticity and Populist Discourses, Global Political Sociology,




recently. Passionately pushing the boundaries of good taste, degrading women, criminalizing migrants, or verbally abusing homosexuals are only some of the populist imperatives of the hour. They seem to be learning from one another across the boundaries of countries and political camps. Against this background, this book seeks to contribute to the mapping of contemporary populist discourses. The essays are primarily interested in claims to authenticity articulated in these discourses, which are at the core of populist identity politics. They inquire as to how populists stage themselves as authentic representatives of the people and which future visions and interpretations of the past, which interests and which values are constructed as authentic. In case studies on Brazil, India, and the Ukraine, the authors focus on “mediated populism” (Mazzoleni 2008) in two media arenas: both new and conventional media on the one hand and, on the other, textbooks for history and social studies. Populism has been interpreted in terms of ideology, as discourse, as a political logic or strategy to gain power, as a style of communication, in relation to post-truth politics, and in the light of economic changes in an age of “neoliberalism”—and of course as a consequence of post-democracy and the desire for anti-pluralist strongmen. In the broad field of theoretical approaches empirically grounded case studies can help us to understand discursive patterns and in particular media strategies of populism, which are always bound to specific local, regional and national contexts. The focus on Brazil, India, and the Ukraine might seem surprising. This is part of the rationale. It is the book’s idea to overcome continental and regional boundaries, to de-Europeanize and to de-Westernize our own perspectives and to compare populist regimes and parties in established and relatively young and contested democracies, in post-communist and postcolonial countries, bearing in mind that the explanatory power of concepts like “post-communism” and “postcolonialism” is understood very differently. But as we will further elaborate, the focus on concepts of authenticity and authentication strategies in populist discourse and the media opens up new possibilities for comparison. Nevertheless, the book has an explorative character and should enable the reader to identify cross-case patterns and familiar resemblances which can also be found in other populisms. And even if we have chosen two media arenas in which populism plays an important role, any comparisons will remain asymmetric, as subjects vary from country to country and are “shaped by the variegated institutional fields that structure political democracy in different national and regional contexts” (Chakravartty



and Roy 2017, 4076). Further, our contributors have different academic backgrounds, coming from political science, social anthropology, history, international textbook research, and media studies.

Populist Discourses and Claims to Authenticity This book looks at populist discourses from a comparative perspective while each of the contributions focuses on populist discourses employed by specific political actors. The decision to approach populism through the discourse lens comes with the crucial advantage that we are less tempted to differentiate rigorously between populists and non-populists. By following this perspective, we can challenge the binary logic that underlies this distinction if we ask to what extent certain utterances reflect populist speech (Gidron and Bonikowski 2013). There is broad agreement on what distinguishes populism as a specific mode of articulation (Laclau 2005). Based on this agreement, however, the authors here also draw on scholars examining ideologies (Mudde 2017; Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser 2013, 2017), political styles (Moffitt and Tormey 2014; Moffitt 2016), mobilization strategies (Weyland 2017; Gidron and Bonikowski 2013) and media (Manucci 2017). One major characteristic of populist discourses is the juxtaposition of “the people” versus “the elite’. Discourses are considered populist when they impose constructions upon members of a society, regardless of their multiple differences, as a homogeneous people whose true interests have not only been ignored, but trampled on. They generally do so in recourse to a threat of some kind from an “other.” Conversely, “the elite” (in many cases this “other”) is also constructed as a homogeneous entity (Mudde 2017; Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser 2013, 2017). With this notion of a general confrontation, populist discourses support strategies of exclusion and inclusion. Who exactly is imagined as “the people” depends crucially on the question as to who is excluded as the allegedly threatening “other” of “the people’. Exclusion can take place on a horizontal level, then affecting ethnically or culturally “different” individuals and groups, migrants or representatives of religious or sexual minorities. On a vertical level it can target the established, who are described either as corrupt, dissolute or as an aloof elite lacking understanding for “ordinary people.” By addressing “the people” as disregarded by the political system, populist discourses offer those who are often stylized as “ordinary people” new opportunities of identification, connecting them and constructing them



as a seemingly homogenous group of like-minded people with a general will. Self-identification as ignored and marginalized strengthens cohesion within this alleged group and thus fosters a sense of inclusion; imagined equivalence suppresses difference. The state and its political system, which from this perspective ignores the true needs of “the people’, is imagined to be hostile, for example in socio-economic categories as a neo-liberal order or as a weak welfare state, or in cultural categories as a hegemony of cosmopolitan elites alienated from “the people” (Gidron and Bonikowski 2013; Moffitt 2016). Modalities used in populist discourses to implement such strategies are, on the one hand, based on performances and emotions. A crucial aspect of populist discourse is an evocation of crisis, threat, and emergency. This often goes hand in hand with a rejection of reasoning and a reliance on common sense. Accordingly, populist discourses tend to put on an ostentatious display of “bad manners,” using emotional language to foster a moral social bond between populist leaders and “the people,” thus creating a sense of belonging. To attract popular attention, populists develop sophisticated media strategies that serve to effectively spread their emotional, shrill messages and counter-hegemonic versions of events (Diehl 2012; Moffitt and Tormey 2014; Wirth et al. 2016; Maldonado 2017; Manucci 2017). On the other hand, populists equally have recourse to moral categories and public resentment. Their distinction of the “pure people” from the “corrupt elite” is built on moral discourses of suffering and victimization. Public resentment does not necessarily have to refer to specific individuals and harm committed. In addition, populist victimization discourses can refer to fundamental socio-economic and socio-political inequalities and injustices put in place by “the elite” (Mudde 2017; Webb 2018). This publication takes a closer look at claims to authenticity in contemporary populist discourses. By thus sharpening the analytical focus on a global scale it opens up a wealth of opportunities while also responding to empirical observations and conceptual considerations. It is perhaps no coincidence that the recent achievements of populism fall in a time when a longing for the authentic is enjoying enormous momentum in the way contemporary societies engage with and conceptualize their cultures (Sabrow and Saupe 2016; Rössner and Uhl 2012; Lindholm 2008). After all, both phenomena are to a large extent the products of crisis perception (Taggart 2000; Krämer 2012).



Populist discourses both dramatize and benefit from crises (Moffitt 2016; Moffitt and Tormey 2014). In the shadow of a supposedly existential threat, perspectives, and the scope of conceivable political options seem to narrow—and are communicated as such. Populists in power thus tend to restrict fundamental rights and undermine the principles of separation of powers in order to gain direct influence on the judiciary and executive. Polarizing distinctions between “us” (the threatened) and “them” (the creators of the threat) gain plausibility and articulate new political identities. Crises also legitimize breaking with the conventions of political communication. This can be seen in the deliberate violation of what is labeled and rejected as “politically correct”: the ostentatious shift in the limits of what can be said. Moreover, the provocative staging of bad manners, behavior, and hate speech, often only stigmatized as an expression of lack of education and impulse control, unfolds its force as allegedly authentic behavior (Panizza 2005, 27; cf. Hahl et al. 2018; Ekström et al. 2018; Enli and Rosenberg 2018). Essentially, democracy, whose “shadow” or “mirror” (Panizza 2005) has often been called populism, is prone to crisis, if only because its most important principle, that of democratic representation, has a tense basic structure (Diehl 2016). The people, who are traditionally conceived as the political subject—the unified political actor from whom all power emanates—constitute a heterogeneous civil society to be politically represented in the multiplicity of their identities and interests. This is the background against which political philosophers like Jürgen Habermas (1994, 607) formulated the idea that “the people” in democracies can only occur in the plural. The irresolvable inconsistency of the underlying paradox repeatedly forces democrats to undertake a difficult balancing act between the establishment of political action through consensus and the recognition of plurality. At present, critics referring to the emergence of post-democratic structures (Crouch 2004; Wolin 2008) suggest that this fundamentally precarious balance is further challenged. Neoliberalism, but also “liberal anti-populism” (Marchart 2017), refer to either the market forces or to the supposedly compelling commandments of reason in order to present their preferences as standing without alternative and to postulate a seemingly unquestioned consensus of all democrats. The diagnosis is the same in both cases: in the name of rationality the political is eliminated, the dominant political parties become too similar, and citizens are seen as having hardly any real choice (Mouffe 2005).



Since the beginning of the late twentieth century, economic, political, and societal challenges have been increasingly grasped and communicated as crises. Populist discourses respond to this by articulating an anti-politics policy: With the powerful juxtaposition of an antagonism between “the people” and “the elite,” they force the return of the political (in a Laclauian sense) into a space in which they form counter-narratives to hegemonic consensus. At the same time, populist discourses negate the political even more radically than the elites whom they attack: they conceive of “the people” not as a political, but as a naturally given unit with a “general will” and supposedly uniform interests. Above all, however, they construct such a harsh and existential contrast between themselves as the unrivaled mouthpiece of “the people” and the political opponent as the incarnation or compliant servant of the menacing “other” that there is no scope for mutual recognition as a prerequisite for fair political competition (Mouffe 2005). We can distinguish between two forms of claims to authenticity in populist discourses: the attribution of personal and group authenticity (or subject-related authenticity) and the assertion of historical authenticity (or object-related authenticity). Roughly speaking, scientific practices can authenticate objects and discourses can construct objects as authentic, and therefore as true, genuine, original, unique, singular, and in accordance with tradition. But authenticity can also be attributed to the one who speaks, who may display features such as personal credibility, being true to oneself, or trustworthiness. On both levels, the assertion of authenticity is the reaction to an experience of alienation or crisis (Saupe 2016, 2020; Krämer 2012; Assmann 2012). Linking the authenticity of the subject to crisis makes immediate sense. The need to present one’s own concept of identity as authentic arises only if and when the acquisition of personal identity has been turned into a task and into a problem—and when other authorities have failed to create meaning. Historically, this presupposes the relaxation of traditional ties and the pluralization of lifestyles. It is only under these circumstances that we feel the obligation to present ourselves as a self and an original character (Taylor 1991). However, as authenticity is as elusive as the horizon, constantly retreating the closer one gets, claims to subjective authenticity are always precarious. This is mainly due to their paradoxical structure: In order to be recognized as authentic, one must present oneself as a person bound only by his or her own conscience and not constrained by the



power of conventions. At the same time, such displays of inner independence are, to a certain extent, always motivated by the hope of gaining social recognition. As a result, claims to authenticity are severely undermined by the sole fact of being staged exclusively for the perception of others (Assmann 2012). They must refer to a subject identity that, despite variables over the course of time, has an unchanging and stable core. This gives rise to the illusion of a “loyalty to oneself” that is so prominent in appreciation of perceived personal authenticity. The discursive construction of historical authenticity can be understood as the result of a twofold experience of crisis. The first problem lies in the mediatization of our relationship with the world. The fact that we have no immediate access to reality beyond mediated representations evokes the unattainable, but at the same time politically exploitable need for the real and the authentic (Krämer 2012). This process intensified in the second half of the twentieth century and continues to do so in our present. The second problem is connected with the understanding of history in itself. Where tradition is questioned, where history becomes histories, where the realm of what is perceived to be taken for granted is severely diminished, the desire for the authentic, something which is beyond question and doubt, takes root. This can be clearly seen in the field of memory politics. When the grand narratives become questioned and implausible and the future uncertain, when in the course of pluralization and fragmentation reference is increasingly to “pasts ” instead of “the past,” and when contradictory interpretations of these pasts compete in a multitude of media channels for the attention of the public, longing for one self-explanatory, consistent, and authentic past grows. Supposedly deconstructed concepts such as the originality of traditions, the far-reaching autonomy of cultures and nations have been recalled in the name of authenticity. In doing so, populist discourses do not create new narratives in the sense of a total revision, but instead rely, in a revisionist fashion, on old, unambiguous values as well as on national and racist explanatory patterns. These, in accordance with the confrontational logic of populism, are to be seen by their opponents as a clear affront to the memory and commemoration culture they have helped to establish. Furthermore, populist discourses and claims to (historical) authenticity intersect in at least three ways: First, the “authentic people” is a fundamental trope in populist discourse which serves as the basic ground for division, exclusion, and inclusion. If we understand populism as a “thin-centred ideology” or form of discourse “that considers society to



be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite’,” and that “argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté generale (general will) of the people” (Mudde 2004, 543), it is clear that this simple differentiation essentially equates “the people” with authenticity and “the elite” with inauthenticity (Mudde 2004, 543; Sorensen 2018, 4). Following this “ideational approach” the purity and authenticity of the people is primarily “defined in moral terms” (Mudde 2017, 29–30), even if it is often combined with essentialist ethnic, racial and gender categorizations. Simultaneously, populist leaders often style themselves as outsiders, presenting themselves as the authentic voice of the common, authentic people (Mudde et al. 2017, 62–63, 68, 70). The perception of political leaders as authentic and unique has thus somehow redeemed the desire for charismatic leadership. And because the distinction between the people and the elite is based on the alleged immorality of the latter, it does not matter that politicians like Donald Trump or Silvio Berlusconi are millionaires or that Alberto Fujimori belongs himself to an ethnic minority (Mudde et al. 2017). Nevertheless, populist discourses offer a sense of belonging to the “authentic people” by challenging at the same time the identity-forming “authenticity” of minority groups, excluding them as “inauthentic” others (Jansen et al. 2014, 372). Second, elements of performance and self-stylization are inherent to claims to authenticity and a necessary tool of populist political style. To this end, an authentic performance and a highly visible representation are necessary (cf. Stanley 2008, 104–105; Müller 2016), described as a paradoxical “mediated immediacy” (Zeller 2010; Jones 2014; Knaller 2006). As many examples show, a self-stylization as authentic “is not (necessarily) about speaking the truth and being honest but about performance,” as expressed by a salient use of language and habitus (Higgins 2017, 3; Enli and Rosenberg 2018, 3; Ekström et al. 2018). Populists stir up emotions in order to evoke an image of themselves as authentic but oppressed representatives of “the people” (Müller 2016, 42; Benziger 2017, 83; Pollak 2017, 31, 33; Reinemann 2017, 181). Third, this culminates in the desire to stake a claim in politics of memory and history. Quite controversially, populists offer supposedly more “authentic” “truths” and representations of the past, questioning the constructedness of history and the multiperspectivity of memory. In doing so, for many populists “facts are subsidiary to narratives” (Waisbord 2018, 9) because in many cases supposedly more “authentic” versions of



history and memory that populist actors attempt to spread serve to “enact a sense of national belonging and pride, as well as resentment against foreigners” (Benazzo 2017, 198). In populist discourses, it is always important to serve the need for historical and subjective authenticity (in the sense of an overarching national or group authenticity) evoked by crisis perceptions. In each case different strategies are used. In constructing historical authenticity, populists usually rely on naturalization and essentialism, rendering processes of authentication invisible. However, discourses on authenticity can target different objects. When analyzing them we must therefore examine which topics are in the foreground. Is it about constructing a specific interpretation of history as authentic? Should certain ways of life or sexual orientation be stigmatized as unnatural and inauthentic? Or are efforts focused on maintaining an authentic identity of the people? And if so, how is this identity discursively produced by delimiting allegedly corrupt elites or by marginalizing those who supposedly do not “belong” culturally? Beyond the question of thematic priorities, we can also focus on the coherence of populist discourses. Is the role of the “other’, indispensable to the construction of an authentic we-identity, always occupied by the same persons? Or do we observe a back-and-forth oscillation between vertical and horizontal exclusion depending on the situational context? The staging of subject authenticity in populist discourse always seems to follow the same principle of the demonstrative violation of conventions (Moffitt 2016). Populists are authentic, according to the underlying logic of this strategy, because they are outsiders of established politics who still follow their own “common sense,” their sense of decency and righteousness, instead of abiding by the “intricate” rules of political prudence or the “artificial” norms of “political correctness” (Ekström et al. 2018). This shows that subject authenticity, like constructions of supposedly authentic national identity, is a product of negation. National identity is determined in populist discourses by the exclusion of varying “others,” and is therefore considered to be a stable continuity; subject authenticity arises from the rejection of supposedly artificial behavioral norms. This insight can be translated into intriguing questions: Which rules and laws do populist discourses believe they must breach in different social contexts in order to create the illusion of authenticity of the subject? Which boundaries of the sayable do populists feel they must transgress in order to be recognized as authentic representatives of “the people”?



Authentication Strategies in Populist Discourses: India, Brazil, and the Ukraine Most studies on contemporary populist discourses so far have dealt with Europe, the United States, and Latin America (Weyland 2001; de la Torre and Arnson 2013; Brading 2013) or with dimensions of populism within Asia (Chakravartty and Roy 2017; Bajpai 2018; Gudavarthy 2019). While these studies often focus on one particular country, or one geographical region, this book presents case studies from three societies from three continents. In this second part of this introduction, we discuss specific features of populism in India, Brazil, and Ukraine that are related to an ongoing perception of multiple and interwoven crises: of democracy and “stateness,” of the welfare state, social inequalities in the course of neoliberalism and the politics of austerity, of religious conflicts, and globalization, migration, and identity. Any attempt to subsume India, Brazil, and the Ukraine in the same categories will fail. While discursive patterns and the media and education strategies of populism coincide, each country has created its unique historical experiences. Nonetheless, there are aspects which intersect: postcolonial history with post-socialism, experience with nationalist and populist movements and dictatorships, changing political systems, and relative political instability. In India, President Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been in power at union level since 2014. Before that, the BJP had been in government in the states of Chattisgarh (until 2018) and Madhya Pradesh (interrupted from 2018–20) since the early 2000s, and in Gujarat since as early as the 1990s. However, the political crisis in the country has dramatically increased after the landslide re-election of the BJP in May 2019, followed by the revocation of the special status of Kashmir in mid-2019, and the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in December 2019. This law, which connects the right to citizenship to religion by facilitating the grant of citizenship to refugees form all major religions except to Muslims, together with the implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), is regarded as a threat to India’s democracy and secularism. Despite the fact that these measures specifically target the Muslim population of India, they initially provoked waves of solidarity and common protests all over the country before violent clashes against Muslims and a rhetoric of religious hatred took over around the end of February 2020. The BJP’s anti-Muslim nationalist politics and rhetoric and ideology of a Hindu supremacy, Hindu



unity, and the “authentic” Indian Hindu nation found its way into society (Sinha 2020). At the level of discourse, the BJP relies on an exclusive Hindu nationalism that marginalizes the Muslim minority and stylizes it as a threat. The Hindu nationalist BJP has also attempted to “saffronize” historiography and history education, glorifying an exclusivist, mythologized, Hindu-centric history (Singh 2001; Perras 2018, Sethi in this volume; more generally on BJP rule in India: Gudavarthy 2019). This new conception of history dates back—at least—to 1947 when the Indian subcontinent was hit by the Indo-Pakistani partition, nominally along religious lines. Partition has lastingly shaped the antagonistic relationship both between the two countries but also between religious communities within India itself, with Hindu nationalist rhetoric now further exacerbating these tensions. For a long time, Hindu nationalists also accused the Indian Congress Party governments, who ruled India for decades, of pampering minorities—including most notably Muslims— and thus neglecting Hindu interests (Eckert 2002). Since independence, the Indian state had sought to support disadvantaged groups (designated as “Scheduled Tribes,” “Scheduled Castes,” “Untouchables,” “Dalits,” etc.) via quota systems (“reservations”) that regulate their representation in political institutions as well as in the military and the education sector, provoking envy and rivalry from upper caste Hindus (Reifeld 1999). As both Ajay Gudavarty and Anandita Bajpai argue in their contributions to this volume, one of the strategies used in contemporary India is to give old political concepts and ideas new significance, thus creating a novel “us.” Like Modi in India, Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine presents himself as a politician close to “the people” and, at the same time, as a strong authoritarian leader and decision-maker. As the winner of the 2019 Ukrainian presidential election, he distanced himself from all “old-style” politicians and political formations. In his electoral campaign he portrayed himself as an authentic, fresh, and cosmopolitan personality close to “the people’, unconnected to elite patronage networks that have dominated Ukrainian society since independence while dispensing with a well-elaborated political programme. As a well-known film actor and comedian, Zelensky was able to tie in with his role in a famous Ukrainian television series in which he had embodied a good-natured Ukrainian president who served the interests of “the people” and not the “corrupt elite” by consequently dealing with the problematic political legacies of his corrupt predecessors.



Formally constituted in 1991 as an independent state, Ukraine remained economically and politically dependent on post-Soviet Russia and the task of creating a culturally united nation was neglected by Russiafriendly economic elites. The struggle for liberation from this dependence began with the Euromaidan protests in 2013 and the outbreak of fighting in Donbass in 2014. Since the Russian annexation of the Crimea and the outbreak of the war in the Donbass, Ukraine is facing a real threat to its integrity as a nation-state. With regard to the current situation, observers speak of two opposing tendencies (Kulyk 2014). An integrative civic nationalism has undoubtedly been emerging since the overthrow of pro-Russian President Janukovich in 2014 (Kulyk 2016; Portnov 2014, 2015). The political turnaround of 2013–14 clearly showed a significant increase in the number of Russian-speaking citizens who regard themselves as Ukrainians (Strasheim 2016). The skilful symbolism of the government of President Poroshenko certainly contributed to this. However, there are also tendencies that are less inclusive but more polarizing (Fedinec and Csernicskó 2017; Ishchenko 2018). This is evidenced, for example, by the Decommunization Laws of 2014, which criminalize Soviet toponyms and the display of Soviet symbols, or the public worship of the Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera, who collaborated with the Nazis during the Second World War. As Olga Mashtaler analyzes in this volume, the 2019 presidential election in Ukraine broke several habits, leading not only to the victory of a political newcomer but also to the bridging of divides between the Eastern and Western parts of the country that had hitherto shaped elections. Zelensky has been supported by a wellknown oligarch behind the scenes. At the same time, populist discourses are not limited to the political sphere but also find their expression in Ukraine’s education sector. Yuliya Yurchuk elaborates on the selectivity of assessments by populist politicians, allowing school textbooks to qualify as conservatively “acceptable”—or not. These assessments are clearly linked to coverage and discussions in the media. In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro was elected president in October 2018. In sharp contrast with the country’s more left-wing populist traditions, he maintains an openly right-wing populist rhetoric that in some aspects seems to be inspired by Donald Trump. Where the American president puts “America first,” Bolsonaro coined the slogan “Brazil above everything and God above everyone.” Unlike both India and Ukraine, however, historical references only play a secondary role in a Brazil that has traditionally embraced a teleological “cult of progress” (Schwarz



1988, 83). Bolsonaro and other populist politicians of the “new right” (McCann 2018) have propagated exclusive narratives of the nation, campaigning against immigrants and women, as well as religious and sexual minorities (Cowan 2016; Lichterbeck 2018; Flemes 2018, 7). Shortly before Bolsonaro won the run-off, he declared that he would cut affirmative action policies (Roberts 2018). To this day, Afro-Brazilian and Amerindian communities in particular are affected by a system that displays some of the most dramatic social inequalities in the world, despite the prevailing national self-image as a heterogeneous “racial democracy” free of domination by European elites. The introduction of affirmative action measures in the early 2000s, and especially during the presidencies of center-left Presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003–2011) and Dilma Rousseff (2011–2016), to balance the discrimination and exclusion of Afro-Brazilians and Amerindians in particular provoked nationalist criticism of a supposed “Americanization” and importation of American ideas (Campos de Sousa and Nascimento 2008, 139). João Feres and Julia Gagliardi analyze how Bolsonaro and his campaigners made intensive use of new media technologies to practically depoliticize issues such as women’s rights and affirmative action policies, turning them into moral issues framed by elite ultra-conservative, employer-oriented and growing right-wing evangelical religious circles. Bolsonaro’s victory was not only facilitated by the media and conservative economic and religious interests; rather, his path to success was also paved in the field of school education. Luciano Roza points out how extreme right-wing populist movements have for years levelled accusations against allegedly left-wing educational media, blaming these for “indoctrinating” school children with “gender ideology” and for a supposed domination of Afro-Brazilian and Amerindian issues. The imagination of the nation as a historically grown symbolic resource—with the construction of national histories—has for a long time played a valuable role in stabilizing democracy in the countries of the global North, fostering socially effective collective identities as a prerequisite for a basic social consensus. In postcolonial as well as post-Soviet societies, the nation is often a problematic category due to long transformation processes. The same colonial elites who consolidated their claim to sovereignty by asserting the superiority of their cultural traditions as opposed to those of the lower-class colonized have generally determined the territorial shape of postcolonial nations (cf. Kohl 2018). Anti-colonial nationalisms, which, as Frantz Fanon (2008) convincingly



argued as early as in 1952, were therapeutically necessary in order to shake off the symbolic yoke of colonial discourses, usually refer to a territorial framework set by the colonial rulers. At the same time, in dealing with inherited ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity, they are often in danger of pursuing homogenization projects that reproduce the binary logics of colonial discourses (Törnquist-Plewa and Yurchuk 2017, 4). This overview of the current situation in the three countries corroborates the need to thoroughly investigate the characteristics and themes that are prevalent in populist discourses and the tropes used in claims to authenticity. It underlines the importance of studying not only local contexts but to also consider broader structural, and political developments, both from a historical perspective as well as beyond national boundaries. With the chapters presented in this edited volume, we hope to demonstrate how this approach inspires an analysis of global features and the mechanisms of populism, while at the same time leaving space for specific national and historical phenomena.

New Media and School Textbooks as Arenas of Populist Discourses: Chapter Outline This edited volume consists of nine chapters, organized into three parts: Part I consists of a general introduction into the book and two complementary theoretical chapters that discuss populism, claims to authenticity, and the role of media from different scholarly (i.e., historicalconceptual and phenomenological) perspectives. Florian Hartleb defines populism as a political strategy which modifies constructions of identity through a “we–they” binary using claims to authenticity. He first looks into the history of the concept of populism itself, starting with an international conference held at the London School of Economics in 1967. He discusses strategies used in contemporary populist discourses, such as the technique of drawing boundaries, self-orchestration as the authentic representative and speaker of “the people’, the anti-liberal stance including anti-globalization rhetoric, and the general distrust of traditional media. Hartleb finally develops possible counter-strategies, highlighting that local as well as translocal actors have to be taken into account in order to understand how national politics respond to or depend on broader structural conditions. Counter-strategies could be defensive (ignoring or adapting) or offensive (confrontation, media awareness, and active discussions).



This interplay of general populist strategies with local peculiarities is at the center of Ajay Gudavarthy’s conceptual chapter. He presents theoretical approaches to populism with particular emphasis on populist discourses in contemporary India. While the “we–they” binary is discussed in most studies on populism, the author concentrates on strategies to construct a unified “us,” manifested in an authentic Hindu society headed by a “strongman.” One of these strategies discussed by Gudavarthy is the re-signification of former political categories by linking contemporary measures to earlier political practices, using demagoguery and claims to authenticity as rhetorical tools. As a result of these strategies of fragmenting the society and then rejoining it again under a Hindutva narrative, the “new cultural subaltern” is created, a phenomenon that cannot simply be explained with categories of class or caste. At the same time, populists mobilize against cosmopolitan citizens, opposing them to “authentic,” more rooted people. In Part II, the contributions concentrate on both conventional and new social media, a means of communication populists in all countries like to use as it conveys the illusion of direct contact with the people and allows them to position themselves as victims ostracized by the mainstream media (Ekström et al. 2018). Commentators have noted that the constant observation of politics and politicians made possible by new digital media has contributed to the undermining of political stability (Gurevitch et al. 2009), by documenting mistakes immediately, or by establishing new forms of sensationalism, for instance. Moreover, a new style of communication has emerged, adapted to the new spaces created by Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Co between the domains of the private and the public (Hill 2010; Enli 2015, 2016). This new communication favors personalization as well as the display of emotions, and thus rewards the staging of authenticity and the “real.” With regard to these trends, some critics even speak of a crisis of public deliberation. They highlight that the rules that have long governed behavior in the public sphere no longer seem to apply in these semi-public and semi-private spaces of new social media. The idea that one should, for example, control one’s emotions much more rigidly in the public sphere as compared to the much more relaxed behavior acceptable in private seems to have collapsed into the gray zone crafted by social media (Gudavarthy 2017). One result is a polarization of opinions, aided further by the radical multiplication of communication channels and the concomitant emergence of echo chambers; where communication only occurs between



like-minded people and one is rarely exposed to opposing views or arguments (Gurevitch et al. 2009). In a realm of constant communication and where attention is therefore a scarce resource, the conscious breaching of rules can be a rational strategy designed to make oneself heard—and thus gain followers—above the cacophony. Yet the case of India demonstrates how even traditional media like the radio can be embedded into modern, populist media strategies, serving as a complementary channel rather than standing in opposition to new (social) media. Instead, at least to some extent, radio broadcasting continues to serve in many parts of the “global South” as a powerful, influential, and cheap media tool. This can be particularly important in areas where the use of new social media is still hampered by obstacles for disadvantaged segments of society, particularly in rural, remote areas (network coverage, power supply, relatively high expenses for mobile phone credits, etc.). Large proportions of the population, including the social media-savvy youth, continue to be excluded. This second part of the book is introduced by brief theoretical reflections on media and populism by João Feres Júnior that serve to familiarize the reader with the correlation between populist discourse and the media. How do processes of media development on the one hand and the strengthening of populist political forces on the other influence each other? Debates on “mediated populism” (Mazzoleni 2008; Higgins 2017; Chakravartty and Roy 2017) include the question as to how populists use media as tools to spread their ideas as well as a focus on technological aspects of new media which allegedly stand for democratic, egalitarian non-elitist ways of communication. The three subsequent chapters examine the emergence and trajectories of populism and related discourses in the three countries. They ask how discursive and political exclusions are framed and what role the media play. João Feres Júnior and Juliana Gagliardi study the case of Jair Bolsonaro and the use of media in Brazil. After seven presidential elections with a center-left candidate facing a center-right adversary in the second round, Brazil experienced radical change in the 2018 run-off. An extremeright candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, from a very small party, won against the center-left candidate. This chapter analyzes the rise of Bolsonaro, focusing particularly on his relationship with the well-established media. In doing so, the authors test the appropriateness of the concept of populism for the case of Brazil. After a brief historical overview, Feres Júnior and Gagliardi examine how the politics of media corporations have changed in



recent years, creating a strong anti-political sentiment which was successfully appropriated by Bolsonaro’s populist agenda. The authors identify key populist elements in Bolsonaro’s campaign, such as revivalism, irrationalism, emotionality, religiosity, demonizing rhetoric, simplification, and vulgarity. Unlike other populists making copious use of new social media, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi puts his trust in traditional media and the radio, using new social media in addition. Like Gudavarthy in his theoretical essay, Anandita Bajpai discusses the re-signification of former progressive politics in India with her analysis of a popular monthly radio show hosted by Modi himself. Bajpai examines how, with a large illiterate population in India, radio has been used to transport populist tropes in different phases of Indian politics and is still used by Modi today, now in combination with new social media. She analyzes his political oratory from a historical perspective before examining technologies and strategies employed by Modi in order to present himself as the authentic representative and leader of the nation. In contrast to previous prime ministers, in his speeches Modi emphasizes the significance of religion (i.e., Hinduism), and uses the imaginary of the “common man” by portraying himself as “one of us.” In doing so, he counts on emotions such as national pride based on Hindu civilizational heritage. While Bajpai concentrates on one particular radio broadcast, Olga Mashtaler compares the strategic media use of two presidential candidates in Ukraine. Her contribution deals with Ukraine’s 2019 presidential campaign which demonstrated an unprecedented use of social media and virtual technologies as well as television. As in Modi’s India, new social as well as traditional media complemented one another. Mashtaler analyzes the construction of authenticity during the election campaign by observing the communication style of the victorious candidate, Volodymyr Zelenskyi, and scrutinizing whether his politics and media strategies can be labeled as populist. Mashtaler thus focuses on identity constructions, rhetorical style and media use and compares Zelenskyi with his predecessor in office, Petro Poroshenko. She demonstrates how media, rhetoric, and technologies interplay in an efficient alliance that creates the illusion of a participatory, interactive, and authentic form of communication. Part III examines populist discourses in textbooks for history and social studies. Textbooks are in some respects radically different from new social



media: In contrast to the latter, which are decentralized and barely regulated, textbooks in almost all societies are to a certain extent controlled by the state. The knowledge they present must pass through a range of filters before they can be published. As a result, textbooks generally convey what has been described as consensus-based knowledge (Höhne 2002). At the same time, contemporary textbooks can be described as discursive nodes (Binnenkade 2015) that often incorporate influences from many other media such as newspapers and books, films, television, and exhibitions. If carefully analyzed, textbooks therefore not only provide indications of which knowledge and interpretations are perceived to be hegemonic; they also reveal clues about what is debated and disputed (Klerides 2010; Christophe 2019). Textbook analysis should thus enable us to gauge if and to what extent populist discourses have already penetrated societies and challenged their school education systems with the contents of educational media. The third part begins with a short introduction by Barbara Christophe. It briefly examines the connection between populist discourse, claims to authenticity and the role of educational media—notably school textbooks. The following chapters investigate to what extent the education sector and educational media such as textbooks have been subject to populist demands and how, vice versa, education can influence the perception of populism. Luciano Magela Roza’s chapter problematizes the action taken by new right-wing political groups in Brazil against the production and circulation of didactic materials that discuss themes related to sex education and gender, with critical views of the past and Brazilian history. For participants of the populist “new right,” such educational media disseminate distorted and ideological information for young people, aimed at the diffusion of the “gender ideology” and the “indoctrination” of “left-wing politics” in the school environment. The activities of the “School without Party” movement, a major exponent of the right-wing populist discourse on school education are at the focus of the study. Roza identifies the actors and groups behind this movement and explains their political and institutional relations. Anil Sethi concentrates on two types of history textbook currently in use in India. He compares textbooks produced under BJP rule in the federal states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh between 2014–2018 and 2005–2008 respectively with books produced between 2006 and 2008 at the central level by the National Council of Educational Research and



Training (NCERT) under a Congress-led government. Sethi finds much to critique in the first group of books from Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, not only in terms of factuality, language, and didactics but primarily with regard to analysis and context. He observes a lack of historicity, expressed, for instance, in the glorification of ancient India as the singular authentic Hindu past. In contrast, NCERT produced textbooks try to promote skills for “doing history” by underlining virtues inscribed in the Indian constitution such as democracy, equality and social justice. While the textbooks produced at federal state level present history as objective, NCERT books offer multiple perspectives and speak about “our pasts” in the plural. Based on these observations, Sethi discusses links between current Hindutva populism and neo-nationalism and asks how pedagogy can develop strategies to counter these developments. While Sethi compares books produced at different administrative levels and with different political agendas, Yuliya Yurtschuk develops a comparison between textbooks produced for two different school subjects taught in post-Soviet Ukraine: “Defence of the Motherland” and “Family Values.” She looks especially at new textbooks for “Defence of the Motherland,” published before and after the Euromaidan protests in 2013–2014 and the war in Eastern Ukraine (since 2014) and at one textbook for “Family Values” which—published in 2014—caused a controversial debate in 2016. The 2014 edition of “Family Values,” which claimed “authenticity” only for specific groups of people and propagated the “authentic family” with clearly defined traditional gender roles, lost its approval previously awarded by the Ministry of Education. Although the “Defence of the Motherland” textbooks also reproduce traditionalist views and claims to “authentic patriots,” they have not been debated in the historical context of specific demands for national and state security. Yurtschuk examines how populist discourse penetrates the educational sector in Ukraine and unveils interrelations between “patriotic education,” nationalism and populism. This whole discourse is embedded in processes of education policy reform which are still influenced by Soviet legacies, partly reproducing them, but at the same time also challenging and fighting them. Acknowledgements This volume is the product of a research project funded between 2017 and 2019 by the Leibniz Research Alliance “Historical Authenticity” as well as by the Volkswagen Foundation in a funding line called “Original



– isn’t it? New Options for the Humanities and Cultural Sciences.” With hindsight, the funding line turned out to be a real blessing. Although the explicitly stated expectation to be nothing less than original piled on the pressure somewhat at the beginning, the absence of bureaucratic limitations at the heart of this funding line gave us the freedom and the space to embark upon a rather unconventional process. Instead of having scripted the whole procedure in the project application, we had a lot of time to find partners and define innovative research questions which would enable us to compare the link between populism and claims to authenticity in the different societal settings of Brazil, India and Ukraine. We used the opportunity to invite scholars from different countries and different disciplines to two consecutive workshops during which we would not perform the usual academic routine of listening to and discussing presentations prepared thoroughly beforehand but took the risk of having lengthy discussions on a number of rather lofty questions which we refined and sharpened only in the process. And a risk it was. As editors of the book we were not always sure whether we would be able to bind together all the ideas that were raised and to overcome all the deep concerns we came across as well. The fact that, in the end, we and the authors of this volume have nevertheless managed to come up with the findings and arguments presented in this book, is thanks to all the colleagues who accompanied us on this journey. First and foremost, we would like to express our gratitude to the many participants of the two workshops, whose helpful questions, pointed criticism and inspiring insights were of great value. Apart from the editors and the authors of this volume, in the workshops participated: Oleksandr Grytsenko from the Kyiv-based National Academy of the Arts of Ukraine, Julian Junk and Hande Abay Gaspar, both from the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF) in Germany, Wolfgang Wagner from the Johannes Kepler University of Linz, Austria, and the University of Tartu, Estonia, Ahmad Irfan from the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen, Germany, Srirupa Roy from the University of Göttingen, Germany, Teresa Oteíza from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago de Chile, and Luca Schoos-Neves, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Halle (Saale), Germany. Furthermore, we would like to thank the Georg Eckert Institute, Leibniz Institute for International Textbook Research and the Leibniz Centre for Modern Oriental Studies, each of which hosted one of the workshops and the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF) for supporting our work on the project application. Beyond doubt, we would not have been able to organize the workshops and finalize the manuscript without the help of our student assistants Kaiyi Li (GEI), Jakob Meyer (GEI) and Amira Koraiem (ZMO), as well as our personal translator from many languages Bernard Christophe. Wendy Anne Kopisch, and Nicola Watson, assisted by Meyrick Payne, all from the GEI where the whole project was hosted, gave the papers in this



volume their last valuable polishing. Finally, Anca Pusca from Palgrave Macmillan accompanied and supported the project right from the beginning.

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Materializations of Populism in Today’s Politics: Global Perspectives Florian Hartleb

The Cinderella Complex Watershed political events in recent years—the election of President Donald Trump in the United States, the Brexit vote, the electoral success of Italy’s Lega and Five Star Movement, Brazil’s sudden lurch to the right with the election of President Jair Bolsonaro, the election of comedian Volodymyr Zelensky as president of Ukraine, and the doubling of support for populist parties across Europe—have brought the word “populism” out of the annals of academic journals and into the headlines (Kyle and Gultchin 2018). The “trumpetisation of politics” (Hartleb 2017) has thus become a global trend. The assessment that populism symbolizes a crisis factor harbors the risk of circular logic. Is it the crisis and the system of democracy itself that causally lead to global populism (De la Torre 2019), or is populism both a deceptive symptom and cause of an oncoming crisis? In the historical context of the USA there is talk of a general so-called populist momentum (Goodwyn 1976; Mouffe 2018).

F. Hartleb (B) Hanse Advice, Tallinn, Estonia e-mail: [email protected] Catholic University of Eichstätt, Ingolstadt, Germany © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 C. Kohl et al. (eds.), The Politics of Authenticity and Populist Discourses, Global Political Sociology,




Indeed, we are currently facing widespread disillusion with the Western model of liberal democracy (Inglehart et al. 2017). Citizens in a number of supposedly consolidated democracies in North America and Western Europe have not only grown more critical of their political leaders, but have also become more cynical about the value of democracy as a political system itself. They are less hopeful that anything they do might influence public policy and are more willing to express support for authoritarian alternatives (Foa and Mounk 2016, 7, 11). The Covid-19-pandemia has increased the global Darwinist test of which systems and societies are best suited to coping with. What we know already: Corona, as this is not the Spanish influenza, has stopped our postmodern world in its tracks and will leave us a collective trauma and residual fear of a future global epidemic. Has the “magic of populism” been taken out of the times of “Realpolitik”? Will Corona “kill populism”? Ironically, the term populism that refers to new politicians, parties and movements has replaced communism in performing the role of the specter that is “haunting the world,” both in hybrid regimes and consolidated democracies. This dubious word, a concept without a theory (Dorna 2006), is sometimes regarded as a pejorative term, implying that the other politician or the other party is not practicing “real” politics. As such, populism is portrayed as nothing more than “posturing” with cheap promises that can never be fulfilled. And yet this view, suggesting that populism is tasteless, falls short. For one thing, critique of populism can itself be populist by nature, lacking in rational argument. The inflation of the term populism automatically brings about a certain blurriness and arbitrariness (Pelinka 2012, 9). Common daily usage leads to errors; populism becomes conflated with the aspirations of demagogy and opportunistic program design. Terms like “popular,” “folklore-like,” or “humorous,” which refer to tradition and claim to be close to the people, should not be equated with “populist” (Badiou et al. 2013). This chapter therefore defines populism as political strategy. From this perspective, populism is a phenomenon that modifies the former mechanism for fostering identity by means of an “us and them” binary. Populism suggests a better knowledge of who constitutes the authentic “us,” both combining and separating elements of the relationship between authenticity and populism. An obvious paradox is that, on the one hand, there are people who achieve results as an individually distinguishable, selfdetermined, and autonomous self, while on the other, this self must be “collectivised” in populist conceptions of an authentic people or in



the populist construction of an authentic popular will, distinct from that of other larger social groups, collectives and nations. Collective identities are constructed rigidly, with situational flexibility and as alternatives to various “others” (such as “the people” versus the elites, Christians versus Muslims, heterosexuals versus homosexuals, or in-groups versus out-groups more generally). At the same time, their claim to authenticity constitutes an appeal to absolutism. In other words, opportunism and situational flexibility go hand in hand with a much broader process of essentialism. The authentic self seeks to achieve the autonomy of the individual (Saupe 2016), whereas populism seeks to create collectivism with the belief that “the people” have a common, authentic will per se. The most prominent populist reasoning is thinking in absolute binaries, the use of a friend-or-foe scheme, the ridiculing of contrasting views and people, as well as the drawing of simplistic boundaries, from which we can distinguish a “folkloric style,” or “common table talk.” Populism at the beginning of the twenty-first century is in my view neither a mere style of communication (in the sense of popular) nor a rigid ideology (in the sense of socialism, liberalism, conservatism, or even fascism). Populism can be regarded as a thin or thin-centered ideology (Mudde 2004; 2017, 30) in the sense of Michael Freeden: a partial or thin ideology is usually one that is combined or merged with elements from other ideologies. Thin ideologies do not formulate “a broad menu of solutions to major socio-political issues” (Freeden 2003, 96). The nature of populism can be understood as an ensemble of four political strategies (Hartleb 2004, 68): first, the technique of drawing rigid boundaries; second, the orchestration of an apparently authentic “people’s voice”; third, an anti-liberal stance; and fourth, a mistrust of traditional media. This chapter analyzes these dimensions and discusses possible counterstrategies against this rising challenge. First, however, I will examine the emergence of the concept of populism.

The Rise of the Concept of Populism Historically, the concept of “populism” has two roots which trace back to the American farmers’ protest movement at the end of the nineteenth century, as well as to Russia’s narodniki around the same period. This also implies that the concept has partly non-European roots (Houwen 2019), a fact which is often forgotten in discussion. Later, the concept



was used to describe the elusive nature of the political regimes in the Third World countries governed by charismatic leaders, applied above all to Latin American politics from the 1930s (in Brazil and Argentina especially) and 1970s. Since the rise of populism in Europe, predominantly from the right wing,1 the debate on populism has had a Eurocentric focus. Generally, it is hard to find a common ideological denominator that connects the various ostensibly populist movements, particularly when the classification of political actors relies on a broad lay understanding of an excessively used concept. Populism as an object of academic study dates back to an international conference on the subject held at the London School of Economics in 1967 (Ionesco and Gellner 1969, 1). Experts from different fields— from history to anthropology—gathered with the ambitious goal to define populism as a trend in different world regions, including Latin America, with a link to processes of modernization. Isaiah Berlin stated: [W]e must not suffer from a Cinderella complex […] there exists a shoe – the word “populism” – for which somewhere there must exist a foot. There are all kinds of feet which it nearly fits, but we must not be trapped by these nearly-fitting feet. The prince is always wandering about with the shoe; and somewhere, we feel sure, there awaits it a limb called pure populism. (Seton-Watson 1967, 6; italics in original)

This suggests that the use of the term “populist” in public discourse is rarely based upon a clear concept but rather betrays the perspective of the speaker, demonstrating what he or she denotes as demagogy, empty rhetoric, irresponsible or extreme positions. This terminological sloppiness problematizes a deeper analysis of the phenomenon. And the practical subject of populism is not related to a fairy-tale prince but more to the “awkward dinner guest” of democracy (Arditi 2007, 78)—the guest that drinks too much, ignores table manners and disrupts the social standards of society. A substantial turn occurred in this field when Margaret Canovan published her book Populism, in 1981. Pointing out that the difficulty of finding an univocal definition of this phenomenon was not unique to this 1 In this context the Austrian politician Jörg Haider, who took over the chairmanship of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) in 1986, can be regarded as an example of charismatic leadership. He attracted worldwide attention when his party joined the government in 2000.



term—when dealing with their empirical manifestations, socialism, liberalism, conservatism and countless other concepts suffer from the same heterogeneity—Canovan argued that the notion of populism “provides a pointer however shaky, to an interesting and largely unexplored area of political and social experience” (Canovan 1981, 2). While emphasizing that none of the movements usually labeled as populist assemble all the features related to this concept, she noted that they all display two main characteristics: an exaltation of “the people” and an anti-elitist stance— fostering a distrust of professional politicians and competitive politics, and championing “the pathos of the ‘little man’, his struggles and his virtues” (Canovan 1981, 296), calling for trust in a leader who has less direct association with parties and institutions. According to Canovan, the label “populist” can be applied “to certain styles of politics that draw on the ambiguous resonances of ‘the people’,” especially “to politicians who claim to speak for the whole people rather than for any faction” (Canovan 1981, 260). Canovan’s influential work served as a cornerstone for studies in the field, moving other scholars to abandon the search for an ideal-type definition to the benefit of different approaches. Canovan suggests that we read populism as a “politics of faith” that aims to amend conventional politics of its unavoidable skeptical and pragmatic mood. The current most influential researcher on populism, Cas Mudde, has suggested a definition of the phenomenon, describing it as “an ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite’, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the general will of the people” (Mudde 2004, 543). As the above-mentioned 1967 conference pointed out: “But which people? Surely not the proud demos of the Greeks or anything like the Herrenvolk” (Seton-Watson 1967, 169). A movement is a populist one when it catalyzes “the idealization of a Volk, […] a particular one, not idealization of the people, but of a people” (Seton-Watson 1967, 172). When “the people” refers to blood or race (“white supremacy”), populism can easily turn into racism. In Europe, right-wing populism is exclusionary and positions “the people” against others; “outsiders” such as immigrants, refugees, or ethnic minorities. Similarly, populism in much of Asia and Africa as well as the Middle East operates on the basis of ethnicity and religion, and integrates “landowners, merchants, bureaucrats, clergy, armed forces” (Di Tella 1997, 193). In India, “for Hindu nationalists, the assertion of a primary Hindu identity glosses over caste



differences; and for regional populists of southern India, cultural identity has been used as a capacious umbrella to relate to the authentic people” (Jaffrelot and Tillin 2017, 192). Strategies of Populism a. Drawing boundaries Populism is based on a strategy that regards the (supposedly voiceless) people (“das Volk”) as an authentic and homogeneous entity, already used in different forms in Greek and Roman antiquity: as demos (the political people), ethnos (the historical and cultural people) and the plebs who are suppressed and dominated by the ruling elite, or the patricians. JanWerner Müller makes an important distinction as to what populism is and is not: “Put in terms derived from ancient Rome, fighting for the interests of the plebs, the ‘common people’, is not populism, but saying that only the plebs (as opposed to the patrician class, never mind the slaves) is the populus Romanus – and that only a particular kind of populares properly represents the authentic people – is populism” (Müller 2017, 23). In other words, populism makes an antagonistic distinction between one’s own people as the in-group (e.g., a specific nation, the selfproclaimed underclass) and “others” as out-groups (foreigners, capitalists, traditional institutions and bureaucracies, the career politician).2 This is typical of other ideologies as well: Socialism is based on the concept of class; nationalism on the concept of the nation. The difference is that populism uses morality-based arguments, always in relation to a subjective category, in an attempt to fulfill the myth of a comprehensive totality of state and society. The populist discourse derives from an alleged common sense rather than from objective categories. It claims to know what “the people” want without relying on “cumbersome” procedures such as elections or evidence of better results. Populists are able to make such a claim because they distill the alleged will of the people from the latter’s authentic essence. And by means of this essence they can deny others the right to invoke “the people.”

2 A recent example is the striking placard campaign by Viktor Orbán against George Soros and Jean-Claude Juncker, condemning them as “the faces of allowing illegal immigration in Europe” in February 2019, shortly before the EU elections.



But there are also new variations, for example a style of political campaigning and governing associated with the former US President Donald Trump (Weyland and Madrid 2019). Trump’s inauguration speech can be regarded as a model for populist appeal: Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another – but transferring it from Washington DC and giving it back to you the people. [….] The establishment protected itself but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories.

In this sense, political parties and ideologies do not matter. Instead, Trump’s speech highlights: “What truly matters is not which party controls our government but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again” (CNN 2017). The repertoire of Trump’s politics encompasses political communication based on the logic of Twitter, internal polarization, the discrediting of quality media, unilateralism, and trade wars. In the Asian context, such appeals sound familiar, at least in relation to some examples. A review of the relevant academic literature shows that much of the existing work on populism in Southeast Asia refers only to a few politicians regarded as “outsiders” and “mavericks” (Hellmann 2017, 162), most significantly former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in Thailand, and Philippine state presidents Joseph Estrada and Rodrigo Duterte. The latter was elected in 2016, attracting attention with his tough talk on crime, vulgar comments about women, and his unpredictability. “The Punisher” Duterte—the self-declared Trump of the East—portrayed himself as the authentic voice of the masses, vowing to personally lead a major law and order campaign and to destabilize entrenched elites. In Duterte’s case, the populist dichotomy is one between virtuous citizens against hardened criminals. Years before, Estrada played on the popular Robin Hood theme in Filipino cinema to develop his brand of “movie populism” with his nickname “Erap” (Rocamora 2009), and Thaksin tried to gain popular support as an advocate of the rural people (Phongpaichit and Baker 2009), building on three core messages: (i) “I give to all of you”; (ii) “I belong to you”; and (iii) “I am the mechanism which can translate the will of the people into state action” (Phongpaichit and Baker 2009, 74–76).



Another significant example was that of Hugo Chavéz in Venezuela who constructed the people as a sacred entity. He claimed: “This is not about Hugo Chávez; this is about a ‘people’. I represent plainly the voice and the heart of a million” (taken from Zúquete 2008, 100). Meanwhile, after 2016, which is, with a remarkable correlation of independent events, regarded as the year of populism (Washington Post 2016), it could be argued that developments with Donald Trump as role model are also affecting campaign strategies in the global south (politics of exclusion, blaming of other ethnic groups, etc.), as the latest elections in Brazil have shown with the victory of Jair Bolsonaro. b. Orchestrating the authentic voice of “the people” We are approached in our role as citizens by candidates posing as “authentic politicians,” “trustworthy candidates” and “genuine political leaders.” Authenticity has become a currency in the branding of politicians, and use of the illusion of authenticity flourishes in contemporary political communication. Populism, as a chameleon adopting the colors of its environment (Taggart 2000, 2), drives this labeling to an extreme. Much of the answer to the question as to why there are populist parties in some countries but not in others has to do with the existence of a charismatic leader who detects or fans public sentiment and is able to captivate and mobilize people. A number of rhetorical or stylistic devices may be used by a populist leader (Jaschke 1990, 88–89) to demonstrate her/his personal authenticity: (i) the illusion of “ persecuted innocence” in which the leader presents him- or herself as a victim, wrongly stigmatized by the media and by the “old parties”; (ii) a “crusader mentality” in which the leader stands up for the “man in the street” who is finally demanding his rights, a vicarious agent against corruption and sleaze; (iii) the tireless, persistent and stubborn fighter for what is right; and (iv) the “emissary trick” in which the leader adopts the image of a progressive saviour. Other “stage characters” can also be observed, such as the “outsider,” the “entrepreneur” (populism as a business model), and the “comedian” (see Mashtaler, this volume). The rise of anti-establishment parties indicates a change of Western party democracy as the European example shows. In the Czech Republic, the Czech–Japanese entrepreneur Tomio Okamura entered parliament



with a newly founded party and attracted electoral support through its slogan “No to Islam, no to terrorism.” Okamura was born in Tokyo to a Czech mother and a Japanese father and, growing up in both the Czech Republic and Japan, he was confronted in both countries with discrimination as a “half-blood.” Later, he became successful with a travel agency for Asian tourists and as a reality-show star. Surprisingly, given his personal background, he is propagating an anti-immigrant, Islamophobic message, knowing the emotions that these “virtual topics” stir up. Originally his party was based on an anti-establishment ideology, demanding punishments for “bad politicians.” A particular set of social and political conditions must be in place for the deceptive demagogue to appear authentic and appeal to their constituency (Hahl et al. 2018, 3). The reputation of the entrepreneur is compatible with the claim of being a winner in the world of money and an outsider in the world of politics (Fieschi and Heywood 2004). This also explains why entrepreneurs can succeed as newcomers to the world of politics when the traditional political “type” is under critique. As first noted by Lipset (1959), such a “crisis of legitimacy” can emerge under at least two conditions: (i) when one or more social groups are experiencing what we call a “representation crisis” because the political establishment does not appear to be governing on its behalf; and (ii) when an incumbent group is experiencing a “power devaluation crisis” because the political establishment appears to be favoring new social groups over established ones. Entrepreneurs like Trump or Okamura portray themselves as the authentic voice of “the (ordinary) people” and manage to demarcate themselves from professional politicians and pretend to be outsiders bringing fresh air into politics. This image facilitates the use of catchwords instead of a detailed program. Their positions are generally pro-business, in favor of economic deregulation, and against state interference in entrepreneurial decision-making (Heinisch and Saxonberg 2017, 211). The entrepreneurs themselves become a brand name. They can fill gaps and develop a trust relationship based on their success in the business world, thus appealing to the “little guy.” The instrumentalization of a rags-to-riches narrative, the realization of the American Dream, recounts the progression from dishwasher to millionaire, ensuring not only the entrepreneur’s political success, but also their perceived relatability. Often, however, the alleged advocates of the “man on the street” are billionaires with little experience of ordinary everyday problems, as examples



around the world show, in Europe with Swiss Christoph Blocher, Austrian Jörg Haider, Italian Silvio Berlusconi, Czech Andrej Babis, and USAmerican Donald Trump, but also in Thailand with Thaksin Shinawatra, for example, or with Rodrigo Duerte in the Philippines. The Ukrainian comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, elected as president of Ukraine in April 2019, starred on national television as a teacher who has become president. The program Servant of the People charts the rise of a high-school educator to the top of Ukrainian politics after a viral video shows him waxing lyrical about government corruption. Earlier, Beppe Grillo, an Italian comedian, had helped to mastermind the Five Star Movement, which now forms part of Italy’s ruling coalition. Comedians have a psychological advantage in appealing to the public because humor has a positive associative power and sarcasm seems to be a successful instrument with which to disenfranchise the elites. And at a time when global, economic and technological change brings about a sense of uncertainty and fatalism, it seems understandable that many voters lean toward basic feel-good leadership involving not only humor but also obviously unrealistic promises (Parikh 2019). A high level of distrust toward the established media and politicians works in favor of outsiders who ridicule not only the traditional politicians but also the system as a whole. Populist male leadership cultivates machismo and egocentrism. Only a few female exceptions exist, such as French National Rally leader Marine Le Pen,3 Alternative for Germany’s (AfD) Frauke Petry (until recently) and Alice Weidel,4 or the Danish People’s Party’s Pia Kjærsgaard. Generally, the voters do not expect specific and/or coherent concepts or values such as honesty and reliability from the populist leaders; in other words, credibility is not a source of populist capital. Authenticity with regard to persons and personalities can therefore follow a circuitous path in populist contexts. Paradoxically, populists can be perceived as authentic in the sense of being true to themselves at least, even if in the absence of credibility, truth and trust. In sum, strategies employed by populists in order to present themselves as the authentic “voice of the people” can emphasize 3 The Front National (National Front) changed its name to Rassemblement National (National Rally) in June 2018. 4 Weidel provides an interesting example of contradictions. While the party stands for traditional family values with skepticism toward homosexuality and abortion, Weidel is openly LGBT+ and lives together with a woman from Sri Lanka with whom she has adopted two children.



one’s own role as an “outsider,” tilting at windmills like Don Quixote, fighting the alleged cartel of the mainstream, as well as breaking the norms and rules of the established political system. Anti-liberalism Populism is widely regarded as a backlash against globalization (see Mouffe 2018). It has an anti-liberal stance, focusing on anti-topics in various policy areas such as anti-migration and anti-globalization. In the European context, populist parties are usually Eurosceptic, attacking the European Union (EU) as being an elitist, technocratic, and supercapitalist project, far removed from the needs of the “ordinary citizen.” The fact that both before and after the Brexit referendum, disillusionment has been spreading throughout the member states, has helped to mobilize the anti-sentiment “Europe – no thanks” (Grabow and Hartleb 2014). The anti-EU stance helps to overcome programmatic differences, not only between parties from Western and Eastern Europe. For example, some parties such as the French National Rally or the Freedom Party of Austria have established close ties to Vladimir Putin’s Russia legitimizing the Crimea referendum and the policy toward Ukraine. Generally, populism is nostalgic, attacking cosmopolitan and progressive values such as LGBTQIA+ awareness, instead advocating for an idea of “purity” connected to the perception of authentic values and a powerful national state of law and order. Populist parties and movements are male-dominated in terms of both leadership and followers (“angry white men”). In this regard, populists attack political correctness based on equality and thus to a certain extent the achievements of the 1968 movement. Social benefits, they claim, should be distributed among their “own” people. When addressing policies such as migration and climate change, populist forces also use conspiracy theories in order to inspire fear and thus foster solidarity among their followers. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who believes in the strength of the nation-state and its duty to protect its citizens against such liberal tendencies, has embarked on a campaign against the Jewish HungarianAmerican investor and business magnate George Soros. In 2014 during a speech at a summer camp in front of students, Orbán claimed that after a national crisis, there was a need to create an illiberal state: The stars of the international analysts today are Singapore, China, India, Russia and Turkey […] Just because a state is not liberal, it can still be a democracy.



And in fact we also had to and did state that societies that are built on the state organisation principle of liberal democracy will probably be incapable of maintaining their global competitiveness in the upcoming decades […]. (Orbán 2014)

This reflects and promises an alternative kind of authenticity. The rising support for populist parties has disrupted the politics of many Western societies. Populist mobilization can be defined as “any sustained, largescale political project that mobilizes ordinarily marginalized social sectors into publicly visible and contentious political action, while articulating an anti-elitist, nationalist rhetoric that valorizes ordinary people” (Jansen 2011, 84). Distrust of Traditional Media This component of populism is linked to the alleged rise of distrust in traditional media, accused of disseminating fake news. The spread of political misinformation and propaganda in online settings—especially in social media—is generally considered to have negative societal consequences. A diverse combination of actors, including trolls, social bots, fake-news websites, conspiracy theorists, politicians, highly partisan media outlets, the mainstream media, and foreign governments, all play overlapping—and sometimes competing—roles in producing and amplifying disinformation in the modern media ecosystem. Empirical observations show that populist politicians interact intensively with their constituencies in order to create a direct connection with the “man on the street” via emotional appeal including fake news (Mannucci 2017, 483). The war against fake news is not an “old ghost in new sheets” (Chryssegelos 2011), a revival of the Cold War; indeed, one of its bestknown examples is US President Donald Trump railing against “fake news” itself on Twitter. He makes use of the label whenever he disagrees with stories which cast him in an unfavorable light. He has often derided highly regarded media outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post as “fake news,” even labeling reporters as “enemies of the people.” In a tweet in October 2018 he stated: “A very big part of the Anger [sic] we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media [sic] that I refer to as Fake News. It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!” (Stracqualursi and



Stark 2018). As pointed out in other tweets, his message is that negative articles on him are “fake.” The consequences of such statements are dramatic in the sense that the credibility (in the sense of authentic, credible, well researched and authorized news) of the Western quality press as part of the institutional system is undermined. “Fake news” is not the only notion applied to attack the news media. The German term Lügenpresse (lying press), for instance, conflates distrust and suspicion in established news media and has gained in popularity. The terms “fake news” and “Lügenpresse” represent a broader, worrying trend in political communication that goes beyond the US context: increasing and systematic attempts to delegitimize and de-authorize journalism from established media by political actors. Technology catalysed the problem of fake news, and it would be naïve to expect technology to solve it, as if we would only need to find the right algorithm and code the problem away. This approach would ignore valuable lessons on how we acquire knowledge. Some scholars argue that the content published on social media platforms—including fake news—is a true reflection of people’s emotions, and thus the essence of democracy. Instead of trying to regulate the platforms, they claim, mainstream politicians should make better efforts to convince people of their arguments. Such views are well-intentioned but seem to be partially flawed. For example, should one consider any fake news story purposely created by an ill-intentioned foreign power to be a “true reflection of people’s emotions”? Should people unintentionally base their decisions on fake news? (Niclewicz 2017). The debate around the UN migration compact in late 2018 revealed a general problem. There was a lack of serious debate—the entrance door for sudden hysteria combined with social bot attacks in order to manipulate the public debate. According to a study of the company Botswatch, which analyzed hundreds of thousands of Twitter messages, 28% of messages (more than one-quarter of all tweets) are based on programmed participants in social networks that claim to be real human beings. According to analysts, the average contribution of social bots to political debates is normally between 10 and 15% ( 2018). In contemporary populist discourse around the world, the circulation and repetition of rumours consolidates truth-value: something is seen to be real and thus authentic because it constitutes what “everyone knows” and “everyone says.” Social media technologies are particularly relevant



in this regard, not only as media of communicative outreach but as guarantors of authenticity themselves. The popularity of Twitter hashtags, the number of Twitter followers and retweets, and the accrual of “likes” and “shares” on Facebook posts, are all upheld as metrics of the real in the populist calculus, and social media is frequently hailed as the “authentic voice of the people.”

Counter-Strategies Principle counter-strategies have to account for both domestic actors (such as political parties, civil society organizations and social movements, legal instruments and the media) and external actors (such as foreign governments, supranational institutions, and transnational civil society actors). In addition, education can reinforce knowledge of politics and democratic values (Kaltwasser 2017, 492–496). For example, when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán declared billionaire George Soros to be an enemy of the Hungarian nation with a poster campaign, Soros was able to use his widespread network of civil society organizations and media to defend himself. Defensive Strategies for Dealing with Populism Ignore It Although rare today, in previous decades, populists and the problems they articulated were often ignored as transitory phenomena. Considering the present success of populism, this appears to be a far from successful remedy. Given that populists generally articulate real problems—albeit via oversimplification and unscrupulous elements—ignoring them would not only be strategically foolish but also arrogant and harbor the risk of hubris. It is not the case, however, that the success of populism is necessarily typical of the past or paradigmatic of the future. Quarantine It The policy of ignoring populist parties can be supplemented by a conscious political quarantine of the parties in question (a so-called cordon sanitaire of established parties has been undertaken in European countries such as France, Belgium, Austria and Germany). This would mean that the mainstream parties would actively decide that they are unwilling to accept the populist parties as participants in the political discourse. In



order for this to be effective as a method, the populist party needs must express extreme viewpoints. Being an enemy of the elite is not sufficient justification for a quarantine to be imposed, nor is the rejection of societal inequality, austerity economics, or the will to decrease immigration, unless these elements are expressed via extreme rhetoric or in a context of xenophobia, exclusion, or rejection of basic democratic principles or values. A political quarantine imposed on a populist party by mainstream political actors can also send a message to the electorate that anyone wishing to be part of the political center should avoid supporting populism. Adapt the Concerns and Rhetoric of Populists Putting aside any moral considerations, the most successful political solution for neutralizing populism is to integrate the populist themes and agendas into the mainstream discourse. This was successfully undertaken in Europe after the migration crisis toward the end of 2015, and most strikingly in Denmark where even the Social Democrats adopted much of the Danish People’s Party’s anti-migrant rhetoric, risking a betrayal of liberal core values but nevertheless resulting in the election victory of the Social Democrats in June 2019. As mentioned previously, the driving force behind populist parties is the juxtaposition between the people and the elite, which portrays the elite as disinterested in the ordinary person. In Latin America or Southern Europe, poverty or inequality are often invoked as major problems. Positive Strategies for Dealing with Populism Confront It One strategy is to confront populists with their scandals and contradictions. Heinz-Christian Strache, for instance, was compelled to resign from his posts as Austrian vice chancellor and leader of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) in May 2019, after videos made on Ibiza revealed a venal tendency (a takeover of a tabloid newspaper by Russian oligarchs in order to advance the party). Populists repeatedly stumble into their own traps. However—thanks to their orchestrations of themselves as victims—this need not mean their careers are over. Active Discussion The solution most harmonious with democratic principles is when populists are engaged in active discussion about the existing problems



they address. This way, the populist argumentation is confronted with reality and their exaggerations corrected, while at the same time policy solutions are developed. This idealistic approach, however, is not simple in practice, and it demands a particularly high level of competence, rhetorical agility and “soft skills” on the part of the political elite, which is not always guaranteed; indeed, the democratic deficit which fuelled the success of populism also occurred under the watch of the same elite. Even if communication is improved and more satisfactory policy solutions are put in place, a section of society with a preference for populists would likely remain. Ideally, democracy would solve national problems and this would be duly recognized and accepted, whether it is poverty in South America, the integration of migrants, and growing inequalities in Western Europe, or the integration of Roma in Central and Eastern Europe. It is worrying that there is little to no progress concerning these topics, with little sign of mainstream politicians understanding or paying adequate attention to these problems. On the other hand, their actions may be seen as illustrative of an electorate that is not necessarily acting rationally, but is instead prone to short-term influences (Achen and Bartels 2017). As Jason Brennan (2016) argues, a new system of government—epistocracy, the rule of the knowledgeable—may be preferable to democracy. Brennan argues that most ordinary citizens usually show only little interest in politics, and only a few—the so-called Vulcans—are able to participate in deliberative democracy. Brennan refers to a wealth of social science research which shows that political participation and democratic deliberation actually tend to make people more irrational, biased, and mean, raising questions about procedural weaknesses and the quality of outcomes (Brennan 2016, 158). Given this grim prognosis, we identify a new fault line between rationality and populism. Inclusive Political Participation A rethinking of political participation could focus on an inclusive rather than an exclusive approach. In the world of digital politics, e-participation offers new possibilities, such as webcasts and podcasts; surveys; participation in web-portals, chat rooms, polls, and decision-making games; e-petitioning and e-voting. The latter, first introduced nationwide in Estonia in 2005, does not automatically increase turnout, as experience has demonstrated. Across Europe many e-participation projects have been funded in recent years, but their effects and impacts are difficult to ascertain. The extent to which people are motivated through the mobilization



strategies of both political organizations and peers within their networks via social media is a debated issue. The mobilization hypothesis argues that access to digital technologies has the capacity to draw new participants into civic life, particularly younger citizens. In reality, however, studies often show mixed results, with digital technologies facilitating reinforcement and mobilization only among particular user groups of digital platforms (Nam 2012). Changes will be less striking than some party strategists and academics are now claiming, because parties can reform or transform their organizational patterns only to a certain extent. At the local level, because of the general aging of party membership, many parties still use the same methods as they did in the 1960s, merely replacing postal invitation letters with emails. Media Awareness and Education Beginning with the so-called refugee crisis in 2015, there is an ongoing debate about fake news and moralistic manipulation via channels claiming to represent the voice of “the people.” Facebook itself has published a detailed and precise study on civic engagement that discusses possible counter-measures. It states: “The networks of politically-motivated false amplifiers and financially-motivated fake accounts have sometimes been observed commingling and can exhibit similar behaviours; in all cases, however, the shared attribute is the inauthenticity of the accounts. […] In some instances dedicated, professional groups attempt to influence political opinions on social media with large numbers of sparsely populated fake accounts that are used to share and engage with content at high volumes” (Weeden et al. 2017). At the beginning of 2017, then Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka announced his government’s intention to modify the school curriculum in order to teach children how to assess the credibility of information (Prague Daily Monitor 2017). The Swedish government announced a similar plan to teach children how to differentiate between reliable and unreliable sources of information (The Local 2017). Socio-Economic Welfare and Cultural Openness Populism symbolizes a reaction against “the growing technocratisation of contemporary politics.” Populism and cosmopolitanism are opposites and hard to reconcile (Bickerton and Accetti 2017, 336). What we need is a new social pact between the privileged and the more vulnerable non-privileged: a pact defined by socio-economic security (based on the



proud preservation of the ideals of the welfare state) and cultural openness (an international orientation against xenophobia and against introspective nationalism, but still upholding national democracy). Such a pact could constitute an answer to populism (Cuperus 2011). Europe also has to find a way to propagate a positive narrative about the era of digitalization, which will cause a revolution and upheaval of the global labor market.

Conclusion The relationship between the people and the political elites will continue to weaken, increasing pressure on the system of representative democracy, which has hitherto been considered stable in the West. Do populists really advocate participatory democracy and can they represent a socially progressive and reformist agenda? The possibility of verifying the extent to which this potentially ubiquitous phenomenon has materialized in today’s politics might be a first step out of Isaiah Berlin’s “Cinderella complex.” Any progress in this regard will require critical reflection on how populism invokes the category of authenticity in each of its four strategies, and which counter-strategies may prove to be actionable, based on such reflection. Populism hinges on the principle of division. The constant and yet ever-adaptable creation of “in-groups” and “out-groups” is not intended to inspire homogeneity among “the people.” In other words, while populists claim to be inclusive, it is to means of social exclusion which they repeatedly resort. As self-proclaimed voices of “the people,” they seek to hold back or reverse processes of liberalization, as in the area of gender, for instance. Their vision is that of a “roll back,” a reversion. As such, the authenticity agenda is anything but progressive, but rather retrospective by design and intent. In this sense, populism is anti-liberal, for example when populists in power override constitutional principles. They are often successful in increasing democratic participation while transforming their political rivals into “enemies” (Anselmi 2018, 106–107). In other words: “Instead of portraying populists as foolish actors, we should reflect on the fact that they are able to give voice to constituencies who do not feel represented” (Kaltwasser 2017, 501). Effective and sustainable counter-strategies must devitalize the (often justified) criticism brought by populists, regarding a premature, neoliberal spurt of modernization that casts the model of the nation-state in question. The fragmentation of the established media and its disintegration



by virtue of social media renders it almost impossible to attain a societal consensus that can deconstruct and delegitimize the illusions of authenticity presented by populists. The result will probably be a mix of defensive and active strategies, informed by examples from various world regions including the periphery. And it will be equally important to conceive of the phenomenon in an interdisciplinary vein, as proposed at the London School of Economics back at that conference in 1967.

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Theorizing Populism: Lessons Learned from the Indian Example Ajay Gudavarthy

Introduction The current resurgence of populism across the globe has inaugurated a fresh and a pressing need to theorize populist practices and their impact. According to the recent Global Populism Database “some two billion of the world’s population are now governed by such populist leaders” (Hammond 2019). Researchers claim that this latest wave of populism – fuelled in part by the international financial crisis – has cast a bigger footprint than perhaps ever before. Some two billion people are today governed by a “somewhat/moderately populist”, “populist” or “very populist” leader, an increase from 120 million at the turn of the millennium, with the research calling out other leaders like … India’s Narendra Modi as belonging in the populist camp. (Hammond 2019)

In the light of these figures, populism is generally believed to be a global phenomenon which has, however, developed a broad range of strategies

A. Gudavarthy (B) Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 C. Kohl et al. (eds.), The Politics of Authenticity and Populist Discourses, Global Political Sociology,




successfully adapted to and selectively mobilized in changing local particularities. Accordingly, we need cogent descriptions of the concrete populist discourses and practices we observe in different local contexts in order to better grasp its success story, its logic and its dynamics. This chapter takes a closer look at populism at work in India. India is not only a big country but also the largest democracy in the world. Understanding its pathways thus should be of eminent importance in any case. On the level of the Union state of India, Narendra Modi, who came to power in 2014, qualifies as a typical populist leader in the eyes of many observers. His government with the Hindu nationalist BJP as the ruling party was successfully re-elected in May 2019. Considering that Modi had already been Chief Minister in the federal state of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014, he is a good example of a populist leader who has had time to shape and adapt his discourses and practices. Looking at India thus gives us the chance to study mature populism in a situation when it had already managed to hegemonize discourses and to establish its commonsense assumptions, resulting, for instance, in widespread anti-Muslim sentiment and the glorification of a unified Hindu society and a “Hindu” past. Indian populism achieved its victory on a rather difficult terrain, namely in a country that has for decades experienced the cultural and political hegemony of a well elaborated and deeply entrenched secular developmental ideology, embodied by popular public figures such as Gandhi, Nehru, and Ambedkar, who not by chance have become major symbols of anti-Modi movements. Populism has had to work hard in order to destabilize this hegemony and replace old certainties with new ones. This chapter seeks to unpack the strategies and practices, tools, and technologies that have been instrumental in this process. Assuming that populism works at the level of popular imagination, using and shaping emotions and passions, feelings of fear, gut instincts, anxiety, anomie and alienation, special emphasis will be given to the re-ordering of discourses, to the destabilization of old and the inauguration of new meanings ascribed to crucial categories such as the elite, the people, the nation, religion, and justice. Referring to post-foundational discourse analysis in general and to the studies of Chantal Mouffe in particular, I will argue that Modi’s success depended to a large extent on the reformulation of what is perceived to be progressive politics. His movement succeeded in replacing the old distinctions between left and right, which had shaped Indian politics for a long time, with a new kind of meta-narrative based on the juxtaposition of “us” versus “them.” The process of creating the other



is achieved not merely through physical violence, coercion, and intimidation; rather, it is achieved through a sustained process of gaining consent to a moral discourse that combines old narratives, and given, or prevalent moral and normative structures with new aspirations, anxieties, and social imaginaries. Populist discourses in India carefully suture the old with the new and blend what has previously been perceived as mutually exclusive practices. Fusing polar opposites, they have produced new binary oppositions that structure the way people perceive social reality. Replacing ideas of antagonism and contradiction with continuity and social harmony, these discourses have shifted the emphasis from rights and liberty to fraternity and community. Trying to reconstruct these discursive shifts and the new ways of categorizing social reality that come with them, I will shed light on the new social narratives behind the more visible modes of exclusion, violence and the criminalization of politics as enacted by the Modi government, thus responding to the demand made by—among others—Chantal Mouffe or Jan-Werner Müller. Chantal Mouffe has strongly criticized a mere moral rejection or refutation of right-wing populism. She argues: The response of traditional parties to the rise of right-wing populism has clearly contributed to exacerbating the problem … This is why moral condemnation and the setting up of a ‘cordon sanitaire’ have so often constituted the answer to the rise of right-wing populist movements. (Mouffe 2005, 72)

Instead, we need to analyze “its specificity and its causes.” “Moral condemnation” of the right has to be replaced by an analysis of the “moral structure” on which it builds its politics. As Müller puts it: Populism, I suggest, is a particular moralistic imagination of politics, a way of perceiving the political world which places in opposition a morally pure and fully unified people against small minorities, elites in particular, who are placed outside the authentic people. (Müller 2015, 83)

In the Indian context, the idea of a “fully unified people” refers to a unified Hindu society. While it excludes the minorities in the first instance, it also has to create a palpable unity within a diversified majority. The diversity that is inherent to the authentic majority needs to be recast into



a unity. Differences of social location, conflicts of interests, and structural contradictions have to be re-imbricated in terms of social harmony, community, fraternity; continuity has to be blended with change, a glorious past with an aspirational future. The aim is to bring about change that is non-disruptive. Right-wing populism in India is attempting to construct an elaborate idea of public morality that is understood as a given, and as an innate part of a “civilizational ethos.” Much of the analysis on populism has focused on the larger narrative of “us” versus “them,” largely ignoring how right-wing populism attempts to construct the unity of “us”. In the Indian context, which is characterized by essential divides across caste, region, language, culture and lifestyles, it has worked hard to bring about a new authentic majority. It is here that right-wing populism has introduced a new set of political discourses and practices, the tenability of which will inform us of the future of right-wing populism in India. I attempt in this chapter to map these new sets of practices against the “old” Nehruvian political discourse, which was centered around a “politics of accommodation” and characterized by ideas of an inclusive nationalism and secularism. I will discuss how they have developed in order to produce a political, rather than a moral, critique of right-wing populism in India. I divide this chapter into four sections that deal with distinct but interrelated phenomena. The first section focuses on the re-signification of progressive politics, and builds on the critical engagement of populist discourses with the developmental state from Jawaharlal Nehru’s to Indira Gandhi’s period (1947–1987). For fifty years, India was governed with the Liberal Constitutional vision of inclusive nationalism and secularism that guaranteed rights to religious minorities, socialism, civil–political rights, and the rule of law. The current right-wing populists have both appropriated and thereby dismantled the social and political content of the progressive-constitutional vision of the developmental state. Current populists have managed to re-signify the content to propagate a narrow ethnic nationalism by manufacturing an idea of an “authentic Hindu society.” The second section deals with the question of how the populists could “successfully” offer a critique of the technocratic liberalism of the previous regimes in India and occupy an “anti-establishment” and “anti-elite” position, effectively replacing institutional participation and procedural liberalism with street mobilization and street violence, granted impunity by the strongman at the helm.



The third section looks at the role of emotions and passions. Here I attempt to explore how popular emotions or passions connected with questions of social status, “hurt pride,” social stigma and prejudice are prevalent as part of structured social relations in India. The current populist regime appears to provide an adequate response to the anxieties of not only the dominant castes, but also of the so-called lower castes, both of whom have suffered from the social transformations sparked by neo-liberal reforms. Finally, the last section looks at the emergence or carving out of new social constituencies as part of the populist strategy that goes well beyond the mainstream concepts of social divisions, primarily caste, class and gender. Populists are attempting to “invent” new social constituencies that cut across these social divisions around a populist imagination and public morality, which I refer to as the “new cultural subalterns.”

Re-signifying Progressive Politics Right-wing populism has managed to re-signify dominant political categories within the repertoire of progressive politics, including ideas of welfare, rule of law, secularism, equality, liberty, and justice by emptying them of their “original” meanings. This has resulted in the production of a distinctly conservative public morality with the re-signification of welfare playing a particularly important role. The reason for the defeat of the Indian National Congress in 2014, as is largely argued, was the poor implementation of welfare policies such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). This scheme aims to provide 100 days of employment to every rural household in a financial year. It is widely believed that the United Progressive Alliance (UPS), led by the Congress party, came back to power in 2009 due to the popularity of this welfare policy which had met rural distress. The BJP began with a critique of poor implementation through a discourse on corruption, which was gradually re-signified into a critique of welfare itself. Anger against growing economic inequalities leads to the election of more pro-corporate governments. As economist Jayati Ghosh rightly observes, “protests by people against inequality are producing governments that move exactly in the opposite direction.” She further argues, We all know that the world is an unequal place, both across and within countries. We also know that across the world, people are expressing their



anger and disgust at this inequality. This is increasingly revealed in extreme and often paradoxical political results. In the US, a vote against the establishment has just delivered to power the ultimate crony capitalist, Donald Trump. In the UK, people voted to leave the European Union in the false expectation that curbing migration will improve their own life chances. In India, the poor, disgusted by a corrupt, self-enriching elite, support a bizarre and drastic demonetisation that leads to their own further impoverishment while leaving the supposed targets, the corrupt rich, relatively unscathed. (Ghosh 2017)1

The demand to fight inequality legitimizes a system that only creates more inequalities. In Indian public discourse, welfare was equated with corruption, doles and dependence, and in its place an imagination of a “New India” was offered, emphasizing the “entrepreneurship of Indians” and bringing dignity rather than encouraging clientelism. In fact, Narendra Modi, responding to accusations of non-implementation of the scheme, equated NREGA with a “Living Monument” of poverty: “Do you think I will put an end to the scheme? My political wisdom does not allow me to do it. This is a living monument of your failure to tackle poverty in 60 years. With song and dance and drumbeat, I will continue with the scheme” (PTI 2015). Similarly, critique of institutional crises, of the weakening of the rule of law and the non-responsive character of democratic institutions, eventually leads to the adoption of strategies that further undermine institutions. It does not lead in a progressive and linear manner to a demand for more accountability but to further insularity. For instance, critique of a slow judiciary and a corrupt police in India leads to the legitimization of a strategy or rather a policy of “encounters” as recently announced by Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath (Sethi 2018).2 Here, it is instructive to observe how the left-liberal critique of the class character of democratic institutions is usurped in legitimizing an aggressive state that in fact makes institutions even more dysfunctional to the peril of the socially and economically weak, targeting religious minorities. Thus, 1 Demonitization was a monetary policy announced by Prime Minister Modi that invalidated the 500 rupees and 1000 rupees notes as legal tenders. This was promised to combat enrichment via the black market by invalidating “black money” stored as cash. 2 The word “encounter” in popular parlance refers to extra-judicial killings by the police and armed forces. According to estimates, the government of Uttar Pradesh has eliminated close to 1200 individuals since 2017.



populist strategies absorb the critique against liberal institutions in India, while at the same time undermining them. As a result, the same class character that the progressives initially critique is further entrenched. Yogi Adityanath’s policy of “encounters” borrows from the critique of a dysfunctional judiciary, a low conviction rate and a weak delivery of justice to the poor in order to generate a dangerous “new normal” that primarily targets petty criminals, mostly Dalits3 and minorities. Any defense of the rule of law, legal procedures, and institutions is then equated to the defense of dysfunctional institutions and anarchy that had led to a lack of justice for the poor as well as to more lawlessness. Here one could draw a parallel with the right-wing critique of Pakistan, portrayed as a dysfunctional democracy mainly because it targets its minorities and is ruled by the army, and is used to build exactly the same kind of governance model in India. A moral critique slips into a moral justification of the same set of practices.

Technocratic Liberalism and Demagoguery Re-signification of progressive secular practices is also attempted by stitching the old structure of politics to a new imagery, while in essence it remains the same. Right-wing populism also emerged as a critique of technocratic liberalism and governance based on experts. The reasoning behind such a critique was the dominance of a small elite blocking mass participation and thereby undermining the very essence of democracy. However, the rule of technocrats was replaced by demagoguery and the strongman phenomenon, which have only further undermined the democratic ethos. As Mouffe observes: “Liberal theorists looked for other explanations [for the success of populism] to fit their rationalist approach, insisting for instance on the role of uneducated, lower-class voters, susceptible to being attracted by demagogues” (Mouffe 2005, 65). In other words, the “uneducated” were attracted to demagoguery not due to poor political decision-making or “backward thinking,” as liberals often argue, but as a critique of technocratic liberalism. However,

3 “Dalit” is a political expression for the former untouchable castes, also known as Scheduled Castes. They constitute about 15% of the Indian population and Indian politics has witnessed many resistance movements initiated by them since colonial times. The Chairman of the drafting Committee of the Constitution-making body for the Republic of India was DR. B. R. Ambedkar, who belonged to the Mahar caste from Maharashtra.



in India adulation of demagoguery is prevalent in other sections of the society too, including the middle classes.4 This demagoguery justifies the strongman phenomenon as a response to the rule of the elites, to the dynastic rule of the Congress. The strongman is credited with paving the way to more opportunities for mass participation. In fact, a personality cult existed in previous regimes as well, including that of Indira Gandhi. This was evident in the 1970s when Indira Gandhi undermined democracy within the Congress. While she made an open proclamation for a more committed judiciary and bureaucracy in order to demonstrate her control over the “system,” Chief Ministers were handpicked by the “high command.” For her role in liberating Bangladesh, Indira Gandhi was lauded as “Durga,” a reference to the Hindu goddess who in popular mythology fights evil by waging valiant battles against the asuras or demons. Congress won the election as a result of Gandhi’s campaign. She had made it a point that she could win elections even in the south when she contested from Medak district in Andhra Pradesh, although this was considered to be a “safe seat” for the congress. The parallel to Modi’s strategy, contesting in 2014 from Varanasi (Benares) on the river Ganges in the United Provinces, for Hindus in particular a highly symbolic place, cannot be overlooked. The slogan then was “India is Indira, Indira is India.” Today, it has been scaled up, moving beyond the nation into a conflation with the “almighty” himself: “Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi” (which can be translated as: Hail to Modi; in every household Modi) (Gudavarthy 2014b). It has now become commonplace in India to draw parallels between Modi’s style and that of Indira Gandhi (Chowdhury 2018). The strongman becomes a symbol against “consensus elites” and therefore ushers in an extra-institutional mobilization accompanied by extra-institutional street violence. One justifies the other and one cannot continue without the other. The current version of demagoguery in India, under Narendra Modi, is coexistent with street violence, mass rioting and public lynching. These later become modes of mass participation and do not run into conflict with the overbearing insularity of authoritarian rule. In such scenarios, this authoritarian rule symbolizes order, discipline and control of the old elites and religious minorities. It thus implies public sanction, patronage and impunity for the authentic majority while fusing 4 In India the middle classes routinely endorsed the Emergency of 1975. They believed it led to more order, accountability and a good work ethic.



at the same time the polar opposites of authoritarian rulers and extrainstitutional mobilizations. Such an uncharacteristic blend of disparate or even conflicting phenomena or processes is achieved through the imagery of the “authentic.” As Saupe explains, Authenticity is attributed to someone or something. In the case of individuals, it is associated with certain forms of self-expression. Authenticity is frequently ontologically or essentially connoted, for example when people talk about the ‘embodiment’ of authenticity. Rather than simply attributing authenticity, it is therefore preferable to examine authenticity primarily in terms of communicational structures, i.e. to ask to whom and when authenticity is attributed, as well as how and why. In this context, it is worth remembering Helmut Lethen’s sceptical words: “It is impossible to clarify what is authentic”. He therefore concluded that it was only possible to analyse the “effects of the authentic”. (Saupe 2016)

In the case of Modi, the authenticity of the leader is reinforced by his ability to manufacture an “authentic people.” In doing so, the old structure of patronage politics, the rule of a few elites, is re-signified without changing the essence and without opening any new avenues for democratic participation. The critique raised by left-liberal discourses is stitched to new kinds of extra-institutional mobilization. Extra-institutional modes look more credible, direct, tangible, and effective beyond the drab procedures of legal imperatives. Street violence and vigilante justice is both the justification and the reason for the strongman phenomenon. It builds on the fact that in India the discourse of formal equality has spread without commensurate change in the social and material conditions of various social groups.5 This process of a democratic imagination without the social and material conditions to implement it engenders a distinct kind of social psychology. The uniqueness of the moment spills into a new kind of microfoundation of power relations, which combine techniques of momentary resistance with prolonged negotiation; imaginations of future change with nostalgia for past and continuity; a new kind of subjectivity with passions, experience, and affectivity; compassion with fragmentation; 5 This observation reminds us of the caution of B. R. Ambedkar about the perils of democracy that offer political equality with social inequalities. This contradiction that Ambedkar highlighted is now playing out through the strategies designed by right-wing populists.



relative mobility with social conservatism; curiosity with certainty, and freedom with security, protest with invisibility. In a certain way, the new power relations have led to an implosion of the social as well as to an explosion of the political. To put it in a more populist sense these new power relations explode in self-designated or assigned or imposed sites. Populism is one expression that has best, if not exhaustively, captured some of these changes and is representative of what is good and bad in democracies across the globe.6

Culture, Passions, and the Emergent Social Psychology Right-wing populists mobilize culture and passions, and have a grasp over the social psychology of many social groups that fight for equal treatment and against routine incivility. This, however, is relevant not only for the subaltern social groups but for the dominant ones as well who, in democracies, often perceive themselves as victims of unfair treatment of state policies. It is not the veracity of facts that matter but the possibility of a perception that is framed through the available discourse of aspirations. What is distinctive about right-wing populists in India is that they also sympathize with the “declining” social power of dominant social groups. The so-called agrarian intermediary castes such as Jats, Patidars, Marathas, Kapus, and Kshatriyas provide a good example. On the one hand, these intercaste groups are landed and politically powerful. On the other, they belong to the “Shudras” in the so-called varna-system of Hinduism, a classification system which comprises four levels (varna): Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishyas, and Shudras. Hence, while these agrarian castes are considered to be low on the ritual hierarchy, they are at the same time perceived to be economically and politically dominant. The outburst of their anger, which culminated in large-scale protests in 2016 and the following years, demanding to be included in the state reservation systems, is symptomatic of the anxieties that dominant castes experience during social transformation.

6 Paraphrased from the introduction to my book, India After Modi: Populism and the Right (Bloomsbury, Delhi, 2018).



Left liberals offer no alternative political agenda to any of these groups. Furthermore, we also find economically weak groups among the dominant castes. The conflicting interests between these intra-caste groups (economically differentially placed groups within a caste) are pushed to the background by discourses placing emphasis on mobility and unity. For quite some time, right-wing cultural organizations such as the Hindu nationalist paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have argued in favor of a radical shift in the current system of reservation which guarantees privileged access to certain resources like admission to governmental jobs or educational institutions to certain categories of people. Whereas so far quotas are reserved for people belonging to specific castes, RSS demands a new system based on economic criteria. It is assumed that such a shift would achieve three improvements: firstly, the new system is expected to be less divisive as it would put an end to pitching one caste against the other; secondly, it would allow for affirmative action for the economically weak among the dominant castes; and finally it would provide mobility without the stigma of caste. Right-wing populism offers alternative ideas of social harmony, fraternal feelings, and community fellow-feeling that ostensibly allow for mobility among subordinated groups and also empathize with the dominant groups feeling a decline in their social power. This is yet again an attempt to fuse polar opposites. It partly recognizes that the economically poor among the dominant castes are also socially stigmatized. For instance, the poor among the Brahmins are not elites in the traditional sense of the term; I have elsewhere referred to them as mezzanine elites (Gudavarthy 2016). The right sees the possibility to forge a unity based on a social experience of poverty. Economic elites are thus pitched against cultural subalterns. While at one level these differences are going to play out against a certain kind of commonality, at another, they are a continuing challenge for right-wing populism in India. They have to stitch the “hurt pride” of the dominant castes together with the social stigma of the subaltern castes. The difficulty of such a mode or the socially conservative aspect of such an experiment is visible in the recent conflicts at Bhima Koregaon, where there have been serious clashes between Dalits, i.e., members of the ritually lowest group, the so-called “untouchables,” and Marathas during



the annual celebration of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon.7 At the heart of this conflict was a disagreement over the interpretation and evaluation of a crucial historical event. The Battle of Koregaon (also called the Battle of Koregaon Bhima, after the river Bhima that flows close to it) was fought in 1818 between the British East India Company and the Peshwa faction of the Maratha Confederacy. The British troops fought together with a large number of Mahars (leather workers/Dalits) and together they defeated the Peshwa rule. The commemoration of this battle by the Dalits, which has taken place every year since it began under Ambedkar in 1928, led to violent clashes with the Marathas in Maharashtra in 2018. At another level, this seems to be a feasible experiment with the emergence of new cultural subalterns across caste, class, and region. They are marked by a common opposition to modernity, liberal institutionalism, the role of experts and technocrats, the difficulties of coping with global cosmopolitanism, a secular ethos, and the dominance of English and its accompanying cultural valuation, among other things. Right-wing populism has succeeded in turning these grievances into the nodal point of its discourse and in overcoming the sharp divisions between the various social groups which articulate those grievances. What we observe here in the Indian context has been described as the conflict between “Anywheres” and “Somewheres”: “The old distinctions of class and economic interest have not disappeared but are increasingly overlaid by a larger and looser one, between the people who see the world from Anywhere and the people who see it from Somewhere” (Goodhart 2017, 3).

New Cultural Subalterns The new political fault line thus runs between those who can live anywhere and are open to new opportunities and those who are strongly attached and limited to the concrete locality of a “somewhere.” The Anywheres are “portable” because they have “achieved” identities based on educational and career success which make them generally comfortable and confident with new places and people (Goodhart 2017, 3). At the same time, the Somewheres are more rooted and usually have ascribed identities, which is why they often find rapid change more unsettling (Goodhart 2017). Finally, according to Goodhart’s observations, even an

7 For further information see Singh (2018).



advanced capitalist country like Britain has introduced this dual process of generating an aspirational class alongside social groups that perceive their social status as being in decline: The helter-skelter expansion of higher education in the past twenty-five years—and the elevation of educational success into the gold standard of social esteem—has been one of the most important, and least understood, developments in British society. It has been a liberation for many and for others a symptom of their declining status. (Goodhart 2017, 3)

This partly explains the unrest among the dominant castes in India, who perceive their decline and a sense of anxiety as to how “lower” castes are moving ahead through affirmative action policies. Marathas arguing against reservations for Dalits and wanting to move out of the agrarian sector to the formal job market is a clear example of this tension. Further, the carefully choreographed controversy around the educational qualifications of Narendra Modi, who has claimed to belong to a less-privileged class and caste status, and of Smriti Irani, a female public representative, has played out precisely this tension. Any critique or suspicion around their degrees becomes symbolic of the elites’ denial of mobility to newly asserted social groups such as the lower castes and women (The Hindu 2016). Similarly, the crisis in various institutions of higher education, including Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi, University of Hyderabad (UoH), the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) in Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai, and the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, among others, is representative of breaking the hold of the social elite and their hegemony over public institutions. The controversy surrounding JNU, under the current political regime, again represents a palpable critique of the privileged spaces occupied by the elite and marked by the aspiration to question everything instead of expressing solidarity and loyalty. This is then linked to the discourse of nationalism. Nationalism, in other words, is a political mode of representing those left out of this process of upward mobility via education; it appeals to those suffering anxiety due to the spread of higher education which nevertheless excludes them. JNU, in spite of having a progressive admissions policy, becomes an elite space, while the current regime’s mode of changing the policy frame of admissions becomes a step against divisive politics, symbolizing nationalist assertions despite the fact that it excludes



the majority. The nationalist narrative in this context has an underlying social narrative of politicizing the subjectivity of an emergent new cultural subaltern that exists across castes and classes. Individuals from different caste backgrounds could suffer the stigma of existing on the peripheries of modern life that is marked by open, secular, and cosmopolitan lifestyles. Earlier this was referred to as “Bharat versus India.” Sharad Joshi in an oft-quoted (Reddit 2013) public lecture has explained that “India” is that national entity, largely Anglicised and relatively better-off, that had obtained the succession of colonial exploitation from the British; while “Bharat” is largely rural, agricultural, poor and backward that was being subjected to colonial-like exploitation even after the end of the Raj. Many have erroneously interpreted the expression to denote the urbanrural divide. That was far from my mind. In fact, I made it explicitly clear, even in those early stages, that the relatively opulent segment of the rural society that derived its incomes from non-agricultural activities under stateprotection were a part of “India” while the slum dwellers and the footpath occupants of cities were, in fact, refugees from “Bharat” to “India” in search of livelihood.

The Right now re-signifies this dichotomy to fuse it with the nationalist discourse.

Conclusion: Economic Elites Versus New Cultural Subalterns In all of this, subaltern castes remain torn between a cultural identification against elite/open spaces, where they perceive a commonality with the nationalist discourse, and the need for a more inclusive policy frame. Under the current populist regime in India, the politics of Dalit and so-called “Other Backward Classes” (OBC),8 moving back and forth between identifying with the right and generating a counter-narrative, has become a visible trend. In the 2014 general election, many of the surveys 8 Other Backward Class (OBC) is a collective term used by the government of India to

classify castes which are educationally or socially disadvantaged. It is one of several official classifications of the population of India, along with Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs and STs). The OBCs were found to comprise 52% of the country’s population by the Mandal Commission report of 1980, a figure which had shrunk to 41% by 2006 when the National Sample Survey Organisation took place (Wikipedia 2020).



showed what I had previously referred to as the “rightward shift in Dalit politics”: Dalits seem to have come a full circle from the agenda of “annihilation of caste” to “secularisation of caste”, and conversion from Hinduism to actively claiming the Hindu identity, as is evident from the spate of communal riots in Uttar Pradesh in the last few months which have been primarily between Dalits and Muslims. The dynamics in rural Dalit politics seems to have moved from challenging the upper castes to finding acceptance and becoming a part of the majoritarian polity that is under construction. Mobility by gaining acceptance looks far more tangible and achievable than the abstract and rather Utopian idea of annihilating caste. This acceptance can be perceived as a mobility as well as an undermining of the dominance of the upper castes by compelling them to recognise that they need Dalit support in rural hinterlands against the perceived aggression of Muslims, and that they are mutually interdependent. (Gudavarthy 2014a)

While the dominant castes suffer from the anxiety of decline, subaltern castes suffer from the insecurity of losing hard-earned benefits; both need different modes of coping with the situation that cannot be strictly realistic but need a gloss of self-valorization. The slogans of “New India” or “acche din” (good days)9 are more about what one desires than about what is real. Such populist slogans address the underlying social psychology driven by anxiety, and here the discourse gains autonomy from mere factual evidence. Anxiety propels a process beyond the Archimedean mean between fact and fiction. De Sousa and Morton explain: My approach to accuracy goes via an account of what makes a story accurate. Stories can be accurate but not true, and emotions can be accurate whether or not they are true. The capacity for emotional accuracy, for emotions that fit a person’s situation, is an aspect of emotional intelligence, which is as important an aspect of rational human agency as the intelligent formation of beliefs and desires. (De Sousa and Morton 2002, 274) 9 Acche Din- Achhe din aane waale hain (English: “Good days are coming”) was the Hindi slogan of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the 2014 Indian general election. The slogan was coined by the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, with the intention of conveying that a prosperous future was in store for India if the BJP came into power.



Instincts, gut feeling, and perceptions allow for an articulation of what may not be otherwise considered legitimate in a hierarchical context such as that of India. The emergence of new cultural subalterns has in effect recast the old “Bharat versus India” conundrum, with the old forms of class orientation around issues of economic inequality being refashioned into a conflict between economic elites and cultural subalterns. This is indicative of the fact that caste groups are unevenly placed across economic, political and social indicators. While the rhetoric against the high-end and invisible economic elites creates one kind of commonality, the common social stigma creates a kind of possibility. The combination of nationalism and a mounting crisis in institutions of higher education creates commonality between the cultural subalterns. Furthermore, the monetary policy announced by Modi (see note 1) served to pitch the emerging cultural subalterns again against the economic elites. Within the discourse of demonetization, populists could imagine how a sense of belonging results not only from claiming rights but also from the perception of being moral exemplars in suffering. This allows for a discourse that is pro-corporate but anti-modernity. It helps to push for high-end capitalist growth marked by bullet trains and urbanization while at the same time addressing the communal anxieties that capitalist modernity introduces. The legacy of a pure past can be enjoined with claims for a radically altered future. It sympathizes with the preserving of community identities, including the control of women and property, yet it can lay claim to a politics that is beyond caste and religious considerations. It is in the combination of such claims that right-wing populism strikes and mobilizes a new kind of common sense. The current round of populism has emerged in India since 2014. Indian democracy had a populist turn from the days of Indira Gandhi with her garibi hatao (remove poverty) slogan. However, what is distinct about the current mode of populism is that it is not restricted merely to electoral purposes, but has also begun to dictate the policy frame. Demonetization is a clear instance of this. Indian democracy has moved beyond the “Congress system” and is entering a “post-Bahujan” phase10 in which large categories applied to

10 Bahujan/Post-Bahujan: Bahujan is a specific imagination of political mobilization that included the majority of excluded social groups of “Backward” classes, Dalits and Muslims.



groups of people, such as Dalit and OBCs, are giving way to smaller subcategories articulating and claiming independent identities and moving between various political parties. This has allowed the BJP to turn the drawing up of a new coalition between the dominant castes at one end and Dalits and OBCs at the other into a new strategy. The party is fragmenting the polity on the one hand and conjoining them with a unified Hindutva narrative on the other. In doing so, a populist narrative works as a glue in creating a new kind of “us and them” discourse, in some instances vis-à-vis the economic elites, while in others it could be Muslims. As Prashant Jha notes in his study of the BJP’s electoral strategy: It was meant to make the Hindu bitter at what he was not getting; it was meant to make him feel resentful of the Muslim for being pampered; it was meant to bracket all other parties as pandering to specific interests based on religion. In the name of a common citizenry and an unbiased state, it was meant to divide communities. (Jha 2017, 178)

Populism has foregrounded what one could—following Carl Schmitt— denominate as the irreducibility of multiplicity. While in the immediate context it seems to have undermined institutions and democratic ethos, it also carries with it the possibility of further democratizing the polity by highlighting the multiple voices that inhabit it. This, however, remains one possibility, while the continued assertion of the populist mode may also permanently alter the contours of democracy providing a new justification to extra-institutional discourses. Populism has opened up the debate between subalternity, populism, and democracy. It is an openended context where the current right-wing populism is infusing a new conflict between democracy and subalternity, in the name of “the people”. As Nancy Fraser points out (Fraser 2017) we need to find the possible route from “conservative populism” to a more “progressive populism”; in doing so, reframing some of the issues I have pointed out here will be of some significance.

However, since the political mobilisation moved from Bahujan to “Sarvaja,” referring to all castes and classes, it has been termed as “post-Bahujan.”.



Bibliography Chowdhury, Ujjwal K. 2018. Ten Reasons Modi Is Just Like Indira Gandhi: And That’s Not a Good Thing. The Wire. Last modified 19 November 2018. De Sousa, Ronald, and Adam Morton. 2002. Emotional Truth. Aristotelian Society Supplementary 76: 247–275. Fraser, Nancy. 2017. The End of Progressive Neoliberalism. Dissent Magazine, 2 January. liberalism-reactionary-populism-nancy-fraser. Ghosh, Jayati. 2017. The Majority at the Margins. Indian Express, 21 January. Goodhart, David. 2017. The Road to Somewhere. London: Hurst. Gudavarthy, Ajay. 2014a. A Rightward Shift in Dalit Politics. The Hindu, 13 September. htward-shift-in-dalit-politics/article6405607.ece. Gudavarthy, Ajay. 2014b. The Return of the Personality Cult. Himal Southasian, 24 June. Gudavarthy, Ajay. 2016. Mezzanine Elites and Social Change. The New Indian Express, 25 August. 2016/aug/25/Mezzanine-Elites-and-social-change-1512674.html. Gudavarthy, Ajay. 2018. India After Modi: Populism and the Right. New Delhi: Bloomsbury. Hammond, Andrew. 2019. Fifty Shades of Populism. Times of India, 21 March. Jha, Prashant. 2017. How the BJP Wins. New Delhi: Juggernaut. Mouffe, Chantall. 2005. On the Political. London: Routledge. Müller, Jan-Werner. 2015. Parsing Populism: Who Is and Who Is Not a Populist These Days? Juncture 22 (2): 80–89. abs/10.1111/j.2050-5876.2015.00842.x. PTI. 2015. PM Narendra Modi Attacks Congress: Says MNREGS ‘Living Monument’ of Poverty. Financial Express, 12 March. https://www.financ acks-congress-on-poverty/48577/. Reddit. 2013. Bharat vs India: Sharad Joshi Who Coined the Term in 1978 (Xpost from r/india). Reddit. 1602ah/bharat_vs_india_sharad_joshi_who_coined_the_term/. Last modified 18 January 2013. Saupe, Achim. 2016. Authenticity. itaet_v3_en_2016. Schmitt, Carl. 2007. The Concept of the Political. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.



Sethi, Manisha. 2018. The Unencounterables. The Indian Express, 6 March. Singh, Yashee. 2018. ‘Saffron Terror’ or ‘Urban Maoism’: What’s Behind Bhima Koregaon Violence? Daily O, 7 June. bhaji-bhide-bjp-maharashtra/story/1/24720.html. The Hindu. 2016. BJP Produces Modi Degrees, AAP Finds Discrepancies. The Hindu. rees-AAP-finds-discrepancies/article14310247.ece. Last modified October 18, 2016. Wikipedia. 2019. Achhe din aane waale hain [Good Days Are Coming]. Last modified 30 December 2019. Wikipedia. 2020. “Other Backward Class”. Wikipedia. wiki/Other_Backward_Class. Last modified 4 April 2020.

Populism and the Media

Populism and the Media: Introduction to Part II João Feres Júnior and Juliana Gagliardi

Studies on populism have been devoted not only to conceptual debates but also to the place occupied by this phenomenon within liberal representative democracies. After all, most countries in today’s world adhere to this political regime, one that has recently found itself under pressure in the wake of political actors that are deemed populist. Populism has been studied from a plethora of approaches, some more concerned with political institutions and others more sociological, but most of them acknowledge the central role played by discourse in its constitution, something that we can also term the communicative aspect of populism. Importantly, communication is a crucial aspect of democratic politics, be it conceived as an electoral competition among candidates for the preferences of voters or as a product of a complex and socially

J. Feres Júnior (B) · J. Gagliardi Institute of Social and Political Studies, State University of Rio de Janeiro (IESP/UERJ), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil e-mail: [email protected] J. Gagliardi e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 C. Kohl et al. (eds.), The Politics of Authenticity and Populist Discourses, Global Political Sociology,




embedded set of deliberative practices. Further, the astounding development of means of communication such as the internet and social media has transformed political communication, impacting on populist rhetoric and political strategy. Examining populism as a discourse in modern democratic contexts requires identifying the ways in which political actors suspected of populism communicate with their audiences; in other words, how populist discourse is transmitted to a larger public. In complex societies, with tens or hundreds of millions of people, this type of communication is almost always mediated. It is no coincidence that a particular brand of academic literature has been focusing exclusively on the relationship between populism and the media, noting the “enormous capacities [the media has] to affect the opinions and attitudes of mass audiences” (Mazzoleni 2003, 5), and thus its centrality in the political arena. The concept of the mediatisation of politics (Cook 2005; Esser 2013; Manucci 2017), which refers to the complex interactions between media and politics, has been defined as “the result of media-driven influences in the political domain” (Mazzoleni 2014). In the case of populism, television was the first major means of communication responsible for shifting the patterns of political communication toward a more performative style which, in turn, contributed to enhancing the personalisation of political leadership. Some authors have adopted the term “neo-populism” to designate the more recent appearance of politicians and political movements suspected of populism around the world. Neo-populism does not seem to embrace a rigid ideology, despite Immerfall’s contention that it corresponds with the association between populism and right-wing ideology (apud Mazzoleni 2003, 3). Waisbord, for example, applies the term in his analysis of Latin America’s Pink Tide—the election of several leftist presidents in the region starting in the early 2000s (Waisbord 2003). He contends that, regarding the relationship between the government and the media, there was a crucial difference between classic populism and neo-populism in Latin America: “unlike classic populisms, neo-populisms do not own a media arsenal with which to manufacture public opinion” (Waisbord 2003, 206). He sees the Pink Tide as a new brand of populism; hence the term neo-populism. The merits of his interpretation aside, one thing seems to be beyond doubt: the media landscape in Latin America and elsewhere in the world has evolved a great deal, and so have the communicative strategies of politicians. Resources such as the ownership of



traditional means of communication continue to be concentrated in the hands of a few dominant players, but the internet and social media have created new and alternative forms of communication employed for electoral campaigns and cultural wars. A productive branch of the literature examines the function of the media in enabling the rise of populist leaders (Mazzoleni et al. 2003a; Krämer 2014; Hameleers et al. 2017; Chakravartty and Roy 2017). According to this view, “mediated populism” (Mazzoleni 2008) is the result of a dynamic interplay between processes originated in the media and populist political movements. Mazzoleni et al. (2003b) have identified the role of “media factors” in the rise of populism in several countries, and proposed a model life cycle that can be summarized in four stages: The first is the ground-laying phase, in which the media strives to provide a picture of the country’s problems, denouncing corruption and with an emphasis on crimes committed against particular groups. In doing so, it contributes to triggering political dissatisfaction and widespread anger and to shaping a political climate conducive to populist messages of discontent. The second stage of the cycle is the insurgent phase, in which rising populist leaders make intensive use of media resources in order to captivate voters’ attention and to broaden and consolidate their electoral appeal. Third, the established phase sees the populist movement enter the political system, obtaining seats in parliament and ministries. And fourth, there is the phase of decline, experienced by some populist movements, in which the media can play different roles in the downfall of a political actor, reducing public interest in their figure and media presence, or even exploiting their loss of popularity, thus creating a feedback effect that contributes even further to the negative spiral. Populist politicians are often remarkably personalistic, thus playing down party support and structure. The lack of reliance on the party’s communicative structure renders them media-dependent when the need to reach mass audiences arises (Bos et al. 2011). However, they are frequently in conflict with traditional media, in populist rhetoric an instrument of elite domination (Lipinski and Stepinska 2018). While studying the eruption of right-wing violence in Germany, Ruud Koopmans and Susan Olzak found that media attention is a powerful learning tool for those who use it to assess the results and legitimacy of their violent acts (Koopmans and Olzak 2004). As other researchers have discovered, negative coverage is not always “bad,” given that it still contributes to the diffusion of populist messages (Esser et al. 2017).



A growing field of interest in the literature is the advent of new media, particularly of social media, and the impact it has in transforming the political communication strategies of populist leaders. Several authors have studied the use of social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, by populist parties to communicate with their publics (Blassnig et al. 2018; Jacobs and Spierings 2018). Others have analyzed the features of populist rhetoric as it appears in social networks (Ernst et al. 2017). The creation of new means of communication does not entail the demise of traditional media. Fisher et al. (2018), for example, speak of a hybrid media system in which the audience is accessed through traditional and digital outlets. While writing about the recent rise of right-wing politicians in Poland, Lipinski and Stepinska (2018) call attention to the critical role played by social media in electoral communication strategies. Mazzoleni and Bracciale (2018) have recently identified a brand of “endemic populism” in Italy that thrives on social media, possibly because “the fragmentation of the populist ideology and the strong polarization typical of the social media environment” are almost a perfect fit (Mazzoleni and Bracciale 2018, 9). The recent case of Jair Bolsonaro’s electoral victory in Brazil illustrates a new media landscape in which different social media play different roles. Bolsonaro has cultivated his image as a right-wing outsider on Facebook over the years. During his presidential election campaign, he relied on his large Facebook following for direct communication with the electorate but also employed a technique called fire-hosing—flooding the largest possible number of recipients with countless posts—on WhatsApp, mostly—containing fake news and negative campaigning. Although studies on WhatsApp are still rare, they identify the same type of usage, such as work by Gowhar Farooq, who, while not directly concerned with populism per se, found that WhatsApp was also used in India for political propaganda and inciting violence, mostly through spreading fake news (Farooq 2018). We have commented so far on authors that take the media as an instrument of populist political forces. Others, such as Krämer (2014) and Hameleers et al. (2017), have contended that the media itself can be populist. According to Krämer, media populism is defined by the employment of stylistic and ideological elements characteristic of populism, such as “the construction and favoritism of in-groups, hostility toward, and circumvention of the elites and institutions of representative democracy, reliance on charisma and (group-related) commonsense, and



appeal to moral sentiments (thus on an emotionalizing, personalizing, and ostentatiously plainspoken discourse)” (Krämer 2014, 48). Esser et al. (2017, 367) elaborate further to propose three perspectives of media populism: populism by the media—the production of populist discourse by the media itself—populism through the media—the diffusion of populist messages by the media—and populist citizen journalism—the opening of media space for opinions from the audience, such as users’ comments on a news media website. Popular commercial media, such as tabloid newspapers, are the quintessential examples of media populism (Mudde 2007; Mazzoleni 2008; Rooduijn 2014). They are more prone than mainstream media to employ a populist rhetoric in their coverage. Rooduijn tries to explain this phenomenon by arguing that, for historical reasons, tabloids do not have the same strong ties with major political parties as mainstream media, thus turning them more anti-elite (Rooduijn 2014). However, this contention has been rebuffed by other scholars working on the same topic (Bos and Brants 2014). Finally, another branch of the literature aims at evaluating the connections between media and populist discourse and their impact on the quality of democracy (Blumler and Gurevitch 1995; Mutz and Reeves 2005; Mazzoleni 2014). Similar to the literature on media populism, these authors find that by providing the audience with a predominantly negative coverage of politics, often centered on corruption scandals and other negative issues, the news media fosters an attitude of alienation and cynicism toward politics and political institutions, thus producing narratives that are easily exploited by populist rhetoric. This introduction to the second part of the volume has aimed not only to provide a brief overview of the literature on populism and the media but also to encourage readers to take the arguments presented by authors as hypotheses to be tested and revised by applying them to other contexts. These theories on the communicative functions of different social media, the rhetoric of popular media such as tabloids, the life cycle model, the synergy between the media’s negative coverage of politics, and the growth of cynicism are all in need of further empirical verification.

Bibliography Blassnig, Sina, Nicole Ernst, Florin Büchel, and Sven Engesser. 2018. Populist Communication in Talk Shows and Social Media: A Comparative Content



Analysis in Four Countries. Studies in Communication | Media 7 (3): 338– 363. Blumler, Jay G., and Michael Gurevitch. 1995. The Crisis of Public Communication. London, UK: Routledge. Bos, Linda, and Kees Brants. 2014. Populist Rhetoric in Politics and Media: A Longitudinal Study of the Netherlands. European Journal of Communication 29 (6): 703–719. Bos, Linda, Wouter van der Brug, and Claes de Vreese. 2011. How the Media Shape Perceptions of Right-Wing Populist Leaders. Political Communication 28 (2): 182–206. Chakravartty, Paula, and Srirupa Roy. 2017. Mediatized Populisms: Inter-Asian Lineages. International Journal of Communication 11: 4073–4092. Cook, Timothy. 2005. Governing with the News: The News Media as a Political Institution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Ernst, Nicole, Sven Engesser, Florin Büchel, Sina Blassnig, and Frank Esser. 2017. Extreme Parties and Populism: An Analysis of Facebook and Twitter Across Six Countries. Information, Communication & Society 20 (9): 1347– 1364. Esser, Frank. 2013. Mediatization as a Challenge: Media Logic Versus Political Logic. In Democracy in the Age of Globalization and Mediatization, ed. Daniel Bochsler, Frank Esser, Hanspeter Kriesi, Jörg Matthes, Marc Bühlmann, and Sandra Lavenex, 155–176. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. Esser, Frank, Agnieszka Stepinska, and David Nicolas Hopmann. 2017. Populism and the Media: Cross-National Findings and Perspectives. In Populist Political Communication in Europe, ed. Toril Aalberg, Frank Esses, Carsten Reinemann, Jesper Strömbäck, and Claes de Vreese, 365–380. New York: Routledge. Farooq, Gowhar. 2018. Politics of Fake News: How Whatsapp Became a Potent Propaganda Tool in India. Media Watch 9 (1): 106–117. Fisher, Caroline, David Marshall, and Kerry McCallum. 2018. Bypassing the Press Gallery: From Howard to Hanson. Media International Australia 167 (1): 57–70. Hameleers, Michael, Linda Bos, and Claes H. de Vreese. 2017. Shoot the Messenger? The Media’s Role in Framing Populist Attributions of Blame. Journalism 20 (9): 1145–1164. Jacobs, Kristof, and Niels Spierings. 2018. A Populist Paradise? Examining Populists’ Twitter Adoption and Use. Information, Communication & Society 1: 1–18. Koopmans, Ruud, and Susan Olzak. 2004. Discursive Opportunities and the Evolution of Right-Wing Violence in Germany. American Journal of Sociology 110 (1): 198–230.



Krämer, Benjamin. 2014. Media Populism: A Conceptual Clarification and Some Theses on Its Effects. Communication Theory 24 (1): 42–60. Lipinski, Artur, and Agnieszka Stepinska. 2018. Polish Right-Wing Populism in the Era of Social Media: The Unexpected Careers of Pawel Kukiz and Janusz Korwin-Mikke. Problems of Post-Communism 66 (1): 1–7. Manucci, Luca. 2017. Populism and the Media. In The Oxford Handbook of Populism, ed. Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, Paul Taggart, Paulina Ochoa Espejo, and Pierre Ostiguy, 467–488. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Mazzoleni, Gianpetro. 2003. The Media and the Growth of Neo-Populism in Contemporary Democracies. In The Media and Neo-Populism: A Contemporary Comparative Analysis, ed. Gianpetro Mazzoleni, Julianne Stewart, and Bruce Horsfield, 1–20. Westport: Praeger. Mazzoleni, Gianpietro. 2008. Populism and the Media. In Twenty-First Century Populism: The Specter of Western European Democracy, ed. Daniele Albertazzi and Duncan McDonnell, 49–66. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Mazzoleni, Gianpetro. 2014. Mediatization and Political Populism. In Mediatization of Politics: Understanding the Transformation of Western Democracies, ed. F. Esser and J. Strömbäck, 42–56. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Mazzoleni, Gianpietro, Julianne Stewart, and Bruce Horsfield. 2003a. Conclusion: Power to the Media Managers. In The Media and Neo-Populism: A Contemporary Comparative Analysis, ed. Gianpietro Mazzoleni, Julianne Stewart, and Bruce Horsfield, 217–238. Westport: Praeger. Mazzoleni, Gianpietro, Julianne Stewart, and Bruce Horsfield. 2003b. The Media and Neo-Populism: A Contemporary Comparative Analysis. Westport: Praeger. Mazzoleni, Gianpetro, and Roberta Bracciale. 2018. Socially Mediated Populism: The Communicative Strategies of Political Leaders on Facebook. Palgrave Communications 4 (50). Mudde, Cas. 2007. Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Mutz, Diana C., and Byron Reeves. 2005. The New Videomalaise: Effects of Televised Incivility on Political Trust. American Political Science Review 99 (1): 1–15. Rooduijn, Matthijs. 2014. The Mesmerising Message: The Diffusion of Populism in Public Debates in Western European Media. Political Studies 62: 726–744. Waisbord, Silvio. 2003. Media Populism: Neo-Populism in Latin America. In The Media and Neo-Populism: A Contemporary Comparative Analysis, ed. Gianpietro Mazzoleni, Julianne Stewart, and Bruce Horsfield, 197–216. Westport: Praeger.

Populism and the Media in Brazil: The Case of Jair Bolsonaro João Feres Júnior and Juliana Gagliardi

Where it has been dealt with systematically, populism as a concept has found little agreement surrounding it. Paul A. Taggart, Populism

In this chapter, we intend to examine the appropriateness of understanding the current surge of a strong right-wing political movement in Brazil centered around the persona of Jair Bolsonaro (president since January 1, 2019) through the lens of the concept of populism. We test major tenets of the concept against the case in hand, and contend that grasping his communication strategy is crucial to understanding the Bolsonaro phenomenon. After surveying key contributions to the conceptual debate on populism and to the study of populism in Brazil

J. Feres Júnior (B) · J. Gagliardi Institute of Social and Political Studies, State University of Rio de Janeiro (IESP/UERJ), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil e-mail: [email protected] J. Gagliardi e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 C. Kohl et al. (eds.), The Politics of Authenticity and Populist Discourses, Global Political Sociology,




in particular, we analyse discourses and textual materials produced by Bolsonaro’s political campaign in search of matches to aspects of populism identified in the literature. Ultimately, we maintain that Bolsonaro’s adherence to some major tenets of the concept of populism must be understood against the background of the new communicative strategies opened up by the massive use of social media as a campaign tool.

In Search of a Concept Authors engaged in defining the concept of populism have often struggled with its vagueness and lack of clarity (Kaltwasser et al. 2017; Mudde and Kaltwasser 2017; Taggart 2000; Laclau 2005). Mudde and Kaltwasser point not only to the debate surrounding the term but also to doubt of its existence at all on the part of some authors. In their own words, “It truly is an essentially contested concept. A perfect example of conceptual confusion” (Mudde and Kaltwasser 2017, 2). Taggart has argued that many attempts to deal with the concept in an operational fashion come from case studies, but that such contextual definitions do not travel well. He then goes on to identify the works which, he claims, despite being first articulated as case studies, can be generalized for an analysis of other social and political contexts. He calls these works “the state of the art.” Nonetheless, after a quick read of the authors Taggart ranks among the top contributors to the study of the topic, such as Isaiah Berlin, Edward Shils, Torcuato Di Tella, and Ernesto Laclau, one concludes that their definitions vary considerably and that no common concept could be derived from putting them all together (Taggart 2000). After surveying a set of heterogeneous definitions, Taggart comes up with his own conceptualization, which as its first tenet states that “populists celebrate ‘the people,’ especially insofar as their values contrast with those of elites … Certainly, one of the most common features of populism is the assertion that it is for the people” (Taggart 2000, 91). When facing the difficult task of defining the concept, some authors opt for a minimalist definition in the hopes of improving its power of generalization. Edward Shils, for example, states that populism “exists wherever there is an ideology of popular resentment against the order imposed on society by a long-established, differentiated ruling class which is believed to have a monopoly of power, property, breeding and culture” (Shils 1956, 100– 101). Even Margaret Canovan, who sets out to propose a structural definition of populism, ends up reaffirming the centrality of the people



in its semantics: “Populism in modern democratic societies is best seen as an appeal to ‘the people’ against both the established structure of power and the dominant ideas and values of the society” (Canovan 1999, 2). Canovan restricts her conceptualization to liberal democratic societies, which has consequences for her understanding of features such as the populist manipulation of information and the widespread promotion of popular irrationality. She downplays the latter, arguing that in wellestablished democratic systems, populist movements do not propose to abolish free elections and install dictatorial regimes. Other authors, such as Cas Mudde, associate populism directly with authoritarianism (Mudde 2013, 2014). We see no reason to assume ex ante that populism is unable to rupture liberal democratic institutions. It makes more sense to take liberal democracy as a parameter for assessing populism while avoiding wagers on the structural solidity and historical resilience of this political regime. Our sceptical position is thus more akin to that of Cas Mudde and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser (2017). Unlike authors such as Berlin who seeks to establish a list of chief characteristics that define populism, Mudde and Kaltwasser aim to organize previous contributions in a coherent way before proposing their own take on the concept. According to them, there are several approaches to populism. The popular agency approach understands populism as a democratic phenomenon that springs from the popular engagement in politics. The approach by Laclau and Mouffe sees populism as an antidote to the shortcomings of liberal democracy. Similar to Canovan and to the popular agency approach, these authors state that populism reintroduces conflict into politics and mobilizes the excluded sectors of society against the status quo. Coming from Latin American studies, the socioeconomic approach sees populism as a brand of fiscal irresponsibility, practiced by rulers to amass popular support. Another approach sees populism as a political strategy employed by leaders to bypass political institutions and govern directly. And finally there is an approach that considers populism a “folkloric style of politics” which includes “amateurish and unprofessional political behavior that aims to maximize media attention and popular support” (Mudde and Kaltwasser 2017, 3–4). But Mudde and Kaltwasser shunt these approaches as incomplete and propose instead what they call an ideational approach, defining populism as “a thin-centered ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic camps, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite,’ and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté? générale



(general will) of the people” (Mudde and Kaltwasser 2017, 6). In this rather synthetic definition, they combine elements already present in the works of previous authors. By thin-centered ideology they mean an ideology with little content that often appears connected to other “full” ideologies. It is a point similar to that of Canovan, who prefers the term “structural” to convey the malleability of populism in ideological terms. But again, like Canovan, who has tried to remain on the level of structural analysis but eventually given into a minimalist semantic content, Mudde and Kaltwasser do not refrain from stating what they see as the three main substantive attributes of populism: the people, the elite, and the general will. According to them, the people can appear alternatively as the sovereign people, the common people or the nation (Mudde and Kaltwasser 2017, 9–11). The elite is the opposite of the people, but also a floating signifier that can be identified with different political actors but never with the populists themselves. They are often the powerful, the oppressors, the traitors of the nation. Elements of class, ethnicity, and morality can be combined in defining the people-elite dichotomy. Finally, they add that populist politicians pose themselves as bearers of the “correct” interpretation of the general will. They share with Rousseau a distrust of representative democracy. Appeals to the general will provide populist discourse with a unifying force used to confront the elite, the Schmittian political enemy that must be obliterated. This brief and incomplete review of contributions to the conceptualization of populism has identified common threads that run across different authors and theories. On the other hand, we have also found some degree of cacophony. One thing is certain: there is not a single conceptualization that satisfies all analytical needs. Thus, instead of trying to solve this conceptual conundrum at the level of abstract theory and then applying the resulting formulation to the single-case study at hand, the candidacy of Jair Bolsonaro to Brazil’s presidency, we will use the analysis of this case to illuminate and test the theoretical debate as such. First, however„ we will briefly review the literature on populism in Brazil, for if the concept of populism can give us a better understanding of the Bolsonaro phenomenon, we should also verify whether there are lines of continuity between the facts and figures of the past that were deemed populist and the case now at hand.



Populism in Brazil Populism is a recurring theme in the Brazilian and Brazilianist social sciences. A commentator on the history of the theory of populism in Brazil once wrote: “if in the 1940s the historian joined the journalist to formulate the idea of populism, in the 1950s a second approach appeared, now the sociologist joined the same journalist” (Ferreira 2001, 119– 120). Jorge Ferreira’s work captures well how the concept of populism was formulated by academics in the aftermath of World War II, which coincided with the end of Getúlio Vargas’s dictatorship in Brazil (1937– 1946), also known as Estado Novo. Slowly but surely the media started using the concept to attack politicians with a strong labor constituency, such as Vargas, João Goulart,1 Leonel Brizola,2 and others. The theories of populism formulated by academics in those decades can be categorized into three basic families: liberal, modernizing, and Marxist. The liberal approach saw populism as a product of the flow of peasants to the cities in search of factory jobs opened up by the rapid process of industrialization from the early decades of the twentieth century.3 Their lack of education and socialization in the urban space was seen as making them an easy prey of charismatic leaders who used an authoritarian state apparatus as well as a national ideology, with promises of progress and social equality, to establish a strong regime. The interpretation inspired by modernization theory saw the process of fast urbanization as the cause of political instability that, in turn, allowed for populist leaders to gain access to the state via civil unrest and political coups. Marxist theorists such as Francisco Wefort borrowed a great deal from the liberal approach and added to it the argument that populism, with its praise for unity under the national banner, impeded the formation of class consciousness.

1 The 24th president of Brazil (1961–1964) and one of Vargas’s main political heirs, Goulart was elected federal deputy on the old Brazilian Workers’ Party (PTB) ticket at a very young age and soon became Minister of Labour under Vargas. He was overthrown by a military junta in March 1964. 2 Another of Vargas’s political heirs, also a member of the old PTB, Brizola was the Governor of Rio Grande do Sul under Goulart’s presidency and was a key figure in averting a military coup in 1961. He later returned from exile in the 1980 s to become Rio de Janeiro’s governor for two non-consecutive terms (1983–1987 and 1991–1994). 3 Karl Loewenstein’s Brazil under Vargas was probably the first book to articulate the liberal conception (Loewenstein and Jay I. Kislak Reference Collection, Library of Congress, 1942).



All these interpretations, one way or the other, saw Brazil as lacking key features of an ideal modernization process mirroring the supposedly historical paths of European countries. Furthermore, they also shared the elitist view that the masses were utterly irrational and easily captured by ideological discourses that clouded their understanding of their own selfinterest or class position. Although the concept of populism lost momentum among Brazil’s academics after the 1960s, by this time the term had already been incorporated into everyday language as one used to disparage and denigrate political adversaries as liars or demagogues willing to endanger public administration by gaining the favor of the irrational and ignorant masses. As a political concept populism had a clear target: trabalhismo—a term used to designate the politics of unions and labor organizations that coalesced under Vargas’s dictatorship and became a major political force in the democratic period that succeeded it (1945–1964) (Gomes 1994). Brazil’s democratic regime was interrupted by a military coup in 1964. When democracy returned in the mid-1980s, populism was still associated with workers’ movements, particularly the “old” trabalhismo represented by the likes of Brizola and the old workers’ party Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro (PTB). The recently created Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) had among its most influential leaders Francisco Wefort, probably the main academic reference for the theory of populism in Brazil. Coherently enough, PT opposed the ways of the old workers’ movement and scorned what they saw as populism, which according to their view was characterized by strong ties between authoritarian political leaders and workers’ unions within a corporatist arrangement. PT’s success as a political party with mass appeal led it to several electoral victories and eventually, in 2002, to win the most important political post in Brazil’s democratic system, that of president of the republic, an accomplishment repeated four times in a row (2002 and 2006 by Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, and 2010 and 2014 by Dilma Rousseff). Lula’s strong charisma and popularity, his humble origins in the poverty-stricken Brazilian Northeast and his life-long affiliation with the workers’ movement„ first as a worker and union leader and then as a PT leader, all concurred to vest in him the epithet of populist. But it was the tremendous success of his poverty-reduction policies, particularly of Programa



Bolsa Família 4 during his first term in office, that sealed his fate in the eyes of his political opponents. It is no surprise that in a very recent newspaper article the now conservative Fernando Henrique Cardoso calls Lula “a populist leader” (Cardoso 2018). Until now we have been speaking about the so-called left-wing populism, or more precisely about how this concept was employed by Brazilian academia to critically assess the phenomenon of trabalhismo and then migrated to the communicative sphere of everyday political discourse where it became a means to condemn and disparage trabalhismo and its chief political leaders. But what about right-wing populism? After all, Jair Bolsonaro is a self-avowed rightist, an enemy of the PT and of everything it represents. Would the concept of populism help us understand Bolsonaro’s role and meaning in present-day Brazilian politics?

Is Bolsonaro a Populist? Jair Bolsonaro was elected to the city council of Rio de Janeiro in 1988, the same year in which he retired from the army as a captain. His first electoral success can be credited to the popularity he gained as leader of a movement demanding a pay raise for the lower ranks of the army. Bolsonaro has been a professional politician since then, moving through several parties before settling in the Partido Progressista (PP), a mediumsize right-wing party deeply embroiled in corruption scandals. He was first elected federal deputy in 1990, a post he held on to through six consecutive elections, always keeping a low profile and a low level of engagement in parliamentary activity. In October 2018, this somewhat obscure politician was elected president of Brazil, capturing 55.01% of the valid votes, after running a campaign mostly via social media. His extreme right stances on crime, minority rights, gender and racial equality, democracy, etc., and his raucous persona, have earned him the epithets of “populist” (Leahy and Schipani 2018), “populist conservative” (Londoño and Andreoni 2018), “right-wing populist” (Faiola and Lopes 2018; Bolsonaro 2018a), “far-right populist” (Phillips and Phillips 2018), and

4 A cash transfer program launched in 2003, during Lula da Silva’s first term, which aims to give support to families with extremely poor per capita income, under the conditions that children attend school, their vaccinations are up-to-date, and pregnant women attend regular check-ups.



“crude and thuggish populist” (New York Times 2018) in the international press. Even academics such as Rovira Kaltwasser, Nadia Urbinati, and Lawrence Rosenthal have referred to him as an extreme right-wing populist (Charleaux 2018). But can he really be called a true populist? In order to explore this question in this section, we will analyse the discourse of Bolsonaro as a candidate in the 2018 presidential elections, using video recordings of interviews, the document containing his manifesto,5 and videos produced by his campaign team and made available on his official YouTube page. During the campaign Bolsonaro showed two different personas. One corresponds to what Mudde and Kaltwasser describe as typically populist—an informal, amateurish, and buffoonish style, used at events, rallies, and public speeches. The other persona is more circumspect and serious, almost polite, and appears in interviews and appearances in traditional media outlets. The first persona is capable of making the most outrageous and atrocious statements, such as “We will gun down these petralhas6 here in Acre. I will make all these scoundrels run away from here. Since they like Venezuela so much, they should go there.” This persona constantly makes a gun gesture with his thumb and index finger to allude to shooting someone or even just to refer to the use of fire arms, which he supports vehemently.7 In sum, the first persona appeals to an ideal of popular authenticity, of one who is in sync with the common people’s rejection of the conceptual subtleties of political correctness, which he repeatedly associates with the left and with political corruption. The other persona declares that he wants to unify the Brazilian people, that he will govern for everybody, and denies the accusation that he is a bigot (Bolsonaro 2018b). But the scale really tips to the side of the first 5 In Brazil all presidential candidates are obliged by law to deposit a copy of their political platform with the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) at the beginning of the official campaign period. 6 A derogatory epithet for the followers of the Workers’ Party that is a portmanteau of petista (one who follows the PT) and metralhas —Walt Disney’s Beagle Boys, a group of thieves that appear on Uncle Scrooge’s cartoons. 7 For examples of explicit bigoted behaviour see

vamos-fuzilar-a-petralhada-aqui-do-acre-diz-bolsonaro-0402CD9C3566CCA96326 and For examples of attempts to appear tolerant and peace-loving see politica/bolsonaro-paz-e-amor/ and 27/bolsonaro-paz-e-amor-trabalha-para-amansar-o-stf-e-o-congresso/.



persona. Throughout his career Bolsonaro has made countless inflammatory comments against the LGBT+ community, black people, indigenous people, women, leftists, and other minority or disenfranchized groups. For example, he once declared that he “would be unable to love a homosexual son. I will not play the hypocrite here: I’d prefer that my son die in an accident than have him show up in my house with a big mustached dude. If he ever does that, for me, he would be as good as dead” (Terra 2011). Or, on another occasion, that “If the son starts to behave a little gay, a good beating will change his ways. Look, I see a lot of people out there saying ‘I’m glad I got spanked, my dad taught me how to be a man’” (Pragmatismo 2014). As these passages reveal, Bolsonaro fashions himself as an authentic subject (Saupe 2016) by acting as a wholehearted man who always speaks his mind and thus rejects the supposedly hypocritical complexities of leftist intellectual sophistication. This appeal to authenticity also shows in his efforts to present himself as a champion of family values, showing concerns for the education and upbringing of children, often mixed with strong strokes of homophobia, like in the passage below uttered in response to the decision of Brazil’s Supreme Court to legalize the stable civil union between homosexuals: The next step will be to legalize paedophilia … I do not want my youngest son to play with the adopted son of two homosexuals. I won’t let him. I do not want him to learn from my neighbours’ son that his mother has a beard, that this is normal. I will not leave him in their company because if that happens in the future my son will also become a homosexual…. They will say that I am discriminating, and I am, indeed. (G1 2011)

Bolsonaro even went as far as to fabricate a story that presidential candidate Fernando Haddad, Minister of Education during Lula’s presidency, ordered the distribution of a “gay kit” in public schools all over the country with the intention of teaching young children how to be homosexual. He repeated this story in endless interviews before and during the campaign, and even after being elected, despite the fact that it was entirely false (Lázaro 2018). Nonetheless, during the campaign his other persona appeared once in a while to make such statements as: “I have never offended or assaulted a homosexual. I am not homophobic” (Bolsonaro 2018b).



A key aspect of Bolsonaro’s discourse which brings him close to countless examples of other populist politicians is the constant employment of an extreme dichotomous rhetoric that opposes “us” to “them.” In his case, the position “us” is occupied by a collective formed by authentic “righteous men,” an expression he frequently employs, while “them” is equalled to moral and political corruption, often attributed to the PT, its politicians, and the left in general. I feel good. Gratified and happy to be a real option against everything that has been happening in Brazil in recent years. Especially in the fight against corruption, we cannot let a party that plunged Brazil into the deepest ethical, moral and economic crisis return to power with the same politicians. (Bolsonaro 2018b)

The vocabulary used to vilify and demonize the PT and its real and imaginary followers is abundant. He calls them thieves, scoundrels, communists, socialists, perverts, and so on. Bolsonaro often attacks big media, which in Brazil has a traditional center-right orientation, calling them leftists, communists, and spreaders of fake news; similarities with Donald Trump are no coincidence. The passage above also reveals his rhetorical usage of the image of crisis, a concept that in political language has often been used as a justification for redemptive action (Richter and Richter 2006), as in the following passage, in which the left is also blamed for dividing the country, which in turn he, Bolsonaro, will succeed in uniting: “They cannot call me corrupt. I have always fought corruption. I always preached the union of us all under one banner, one green and yellow heart. We cannot be divided. The left divided us and we kept fighting each other. I want the union of all” (Bolsonaro 2018b). This is another appearance of the second persona, the conciliator, whose mission is to solve crisis. But as it becomes clear in his following words during this interview, Bolsonaro’s plan to solve crises and unify the country involves embracing an extreme right-wing agenda. Problems such as crime and drug trafficking, central to his depiction of crisis, he proposes to face with violent repression, more incarceration, lowering the age limit for criminal convictions, and arming the citizenry: Let’s assume you have a cool gun at home. Enter a thief at two in the morning. You shoot him 15 times [sic] but hit him only five times in the shin. It does not kill the guy. You will be convicted for attempted



murder and the scoundrel for trespassing. His sentence will be shorter than yours. We have to reverse this. I have a project in Brasília and, as president, we would have less difficulty passing it, that is, in self-defence of your own life or of third parties and in the legitimate defence of our own or of a third-party’s property, there will be no punishment. This is called the legal safeguard, which is good for us, righteous citizens, and good for security agents, and civilian and military police. We cannot accept that a military police officer, after fulfilling his mission, 2, 3 o’clock in the morning, exchanging shots with a criminal bearing an automatic rifle, be sued for killing this criminal with 4 or 5 shoots. Where in the world can this be possible? Only in Brazil. (Bolsonaro 2018b)

Brazil has been facing a protracted period of economic crisis that, despite being in part caused by external factors, was also produced by Dilma Rousseff’s haphazard economic policy and lack of political skills. But in the discourse of Bolsonaro, the crisis was eminently moral, caused by the attack on family values waged by the left. During the campaign he refrained from commenting on economic matters, and at most directed the inquiries to Paulo Guedes, a University of Chicago-educated libertarian economist who was his chief economic advisor and later became Minister of the Economy in his cabinet. Guedes, in turn, had a single solution for the economic crisis: reducing public spending. Drastically downplaying the debate on policy, Bolsonaro’s campaign was organized around two banners, a radical defence of conservative family values and a rabid anti-corruption discourse. It may be the case that each aimed at captivating a different type of voter. He received massive support from evangelical churches, whose followers belong mostly to the lower-income strata of Brazilian society and are known advocates of conservative values. At the same time, his popularity among welleducated white middle and upper-middle-class voters was considerably above average from the beginning of the campaign (Datafolha Eleições 2018; G1 2018). These are the people mostly affected by decades of media coverage of corruption scandals that was highly biased against the center-left government lead by the PT. The context of a deep scepticism toward politics and political institutions that marked the election favored the appearance of candidates presenting themselves as outsiders. Bolsonaro jumped at the opportunity, despite the fact that he had been a professional politician for more than thirty years, and for eleven of those years affiliated to the PP, which had a



large number of politicians involved in the Lava Jato corruption scandal,8 and despite the fact that he had received rental housing benefits from the Chamber of Deputies for several years while living in an apartment he owned in Brasilia.9 How was this possible?

The Power of the New Media Throughout the New Republic (1985–2018), presidential elections in Brazil were structured around three means of communication between candidates and the electorate: direct campaigning (rallies, motorcades, door-to-door canvassing, meetings, etc.), free radio and TV airtime, and the mainstream media. In this old paradigm, a broad party coalition, usually centered around a large party, guaranteed both a solid basis for direct campaigning and a sizable portion of free airtime, divided among presidential candidates proportionate to the total number of federal deputies of their party coalition. The behavior of the mainstream media was also stable, with a high disposition for political activism and unwavering support for right-wing or center-right candidates (Kucinski 1998; Miguel 1999, 2003; Miguel and Coutinho 2007; Azevedo 2008, 2009; Albuquerque 2013; Feres Júnior 2017). Election after election, except for that of 1989, the mainstream media supported the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB) candidate against the PT candidate. This support was granted in the form of a bias in media coverage that was benevolent toward the PSDB and malignant toward the PT and its candidate, whose appearances in the news were often associated with scandals and false accusations (Miguel and Coutinho 2007; Azevedo 2010; Biroli and Mantovani 2014). 8 Lava Jato, literally “car wash”, is an operation by the Paraná state branch of Brazil’s federal judicial system in conjunction with the Paraná state branch of the Federal Prosecutor’s Office and the Federal Policy, with the aim of fighting political corruption. Launched in 2014, the Operation has so far sent several politicians to jail, including expresident Lula, and dismantled a great number of Brazilian large companies, especially in the construction sector. Given that investigations have been restricted almost exclusively to left-wing politicians and the governments led by them, Lava Jato has been accused of being manipulated by conservative political operators and foreign business interests. For more information see Azenha (2017). 9 When asked by a reporter about this money, Bolsonaro declared, using vulgar language, that he spent it buying sexual favours. See poder/2018/01/1948729-com-imovel-proprio-bolsonaro-ganha-auxilio-moradia-da-cam ara.shtml.



Things changed considerably in the 2018 election, however. Social media appeared as a viable and strong means of communication, while the traditional campaign channels were less significant. Mitigated by a 2016 federal statute that shortened the official campaign period and forbade corporate donations to political campaigns (Speck 2016), direct campaigning relinquished the key role it once enjoyed. Contributing to this trend, formal and informal institutions such as evangelical churches, established pressure groups, and organized crime began competing with parties for influence on the voters’ choices. The same statute that shortened the official campaign period also had an impact on the communicative power of free airtime—which was until recently an efficient tool parties and politicians used to speak directly to the electorate. Instead of 45 days of political propaganda, they had only 30. Furthermore, since free airtime is only enforced in open access media, its communicative power was mitigated by the competition these traditional media (TV and radio) today receive from private media such as cable TV, Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, etc. Finally, the third means of communication in the old paradigm, the mainstream media, also lost some of their power to influence elections, mostly because of their radical adherence to the agenda of criminalizing politics. Starting with the Mensalão scandal10 in 2006 and gaining momentum with the Lava Jato scandal, the mainstream media shifted their alliances from right-wing political parties to sectors of the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Ministério Público) and the Judiciary, focusing on the criminalization of politics. First solely focused on the PT, the coverage of political corruption ended up involving other parties and engulfing practically the entire political system. That, in turn, made the media’s shameless support of PSDB candidates, or any other candidate, no longer possible given that it would blatantly contradict the criminalization of politics discourse. Lacking key institutional resources such as the support of a large party or even of a coalition, Bolsonaro would never have won if the

10 The Mensalão scandal involved several politicians from the PT, who were accused of using illegal funds to bribe federal deputies in exchange for support of the president’s legislative agenda in Congress. The final Supreme Court decision, following noisy media coverage, sent most of the defendants to jail, despite the lack of confirming evidence. For more information see Miguel (2007) and Biroli (2014).



old paradigm were still operational. He did not fare well with the mainstream media either, who rejected his extremist defence of illiberal values and histrionic behavior (Feres Júnior 2018). But Bolsonaro was by far the most successful contender on social media, due to two factors: a long-term strategy of privileging social media as a means for building a public persona, and a short-term strategy for turning votes. The longterm strategy was based around Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Starting with the wave of protest that swept Brazil in June 2013,11 Bolsonaro managed to fashion himself as a champion of the new alt-right, whose different groups were almost exclusively built on social media. At the beginning of the official campaign period in July 2018, Bolsonaro had the largest number of followers of Brazilian politicians on his Facebook page (more than 4 million), and the second most popular page among politicians on Facebook. During the campaign, he used Facebook and Twitter to communicate directly with the electorate and militants, replacing the role formerly played by the free airtime, but in a much more agile fashion. The short-term strategy employed by his campaign was based on a different type of social media: WhatsApp. Suspected of channeling large sums of illegal donations to automatic messaging services on WhatsApp, the campaign adopted a technique called fire-hosing, which consisted of feeding the electorate with a barrage of content, most of it negative campaigning and fake news (Paul and Matthews 2016). This answers the question posed in the previous section: how was Bolsonaro able to fashion himself as an honest outsider with such a contradictory biography? While the other candidates participated in the electoral competition in accordance with the rules of the old paradigm, Bolsonaro adopted, mostly for lack of alternatives, a different communicative approach, and won the election. In the old paradigm one always tried to ally communicative efficiency with the best argument. Particularly the left was very much tied to the deliberative idea that if enough space is given to debate, in the end, the best argument wins. Bolsonaro avoided all campaign debates and restricted his dialogical interactions with the media

11 In June 2013 Brazil was shaken by a wave of street protests that started as a small

gathering in São Paulo, organized against a local rise in bus fares, and rapidly expanded to massive demonstrations that brought together a incongruous mass of millions of people, countrywide, and lasted for about two weeks. Protesters did not have a sole political orientation, but it was in this cauldron that alt-right political movements started to sprout and grow.



to a minimum, while his campaign focused, not on concocting the best argument, but on maximizing the effect of communication, even if the content communicated was false, contradictory or incoherent. This is an important point with methodological consequences for our present inquiry. In Bolsonaro’s post-truth politics, appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy replace argumentative coherence and factual truth. Thus, in order to answer the question as to whether or not he is a populist, we should not look for a rounded-up populist figure but for elements in his public discourse and presentation that have been identified by the literature as typically populist even if enmeshed in cacophony: Revivalism Bolsonaro preaches a return to the allegedly simpler and truer methods of military rule. He is a retired army captain, his vice-president is a retired army general, and he has several other armed forces officials, most of them retired, in his closest circle. This neo-militarism acquired growing public resonance after the June 2013 protest wave, when small groups of protesters bore banners calling for “military intervention now.” During the campaign for the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff in the following years these groups gained more visibility and Bolsonaro rapidly became one of their major leaders, often preaching military intervention and honoring torturers from the period of the military dictatorship as true national heroes in his speeches. This revivalism is clearly another manifestation of a politics of authenticity according to which the left in power has promoted political corruption and moral turpitude, necessitating a strong hand to bring things back to their original state: the military. Irrationalism, emotionality, and religiosity Bolsonaro’s campaign made every effort to associate him with Christianity, particularly with the moral agenda of the evangelical churches and its leaders. His political platform contains several religious references to fraternity and compassion for others, while at the same time inciting violence and intolerance. In his speeches he constantly invokes the “will of God” and the motto of his campaign was “Brazil above everything, and God above all,” borrowed from the Brazilian Army Infantry Brigade



of Paratroopers to which he once belonged. A pastor of the Assembly of God described Bolsonaro as “the only one who speaks the language of evangelicals” (Moribe 2018). His government plan included a biblical quotation on the first page: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). Thus, while military revivalism is a rational element of his politics of authenticity, these appeals to religiosity compose a brand of authenticity that is drenched with emotionality. Demonising rhetoric Taggart argues that “the language of populist rhetoric is full of negative, demonizing imagery of pointy-headed intellectuals, bureaucrats, hacks, fat cats, robber barons, beatniks and plutocrats” (Taggart 2000, 94). Many other authors have called attention to the dichotomous rhetoric of populism that pitches the “people” against its enemies. Bolsonaro has been investing for years in the demonization of the PT. Even his political platform contains anti-PT passages such as “the left corrupted democracy and stagnated the economy,” “the legacy of PT is inefficiency and corruption,” and so on. Over-simplification of the political agenda Mudde points out that extreme right parties usually run on a single issue, such as immigration. Throughout the electoral campaign Bolsonaro and his followers did much to over-simplify the political agenda, as we have already shown, replacing debates on policy with simple political slogans. His official government plan, a document that all presidential candidates must publicize in order to run, is nothing but an inchoate set of simplistic and poorly explained ideas (Tribunal Superior Eleitoral 2018). Vulgarity and unsophisticatedness The simplistic political agenda of Bolsonaro’s campaign combines perfectly with his own vulgar manners. His speeches are often offensive and ridden with imprecations against his “enemies” interspersed with grammatical errors of all sorts. This identification between the politician and the simple uneducated man is another element of his politics of authenticity. Even his Facebook and Twitter campaign spots contained



several grammatical errors, as if they had been produced by amateur militants or by Bolsonaro and his sons themselves. While all these elements belong to the repertoire attributed to populism, other key aspects are less clearly defined, such as: Appeal to the homeland Taggart sees this as a core element of populism, but in the case of Bolsonaro this appeal is very thin. His followers and his campaign use the colors of the Brazilian flag and the shirt of the national soccer team symbolically. They do not spend much of their rhetorical energy idealizing a homeland that needs defending from the enemy. He speaks of Brazil as a homeland only in the military sense, as a territory that must be defended from internal and external aggression and a place that needs to be moralized and freed from “perverse ideologies.” But there is no deep sense of nationality in his political rhetoric. General Will There is almost no reference to the General Will in the discourse of Bolsonaro and his followers, but rather a merely generic celebration of conservative values and of libertarian individual rights to property and safety, or, as mentioned above, of God’s will instead. This might be explained by the fact that he also lacks a strong notion of “the people,” which would be the ideal bearer of such a General Will. The people While the term “people” does not play an important role in Bolsonaro’s discourse, he does invoke another concept imbued with the same function of providing a stable and sacred entity around which his message is construed: the family. Bolsonaro presents himself as the ultimate fighter for the preservation of traditional family values, against LGBT + rights, liberal education, and feminism. Connected to his praise of the family is his copious use of the category of the “righteous man,” which he took from the demophobic parlance of the Brazilian elites. Unlike many populists with a notion of the people defined in terms of culture or race at the center of their discourse, Bolsonaro has built his around the traditional heteronormative male-dominated Christian family. But this concept is too universal to play that same central role that a culturally unified



people inhabiting a homeland and imbued with a general will have in other populist discourses around the world.

Conclusion Authors such as Canovan and Laclau see populism as an instrument with which to suffuse politics with vitality. Canovan clearly proposes an analogy between Max Weber’s take on charisma in politics and the function of populism in liberal democratic regimes: both are able to break the ossification of practices brought about by over-bureaucratization. Likewise, Laclau praises populism for bringing into the political realm issues that were kept out by institutionalized politics. This might be true in some cases, but it does not mean that issues that are politicized by populism are necessarily good for democracy or even compatible with liberal principles and institutions. On the contrary, politicizing race, ethnicity, and ideology can be a sure path toward curtailing liberal and democratic institutions. Further, by turning policy issues such as women’s health, minority rights, etc., into moral issues, politicians such as Bolosonaro ultimately depoliticize them. But if this enthusiasm for populism as a tool for improving democracy now seems far-fetched, we are thrown back to thinking about the relationship between populism and right-wing politics. Can Bolsonaro be called a true populist or is he just an extreme right politician? As we have shown, he displays many characteristics that authors have ascribed to populism, most of them linked to what we have termed his politics of authenticity, but the lack of a central place for “the people” in his discourse does suggest the contrary. In a country where the notion of “the people” is often confused with that of the “poor,” Bolsonaro has rarely assumed a typical anti-elite populist stance. On the contrary, his positions are historically embraced by the Brazilian elites. The logic of populist discourse lies in proposing an ideal unity that can only be achieved by the elimination of a present dichotomy. Historically, this unity was expressed by the idea of the people, the race, the right religion, or the nation. And the dichotomy expresses itself in the language of “us” against “them,” rendering the promised unity only achievable through the obliteration of “them.” Bolsonaro was successful in appropriating the anti-PT sentiment created by the media and expressing it in a vitriolic inflammatory manner typical of fascist propaganda—in other words, performing the “us vs. them” discourse. He has not done so well,



however, in proposing a unitary goal to which his followers or even the Brazilian people, now that he is the president, should aspire. The image of the righteous man and of the traditional family exert that function only to a certain extent. They are too ethereal and abstract and, above all, do not provide a sense of community and unity that other motives historically have displayed. Evangelical Christianity is unlikely to fill this gap, given that—despite his proximity to evangelical leaders—the vast majority of the Brazilian population is Catholic. While there is still much to be said about understanding Bolsonaro as a populist leader, it is clear that the new means of communication that are refashioning the political landscape of today’s world must be taken into account. Democratic representation, elections, and the public sphere have been severely affected by the sudden rise of new tools for exchanging public and peer-to-peer information, through which emotionality and irrationality can be explored in ways never imagined before. Bolsonaro’s recent political successes, as well as those of Trump and Brexit, are clear signs of innovative new political forms and practices, albeit with an ominous aftertaste.

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“Matters of the Heart”: The Sentimental Indian Prime Minister on All India Radio Anandita Bajpai

Introduction Ever since its technological inception in the 1920s, organized radio broadcasting in India has been a means to “rewire” spaces and people, to organize and articulate the project of the Indian nation, generate public intimacy and forge transcultural and translocal communities. The British colonial regime was well aware of the powers of radio broadcasting. In independent India, radio broadcasting became a centralized state tool for consolidating and integrating national identification and was placed under the control of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. On a more international level, the Cold War ushered a renewed worldwide emphasis on radio broadcasting as a channel for public diplomacy and soft power. Radio has thus long informed the making and shaping of the public sphere in colonial and postcolonial India (Pinkerton 2018). In a country where a majority of the population remains unlettered, prior to the television boom and the development of new social media technologies, radio was, and to a large extent still continues to be, the primary oral

A. Bajpai (B) Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, Germany e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 C. Kohl et al. (eds.), The Politics of Authenticity and Populist Discourses, Global Political Sociology,




and aural medium of communication, entertainment and the dispersion of information. This especially due to its physical independence from erratic electricity supplies, particularly in rural and suburban India. Its contemporary urban presence is also conspicuous in the traffic-jammed city, where one cannot miss it in cars, buses, taxis, and auto-rickshaws. From the establishment of the Indian State Broadcasting Service in 1930 (Pinkerton 2018, 175), radio has been a powerful sonic tool for political communication. The act of listening to radio is in itself an affective activity that generates an immediate spatial link between the speaker behind the microphone at the radio station and the listener before the radio speaker. This older means of speaking to the nation has more recently been rejuvenated by the current Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Damodar Modi through his radio show Mann Ki Baat (translated as Matters of the Heart ). With its first episode aired on October 3, 2014, four months after the Prime Minister’s swearing-in ceremony, the show has become a popular means of “direct conversations” that he has with the nation. It is aired on the state-led All India Radio (AIR) on the last Sunday of every month. Although Modi addresses the nation in Hindi, a simultaneous translation is aired in up to 23 Indian languages, and the transcripts and highlights of the show are published on the “My Government” ( platform,1 the official website of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO),2 as well as on Modi’s personal website, his Twitter handle3 and the Narendra Modi App in English and Hindi. A total of 53 shows were aired between October 2014 and February 2019. A 2.0 version was announced after Modi’s electoral victory in the 2019 elections. In this new avatar, the PM appealed to the nation to make suggestions and give input and ideas on the content of the show, issues they would wish the PM to speak on, thus giving the show a more dialogic face. By emphasizing both the content of the show’s episodes as well as their sonic aesthetic appeal, this article aims to, firstly, elucidate how the current PM has reinvented an older and popular means of communicating with the nation, albeit in its new social media avatar; second, to

1 The show on the MyGov. portal: 2 The show on the PMO website: 3 The show on Narendra Modi’s website:,

Modi’s Twitter handle: @narendramodi and @PMOIndia.



emphasize the sonic aesthetic formation4 that is produced through the show, which establishes an immediate sensory link between speaker and listener; and third, to show how, through the program, the PM punctures the public sphere by producing an oral and aural space between the highest elected political head of the country and its population, thus removing any mediators or middlemen. This is an essential trait of populism in its contemporary neo-liberalized and neo-socially mediatized avatars, whereby the speaker produces the atmosphere of a direct connection with his listeners, in this case depicting himself as a sentimental, emotional “common man” who is charismatic yet relatable and thus approachable for the audience. Modi relies on a register of tears, warmth, affection, and sentiment, different from his regular oratory. This chapter commences by introducing readers to continuities in political oratorical traditions in India and how populism has remained a predominant feature of the same. Here I trace the trajectories of political campaigning from Jawaharlal Nehru to Narendra Modi. The second section gives an insight into how contemporary hybrid media technologies, which combine old and new media forms, have become increasingly rampant as instruments for mobilizing electoral support. It is here that the radio show Mann Ki Baat becomes exemplary of how Modi has reinvented a very old and popular medium of communication. The third section elucidates how, through the show, Modi produces a sonic aesthetic formation, a material, corporeal experience that “touches” the listeners and establishes a direct link between them and him. The last section traces three distinct registers from the show’s content which constitute the making of Modi’s populist discourse. These include (1) resorting to sentiments and emotions as a means to engage audiences (this includes simultaneously projecting himself as the “sentimental PM”), (2) connecting with the aam aadmi (“the common man”), and (3) claiming historical authenticity, especially by emphasizing India’s civilizational legacy.

4 This is explained in detail in section 3 (Meyer 2009).



The Populist Prime Minister: From Nehru to Narendra---Continuities in Indian Political Oratory The most characteristic traits of Modi’s electoral campaigns (both in the 2014 and 2019 general elections in India) that have been at the heart of his populistic discourse and can be seen as the reason for his rise to unprecedented prominence are (1) emphasis on his “ordinary,” nonelite background, rendering him one of “the people”5 ; (2) emotionally connecting with the abstract category of “the common man,” relatable to people across different class, caste, and religious divides. This implies that Modi’s discourse is both inclusive (flattening hierarchies otherwise rampant in India) and exclusive (producing homogenized categories of “the people” and “the elite”) at the same time; and (3) projection of his image as a corruption-free politician who would “clean” Indian politics (Mann Ki Baat, 3 October 2014).6 In his detailed study of patronage democracies, Paul Kenny points out that populism may be seen as a specific response to the decay and eventual breakdown of party-voter linkages (Kenny 2017, 17). He states: “A party can be said to be using a populist strategy where a personalistic leader seeks power based on direct, unmediated, and uninstitutionalized support from large numbers of mostly unorganized followers” (Kenny 2017, 136). In a strategy highly similar to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s tactics of mobilization in the 1970s, but which is rarely seen in the same light, Modi came to national prominence in 2014 through a personalistic campaign that focussed on his individual charisma. In an overarching context of instability, corruption, disorganized national, and state-level party networks, Modi profiteered from the prevailing national mood of TINA (There is No Alternative), depicting himself as a leader who would bring order and coherence to a chaotic political environment. To this end, he made, and continues to make, direct appeals to the nation. His populist appeal thus capitalized heavily upon a pre-existing political

5 For example, Modi emphasized his humble background as a chai wala (tea-seller) throughout the 2014 campaign, projecting himself as being one of “the people.” For more on the opposition between “the elite” and “the people” as a marker of populist discourse, see also the introduction to this volume. 6 For this and all other references to Modi’s Mann Ki Baat show, see the transcripts on his website



crisis. The strategy of connecting with the common man, “the people” (as opposed to the elite) was a prominent feature of Modi’s overall campaign and also became obvious in the very first show of Mann Ki Baat in 2014, which concluded with the following telling lines: After listening to my thoughts, please do not hesitate in sharing your thoughts or advice to me, I will appreciate that your suggestions keep flowing coming [sic]. I am glad to talk with you through this simple medium of Radio, which serves every corner of the nation. I can reach the poorest homes, as mine, my nation’s strength lies with the Mothers, Sisters and Youths; my nation’s strength lies with the Farmers. Nation will only progress, [sic] if you believe in it. I am expressing my trust towards the nation. I believe in your strength, hence, I believe in our nation’s future. (Modi, Mann Ki Baat, 3 October, 2014)7

As the excerpt elucidates, the Prime Minister invites people to participate in Indian democracy by giving him their suggestions directly. The “poorest of homes,” “Mothers,” “Sisters,” “Youths,” and “Farmers” are celebrated and projected as the face of India’s present and future. This brand of populism (as a mediated political strategy) which attaches itself to the poor and the common people, is in fact in continuity with older repertoires of political mobilization in postcolonial India. The current Prime Minister has come under regular media scrutiny for his rhetoric of differentiation and distancing from the first in the office, Jawaharlal Nehru (e.g., Joseph 2014). Although it indeed seems that Modi disentangles himself from Nehruvian politics in general, the grammar and protocols of engagement with audiences appear to nonetheless be very similar. During the election campaigns of 2014 and 2019, Modi’s pervasively unavoidable omnipresence in urban and rural India alike reconfirmed the grammar of Nehruvian politics, i.e., maximum exchange with audiences, repetitive stage presence, and powerful oratory (Malik 2014). Belonging to the liberalized world of “mediated populism” (Chakravartty and Roy 2015), Modi relied heavily on new social media (personal website, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, WhatsApp, etc.),8 while being very conscious of traditional

7 All citations from Modi’s Mann Ki Baat can be found on his website: https://www. 8 Modi’s website:, PMO website: https://www.pmindia., Twitter: @narendramodi and @PMOIndia.



media (vernacular print and visual media, speeches in open campaigning grounds). Modi’s prime ministerial campaigns appeared to reiterate the Nehruvian protocol of presenting the prime ministerial candidate as the new face of a “New India”.9 This was strategically and tactfully planned through a plethora of mechanisms, a conspicuous illustration being Modi’s extensive touring of the country for electoral campaigning in 2014 (just as Nehru did during and before his terms as Prime Minister) with 437 large-scale rallies, 5827 public interfacing events, and traveling over 300,000 kilometers across 25 states of India, the aim being “to connect himself to the people everywhere” (Malik 2014) as was explained by the president of Modi’s ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party). Populist discourse not only relies on what is said and projected but more importantly on how it is communicated and given authentic appeal. In her essay analyzing Modi’s electoral victory, Kapila writes: “The Modi mandate has declared a new form of ‘conservatism’—a political language that has ushered in the ‘individual’ as the totem of change to direct India’s future” (Kapila 2016, 40). However, this language of emphasizing the individual leader’s personality is as old as the first general elections in 1952. In 2014 and 2019, paper masks of Modi’s face profile were distributed all across the country, to be worn by his supporters. Billboards and hoardings with his larger-than-life profile pictures (literally looking into or down upon the viewers) were an unavoidable sight in numerous cities. Slogans, reflecting the typical style of electoral campaigning, were echoed through loudspeakers and on moving BJP party vehicles. The particularity of the campaign (though very similar to Nehru’s own campaigns) was its almost US presidential election-style promotion of a singular personality, its heavy reliance on the charismatic persona of Modi rather than on the party manifesto of the BJP.10 The slogans that became highly popular utilized solely Modi as the iconic face of the BJP, or more specifically, as the emerging face of the nation.

9 The term “New India” is not so new either. Nehru spoke of “Temples of Modern India” (dams, universities, production units, laboratories, etc.) as the stepping stones toward establishing a “New India” (Roy 2017). For a detailed analysis of continuities and discontinuities between Nehru’s “New India” and the new “New India” see Bajpai (2018). 10 Unconventionally enough, no party manifesto was released by the BJP until at a very late stage in the campaign—right before the elections.



In September 2014, Modi launched the “Make in India” campaign. In 2016, a mobile phone brand called Namotel (inspired by his name), sponsored under this campaign, launched the cheapest smartphone in the world, sold at less than 2 euros and tactfully called the Achche Din (Good Days) model or set. As is lucidly clear from all of the above examples, Modi’s face, his voice and his words permeate the senses of his audiences in a plethora of ways, establishing the legitimacy of his iconic presence as the face of the nation through a repetitive pervasion of everyday Indian life. Just like Nehru’s repetitive, celebrated presence, Modi seems to pervade television screens, news shows, newspapers, and social media through forwarded messages. In fact, the popular “Nehru Jacket” is now often renamed the “Modi Jacket” (Times News Network 2014; Gahilote 2014). Merely two years after his election to the Office of Prime Minister, the high frequency of books written on his personality, his visions, his foreign policy, his past as a BJP politician, and particularly as a tea-seller, already match the voluminous book production on Nehru (e.g., Marino 2014; Mukhopadhyay 2013; Mahurkar 2014; Prince 2015; Anand 2016; the list is almost inexhaustible and cannot be summarized here in its entirety). He is also the first of the four Prime Ministers since 1991, who have served a complete five-year term, to not shy away from giving interviews to private news channels although he carefully selects with whom he will and will not speak. Modi’s trajectory thus clearly reflects highly locatable symptoms of the grammar of Nehruvian oratory and public presence, whereby, willingly or not, he only reconfirms Nehru’s haunting presence in Indian politics even today (Gupta 2016). It thus emerges that in terms of the content of the discourse, Modi’s populism relies on (1) claims to connecting with the people (against “the elite”); (2) claims to sentimental connections with the people; (3) vocabularies of inclusion and exclusion; (4) claims to a moral uprightness as opposed to a corrupt elite.11 In terms of style and protocol, it taps into

11 Modi’s strategy of projecting himself as “anti-elite” and therein “pro-the people,” as an outsider to mainstream politics (in that he does not belong to a political dynasty like the Gandi-Nehru family), and finally as a corruption-free leader, also bears a strong resemblance to how Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil profiles himself. Not only in terms of content, there is also a striking similarity in how both leaders have relied upon social media for their electoral campaigns. For a detailed study, see the contribution by João Feres Júnior and Juliana Gagliardi in this volume.



older traditions of political oratory and electoral campaigning that may be traced back to the very first PM, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Modi “Online” on All India Radio? Populist Hybrid Media Technologies My dear countrymen! Mr. Raman Kumar of Rohini, Delhi, has written on ‘Narendra Modi Mobile App that oncoming July 6 happens to be Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee’s birthday and he wants me to talk about Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee in this episode of Mann Ki Baat. (Mann Ki Baat, 24 June 2018) I urge our sports associations also to do objective and impartial brainstorming on this. And, I also request all citizens of the country who have interest in this matter to mail their suggestions on Narendra Modi App. They may write to the government […]. (Mann Ki Baat, 28 August 2016) I receive many letters from the citizens. Mr. Parimal Shah from Thane talks about educational reforms on my portal […]. (Mann Ki Baat, 30 August 2015) I am very grateful to the countrymen. 40-50 lakh people participated in this video bridge program and imparted me with a new strength. (Mann Ki Baat, 24 June 2018)

As mentioned in the previous section, Modi is known for capitalizing on and profiteering from both older means of communication like political rallies, posters, campaigns, print media (especially vernacular press as opposed to English press) as well as new social media. Through Mann Ki Baat he has successfully and innovatively galvanized the energies of both conventional popular media as well as new social media. Whereas radio remains the primary medium of establishing a sonic link with citizens, the show skilfully combines this older technology with newer forms. All of the excerpts cited above show how Modi announces in the show that citizens are encouraged to, or have contacted him through channels such as the Modi App, the video bridge program or the platform. In each episode, he makes references to digital platforms and invites his audiences to communicate with him directly through them.



Each one-hour program aired up until June 2019 finds the speaker asking people to make suggestions on what they would want the Prime Minister to speak about, issues that impact the nation, by posting questions and comments. It also produces instances of the Prime Minister showing how people have contacted him on the show via diverse digital media (as in the cited excerpts). In that sense, the show is a lucid illustration of intermediality par excellence. People may make phone calls, but they are also welcomed to use the hash tag, to tweet, to post, to send voice messages, or write to the Prime Minister. Thus, populist appeals are given a new flavor by relying on hybridized forms of communication. This serves the simultaneous purpose of (1) giving the impression that the program is successful, with a format for performing popularity as the PM declares in episode after episode how many people from across India have contacted him on Mann Ki Baat through different channels; (2) producing the effect among audiences that they can directly communicate with their leader; and (3) quantitatively reaching out to a larger audience through the diversification of media. The show can be heard live on AIR (India’s national public radio broadcaster), Doordarshan (India’s national television broadcaster) and on the Modi App. Should users miss a live episode, they can simply dial 1922, a toll-free hotline, and hear it free of charge on their mobile phones. All telecom providers have been informed of the number and its voice services by the Telecom Ministry and users dialing the number often receive an SMS thanking them for listening to the show, regardless of which telecom service provider they use for their sim cards (Press Trust of India 2016). This public-private collaboration (in this case statecorporation nexus) opens up new spaces and a quantitatively, but also qualitatively, wider outreach for the purpose of political mobilization. Mann Ki Baat is heavily advertised on several platforms outside the acoustic world of radio waves. This ensures that the show manages to pervade spaces in both rural and urban India. In 2017, the Press Information Bureau announced the launch of the book Mann Ki Baat: A Social Revolution on Radio. The book was mired in controversy as the alleged author denied having written it (Outlook 2018); nevertheless— or perhaps as a result—this print medium certainly added to the publicity of the show. What renders hybrid media technologies, their intertextuality or intermediality more impactful and makes them a favorable tool for a new



generation of populist leaders across the globe is—firstly, that they diversify outreach channels. For example, both farmers who may listen to radio in rural India as well as urbanites who actively use WhatsApp, Twitter, etc., and do not listen to the telecast per se, are simultaneously reached through the medium of Mann Ki Baat. The show provides for both proximate and distant engagement. Listeners are thus touched by, and “feel,” the radiophonic voice of Modi on the show, just as are those who follow the show on Twitter. Secondly, these technologies enable a more participatory platform whereby audiences are given the impression of having a voice in the nation’s politics. New social media channels also enable a new culture of “sharing” and “forwarding,” making them more instantaneous in their outreach. More importantly, they are utilized by populists to induce the feeling of political participation and recognition among their audiences, the idea that their opinion matters and holds weight. Thirdly, as mentioned in the previous section, for populist leaders, hybrid media technologies evoke the perception of a direct link to the people (unlike conventional mobilization forms such as rallies, billboards/hoardings, pre-recorded party messages transmitted through loudspeakers, or print and visual media reporting, which are more monologic).

Mann Ki Baat as a Sensational Form: The Nation as an Aesthetic Formation Radio gives shape to a mediated collectivity: “Like stamps, radio is globally ubiquitous, highly symbolic, and is involved in the production of everyday engagements between citizens and ‘the state’ (and is therefore an expression of ‘banal geopolitics’)” (Pinkerton 2016, 54). A medium with immense affective power, radio has long been a tool for nation-building, a means to acoustically spring the nation into existence. Drive-time programs, which have also acquired the format of phonein-shows combining hybrid forms of media, when studied systematically could offer important insights into performative populism and patronage politics. Building on Benedict Anderson’s formulation of Imagined Communities (Anderson 1983), in Aesthetic Formations: Media, Religion and the Senses, Birgit Meyer makes an important intervention in stating that: [T]he imagined community of the nation, thriving as it does on strong feelings of attachment and commitment, strives to command citizens’



confidence in the truthfulness of its fictionality. Indeed, in order to achieve this and be experienced as real, imaginations are required to become tangible outside the realm of the mind, by creating a social environment that materializes through the structuring of space, architecture, ritual performance, and by inducing bodily sensations. (Meyer 2009, 5)

She thus proposes the framework of Aesthetic Formations, whereby aesthetic (coming from the Aristotelean aesthesis and not the limiting definition of the beautiful and the ornamental in the Kantian sense) stands for “our total sensory experience of the world and our sensitive knowledge of it” (Meyer 2009, 6) and “formations” represents bonds beyond a fixed, bounded social group (Meyer 2009, 7). She summarizes that “[…] in order to become experienced as real, imagined communities need to materialize in the concrete lived environment and be felt in the bones” (Meyer 2009, 5). Modi makes affective bonds with his audiences through the radio as an act of materializing an aesthetic formation par excellence. In the very moment of speaking to “the people,” his “dear countrymen,” or “the common man,” words repetitively utilized in the show, Modi corporeally “touches” his listeners’ ears and hearts. Audiences have the immediate perception of being spoken to by the elected head of the state. Modi’s intonation on the radio waves also has a bearing on how his voice is perceived and has a sensorial impact on his listeners. Spoken in a calm, controlled, well-modulated, soft voice, the script of the episodes is usually colloquial in tone. There is a purposeful effort to keep the words simple, conversational, and in the Hindi vernacular instead of using Sanskritised vocabulary (although he often uses Sanskrit shlokas to convey messages). Pauses are carefully placed in the sentences to heighten emotion. Modi not only makes frequent use of words like “tears,” “joy,” “happiness,” “touched the heart,” “emotional,” etc.; he also intonates the emotions with his style of speaking. His soft, calm, and conversational tone helps remove distance between the listeners behind the radio set and the speaker behind the microphone. Thus, it is not just what the Prime Minister says, but how he says it that makes the show a sensorial experience for the listeners. In the sense that the show “touches” the listeners through its sonic presence as an almost corporeal experience, it is also a sensational form, i.e., a form engaging the audience’s senses according to Birgit Meyer, which also springs an attentively listening community into



existence.12 Mann Ki Baat is not a medium of one-way communication only, whereby the speaker engages in a monologue; rather, the show gives the appearance of being dialogic, rendering it both oral and aural in quality. Listeners not only listen but are charged with the material feeling of also being heard. It is through this quality of touching listeners, with them “tuning in” via the adjustment of the broadband widths and by producing a common space of interaction between them and the speaker, that a medium like Mann Ki Baat acquires a populist appeal. It becomes a channel for mediating the message and also a tool for imbuing the speaker with presence without intermediary channels. In this sense the radio set and the show as a medium replace the party functionaries and all accompanying intermediate actors typical of patronage democracies, establishing a direct link between the listener and the leader, a characteristic which is the quintessence of populist strategies.

Modi and the Registers of Populistic Rhetoric In a strategy reminiscent of the early years of the 1980s television boom, Modi began the show on the airwaves of All India Radio by occupying sonic space during the Sunday prime-time hours on October 3, 2014: My Dear Countrymen, […] Through the medium of radio, I would like to share a few heartfelt thoughts with you today. And I hope that not only today, this series of conversation may be carried out regularly in future. I will try my best, if possible, to take out time twice a month or even once to speak with you. In future, I have also decided that whenever I will speak to you, it would be on Sunday morning at 11am. It would be convenient for you too and I will be content to have shared my thoughts with you. (Mann Ki Baat, 3 October 2014)

The episode drew to a close with the following lines: I have only one intention in speaking with you all. Come, let us serve our Mother India. Let us all take our nation to the new heights. Let us all take a step forward. […] Today, I have shared all the thoughts coming directly from my heart. I will meet you all next at 11 am on Sundays, but

12 It would be an important, even necessary, intervention to conduct a detailed study of how people experience the show in real-time.



I trust our journey shall never end and will continue receiving love and suggestions from you. (ibid.)

This very first sonic encounter with his audience clearly established the mood of the show as informal, colloquial, and yet sentimental. Modi’s words here have various effects: Firstly, he emphasizes “sharing thoughts” and his feelings with the people of India, a recurring theme through subsequent episodes, as will be shown in the last part of this section. He seems to be seeking to establish himself as the Prime Minister “with feelings.” Secondly, in the latter excerpt, he re-evokes the historic epithet of Mother India, Bharat Mata, the idealized and idolized “mother” who demands the toil, tears, service, and sacrifices of all her Indian sons and daughters. This epithet has a historical legacy reminiscent of the nationalist struggle for independence, when sons of the motherland were called upon to serve the deified Bharat Mata, often depicted as a version of the Hindu goddess Durga. In other avatars, she was a woman in a white sari, waiting to be freed by her sons, with her shackles depicting colonial rule (see, e.g., Ramaswamy 2010). Bharat Mata also echoes the exclusionary lexical repertoire utilized by the Hindu right wing in addressing the nation, which delegitimizes other terms like Hindustan or India and simultaneously revives the metaphor of citizens as devotees of the motherland.13 Lastly, Modi’s emphasis is not just on sharing his thoughts with the nation but also on speaking directly to the people of India. This is a strategic move that revives an older post-box democracy tradition reminiscent of the Nehruvian era, whereby the “common man” did not always see change in the workings of Indian democracy, but could always write about it to the Prime Minister. The tactic of giving recognition to the ordinary citizen by writing back or by responding to a question on a radio show in fact elucidates how dextrously Modi skips over the inbetween(s) of communication by inspiring the feeling that the “common man” has a direct hotline connection with the country’s elected political head. Modi’s populism relies on the three distinct registers that are also traceable in the very first episode’s content: (1) projections of himself as the emotional, sentimental Prime Minister, (2) connections established with the “common man,” or “the people,” and (3) claims to historical 13 “Mother India”, which we read in the cited excerpt, is used in the official English translation of the episode’s content on the show’s website. In the original, Modi consciously uses the epithet Bharat Mata and not “Mother India”.



authenticity and references to an authentic Indian civilizational past with himself as its true representative. The Sentimental Prime Minister: Of Tears and Emotional Connections Modi is known for being a talkative politician. However, a closer screening of his oratory during the election campaigns of 2014 and 2019,14 but also after his appointment as the Prime Minister points to a substantial difference with regard to the content of Mann Ki Baat. In the show, true to its nomenclature, Modi discusses matters which appear to come straight from the heart. He projects himself as an emotional, sensitive and a “feeling” Prime Minister. Each episode bears traces of the humane side of the person Narendra Modi. Incidents of optimism, hope and success stories of “ordinary citizens” are a common feature of the show. Hate speech was rampant during the general elections of 2014 or 2019 and in some of the state-level elections. Modi is also known for his sarcastic responses to media houses, especially on the topics of secularism and communalism. In contrast, the show Mann Ki Baat depicts an almost distinct image of the Prime Minister, revolving as it does around tiny stories, personal connections with the audience, and everyday heroism of the “common man.” These aspects render Modi relatable, “one of the people,” and help solidify his public image as an emotionally sensitive leader. Part of demonstrating his emotional side includes giving due importance to the people of India: Modi carefully repeats in the episodes that the people of India are very close to his heart. The element of directly connecting with the people and taking their aspirations and emotions seriously is a trait of populist leaders who often claim to “feel” the pulse of the people. The excerpt below shows how Modi speaks of emotions and how the show is a bridge between him and the people of India: “Mann Ki Baat” has provided me with a unique opportunity to get connected with various feelings and positive energy of the country; emotions of our people which include their desires, expectations and at times, even grievances, which come to their minds. (Mann Ki Baat, 24 September 2017)

14 I have undertaken a deeper analysis of Modi’s political speeches within India’s larger oratorical contexts elsewhere (Bajpai 2018).



Unlike his political oratory, which is often charged with announcements of schemes, slogans, proverbial epithets, patriotism, anti-Congress rhetoric, etc., Mann Ki Baat is projected as an “apolitical” medium, portraying Modi as a politician above or beyond everyday politics. On the one hand, this strategy establishes the mood of his being an emotional, feeling leader and, on the other, it establishes his image as an authentic leader of the nation, rising above the profanities of corrupt politics. Modi thus seeks to communicate that the show is not supposed to be a publicity stunt for himself but a genuine attempt to speak and listen to people, rather than engaging in “politics proper.” Modi’s sentimentality is a means to establish a connection with the people; he claims to rely emotionally on them; that they are, he states, his family, and how the person of the Prime Minister achieves a sense of completeness by speaking to them. It thus emerges that Modi relies on the show not for propagating larger governmental schemes, plans, or technocratic truths but for proving his concern for people’s everyday lives, for reiterating his emotional attachment to them, for recognizing their aspirations, achievements and everyday struggles, and finally for projecting himself as one among them. This idea of the nation as Modi’s “family” has also been enunciated on the show: I would like to say today that of the feedback of this programme, one of the points that touches my heart most- is when people tell me that when we sit with all our family members to listen to Mann Ki Baat, we feel that the head of our family is sitting with us and sharing his ideas with us. When I heard this comment in a larger circle, I felt satisfied to know that I am yours, I am one amongst you, I am with you, you elevated me in a way, and in this way I will continue to remain connected with you as a family member through Mann Ki Baat. Your joys and sorrows are my joys and sorrows too; your expectations are my expectations also; your ambitions are my ambitions. (Mann Ki Baat, 25 November 2018)

With these lines, Modi creates the impression, firstly, that people engage with the show, regularly contact the PM through it and that the show is therefore highly popular among a wider national audience. Secondly, in this example, Modi legitimizes his position as the political head of the state by conveying that, for the people contacting him on the show, he is no less than the head of their family. Thus, an immediate, familial link is established between the nation and Modi with the latter as its true representative head. He even establishes a direct link to the joys,



sorrows, and expectations of the people. This is a trait common to populistic leaders more generally. Love, emotions, warmth and affection thus become important ingredients of a certain register, a strategy that helps further the cause of populist discourse. Direct Hotline with the Aam Aadmi (Common Man): The PM and/as ‘the People’ The sentimental register immediately extends into another register of Modi’s populist discourse—his claims to have a direct connection with and be one of “the people.” Rather than focusing on larger-scale politics, diplomacy, the state, or policies, the content of the show emphasizes stories of ordinary citizens, their successes and achievements, issues which impact them, and issues that would usually be discussed in households among family members, such as education, infrastructure, cleanliness, agriculture, poverty, and so on. Modi addresses “the people” through the amorphous category of aam aadmi (“the common man”): The three-year journey of Mann Ki Baat is in fact a journey of our countrymen, their emotions and their feelings. I am thankful to our countrymen for having provided me an opportunity to understand the feelings of the common man. (Mann Ki Baat, 25 November 2018)

Modi’s oratory has repetitively emphasized the benefit of the common man from the very beginning of his prime ministerial campaign. This is part of a habitus of speaking “poverty at home” (that is, addressing the evergreen issue of benefiting all citizens, especially the poor) and speaking “business abroad” (where emphasis shifts to Foreign Direct Investments through an innovative lexicon of slogans and epithets).15 The common man, the generalizable category that evokes recognition across numerous class, caste, and religious boundaries is particularly emphasized when Modi addresses Indians in India. In oratory outside the ambit of Mann Ki Baat, the larger and repetitive aim is to promise a future to this category. The villager, the poor, the non-elite, the farmer, and the small-scale businessman are all dexterously merged together under this amorphous entity of “the common man,” who is then defined in terms of unmet dreams and desires. On the show, however, the common man 15 For a detailed analysis see Bajpai (2018).



is not promised as much, nor is he defined in terms of unfulfilled dreams, but rather celebrated through stories of success, inspiration, hope, ordinary everyday heroism, and optimism. The trope of the “common man” also becomes an intimate space. This enables the PM not just to glorify a category that numerous audiences connect with, but also to simultaneously project himself as one of them. This element of repetitively proving that the Prime Minister, or rather the “prime servant” (Mann Ki Baat, December 14, 2014) as Modi calls himself before the nation, is a crucial dimension of populist rhetoric. Historical Authenticity: The Prime Minister and Civilization Speak A third important register of Modi’s populist discourse consists of laying claims to authenticity—both of a particularistic version of the past (historical authenticity) and of himself as the true voice of the people (subject-related authenticity).16 Historical authenticity in this case refers to the recovery of a particular kind of past as the nation’s true past. This usually becomes a source of generating cultural pride. Within the show’s episodes, this is achieved through repetitive references to a generalizable civilizational heritage. One telling illustration of the same, for example, is the following announcement of International Yoga Day whereby Modi states: Yogahas [sic] broken barriers of caste, creed and geography to unite the people of the entire world, which is the very essence of the real sentiment innate to Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam that we have followed in letter and spirit over centuries. Our Rishis, sages and saints have laid emphasis on certain tenets; yoga has proved them in a concrete manner. I believe that the concept of wellness today is bringing about a revolution. […] My dear countrymen, as a people, we are truly blessed to be born in this land, bhoomi of Bharat, India. India has had a rich historical canvas. Every single month, every single day in fact, is a marker of one historical event or the other. Every place in India is replete with signposts of heritage. Every place has been blessed with a saint, a luminary or a great, famous personality who has contributed through his sagacity. (Mann Ki Baat, 24 June 2018)

16 For an elaborate explanation of the same, see the introduction to this volume.



In the above excerpt, words like “over centuries,” “signposts of heritage,” and “rich historical canvas” are utilized to establish a sense of historical continuity and national pride in an abstract civilizational past. India or Bharat, is glorified by insinuating that its people are “truly blessed” to have been born on its bhoomi (soil). In fact, this glorification extends to each part and place in India. The message of greatness is persistently repeated in the show. This type of civilizational speak is often introduced lexically to produce a sense of historical continuity while simultaneously speaking of a “New India.” Similarly, the Sanskrit language comes to play a crucial role in staging cultural and civilizational pride: India takes great pride in the fact that Tamil is the most ancient of world languages. We Indians also feel proud that from Vedic times to the modern day, Sanskrit language has played a stellar role in the universal spread of knowledge. Sanskrit language & literature encompasses [sic] a storehouse of knowledge pertaining to every facet of life. Science & technology, agriculture & health, Mathematics & Management, economy & environment, the entire spectrum has been touched upon. It is said that our Vedas have detailed reference on [sic] Mantras, on ways & means to counter the challenges of global warming. You will be pleased to know that even today, residents of village Mattur in Shivamoga district of Karnataka use Sanskrit as their lingua franca. (Mann Ki Baat, 26 August 2018)

A common assumption at the heart of populist rhetoric is that it incorporates a discourse of exclusion. This is highly relevant when one reads between the lines of the transcripts of the Mann Ki Baat show. There are no out-and-out exclusions, and no communities, including religious minorities, are explicitly excluded from the PM’s rhetoric on the show. This, however, should not be confused with the fact that a careful reading between the lines does point to subtle tactics of exclusion. Usually, the civilizational heritage that is generalized under the homogenous rubric of “our ancient civilization” refers to a very particularistic Hindu past. However, when taken at face value, the show largely preaches a politics of inclusion. In spite of these nuances, a major element of the content of the show is to celebrate India’s uniqueness and what is termed as its civilizational legacy. This celebration of India’s rich heritage extends to the varied domains of architecture, philosophy, ethics, national heroes, languages such as Sanskrit, and so on. The aim is to revive a sense of pride and



“remind” the nation of India’s contribution to the world. The past is generalized and celebrated, reinterpreted and re-evoked to generate nationalistic pride that enthuses listeners with a sense of achievement and of the nation’s equivalence with the rest of the world. This not just generates nationalistic unity and a sense of national honor, but also reiterates the authority of the leader, who is viewed as the authentic reviver of the past. In fact, Modi has been very vocal on the show in expressing how his wish to connect with the people has been motivated with the will to bring “the great story of India to them.” This not only serves to generate confidence in a nationalized past; it also establishes and sanctifies the speaker’s authority as the legitimate voice and interpreter of that past.

Conclusion The show Mann Ki Baat is one of the numerous instruments of political communication utilized by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to mobilize popular support, to project himself as the authentic representative of the people of India, to enthuse notions of cultural pride and civilizational legacy, dextrously combining them with visions of the future, and to establish a direct link between himself and the nation sans intermediaries. Populism, as a communicative practice and discourse, has remained an important element of prime ministerial talk in India, from the very first Prime Minister Nehru up to now. The second section emphasized the quantitative and qualitative transformations that result from the hybridization of media. Thus, a show like Mann Ki Baat not only galvanizes an old and highly popular medium in India like the radio, but expands both in its outreach (through intermediality) as well as establishes the speaker as the authentic voice of the nation. It also shows how populist leaders like Modi often aim to establish a direct communication with their audiences by eliminating any intermediaries. Being highly wary of whom he speaks to and when (during his first term of five years as Prime Minister, Modi officially organized only one press conference with all media houses),17 Modi has invented his own methods of speaking

17 See, for example, India Today (2019). The PM has usually given direct “Messages to the Nation”, delivered speeches at Republic and Independence Day celebrations, at international and national events, or spoken to select news channels. Though press conferences have been a common feature of Indian democracy, Modi has mostly abstained from the same.



to the people. This has included both conventional forms like rallies, messages to the nation on state-run television channels or in radio broadcasts, as well as new social media, the online platform or his personal website. The third section has shown how through the show, the PM produces a sonic aesthetic formation, a corporeal experience whereby he pervades the everyday of his audiences by “touching” them acoustically. This makes the show (following Birgit Meyer) a “sensational form” through which the Prime Minister springs a sonic aesthetic formation into existence. To the advantage of the populist leader, the show serves to establish a direct connection between him and his listeners. The final section has elaborated three distinct registers from the show’s content which constitute the making of Modi’s populist discourse. Firstly, the show establishes the PM as an emotional, feeling and sentimental leader who touches and is touched by the exchange with his audiences. Secondly, the PM utilizes the trope of “the common man” to both connect with “the people” but also to project himself as one of them. Thirdly, the PM has utilized the show to induce a sense of national pride by evoking a common civilizational heritage. This furthers the cause of establishing historical authenticity, a particular reading of the past, and simultaneously legitimizes the position of the PM as the authentic reviver and interpreter of that past. Thus, and via his use of the medium of radio, Modi shapes a new public intimacy and even ritualizes the performance of populist discourse.

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The 2019 Presidential Election in Ukraine: Populism, the Influence of the Media, and the Victory of the Virtual Candidate Olga Mashtaler

Introduction: Presidential Elections in 2019 The 2019 presidential election in Ukraine was unique in many respects. Comedian and TV-producer 41-year-old Volodymyr Zelenskyi won the presidency with 73.22% of votes, in contrast to 24.25% for 53-year-old Petro Poroshenko who had been president since June 2014. With the exception of the Lviv region and a foreign district, Volodymyr Zelenskyi managed to secure his leadership across the country. In many areas of Ukraine’s south and east support for Zelenskyi reached almost 90%. Since independence in 1991, this became the largest difference between two main candidates for presidency.1 The traditional cleavage between the east and west of Ukraine, observed during most of Ukraine’s electoral campaigns, did not manifest during these elections, the divide

1 The greatest previous difference was seen in 1999, between Leonid Kuchma (56.25%) and Petro Symonenko (37.80%).

O. Mashtaler (B) National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”, Kyiv, Ukraine e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 C. Kohl et al. (eds.), The Politics of Authenticity and Populist Discourses, Global Political Sociology,




reflected rather between “old” politicians—functionaries of the political system—and “new” ones. This election was also the most unpredictable one in independent Ukraine; poll ratings of the first several candidates changed several times during the year prior to the election (Kravets 2019). A record number of candidates took part in the campaign: 90 persons submitted their candidacy documents; the Central Election Commission registered 44 candidates, and 39 of them participated in the electoral competition. Furthermore, this election was the most democratic and “clean” election in Ukraine, with almost no sign of electoral fraud. Other features of this electoral campaign were active participation of youth, and a lack of unity both among pro-Western politicians and voters as well as their pro-Russian counterparts. The 2019 presidential campaign in Ukraine involved an unprecedented use of social media and virtual technologies, with the role of television remaining crucial. Finally, according to Nadiya Koval, “for the first time the leader using mainly hyperpopulist slogans was elected. This is a special type of populism—the voters didn’t know the details of the candidate’s political programme; he responded very vaguely to many issues. He didn’t introduce members of his team, who would be responsible for different policy directions and take the official positions” (Kaminska ´ 2019).2 Thus, in Ukraine as elsewhere, populism as a political phenomenon has become a trend in the last decade. There is a variety of approaches toward understanding what populism is (Balcere 2017; Gagnon et al. 2018; Gherghina et al. 2013; Gidron and Bonikowski 2013; Mudde and Kaltwasser 2012, 2017, 2018). At the core of the concept is the idea that “We” as “the good people” are in opposition to “Them,” the “bad” who might include corrupt elites, minorities, or international institutions and corporations. According to one of the most influential approaches, populism is understood as “a thin-centered ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogenous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite’, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the people” (Mudde 2004, 543; see also Canovan 2002; Mudde and Kaltwasser 2017; Moffitt and Tormey 2014; Müller 2016; Stanley 2008). Albertazzi and McDonnell (2008, 3) define populism as “an ideology

2 All translations from Ukrainian, Russian and Polish are mine.



which pits a virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who are together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity and voice.” Some scholars examine populism as a discursive style rather than an ideology (Kazin 1995; Panizza 2005), a mode of a political strategy (Roberts 2006; Wayland 2001; Jansen 2011), or a political style (Laclau 2005; Moffit and Tormey 2014; de Vreese et al. 2018).3 Populists claim to truly represent the voice of the people. Müller (2016, 57) states that populists “assume” that “the people” speak with one voice. Moreover, as Maly (2018, 11) underlines, “a true populist not only stands up to the elite and does this consistently; he or she should also be a populist in one’s heart: they should truly believe in their people and in the fact that they fight for these people.” One of the key notions used for a theoretical conceptualization of populism therefore is “authenticity” (Fieschi 2019), the ancient Greek etymology of the term signifying genuineness in the sense of something that has been validated by someone as original; it also means credibility, sincerity, and being true to yourself (Saupe 2016, 1; see also Taylor 1992, 15–16; van Leeuwen 2001). Together with visibility and efficacy, authenticity is one of three primary criteria of mediated self-representation by politicians according to Coleman (2011). As such, authenticity is a performed quality where the performer “seems as though he or she is true to his or her inner self” (Enli 2015, 111). A growing body of literature addresses how populism is mediated (Enli 2015; Esser and Strömbäck 2014; Esser et al. 2016; Higgins 2017; Krämer 2014; Mazzoleni et al. 2003; Moffit and Tormey 2014; Rožukalne 2017; Sorensen 2017, 2018; Stanyer et al. 2017), as well as the peculiarities of political communication via social media (Engesser et al. 2017; Maly 2018; Maldonado 2017; Moffitt 2019). According to Maly, “digital media have given birth to a new form of populism: algorithmic populism”; they are “not just new media that populists use, their algorithms and affordances reshape populism” (Maly 2018, 1). He offers a definition of populism as a mediatized chronotopic communicative and discursive relation. Understanding populism as a chronotopic phenomenon allows us to examine it in the specific context of the time and place in which it occurs. As Maly (2018, 8) argues, populism presupposes (1) a person able to mobilize an anti-elite discourse 3 More about existing classifications in: Gidron and Bonikowski (2013), Balcere (2017), and Moffit and Tormey (2014).



“in the name of the sovereign People” through communication; (2) specific knowledge of people’s demands and needs that a populist claims to represent; (3) other actors labeling the communicator a populist; (4) a media infrastructure (including digital media); and (5) a certain number of followers to legitimize the person-communicator. Populism as a mediatized communicative relationship can therefore be understood as “the result of a complex interplay between all of these different elements.” In line with Maly’s approach to the new type of populism constructed by digital media, Moffitt’s concept of “populism 2.0” states that: (1) populists have utilised social media to more genuinely and “directly” connect with “the people”, sidestepping traditional media and outmaneuvering their more “mainstream” competitors in the process; (2) social media’s unruliness plays into populism’s revolt against expertise and “the elite” and (3) this effective harnessing of social media has ultimately led to populist success at the ballot box. (Moffitt 2019, 30)

In this chapter I apply these theoretical observations to the case of Volodymyr Zelenskyi. Block and Negrin (2017) have proposed a critical framework for the analysis of populist communication techniques, based on three categories—identity construction, rhetorical style, and the relationship with the media. Following this logic, I discuss the political discourse of elections, outlining the key reasons for Zelenskyi’s victory and whether we can label him a populist; I also focus on the key messages of Zelenskyi and his main rival in the campaign, Petro Poroshenko, and on how these messages were communicated, mediated and reflected within society, concentrating on the role played by the media and digital technologies. Ultimately, I pose the question as to whether the election winner was indeed authentic, how this authenticity was achieved, and how and why it was perceived as such among voters.

Zelenskyi vs. Poroshenko: Introducing the Main Rivals Volodymyr Zelenskyi During the 2019 presidential campaign opinion polls were volatile, with six candidates likely to receive support from more than 5% of voters: the comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyi as well as five “established” politicians who had run in the 2014 presidential election: President Petro



Poroshenko, Yulia Tymoshenko, Yuriy Boiko, Anatoliy Hrytsenko, and Oleh Liashko.4 Until nearly one year before the 2019 presidential election most observers as well as voters assumed that, as in 2014, the main competition would occur between Poroshenko and Tymoshenko. The party “Servant of the People” (Sluha Narodu), which later became Zelenskyi’s political force, was formally registered in December 2017. Zelenskyi, however, did not publicly announce his intention to run for the presidency until the end of December 2018 and was perceived by political strategists rather as a technical candidate used to measure the demand for “new faces” in Ukrainian politics. Journalists reported in spring 2018 that Yulia Tymoshenko had requested of oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskyi to persuade Zelenskyi to run for the presidency in order “to neutralize Sviatoslav Vakarchuk,” a popular singer, civic activist, and potential rival (Nikolayenko 2019). Despite the lack of clear candidacy announcements from both Vakarchuk and Zelenskyi, in June 2018 both enjoyed the support of about 9% of Ukrainians. However, in December of the same year, Vakarchuk’s support had decreased to 3%, presumably on account of vague messages. In autumn 2018 placards claiming “President is the Servant of the People,” hinting at the sitcom with Zelenskyi, were affixed all over Ukraine. Finally, on New Year’s Eve 2019 Zelenskyi declared his participation in the election. This was done somewhat extravagantly, via the leading television channel owned by the aforementioned oligarch Kolomoyskyi, 1+1, instead of a traditional President’s address. While President Poroshenko’s greetings were broadcast only several minutes later, during the first minutes of the new year 2019, the channel aired a video of Zelenskyi, stating: “Dear Ukrainians, I promise you I will run for president. And I am fulfilling this promise immediately—I’m running for the post of the President of Ukraine. Let’s do this together. Happy New Year! The New Servant of the People to you!”5 As result of this trick, which Zelenskyi later reported to be “a technical mistake, not planned in advance” (Kravets and Sarakhman 2019), Zelenskyi’s poll ratings began to rise. The first ballot brought the political newcomer a victory, with 30.24%

4 For more on these and other candidates, see Miller et al. (2019). 5 Vladimir Zelenskiy obyavil ob uchastii v vyborakh Prezidenta Ukrainy [Volodymyr

Zelenskyi Announced His Participation in Presidential Election]. YouTube, 1 January 2019, Accessed 25 March 2019.



of votes, whereas the incumbent President Poroshenko received only half as many (15.95%). Zelenskyi had become well-known as a comedian in Ukraine since the end of the 1990s, as a representative of the comedy group Kvartal 95 participating in KVN,6 a comedy show popular in post-Soviet countries (Evans 2019). In 2003 Zelenskyi and his team created a studio with the same name, producing comedy programs, films and sitcoms. Although he has been copying politicians for many years, the real “transfer” of the image of a virtual candidate to his own person occurred after airing of the sitcom “Servant of the People.” The first season of the sitcom was shown in 2015; it became the most popular one in Ukraine (around 4.7 million Ukrainians, in a country of 42 million, watched each episode) (Hosa 2019). In this TV show, Zelenskyi plays the ordinary schoolteacher Vasyl Holoborodko, whose tirade against Ukrainian corruption is filmed by a student and becomes viral, resulting in Holoborodko becoming president (Motyl 2019c). Zelenskyi’s character is sincere, modest and honest—he travels to work by bike, he cuts the expenditures of governmental administration and parliament, he puts up resistance to oligarchs and other evils of Ukrainian politics. Holoborodko’s behavior unequivocally sends the message that politicians of the “old school” are unable to change the situation or solve the problems of “ordinary Ukrainians.” The third and last season of the sitcom depicted the years 2019–2022 as a desperate crisis in Ukraine’s history, labeled “The Second Ruin.”7 Ukrainian authorities were depicted as entirely corrupt, and the country was divided into many federalized units. “Who is better, the honest but inexperienced or the experienced but greedy?” asks one of the characters rhetorically. It was symbolic that the show’s third season was shown in March 2019, just prior to the presidential election. There is a significant difference between Zelenskyi as a real person and the fictional character of Vasyl Holoborodko. Unlike the poor schoolteacher he plays, Zelenskyi is a millionaire (Ukrainian Pravda 2019e). In 2010–2012 he worked as the general producer at the “Inter” television channel, the owner of which was Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash. He also had close business ties with the aforementioned oligarch 6 KVN was a Soviet TV comedy show, later also produced in post-communist countries; an abbreviation of Klub Vesyolykh i Nakhodchivykh (Club of Funny and Inventive People). 7 This term was used in reference to the historical term describing a political situation in Ukrainian history during the second half of the seventeenth century.



Ihor Kolomoyskyi, the owner of the 1+1 television channel. Up until 2016, Kolomoyskyi had also been the owner of the largest Ukrainian bank, Privatbank, which was nationalized under Poroshenko’s presidency. In addition, Andriy Bohdan, a former lawyer to Ihor Kolomoyskyi, became a principal member of Zelenskyi’s political team, and, after inauguration, the Head of the President’s Office.8 Some observers suggested that the emergence of Volodymyr Zelenskyi as a presidential candidate might be Kolomoyskyi’s revenge on Petro Poroshenko (BBC Ukraine 2019). Having let the virtual Vasyl Holoborodko do his campaigning for him, Zelenskyi said little about his vision of Ukraine’s future development in the run-up to the election. He conducted his campaign playfully on social media, using videos recorded in advance and avoiding open discussions. During the campaign he gave only few media interviews and rarely gave press conferences; those he did give forbade questions from journalists. Meanwhile, Kvartal 95 conducted his campaign tour, meeting with voters. Its members also constituted the core of Zelenskyi’s political team. In most cases comments on Ukraine’s domestic and foreign policies were voiced not by Zelenskyi himself but via his advisors; they also failed to provide a general picture of Zelenkyi’s vision (Gerasymchuk 2019a). On the one hand, such an approach could be interpreted as a lack of a candidate’s political experience. On the other hand, it might have been intended to keep the candidate from possible mistakes and its image “clean,” accumulating as many voters as possible. Petro Poroshenko Zelenskyi’s rival, Petro Poroshenko, had become president of Ukraine in the difficult period after the Revolution of Dignity. This event resulted in “the Heavenly Hundred” being killed during civic protests in the heart of Kyiv in February 2014, the escape of the former president Viktor Yanukovych, the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, and the start of the military conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Despite the serious challenges the country faced during his presidency, this period was also marked with many achievements. Ukraine maintained its statehood in conditions of war with the Russian Federation, and at the same time achieved the most progress since 1991. As Alexander Motyl (2019a) stressed in one of his columns, “Poroshenko will go down in the annals as the man who consolidated Ukraine’s state, nation, democracy, and the

8 Until February 2020, when he was replaced by Andriy Yermak.



market; who pivoted Ukraine toward the West and away from Russia.” Poroshenko did a lot to establish an international anti-Putin coalition and introduce sanctions against Russia; he also strengthened Ukraine’s political, diplomatic, economic and cultural ties with the West. Together with Georgia and Moldova, Ukraine signed the Association Agreement with the European Union and was granted visa-free status. The Ukrainian army, which had been almost destroyed when war broke out in Eastern Ukraine in 2014, was rebuilt and received assistance from NATO states during Poroshenko’s presidency. Internally, Poroshenko launched anticorruption institutions, introducing reforms within the police force and also the secret police. Decommunization and decentralization, reforms in education and medicine, strengthening the position of Ukrainian language and culture in the spheres of information and education constituted further achievements. He also encouraged efforts toward energy independence, the rehabilitation of the banking and financial sectors, and the revival of independent media and civil society (Motyl 2019b), introducing the “Prozorro” system in public procurement (see also Shamaida 2019; Zanuda and Chervonenko 2019). Perhaps his greatest achievement was the establishment of the autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Herbst 2019). At the same time, Poroshenko was criticized for numerous shortcomings, such as not sufficiently demonopolizing the economy or achieving radical deoligarchization. Himself a wealthy businessman and considered an oligarch, Poroshenko made some efforts to weaken the influence of Ihor Kolomoyskyi and Dmytro Firtash, but with other oligarchs, including Rinat Akhmetov, he had to settle for compromizes (Paskhover et al. 2019). Some reforms were not effective enough—for instance, the reforms of the police and justice system; the newly created anti-corruption institutions did not function properly. Personnel policy was also one of Poroshenko’s weak points: he preferred to appoint loyal friends and colleagues, with no sincere intention to fight corruption, to top positions. The year 2018 was marked by numerous attacks and administrative pressure on civic activists in Ukraine, and these cases were not investigated properly. At the individual level, people felt little improvement in their standard of living. The difficult economic situation after the Revolution of Dignity caused a financial crisis and high inflation, while utility costs grew due to market conditions and requirements of the International Monetary Fund. The ongoing war with Russia also absorbed state budget costs. Although



Poroshenko managed to stabilize the situation in the financial sector, securing an economic growth of about 3% GDP, many people assessed their personal situations as worse than before his presidency.9 The general disappointment was exacerbated by other unfulfilled promises. For instance, Poroshenko had promised to sell his confectionary business, but instead delegated its management to a blind trust. The promise to put an end to war and his failure to do so (or even to define a Ukrainian-Russian conflict as “war” in Ukrainian legislation) led Poroshenko to contradictory and inconsistent military solutions which further weakened his position. To make things worse, decreasing support for Poroshenko was further boosted by a negative media campaign centered around copious use of the word zrada (betrayal) in political discourse. The notion reflects the social disappointment with missed opportunities which brought about the Revolution of Dignity, slow reforms and ongoing widespread corruption in the country (especially political corruption). During several years prior to the 2019 election, Poroshenko had the largest anti-rating among politicians (more than 40% of voters expressed their distrust toward him reaching 60.8% in the beginning of 2019) (Kyiv International Institute of Sociology 2019).

Poroshenko vs. Zelenskyi: Rhetoric and Key Messages Taggart (2000) and Moffitt (2015) mention crisis as one of the key triggers for the rise of populism. Ukraine, as a country in transition experiencing economic, political and other kinds of crisis since becoming independent in 1991, is therefore favorable ground for populism. When the Orange Revolution of 2004 and the election of President Viktor Yushchenko marked the beginning of the policy of de-Sovietization on the state level (Törnquist-Plewa and Yurchuk 2017), in addition to social issues, topics of national identity and the attitude toward the Soviet past became dominant themes in Ukraine’s political discourse. The Revolution of Dignity of 2014 (defined by Törnquist-Plewa and Yurchuk [2017, 16] as the “manifestation of the subjectivity of the Ukrainian people,” “an act of national self-assertion”) strengthened the nationalist agenda even more

9 For an analysis of how Poroshenko implemented his electoral promises of 2014, see Holub (2019) and Gerasymchuk (2019b).



(Korostelina 2014; Kulyk 2017; Törnquist-Plewa and Yurchuk 2017). It resulted, in particular, in an adoption of decommunization laws in May 2015 (Verkhovna Rada Ukrayiny 2015a, b, c, d). The military aggression initiated by Russia after the revolution brought the topics of war and peace as well as anti-corruption and European integration into the political discourse. The Revolution of Dignity did not, however, weaken the displays of populism in domestic Ukrainian politics. On the contrary, during the presidential campaign 2014 populism reached its peak (Ukrinform 2014). According to Taras Kuzio (2018, 27), populism in Ukraine is characterized by anti-globalist, anti-elite, authoritarian, anti-democratic, and radical rhetoric, including exaggerations and fake news—features also rampant in other European settings. At the same time, Kuzio identifies characteristics differentiating populism in Ukraine from European populism, notably attitudes toward migrants, the role of Islam, and the position toward the EU (2018, 26). The influence of the Soviet past—displayed, in particular, in paternalistic thinking of the part of citizens and their demand for “strongman rule,” as well as poverty in Ukraine explain to a major extent the fact that Ukrainian populism is mainly grouped into a left-wing category (Ben 2019). Analyzing the populist rhetoric of recent years, Kuzio (2018, 21) mentions as “pro-Western” populists Yulia Tymoshenko, Oleh Liashko, and Anatoliy Hrytsenko; whereas among “pro-Russian” populists are Vadym Rabinovych and Yuriy Boyko. Petro Poroshenko and his political party are usually not labeled populist by political observers; nevertheless, most politicians and political parties in Ukraine use elements of populist rhetoric, and Poroshenko is no exception. According to the VoxCheck study held in autumn 2017, Poroshenko was featured among the top 3 truthful Ukrainian politicians. Out of 133 of his citations, gathered for the previous two years, lies were found only in 8 cases (6%) (Skubenko and Shkarpova 2017). Nevertheless, in 2018 lies and instances of manipulation in Poroshenko’s communication increased (Vox Ukraine 2018). Poroshenko’s Rhetoric “We are moving forwards in our own way,” claimed one of the slogans of Poroshenko’s 2019 electoral campaign. The main goals on this path were to put an end to war and establish peace with Russia, as well as to prepare



Ukraine for joining the EU and NATO in 2024. “To make a strong and successful Ukraine an integral and indisputable part of Europe without the risk of returning to the zone of Russia’s influence—this is our goal, our ambition, our joint mission,” stressed Poroshenko in his appeal to the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament of Ukraine) in September 2018 (Ukrainian Pravda 2018b). With another key slogan, “Army! Language! Faith!” Poroshenko was seeking a second term on a conservative and nationalist platform, counting primarily on the patriotic and Anti-Russian electorate of the western and central regions of Ukraine. This slogan pointed to Poroshenko’s achievements in defending the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and portrayed him as the bearer of basic Ukrainian symbols and values: “An army, language and faith—this is not a slogan. This is a formula of a contemporary Ukrainian identity. An army protects our Motherland. A language protects our heart. A church protects our soul” (Ukrainian Pravda 2018b). The successful creation of the Unified Orthodox Church of Ukraine in January 2019 was actively promoted as Poroshenko’s personal achievement and increased his support among voters by around 4%. Poroshenko began his second presidential campaign with excuses for the promises he had not managed to implement, in particular for his promise to put a swift end to the war (Ukrainian Pravda 2018a). At the same time, he stressed the lack of alternative to himself, claiming to be the only one able to stand up to Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. “If not Poroshenko, then Putin” was another campaign slogan portraying all Poroshenko’s opponents as revanchists, populists, Kremlin agents, or latent autocrats. “We know precisely what the Kremlin’s plans are. We know whom they would like to see in the second round of the election, and—praise the Lord—my name is not on that list,”—stressed Poroshenko in January 2019 at the Forum, where he officially announced his intention to seek a second term (Romaniuk and Kravets 2019). At the beginning of the campaign Poroshenko’s tactic had been not to focus too much on social and economic challenges, which is the sphere of government responsibility. However, since in the people’s consciousness the president embodies the full power, Poroshenko’s campaign headquarters decided to also use these themes from February 2019 onwards. For instance, pensioners were given a one-off payment; also, subsidies were monetized—the latest decision was positively assessed by civic experts.



However, Poroshenko did not manage to delimitate effectively his official and campaign activities, ultimately abusing his mandate with agitation purposes (Civic Network OPORA 2019). The main blow which undermined Poroshenko’s campaign became, however, a scandal with corruption schemes in the defence sector revealed by journalists. According to the scheme, people from the business environment of Poroshenko for years had been supplying components for military equipment to the state defence enterprises, smuggled from Russia (Censor.NET 2019). The video about this scheme was seen by more than 2 million people, and sufficiently destroyed Poroshenko’s patriotic image. The voters perceived this incident not only as illegal but also as highly cynical, considering Ukraine’s military conflict with Russia (Verstiuk 2019). Many voters reacted negatively to Poroshenko’s aggressive rhetoric toward Volodymyr Zelenskyi. As Poroshenko’s main opponent, Zelenskyi was labeled “Kolomoiskyi’s puppet,” a “cat in a bag,” and a “hologram”; after the first round of votes Poroshenko’s headquarters were actively spreading rumors that Zelenskyi was a drug addict. Poroshenko also stressed how Zelenskyi had ignored the call to military service four times during a mobilization campaign in 2014–2015 (Ukrainian Pravda 2019f). Moreover, many public opinion leaders from Poroshenko’s environment openly criticized Zelenskyi voters as short-sighted and irresponsible, or even as idiots and traitors. After the election, Poroshenko described his defeat as “one of the most difficult lessons of his life,” from which he would draw lessons. “We did not win the battle today. But it does not mean that we lost the war. We have plenty of battles ahead. I want to emphasize: Ukraine will definitely win,” announced Poroshenko in his concession speech, expressing his intention to return for the next election (Ukrainian Pravda 2019c). Zelenskyi’s Rhetoric Zelenskyi’ election manifesto began: Let me tell you about Ukraine of my dreams. Ukraine, where salutes fire at weddings and birthdays only. Ukraine, where it is possible to start up a business in an hour, to obtain a passport for travel abroad in 15 minutes, and to vote in elections in a second, on the Internet.



Where there are no announcements like “Job in Poland”[...]. Where a young family has only one concern—whether to choose a flat in the city or a house in a suburb. Where doctors and teachers are paid a real salary, and the corrupt are given real prison sentences. […] Where an old woman receives a decent pension, not a heart attack because of utility bills. Where reasons for appointment to a post are intelligence, education, talent and conscience […]. This is Ukraine of a real and feasible dream. Ukraine of the nearest future. Ukraine to which people come back. Ukraine we will be proud of and value, and others will know and respect. Ukraine which our children will not leave. […]. These are my values. This is what I believe in and what I’m ready to serve for. (Zelenskyi 2019)

Following the Ukrainian political tradition and populist technique of demonizing predecessors, Zelenskyi promised to overturn the old regime in almost all aspects. The first draft law to be introduced by President Zelenskyi was announced as the law “On People’s Authority.” Due to Zelenkyi’s intentions, it would provide a mechanism enabling the people to initiate the main tasks for authorities via referenda and other forms of direct democracy. The next expected laws were to regulate issues of presidential impeachment and the suspension of MPs, as well as introduce mechanisms for limiting the immunity of a president, of MPs and judges.10 Considerable attention was paid to the standard of living: “The main aim of my activities are rich Ukrainians,” and “the state budget should become the people’s treasury, not the system for MPs’ desires,” claimed Zelenskyi in his manifesto, while his billboards were promising “the end of an epoch of poverty.” To develop the regions, he proposed moving some executive bodies from Kyiv to the local level. He also announced a plan to move the presidential administration to smaller premises and to open a museum in the previous location, an initiative which voters already knew from the show “The Servant of the People.”11 10 The law removing the immunity of MPs was adopted in September 2019 and came into force on 1 January 2020. 11 Not implemented in reality; Zelenskyi did unite some ministries and renamed the President’s Administration the President’s Office; however, the option of a change of premises for the latter did not move beyond the discussion phase.



Declaring that he would support the development of a business environment in Ukraine, Zelenskyi promised to introduce so called “zero declaration,” which meant that “any businessman can declare and legalize his/her income for a tax of 5%”—in fact, this would also serve as a kind of amnesty for oligarchs. An intention to reform the principles of interaction with oligarchs was announced, claiming that he would summon oligarchs, “tell them ‘enough’ and propose signing a special agreement” (Chervonenko 2019).12 One of the main topics of the electoral rhetoric was digitalization, including participation in decision-making processes, voting via the internet, and a possibility to get numerous state services online. Zelenskyi declared the principle of “the state in a smartphone”13 and zero tolerance of corruption, “because a computer does not accept bribes.” The principle of political decision-making via use of modern technologies was implemented in Zelenskyi’s initiative of “a joint writing of the election programme.” After each manifesto’s thematic block there was a special button for submitting proposals. “All 107,539 proposals have been taken into consideration,” reports a webpage with Zelenskyi’s election manifesto (Zelenskyi 2019). Pledging to seek one presidential term only, Zelenskyi claimed: “If elected president, first I will be vilified, then respected, but later people will be weeping for me when I resign” (Gordon 2018). Despite the crucial importance of foreign policy vectors for contemporary Ukrainian political discourse, the official manifesto of the candidate Zelenskyi did not mention the European Union despite stating that Ukraine’s joining the NATO and other security unions was the guarantee of the country’s security but the issue of NATO membership should be confirmed by a referendum. Nobody is waiting for Ukraine now in the EU and NATO, said Zelenskyi in an interview at the end of December 2018: “It would be cool to join,” but he “never visits anybody who didn’t invite” him (Gordon 2018). However, in his speech at the debate with Poroshenko, Zelenskyi emphasized that Ukraine has chosen the road to

12 During the first month of his presidency Zelenskyi held several meetings with oligarchs, having agreed their participation in certain social or investment-related initiatives (RBC-Ukraine 2019). 13 The mobile application “Diya” created by the government and making available a range of electronic services started to operate in December 2019.



Europe and that he would protect this choice (TSN 2019). Later the European vector became an integral part of his rhetoric as president. Zelenskyi’s statements regarding the military conflict with the Russiabacked separatists in Eastern Ukraine were perceived by some voters— primarily by Poroshenko’s supporters—as controversial, reckless, and populist. At the end of 2018 in one of interviews (Gordon 2018) Zelenskyi proposed ways to put an end to war. “I’m ready to negotiate even with a devil, in order to avoid a death of even one person. It’s necessary to do a first step—to stop shooting, and to develop our country,” he said. He also claimed it was necessary to negotiate directly with the Kremlin, without representatives from the Donetsk and Lukhansk People’s Republics, under the extended peace negotiations format with a wider circle of western partners including the US. Under such a format each party would voice its demands, “and we would reach a consensus somewhere in the middle,” argued Zelenskyi. Answering the question of a journalist assuming that Russia would demand something else instead, the candidate agreed that “it will only be necessary to decide what we can give” (Gordon 2018). With the exception of several persons who publicly presented the candidate’s team during the campaign, the key figures in Zelenskyi’s team were presented only a few days before the election. A disturbing moment for patriotic observers and voters was that the closest members of Zelenskyi’s team—Dmytro Razumkov and Andriy Bohdan—had earlier been cooperating with the Party of Regions, the party of former president Viktor Yanukovych (Malko 2019). Opponents assumed a rematch by old political elites. In particular, one of the politicians who returned to Ukraine in April 2019, Andriy Portnov, was Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration under Yanukovych and one of the authors of “dictatorship laws” (Coynash 2019). Many intellectuals and political activists perceived Zelenskyi as a risk to the country. The main reasons for their argumentation were the lack of (i) a professional team, (ii) political experience, and (iii) of a clear vision for the further development of Ukraine (Sherr 2019). Zelenskyi proposed simple solutions to difficult problems faced by Ukraine; and he had close ties with oligarchs (primarily Ihor Kolomoyskyi). This critique was also fuelled by the fact that some Russian politicians (for instance Vladimir Zhyrinovskyi14 ), propagandist 14 See Zhyrinoskyi’s speech in a programme on TV channel “Russia 1”. YouTube, 2 April 2019, Accessed 1 June 2019.



media, and leaders of Russia-backed separatists like Pavlo Gubarev15 expressed their support for Zelenskyi. Between two rounds of ballots, a group of critical intellectuals published a public statement appealing to Ukrainians not to vote for Zelenskyi, labeling him “the Trojan horse” (Ukrinform 2019). In turn, the singer Sviatoslav Vakarchuk initiated a flashmob “I’m voting not joking” (#HolosuyuNepoPrykolu).16 Some Western academics and observers have also pointed that “Zelenskyi’s presidency might be a disaster for Ukraine” (Motyl 2019d). According to Ukrainian media expert Vitaliy Moroz, “Ukraine’s election was hacked.” He argues that the information context of the election 2019 in Ukraine had many similar features with the Brexit case in summer 2016 and with the US presidential election of autumn 2016. In all cases, a “mixing of technologies with populism in a ‘post-truth’ format took place, when the truth is always defeated against the background of untruthful emotional slogans” (Moroz 2019). According to Yaroslav Hrytsak, Zelenskyi’s phenomenon may not have been pro-Russian, but it makes Ukraine weaker and more vulnerable, “it is very convenient for Russia, and it will use it” (24 TV 2019).

Media and Digital Technologies in the 2019 Presidential Election Volodymyr Zelenskyi and his team launched a new era in Ukraine’s electoral communications. In an interview in January 2019 Zelenskyi claimed that he would like to have an open electoral campaign, providing people with the opportunity to observe online the whole electoral process and related activities (Kravets and Sarakhman 2019). Considering how he communicated with voters, as well as how political debates between the two main candidates developed, his electoral media campaign rather looked like a show of a national scale and became a shining example of “politainment” in Ukrainian politics. Zelenskyi used hardly any traditional communication tools, such as trips to the regions, meetings, debates, talkshows, or newspapers. Instead he focused on social media, and this turned to be very efficient. 15 Gubarev podderzhal Zelenskogo [Gubarev supported Zelenskyi]. YouTube, 10 April 2019, Accessed 1 June 2019. 16 Sviatoslav Vakarchuk. YouTube, 27 March 2019, v=DVGn9brDOic. Accessed 1 June 2019.



The role of television was also important. For many years, television had been the most popular source of news in Ukraine until in 2019—for the first time—social media took first place in the rating of preferable sources of information (Internews 2019). In the case of Zelenskyi the television channel 1+1 played a significant role, broadcasting “the Servant of the People” sitcom and other programs and films produced by Kvartal 95 with Volodymyr Zelenskyi the actor. The owner of the popular channel, Ihor Kolomoiskyi, said in May 2019 that Poroshenko had lost the election because he did not have 1+1 on board (Ukrainian Pravda 2019b). On the other hand, Poroshenko is the owner of the “5th channel” and also has ties with the channel “Priamyi,” which he used for additional promotion and media support. Top Ukrainian politicians are also quite active on social media, primarily on Facebook, the most popular social network in Ukraine with an audience of some 13 million people. Compared with his predecessors, Poroshenko focused considerably on social media. In 2018, according to VoxUkraine, Petro Poroshenko and Yulia Tymoshenko were the most active candidates on Facebook (Ott and Volodymyr 2018). In 2019, Poroshenko had 2.4 million followers on Facebook, and Tymoshenko 2.2 million; their pages were regularly updated and professionally curated. Both candidates tended to feature short formal videos (Minich 2019). Poroshenko and Tymoshenko also actively used YouTube, with 41.8 and 76.8 thousand followers of their official pages. In contrast, Zelenskyi focused on Instagram. With an audience of 11 million this is the second most popular social network in Ukraine, after Facebook. But Instagram is the most popular social network among young people—its popularity started to rise after 2017, when Russian social networks “Odnoklassniki” and “V kontakte” were prohibited in Ukraine. Instagram’s popularity among youth correlates well with the election results because young people became the core group of Zelenskyi’s electorate. Facebook and Instagram have some important features which influenced the format of the presidential campaign in Ukraine. Facebook content is more analytical; the core active audience of the Ukrainian segment of Facebook are representatives of the Ukrainian middle and the creative class, well-educated and professionally successful people, frequently active in the political and civic spheres. The Ukrainian Facebook network involves many more people over the age of 36. According to data from the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, this network



has the largest coverage (almost 80%) in the western region of the country, and less—68–69%—in the east and south (Verstiuk and Berdynskykh 2019). These figures give us some additional insight regarding Poroshenko’s electoral results. Instagram, on the other hand, aims to touch the emotions of a user, preferring tools such as short forms of content, interactive communication, videos and live-streams, and pictures. Users seek positive emotions and visual—rather than textual—content. Petro Poroshenko focused on Facebook. He also had an official page on Instagram with about 300,000 followers17 ; however, its style was similar to that of his Facebook page. The image created by Poroshenko’s media managers was official and “monumental,” using professional photographers and Photoshop, branding, and citations reflecting the official rhetoric, which was difficult to absorb while scrolling the news feed (Malynka 2019). The page depicted Poroshenko as a statesman and was devoid of private information. Successful video posts could have up to 100,000 views. After the first round of ballots, Poroshenko’s team, looking at Zelenskyi’s success, started to focus more attention on Instagram, trying to make the page more vibrant. Zelenskyi was far ahead on Instagram, not only compared with Poroshenko and other rivals in the electoral campaign but also with many leading European politicians. He became the first leading candidate for presidency in the history of independent Ukraine who preferred to communicate with voters via social media rather than television. In April 2019 Zelenskyi’s Instagram page had 4.3 million followers18 ; not all users were from Ukraine, but the Ukrainian audience was dominant. Zelenskyi’s messages were adjusted to their channel of distribution. The candidate posted numerous videos in the format of selfies (many were produced in vertical format; presumably Zelenskyi’s media team were assuming they would be watched on smartphones). Although Zelenskyi’s page had some professional pictures, most of the posts were photographs taken with an ordinary smartphone. Successful Instagram videos of Zelenskyi reached between 1.5 and 3 million people, which is comparable to the coverage of some Ukrainian television channels. Zelenskyi also used YouTube intensively—his six YouTube channels brought him 108 million views and about 800,000 subscribers during

17 278,000 in April 2019. 18 In September 2019 this number had reached 8.1 million.



February–April 2019, the most active period of the election campaign. Usually audience’s attention was gained here with the help of clickbait headlines, inscriptions like “shock!” “urgent!” etc. (Kishchak 2020). Working on creating his personal brand on social media, Zelenskyi placed great focus on sporting activity, demonstrating exercises on a specially created YouTube channel, “ZeKubiki”.19 One of the first interviews with Zelenskyi as president was recorded in a gym during his first official trip to Brussels.20 On Facebook, Zelenskyi’s results were comparatively modest; 518,000 people subscribed to the page. But, as the journalist Denys Kazanskyi pointed out, this was also sufficiently widescale to deliver the key messages. The video in which he expressed his gratitude to Ukrainian military forces, for instance, was seen by 865,000 users. Thanks to his visibility as an actor, as well as his emotional style and direct appeal, Zelenskyi´s videos were also watched by users who are not particularly interested in politics (Kazanskyi 2019). Zelenskyi communicated in an interactive and participatory way, involving ordinary people in the campaign. In addition to “the joint writing of the manifesto” mentioned earlier, he proposed people join his team, giving observers grounds to see analogies with Beppe Grillo from the Italian “5 Stars Movement,” who also publicly put his team together, selecting its members from “the people” (Nikolayenko 2019). “Become part of my team! I am going, come with me!” exclaims Zelenskyi on his website.21 The only condition for newcomers was to have no political experience. During the first three days after this announcement 290,000 supporters submitted applications. In total, more than 600,000 volunteers were involved in the campaign (Ukrainian Pravda 2019a). Participants of the project Ze Lyudy (Ze People),22 for instance, wrote positive comments or rebutted the arguments of Zelenskyi’s critics. Shortly after

19, where “Kubiki” means “abs” and “Ze” is a part of hashtag associated with Zelenskyi (Ze-President, Ze-team, etc). 20 Zelenskyi: interview in the gym, YouTube, 5 June 2019, watch?v=iKZkzvWys60. Accessed 16 September 2019. 21 22



the election the project LIFT was announced, also encouraging people to submit their ideas and projects.23 Since January 2019, Zelenskyi’s team had been also actively using Telegram messenger, having reached 130,000 subscribers in April 2019. The advantage of Telegram (in contrast to Facebook and Instagram) is that it delivers posts to the smartphones of all subscribed users. Poroshenko joined Telegram only at the beginning of March 2019, having accumulated 47,000 subscribers by April (Verstiuk and Berdynskykh 2019). Zelenskyi’s media specialists were also first to develop additional creative tools, such as a set of stickers which people could use for their communications. In addition, Zelenskyi’s team developed a special widget24 which supporters of the candidate could install on their own web pages and, in return, be included in the list of Zelenskyi’s supporters. Such lists were spread to all followers; thus, the supporters were receiving free advertising to millions of people. Zelenskyi’s digital strategists also targeted voters through precision advertising on social media. According to Mykhailo Fedorov, the head of digital communication in Zelenskyi’s campaign, targeted messages were used for 32 different groups (Shyshatskiy and Yurasov 2019). Without large campaign expenses, Zelenskyi and his team were thus much more productive on social media: for every 100 advertising posts by Poroshenko, Zelenskyi would produce more than 800 (Verstiuk and Berdynskykh 2019). Elements of show by Zelenskyi were also seen in other aspects of the campaign. The rivals publicly underwent laboratory testing to show voters that the state of their health did not create any obstacles for fulfilling presidential duties. The final debates between candidates were held at the stadium two days before the election, where the candidates were exchanging accusations rather than conducting a meaningful discussion on future policies (Remizov 2019).

Claims to Authenticity in the Election Campaign “Have Ukrainians come to believe that Zelensky actually is Holoborodko? Unlikely. However, they seem to believe that he can be Holoborodko. Ukrainian voters are desperate for a leader they can trust,” Joanna

23 24



Hosa (2019) concludes. The deep dissatisfaction felt by the majority of Ukrainian society had produced a strong social demand for changes, and these were embodied by new political leaders. Zelenskyi’s landslide victory (characterized by some observers as “an electoral Maidan”— Schreck 2019) united people who were rather against the old system than for his vision on how to secure this change. Can we label Volodymyr Zelenskyi a populist? Despite some vagueness surrounding the concept of populism, a range of features attributed to populism might be applied to Zelenskyi’s case. Jan-Werner Müller defines populism as a particular moralistic imagination of politics, a way of perceiving the political world that sets a morally pure and fully unified – but, I shall argue, ultimately fictional – people against elites who are deemed corrupt or in some other way morally inferior. […] In addition to being anti-elitist, populists are always anti-pluralist: populists claim that they, and only they, represent the people. (Müller 2016, 19–20)

Zelenskyi is an anti-elitist politician who accused corrupt and selfish authorities of ignoring the needs and interests of ordinary people. Following the logics of populist claims who position themselves as truthtellers to make people “become cognizant of the ‘reality’ that hides behind the masquerade of ‘politics’” (Sorensen 2018, 9), he pointed to hidden aspects of Poroshenko’s rule, discrepancies between declarations and real things. Zelenskyi appealed to “the people” as a homogenous entity, composed of virtuous hard-working men and women. Zelenskyi also claimed that only he represents the ordinary people while all other candidates stand for “the old political system.” Other elements of rhetoric—simplified answers, generous promises, mechanisms to engage “the people”—also serve to identify Zelenskyi as a populist. The strategy of Zelenskyi and his team to remain silent, avoiding meetings with journalists or clear statements, has been defined by Valeriy Pekar as “the mirror technology.” The silence and universal messaging minimized the risk of splitting the electorate and gave voters the feeling that the candidate shared the voter’s concrete positions and values, thus recognizing aspects of himself/herself in the candidate as in a mirror (Pekar 2019). To a great extent, the rise of Zelenskyi was determined by negative information and criticism of Poroshenko and post-Maidan elites, fuelled by Russian propaganda. Poroshenko was depicted as “the war president,”



suggesting to Ukrainian voters that the war continued not because of Putin’s ambition to weaken and control Ukraine but because it brought certain benefits to Poroshenko personally. The number of oligarchic television channels in Ukraine, some media and “trolls” armies echoed this and similar allegations. “There was now a symbiosis of Russian active measures and the Ukrainian domestic political agenda,” explains media expert Yevhen Fedchenko.25 The main reason for Zelenskyi’s victory, however, consisted in his skilful use of media resources, especially social media. As result, he was perceived as highly authentic: A key criterion for being elected as a politician in most media-centred democracies is to come across to voters as a trustworthy and honest person, who has genuine and positive intentions. […] Being authentic in a mediated context is not directly related to being honest or sincere in their actions and decision making, but rather to coming across to voters as authentic. (Enli 2016, 124, 133)

Mediated authenticity, argues Enli, is constructed by illusions of authenticity, and social media is a very suitable tool for doing so. Benjamin Moffit, introducing the term “populism 2.0” underlines that, although social media provide more direct or “unmediated” forms of communication, “their mediating functioning is just better hidden” (Moffitt 2019, 35). At the same time, he adds, social media serve as key intermediaries “between ‘the people’ and the populist leader in the negotiation of contemporary populist representative claims” (Moffitt 2019, 37). To appear authentic, a politician’s “front- and backstage must be consistent” (Sorensen 2018, 8). Although in most cases political communication via social media is also staged by staffers, this type of media provides more tools with which to portray this backstage and thus to depict a politician as more real, sincere, spontaneous and amateurish. The trend in online political communication is to present short videos, which prove to be more efficient for gaining voters’ trust than audio, photographs and text (Enli 2016; Enli and Rosenberg 2018). In their personal social media profiles politicians (including populist leaders) may use more emotional language, which portrays them “ordinary” and close to “the people.” 25 ECFR interview with Yevhen Fedchenko, StopFake, Kyiv, 25 June 2019, cited in Hosa and Wilson (2019).



They also tend to use simple language in order to appeal to as wide a voter spectrum as possible. In addition, social media enhance and visually display the level of popular support a candidate has by creating an army of followers (some political leaders therefore invest in click farms in order to create an illusion of such popular support) (Maly 2018, 16). In most of his appeals and declared intentions Zelenskyi seems to be quite sincere but it is also true that he fully used the tools of social media to create the illusion of authenticity. The Ukrainian scholar Mykhailo Minakov draws attention to the fact that, in contrast to many populists (like Trump or Orban), Zelenskyi has not demonized any ethnic or “outsider” group. Zelenskyi’s messaging was inclusive and unifying for different categories of voters (Bugriy 2019).26 However, like Trump, Zelenskyi managed to create the illusion that he was representing and addressing “the people” as “one audience.” According to Maly (2018, 11), “it does not really matter if the populist believes that the people only has ‘one voice’. What is more important is whether he can make it believable.” In populists´ discourses, argues Maly, the people become an “algorithmic construct,” in particular via microtargeting and constructing specific messages for different target audiences, used in both Trump’s and Zelenskyi’s cases. The analyst and civic activist Valeriy Pekar has emphasized that Volodymyr Zelenskyi managed to accumulate support across several electoral groups. The core were voters with the position “against all” and with a demand for new faces in Ukrainian politics not associated with “old politicians.” He also gained significant support among pro-Russian voters. Many people in Eastern and Southern Ukraine decided to support Zelenskyi as they saw in him “their guy” who spoke Russian, without a strong emphasis on patriotism in his rhetoric, and who wanted to put an end to the war. The third group included voters who were ready to support any candidate opposing Poroshenko (Pekar 2019). At the same time, the primary base of Zelenskyi’s support were young people: 30% of Zelenskyi’s supporters were under 30. The sociologist Iryna Bekeshkina, however, was sceptical in her evaluation of such a togetherness of Ukrainian society. According to her, “This is an illusion of unity, as a consequence of vagueness” enabling anyone to pin their own wishes and dreams on the figure of Zelenskyi. Zelenskyi’s electorate was “united 26 See also an interview with Mykhailo Minakov. YouTube, watch?v=74RE3yajzBE&feature=share. Accessed 14 September 2019.



by the negation of the real state of things. But when it comes to visions of the future, here Ukraine turned out to be rather divided” (Ukrainian Pravda 2019d; Coynash 2019). The victory of Volodymyr Zelenskyi as a virtual candidate marked the coming of postmodernism to Ukrainian political reality and electoral campaigning, considers Valeriy Pekar (2019): We observe “not the fight of ideologies or positions, but virtual images.” If Poroshenko’s campaign was built on slogans; Zelenskiy’s campaign was built on memes, underlines Ukrainian philosopher Volodymyr Yermolenko. He points out that Poroshenko’s slogans aimed at uniting people into a group, mobilizing them in a fight against an external enemy (Putin’s Russia). Zelenskiy’s memes were ironic, they empowered individuals in their capacity to laugh and reject, mostly the internal enemy (corruption). Yermolenko mentions one of the final moments of the debates between the candidates in the stadium when Poroshenko began to sing the national anthem, with his hand on his heart. Zelenskyi instead “was bumptiously smiling at his fans with his fingers in a victory sign, more like a movie star than a national leader” (Yermolenko 2019). The factor of citizens’ susceptibility to populism is also important when explaining Zelenskyi’s success. Ukrainian society is highly prone to populism: according to a recent study by the Centre for Economic Strategy, about 84% of Ukrainians support populist policy, and 59% of citizens not only support it but perceive it as realistic (Mykhailyshyna et al. 2019). During the first year of his presidency, Zelenskyi has sought to implement numerous initiatives promised during his campaign—relying on the support of his political party “Servant of the People” which gained a majority (254 out of 450 of MPs’ total number) at the parliamentary election in July 2019. The first government under Zelenskyi, headed by Olexiy Honcharuk, included many young reformers with outstanding professional experience and reputation. The political developments of the first months of 2020 demonstrated, however, a strengthening of the influence of oligarchs and people from the former Party of Regions and pro-Russian environments on Zelenskyi’s presidency, and political decisions slowing down or reversing the reforms. Some of these developments are potentially dangerous for Ukraine’s sovereignty and democracy (Remizov 2020).



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Educational Media and Populism

Educational Media and Populism: Introduction to Part III Barbara Christophe

Reflecting on the relationship between educational media and populism appears to be an important thing to do given the somewhat privileged status of textbooks as media officially designated to pass knowledge deemed crucial from one generation to the other. At the same time, such an inquiry meets with some difficulties. As we have seen, populism seems to be a fluid phenomenon that is difficult to grasp conceptually as its features change in different times and different places. Exactly the same can be said about textbooks (Christophe et al. 2018). We come across an abundance of definitions in the literature, some of which have yielded colorful and memorable phrases. Roughly speaking, we can distinguish between two opposing traditions of labeling. Textbooks have been described as Orwellian “ministries of truth for children” (Fitzgerald 1979), “weapons of mass instruction” (Ingrao 2009), or “institutionalized vehicle[s] for transmitting nationalist-propagandistic

B. Christophe (B) Deputy Head of Department, Media Transformation, Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research, Brunswick, Germany e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 C. Kohl et al. (eds.), The Politics of Authenticity and Populist Discourses, Global Political Sociology,




representations by presenting self-serving opinions as a natural appearance” (Wagner et al. 2018). In other words, from this perspective textbooks constitute powerful instruments used by political elites in order to establish hegemonies and to impose what counts as official knowledge on young people’s minds (Apple 1990, 17–33; 25–26). Others have described textbooks as “border objects” located at the intersection of politics, economic, science and pedagogy (Müller 2013), as “indicator[s] of social consensus” (Höhne 2003, 45), “discursive arenas” (Höhne 2003, 65) or interdiscursive fields (Klerides 2010) which “tend to blend together a wide range of synchronic and diachronic discourses from various social fields.” In short, seen from this angle we would not expect textbooks to provide coherent stories and worldviews; we would rather expect to find cracks and fissures in their accounts, reflecting competing societal discourses with all the contradictions, ambivalences, and vagueness these entail. This fundamental disagreement on what textbooks really are leads to rival answers to two sets of questions which are of particular relevance when thinking about the inroads populism may make, first in textbooks and then in students’ minds. These concern the impact textbooks are said to have on a society as well as the range of actors and factors which are assumed to leave their imprints on textbook knowledge about “others.” They thus deal not only with the textbook as a medium shaping people’s thoughts, emotions, worldviews, and ways of categorizing social reality, but also with the textbook as a medium that is in itself subject to different forces and shaped by their, at times, highly contested agendas. In the following, some of the answers to these questions will be confronted with empirical evidence from international research. By critically reviewing the state of the art in textbook research via a dialogue between theoretical reasoning and empirical research, I hope to shed light on the fairly underresearched role textbooks potentially may play in the current upsurge of populism.

Impacts of Textbooks We can identify three principal strands of argument regarding the impact textbooks have on their readers in the literature on civics, history and geography textbooks. According to the first strand, textbooks are highly influential mass media, for many people the only book they will ever read (Lässig 2010) and indeed the only media people are literally required



to read (Macgilchrist et al. 2017, 345). At the same time, they are the only media that seek to explicitly shape the values and the worldviews of their readers (Macgilchrist 2018). This strand of argumentation further emphasizes that textbooks are usually read by young children who have not yet learned to distinguish fact from fiction and who will thus deeply internalize the messages they encounter (Ingrao 2009). The second strand takes the opposite stance, claiming that textbooks are in fact unsuccessful in convincing their audience because they are generally perceived to be dull and boring. Boredom is seen as resulting from the fact that educational media “dilute controversy” (Parenti 2001), and “exclude conflict and real suspense” by presenting every problem as either solved or about to be resolved; the reader thus “knows that everything will turn out fine in the end” (Loewen 2007) and therefore has no real interest in following the story. Scholars further claim that the discursive construction of “disinterested impartiality” (Myskow 2017, 4) and the “appearance of neutrality” (Coffin 2000, 396) clearly comes with the risk of losing the interest of the potential reader who is known to appreciate passionate authors taking stances (Commager 1966). The third argumentative strand, which appears to be compatible with the previous two, strikes a middle ground asserting that textbooks have a good chance of being contested by teachers as well as by students. The latter are, so the argument goes, not empty slates onto which new meaning can be inscribed but individuals, with not only their own experiences through which they filter new knowledge but who are also subject to influences from a variety of sources, from family to peers, and from an ever-increasing multitude of diverse media channels (Lässig 2010). Looking at the very few studies which explore the ways students and teachers deal with or appropriate textbooks, we are left with mixed messages. Analyzing how history teachers from Germany and Switzerland position themselves towards textbook quotes on the Cold War, I have presented cautious evidence on the relevance textbooks seem to have when it comes to explaining variation (Christophe 2019). The fact that the positions taken by the teachers are much more heterogeneous in the German than in the Swiss case is found to be reflective of a similar difference between the textbooks in this study. Whereas German textbooks differ significantly with regard to the crucial question of who is to blame for the escalation of the Cold War—the USA, the USSR or both—Swiss textbooks are much more unified in their criticism of the USSR, at least in this regard. However, as I point out in the study, this evidence does



not allow us to decide whether textbooks shape or are shaped by societal discourse (ibid.). At the same time, scholars exploring classroom practices with textbooks in many different countries raise serious doubts about their effectiveness to bring home their message to their readers. Studies on Northern Ireland (McCully 2003; Barton and McCully 2010; McCully 2012; McCully and Reilly 2017) come to the conclusion that textbooks trying to present a more rational and multi-perspectival approach to the conflict in line with official efforts at bringing about reconciliation clearly fail to sever the strong emotional ties students have to the partisan accounts from their respective religious communities. The same seems to hold true for the treatment of the civil rights movement in the United States, where the stories of violent exclusion told in films seem to take much stronger roots in students’ minds compared to the “sanitized” narrative offered in textbooks, which tend to focus on the victims of racial segregation while remaining silent about perpetrators. Very much in line with these insights, a study from Israel has shown how deeply the way students read and perceive textbook accounts is affected by the political background from which they and their parents originate (Porat 2004). Looking at Soviet Estonia and describing how students used to add Lenin-beards to pictures of Stalin, Vera Kalmus corroborates that in the classroom textbooks do not really command the power and influence ascribed to them in theory. Many of us probably recall doing similar things with the pictures or prominent figures in their history textbooks; however, the insight that people living under dictatorship often respond with even more irony and distrust to officially approved knowledge than people living in democracies—as a rule stabilized by widely shared commonsense assumptions (Sieder 1999)—deserves some attention. As convincing as all the evidence pointing to the limited persuasive power of textbooks may be, we cannot dismiss the counter-argument that, even if textbooks fail to persuade their readers of the propositions they make, they may still be effective in normalizing certain distinctions, systems of categorization, and modes of structuring a story. Tiny subtleties that pass unnoticed and enter our minds below the radar of conscious control may have the greatest impact on meaning-making (Christophe 2014). Up to now, this has been studied mainly with regard to gender stereotypes.



Impacts on Textbooks Moving on to the next question as to which actors and agencies determine which knowledge is deemed suitable for state-controlled or, at least, state-regulated textbooks, we can distinguish between three broad lines of reasoning. A well-established tradition in textbook research works from the assumption that the content of educational media is a prerogative of the nation-state (Carretero 2011; Carretero et al. 2013; Wagner et al. 2018), the latter using its regulatory power with the clear intention of fostering a strong sense of national identity by—at worst—glorifying the self and vilifying the other. However, an interesting version of that argument points out that a powerful elite are as a rule ready to strike compromises by incorporating and at the same time taming marginalized voices of subaltern groups or minorities in order to maintain their hegemonic grip on textbook discourses (Apple 1990). Yet another line of thought, which gained prominence with the rise of the theoretical paradigm of neo-institutionalism in the social sciences, draws attention to the growing influence of globally circulating discourses and legitimization formulas (Meyer et al. 2010; Bromley et al. 2011; Bromley 2014; Jimenez et al. 2017). According to this approach, an emphasis on human rights, the ideal of the independently minded citizen and entrepreneurial self, environmental norms as well as the obligation to give a voice to minorities has traveled the world and informed textbook accounts everywhere. A third point of view does not see one unified actor as capable of steering the process of selecting textbook context; it rather speaks to the influence multiple actors have on the development of educational media, all of which are informed by opposing rationales. Political elites governed by the desire to reproduce their power and to serve the interests of broad constituencies have their say; academic elites driven by the concept of truth1 exercise their influence in turn, and finally, publishing 1 One may rightfully object that academia is not only governed by the pursuit of truth but also by careful debate, negotiation, and assessment of the validity or plausibility of different positions. My point here, however, is that academics involved in the production of a very specific kind of medium tend to adopt a certain style. Textbooks are subject to a constant shortage of space and therefore particularly strong forces of selection. As a consequence, textbook authors are often forsaking any suggestion that the knowledge presented may be open to debate. Accordingly, they tend to speak with an anonymous



houses seeking to maximize their profit also have decision-making powers in the process. Already the reconstruction of the logic behind the different approaches seems to suggest that we can hardly expect the same rules to apply to textbook production everywhere. The concrete shapes of political, economic, and social structures in a given society will certainly determine to a large extent who will be able to participate in decision-making processes regarding what counts as relevant textbook knowledge. Differences in a couple of dimensions can be expected to be crucial. How many factions of the political elite are vying for power? How polarized are they? How much do their views on issues of the past as well as on visions for the future differ? How much formal and informal control do state elites have on the selection and approval of textbooks? Do scholars enjoy freedom of research or are they subject to demands for conformism as raised by either state or society? How conformist are societies with regard to crucial religious, political or historical issues? How tolerant are people of the views of others? It seems that the answers to all these questions will vary significantly depending on whether we are dealing with (i) a democracy or a dictatorship, (ii) a traditional, modern or postmodern society, and (iii) a post-conflict setting or an established state stabilized by a far-reaching consensus on fundamental issues (Ahonen 2008). However, some disturbing findings in empirical research disrupt the plausibility of these assumptions. At times, textbooks from rather different political systems may display remarkably similar features. Looking at accounts of the Second World War, researchers found that textbooks from both China and the United States would converge in telling similar stories centered on the moral superiority of their own national “we-group.” Attempting to make sense of this finding, they remind us that even textbooks which are not subject to direct state interference often comply with what is constructed as commonsensical in the respective society (Wagner et al. 2018). On the other hand, textbooks published in countries where little autonomy is granted to society in general and to an important sector like education in particular, may at times surprise us with an unexpectedly high level of self-criticism. With regard to the Second World War, generally perceived to be the cornerstone of a carefully designed and controlled Russian politics of memory, a Russian textbook published in but highly authoritative voice, assuming the role of a “truth giver” (Crismore 1984, 292), a “surveyor” (Myskow 2017) of uncontested insights.



2018 thus notes in an astonishingly matter-of-fact tone that the Soviet Union, as a totalitarian entity, not only shared a crucial feature with Nazi Germany but also gave the Western powers a good reason to distrust its reliability as an ally (Christophe 2021). Just how complex these aspects can be is further illustrated by textbooks in Germany from roughly the same period, which with regard to colonial crimes committed in Namibia openly refer to the mass murder of the Herero as genocide and were thus considerably ahead of the more hesitant political discourse (Müller 2013). The optimistic expectation that nationally produced textbooks cannot withstand the superior force of globally circulating moral norms and discourses is somewhat thwarted if we look to the new assertiveness of nationalist discourses, not only in countries like Poland or Hungary but also in Germany, where some textbooks recently came very close to criticizing the Nuremberg trials as an expression of victor’s justice (Christophe 2017). Indeed, one might ask whether the—as a rule—superficial adoption of globally circulating norms is always a blessing. Research points at times to the opposite. Simona Szakács has shown, for example, that Romanian textbooks discuss racist discrimination preferably with regard to far-away issues and places like Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement in the United States, remaining notably silent on racist exclusion of and violence towards the Roma community at home (2018).

Conclusion Where do these reflections and findings from textbook research leave us with regard to the question of what impact populism may have on educational media? One lesson seems to be crucial. In order to successfully communicate their messages via textbooks, populists probably have to develop skills in walking at least two lines. They have to balance the desire to enforce their agenda against the need to pursue a strategy of incorporation that would allow them to reach out to diverse constituencies. The vagueness characteristic of many populist discourses certainly comes in as a big plus here. At the same time, the ability of populists to strike compromises may be severely limited by the importance they assign to staging themselves as particularly authentic politicians. An analysis of how populists across the globe handle these competing challenges requires thorough empirical research and evidence-based answers to the following questions: (i) How much resistance do populist efforts at manipulating textbook content meet from either entrenched



elites in the field of education or other actors with an influence on textbook production? Do educational systems which are usually run by “staff trained to follow those rules already in place” (Lauglo 1995, 255) display resistant inertia? Do populists try to involve parents constructed as representatives of ordinary people and carriers of authentic national identity in education in order to overcome the obstacles put in their way by specialists? (ii) Which subjects, themes and values are the prime targets of populist attempts to reshape school knowledge? Where do they focus on religion, where on history or on moral issues like sexual orientation? Do they propagate the “superior authenticity of the vernacular” folk culture or family life (Lauglo 1995, 70) in schools and in textbooks? (iii) Finally, what are the responses of teachers and students to populist encroachments on education? All chapters in this section deal with some of these questions; none with all of them. They thus make initial contributions to a research field which is certain to keep us busy for some time.

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Against Indoctrination: The Movement Escola Sem Partido in Educational Media of Present-Day Brazil Luciano M. Roza

Escola Sem Partido (ESP) According to Miguel Naguib, the movement’s coordinator and attorney general from São Paulo, Escola Sem Partido (ESP) is “an informal independent non-profit association with no political or ideological affiliation and no ties to any political party.”1 On the association website, under the heading “Quem somos” (Who are we?), the reader learns that it is “a joint initiative of students and parents concerned with the growing political contamination of Brazilian schools at all levels, from elementary school to university.”2 This website is the most important means of communication for ESP, created “to increase awareness of a most serious problem that affects the vast majority of Brazilian schools and universities: 1 Miguel Nagib. 2019. Quem somos. Accessed 10 April. All quotations translated from Portuguese by the author. 2 Miguel Nagib. 2019. Sobre nós. Accessed 10 April.

L. M. Roza (B) History Department, Federal University of Ouro Preto (UFOP), Mariana, Minas Gerais, Brazil e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 C. Kohl et al. (eds.), The Politics of Authenticity and Populist Discourses, Global Political Sociology,




the instrumentalisation of teaching to serve political and ideological aims and to fulfill party directives.”3 Besides presenting the group and its purposes, the site contains a series of sections with articles on the following subjects: denunciation of educational practices considered indoctrinatory by ESP; testimonies by students and parents claiming to be victims of political indoctrination at school; criticism of contents bearing traces of “political contamination” in school textbooks and in the admission exams to higher education; texts and documents that provide “evidence” that teaching is instrumentalized in order to serve ideological and political purposes; how ideological indoctrination is being put into practice all over the world; how different governments have contributed to indoctrination of Brazilian society; accusations, testimonies, and reports on how schools as well as the government are “usurping the right of parents to provide their children with the kind of moral education that corresponds to their own convictions,” and so on. Besides these sections, the website provides links to the books recommended by ESP and to blogs that share similar views with the group, such as “De Olho no Livro Didático4 ” (“watching school textbooks”) which, according to Moura (2016), propagate the idea that “textbooks and other educational materials seek to indoctrinate their readers with communism or African religions.” For ESP supporters, the contents of the textbooks constitute material evidence of how left-wing groups committed to the spread of communism, as well as the struggle for black hegemony, ideologically “contaminate” schoolchildren and youth. Three further sections cast a significant light on the group’s activities: “Flagrando o doutrinador5 ” (“catching the indoctrinator”), “Planeje sua Denúncia6 ” (“planning your denunciation”), and “Notificação extrajudicial: arma familiar contra doutrinação nas escolas” (“extrajudicial notification: family weapon against indoctrination in schools”). 3 Escola sem partido. 2019. Objetivo. Accessed 10 April. 4 5 Escola sem partido. 2012. Flagrando o doutrinador. Escola sem Partido blog, 4 February. Accessed 10 February 2020. 6 Escola sem partido. 2012. Planeje sua denúncia. Escola sem Partido blog, 24 January. Accessed 10 February 2020.



The first two sections aim at instrumentalizing parents and students to identify supposedly indoctrinatory practices and file complaints about teachers engaging in such. The third section contains templates for letters to be addressed to judicial bodies demanding intervention in individual cases. Additionally, Naguib’s participation in television shows, debates, and interviews, as well as in public presentations of the project, is another method adopted by ESP to gain more visibility, raising the likelihood that other social agents not belonging to the group might support its cause. The main argument of ESP is the existence of a “contamination” of school teaching by left-wing ideologies and by the so-called “gender ideology.” Such “ideologies” are supposedly being propagated by militants disguised as teachers who exert their authority with the purpose of influencing students and converting them to Marxist, multicultural and LGBT+ mindsets. In the face of such a “danger,” ESP claims further, one must act, given that students are the most vulnerable component of the educational process, and thus need particular protection. Public education should transmit neutral and objective knowledge, regardless of the individual political stances of those taking part in the educational process. Besides, education is considered to be a service activity, not a citizen right. The right to educate children belongs exclusively to families, who are expected to transmit moral values to their children in an autonomous manner, without intervention by the state. Teaching young people moral, religious, identitarian, and gender-related values should be the exclusive responsibility of families. ESP thus seeks to preserve the heteronormative family as the only legitimate family model, rendering it impossible for the state to promote policies of tolerance toward diversity. The perspective of authenticity adopted by the ESP in their agenda, typical of right-wing populism, thus becomes clear. The defence of family heteronormativity is based on Christian moral foundations, which according to the group’s interpretation seems to be an aspect of authenticity in the sense of an undeniable truth. Raising the visibility or tolerance of other models based on ideological assumptions, and, as such, untruthful, unrealistic, and false ideas in the view of ESP, is something from which the state should abstain, they claim. Access to information about ESP participants remains somewhat nebulous. With the exception of Miguel Naguib, very little information about its members is available on their various communication channels (Miguel 2016, 595). However, as the originator of this a priori non-partisan initiative, Naguib is known to maintain close ties with the think-tank Instituto



Millenium,7 having published several articles and acted as a warden of the institute. It is important to note the distinct lack of ESP supporters in the nonvirtual world, as is the case with many social movements in the current world. On the contrary, supporters of the group act in two ways. Firstly, they interact anonymously in virtual spaces developed by ESP as well as in other spaces where relevant subjects are being discussed. Secondly, they gain support for their agenda in parliament via groups or individuals who advocate for their cause. The circulation of the ESP agenda in political circles correlates with the moments in which ESP had the highest public visibility and notoriety. The defence of non-partisanism is an integral part of ESP discourse. However, despite its claim to non-partisan, non-political, and neutral education, the organization maintains close ties to parliament members advocating a populist right-wing or an extreme right agenda. Without the participation of populist right-wing parliamentarians, ESP action could never take place in places of institutionalized power. An example of this is their attempt to establish an official program (Programa Escola Sem Partido) on the federal level. This is draft legislation proposed in 2015 by Federal Representative Izalci Lucas from Brazil’s Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB). This legislation seeks to ban all political and ideological indoctrination from classrooms. The lack of a clear definition of the practices to be banned led to the draft being considered unconstitutional, and the draft has been archived, as no vote took place within the prescribed timeframe. Nevertheless, similar drafts were proposed in various Brazilian municipalities and federal states.8

7 According to Miguel (2016), the Millennium Institute is “the main think tank of the Brazilian right, created in 2006 and financed by national and transnational companies, echoing the editorial line of the mainstream press and popularised by journalists like Rodrigo Constantino” (Miguel 2016, 593). 8 For an updated overview of the bills underway throughout Brazil, see https://profsc Accessed 18 April 2019.



Right-Wing and Extreme Right Movements in Present-Day Brazil Since the middle of the current decade, a series of claims, practices, and discourses reflecting the ideological presuppositions of populism rightwing and extreme right groups have been formulated in reference to Brazil’s political and cultural arena. According to Velasco e Cruz et al. (2015), this is a phenomenon that may assume different forms and manifest itself in different places such as the party system, the judicial system, police associations, different media and communication outlets, social network groups, and mass protests. The political spectrum that comprises populist right-wing and extreme right groups in present-day Brazil includes multiple movements and initiatives whose common point of convergence is rather of an ideological than of a practical nature (Faganello 2015). Groups such as the Movimento Cívico pelo Direito dos Brasileiros (Civic movement for the rights of Brazilians, also called Cansei, “I am tired”), Vem para a Rua (“Go out onto the street”), Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL, “Movement for a free Brazil”), Escola Sem Partido (ESP), Foro de Brasília (Brazil Forum), Revoltados on line (“Outraged citizens online”) are some of the movements and initiatives from the sectors of Brazilian civil society representing right-wing populism. Populist right-wing and extreme right movements have arisen to a great extent from the so-called “Jornadas de julho de 2013” (“Rallies of July 2013”),9 but particularly after the parliamentary, juridical and media-led coup d’état that culminated with the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff in 2016. The rise of these groups surprised many political observers, as only a few years ago the right-wing political spectrum in Brazil had decreased its organized activity after entrepreneurial elites had benefited from almost two decades of center-left administration and cultural pluralism had become well-established in Brazilian society

9 These rallies were a series of demonstrations that took place in July 2013 during the Confederations Coup, a football event organized by FIFA, during which millions of people took to the streets in order to protest against federal and state authorities. Generally speaking, the demonstrations addressed a number of social issues in Brazil, especially relating to the quality of public services such as transportation or health care. The protests were organized by groups that until then had been anonymous. They used social media and deliberately avoided the participation of party activists.



(McCann 2018). A relatively stable democracy was in place, following 21 years of civil-military dictatorship in Brazil (1964–1985). There is little information available concerning financial sources for right-wing populist initiatives.10 On their social composition, however, Tatagiba, Trindade, and Teixeira write: Their leaders are white men who present themselves as businessmen and whose discourse echoes in parts of the middle and upper classes, with particular emphasis on opinion makers among artists. Although they claim to be independent from parties, their leaders are often involved in PSDB campaigns. These are organisations without any social basis, without political recognition and with a very weak capacity of inciting qualified discussions about their claims. (Tatagiba et al. 2015, 205)

The main diffusion platforms of right-wing populist agendas are social media and common-sense discourse. Social media in particular tend to be part of a successful communication strategy, enabling several of these leaders to gain parliamentary seats in post-2014 elections. This has amplified the visibility and the action radius of the agendas they defended. According to Silveira, their discourses aim at deconstructing left-wing thought and are of three types: “Firstly, left-wing forces have introduced corruption as government practice; secondly, the left does politics for poor people who are unwilling to work; thirdly, human rights are designed for criminals to remain unpunished” (Silveira 2015, 224–225). The spread of right-wing populist activity in the present day is not a local phenomenon. In the Brazilian case, a rise in right-wing activity can be observed in the field of institutional politics, reversing the decrease in number of right-wing members of the Chamber of Representatives observed since 1998 (Codato et al. 2015). According to Faganello (2015), there are three more-or-less closely knit right-wing groups in the Brazilian federal parliament. The first comprises businessmen advocating economic liberalism and a reduction of state presence in the economy.

10 Of the little data available on the funding of these groups, some relates to the Civil Society for Public Interest Organization (Oscip), entitled Students for Freedom (EPL) and owned by some of MBL’s leaders, and the Brazilian branch of Students for Liberty, an American association funded by the Koch brothers. Available at: Carta Capital. 2018. Outras palavras: quem está por trás do protetsto do dia 15. blogs/outras-palavras/quem-esta-por-tras-do-protesto-no-dia-15-3213.html. Accessed 10 December.



The second group, popularly known as “the Bible bench,” represents present-day conservative and populism tendencies and is connected to the rise of Christian groups in Brazil and in Latin America, particularly of Pentecostal evangelists. The rise in the number of evangelists in parliament has strengthened the influence of groups seeking to hinder advancements in women’s and LGBT+ rights in Brazilian society, a cause that has also brought these groups closer to Catholic conservatives in the fight against liberalizing changes in the family and in society (Villazón 2015; Dip 2018). Racially motivated attacks related to the idea of authenticity, such as the attacks against followers of religions of African origin (Candomblé and Umbanda), reveal a clear rejection of all religions of black, non-Christian origin, and are potentially perpetrated by adepts of Christian religions. However, right-wing populist groups generally do not explicitly advocate an agenda of religious intolerance; this is a sensitive issue in Brazilian society. The third group is informally known as the “bullet bench” and advocates harsh measures against criminality, consisting mainly of representatives of public security forces (policemen, police commissioners, and retired policemen; Faganello 2015). Lowering the age of penal majority from 18 to 16 years, liberalizing the use of firearms by civilians, military discipline in public schools, criminalizing illicit drugs, and denying human rights to prisoners are all advocated by this group. This division into three groups does not mean that there are no convergent claims. On the contrary, there is wide convergence between these groups concerning the approval of conservative agendas, whether these are of a neo-liberal or moral-conservative nature or whether they aim at implementing ostentatious public security policies or at destroying policies that would expand civil rights. The main points in common between right-wing and far-right populist groups in Brazil are the anti-corruption discourse, the rejection of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) and progressive agendas, the reduction of the size of the state, and the need for violent security policies. The authenticity of right-wing populism is related to the religious conservatism present in some of these groups. In these cases, the idea of authenticity is associated with the concept of nuclear family, a family exclusively composed of a heterosexual couple and their children. For right-wing conservative groups, only this model of family should be recognizad by the state and by brazilian society. Thus, all LGBT+ rights should be revoked, and the state should fight against the so-called “gender



ideology.” Jair Bolsonaro, current president of Brazil (2018–....), when he was a member of parliament, one of the main representatives of the “bullet bench” and has always formulated positions opposed to the rights of LGBT+ groups. Bolsonaro’s election and the increase in number of representatives from the “Bullet” and the “Bible” benches in parliament are illustrative of the role right-wing populism plays in present-day Brazilian politics.

Improvements to the Brazilian Educational System. Ethno-Racial and Gender Problems and Textbook Production Since re-democratization in 1989, the Brazilian educational system has presented a series of initiatives and actions aimed at enhancing democratic aspects in a school context. Although there were at this time and there still are private and corporative interests opposed to democratization, significant advances have taken place. Generally speaking, governments of different political orientations have been able to spread democratization in education, for example by reforming curricula, publishing educational directives, implementing financing structures for basic public education, establishing parameters for the production and distribution of educational material, adopting a policy of access quotas for socially vulnerable groups to higher education, incorporating present-day topics into the curricula, adopting policies aiming at guaranteeing access and school attendance through all the phases of compulsory education. Taking into account the various changes that have occurred within Brazilian education during the last decades, we will focus on ethno-racial and gender questions in education and, on the other hand, on changes in the production of educational materials. The decision to address ethnoracial and gender issues in education is related to the fact that ESP considers these issues ideological in nature. We will discuss teaching materials, especially textbooks, because ESP considers these educational media to be vehicles for the dissemination of ideological “contamination” in schools. The subject of ethno-racial diversity as well as of gender diversity in Brazilian education is closely linked to the political space occupied by Afro-Brazilian—the descendants of slaves abducted from Africa over the



course of a couple of centuries—and Indígena—the indigenous population, hitherto dubbed “Índios” in Portuguese and Spanish or “Indians” in English—social movements, by feminist movements and by movements representing the LGBT+ community. The first government initiative addressing ethno-racial and gender questions in education was the publication of the National Curricular Parameters (Parâmetros Curriculares Nacionais, PCN11 ), particularly the “PCN-transversal subjects,12 ” related to cultural diversity and sexual orientation, respectively, in the early 2000s. Among the documents that form the PCN, eight volumes are dedicated to each of the subjects constituting the curriculum of basic education in Brazil (Portuguese Language, a foreign language, Mathematics, Natural Science, History, Geography, Fine Arts, and Sports). Further, one volume is dedicated to so-called “transversal subjects” in which subjects like ethics, health, environment, sexual orientation, cultural plurality, work, and consumption are addressed in a “transversal” way; in other words, in a manner affecting all subjects treated daily in school. The purposes of such, as stated in this document, are to foster ethic, political, and social values and to enable students to assert themselves in the present-day world. The incorporation of cultural plurality into the PCN indicates the growing social and political influence of Black Movements in Brazil during the period after re-democratization as well as the formation of a consensus, within education, in the light of the (empirically debunked) myth of “racial democracy” in Brazil (Mattos 2003).13 Similarly, incorporating the subject of sexual orientation into the school context meant developing pedagogical practices to contribute to the construction and mediation “of the relationship of the subject to himself or herself, so as to enable him or her to take the individual self as the object of care and to change his or her own behaviour” (Altmann 2001).

11 Brazil. 1998. Parâmetros Curriculares Nacionais.

geral/195-secretarias-112877938/seb-educacao-basica-2007048997/12657-parametroscurriculares-nacionais-5o-a-8o-series. Accessed 21 July 2019. 12 Brazil. 1998. Parâmetros Curriculares Nacionais/Temas Transversais. http://portal. Accessed 21 July 2019. 13 This was the myth that racism did not exist in Brazil, implying that there was no discrimination based on phenotypical, sociocultural, or historical grounds.



After the publication of the PCN, and during the first administration of left-wing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003–2006), ethnoracial and gender equality claims became more visible within education. In this new situation, the focus of the educational debates relating to ethno-racial issues was the incorporation of African and Afro-Brazilian History and Culture in all public and private elementary and high schools. This changed the old Education Guidelines and Fundamentals Law No. 9,394 (of 1996), which had been the main prescriptive law in the educational field. Subsequently, the teaching of indigenous history also became compulsory. The obligatory character of African and Afro-Brazilian History and Cultures as well as of Indigena History has significantly changed the field of educational media, particularly with respect to textbooks. While these subjects are still marginalized in textbooks (Roza 2017; Moraes and Moraes 2014; Coelho 2017), it is nevertheless possible to identify an increased focus on the history of Africa and on black and indigenous topics in different moments of Brazil’s national historical narrative in several current textbooks. Traditionally, black people appeared in textbooks only in the context of slavery and the enslaved condition, and indigenous people tended to be only mentioned in the context of the arrival of Europeans (Portuguese, in the Brazilian case, and Spanish, for the rest of Latin America) on the American continent. Programs such as Brasil sem homofobia (Brazil without Homophobia; Conselho Nacional de Combate à Discriminação 2004) and Escola sem homofobia (School without Homophobia) were important steps in the fight of the LGBT+ community to have these subjects included in the school context. The program Escola sem Homofobia was even discussed in the national parliament, the Câmara Federal (Federal Chamber), which led to much controversy, immediately echoed on social media (Macedo 2017; Macedo 2018). In the media, the project was pejoratively named “Kit Gay” (“Gay Kit”). Various members of parliament, especially propagators of right-wing populism, considered the materials produced in order to implement the program Escola sem Homofobia as “LGBT propaganda” (César and Cunha 2016). The polemic discussion caused great political harm to the government and the program was not implemented. Gender themes had to be “diluted” into broader subjects such as “human rights” in order to be taken into account in the production of educational media for basic education.



Another moment in which the incorporation of gender-related subjects into school curricula was subject to controversy was during the elaboration of the National Education Plan (Plano Nacional de Educação, PNE). Initially, the text had references to gender and race equality and to respect for sexual diversity. However, following ample mobilization by conservative sectors, including Escola sem Partido, and by political forces in Parliament opposed to a gender agenda, the paragraphs on gender and ethno-racial equality and sexual diversity were omitted. Access of students at public schools to educational materials through the National Textbook Programme (Programa Nacional do Livro Didático, PNLD) is another element of the democratization process of schools in Brazil. The PNLD was created in 1985 by the Ministry of Education (MEC) and is considered to have set standards in public policies on education not only through its wide range, but also via its constant improvements over the last decades. The aim of the program is to define parameters for the production of textbooks to be purchased by the Brazilian state. Textbooks for all subjects are distributed free of charge to all students of compulsory education age enrolled in public schools and in intermediate-level classes. In the process of evaluating textbooks adopted by the PNLD, a fundamental element in incorporating democratic claims was a qualitative scrutiny of the books for traces of racism, sexism, xenophobia, religious influence, and political indoctrination, so as to promote a plurality of concepts regarding education and learning. These and other criteria adopted by the PNLD led to a series of changes in the design of school textbooks, in a twofold perspective. On the one hand, the material and formal aspects of the books were rendered uniform (same size, paper quality, incorporation of high definition pictures, etc.). This improved the durability of the books, led to the introduction of a standard for school textbooks and to an overall improvement in the physical quality of the books. On the other hand, the contents were improved through the introduction of socially relevant topics, with current data from many areas of knowledge, by adopting new conceptions of teaching and learning, by introducing activities to be developed by students, and so on (Miranda and Luca 2004; Luca 2009; Franco 2014; Caimi 2017). However, at the same time that democratic perspectives were increasingly being adopted in education and other areas of Brazilian life, threats to progressive and democratic advancement were being posed by right-wing populist groups such as the ESP movement.



Threats to Educational Media in Brazil Actions taken by Escola Sem Partido in the field of educational media are based on the assumption that the whole production process of school textbooks—the key tools in the work of teachers—is “contaminated” by contents committed to left-wing “indoctrination,” such as the diffusion of “gender ideology” and the overemphasis on ethno-racial aspects. In general, their criticism of educational media content is expressed via three principal channels: firstly, analyses and commentaries of text fragments and images are posted in virtual spaces—websites and blogs—by members or supporters of ESP; second, articles in mass communication media (newspapers and magazines) are reproduced on the ESP website; and third, members of ESP give interviews and write articles about educational media in traditional media outlets (printed media and television). This chapter will focus on posts from the section Livros Didáticos (school textbooks) on the ESP website14 as well as from the blog “De Olho no Livro Didático” (“Keeping a close eye on school textbooks”).15 This blog is written by Orley José da Silva16 and addresses “educational policies and episodes of indoctrination in educational, literary and teaching materials.”17 A link to this blog on the ESP website suggests some convergence of opinion between the views expressed on this blog and the positions of Escola Sem Partido. The Livros Didáticos section of the ESP website features a compilation of about 30 posts, including articles and editorials criticizing educational material published during the administration of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers’ Party). Some of these texts were written directly for the website, while others are taken from external sources such as newspapers and magazines.

14 Escola sem partido. 2020. Livros Didáticos. Escola sem Partido blog. http://escola Accessed 10 February. 15 De Olho no Livro Didático. 2019. De Olho no Livro Didático: Políticas educacionais e ocorrências de doutrinação nos materiais didáticos, literários e pedagógicos. De Olho no Livro Didático blog. Accessed 20 August. 16 Orley José Silva is a teacher in the state-run school network in the city of Goiânia; he holds a master’s degree in Literature and Linguistics from the Federal University of Goiás and, according to Penna (2017), he is a member of Escola Sem Partido. 17 De Olho no Livro Didático. 2019. De Olho no Livro Didático: Políticas educacionais e ocorrências de doutrinação nos materiais didáticos, literários e pedagógicos. De Olho no Livro Didático blog. Accessed 20 August.



The texts presented in the section Livros Didáticos are understood as discourse on the truth, and not as a possible interpretation of some aspects of a given reality. Thus, in general, the ideological, economic, cultural, and political interests of the media outlets and the authors of the articles as well as their possible connections with political and economic groups are not taken into account. An example of this is the treatment of a text on the ESP website with the title “Visão crítica a serviço de um Partido18 ” (a critical vision in the service of a party). According to the information provided on the site, the text was originally published in the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo on November 30th 2007 with the title “Linhas tortas” (“Curved lines”) by Sérgio Fausto, an ally of former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995–2003) and political analyst. The author begins his article with criticism on the treatment of the Cardoso administration in a leaflet on Brazilian history distributed to one of his son’s friends on a preparatory course for the university admission examination. According to Fausto, “if he hadn’t told me where this text came from, I would have thought it a document published by a political party.” According to the ESP report, the text of the leaflet lists a number of negative points about President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s administration. After expressing his own assessment of the contents of the leaflet, the author points out that the use of education as a means for party propaganda has been a constant presence in Brazilian life in recent decades. However, he does not present any additional examples or materials to corroborate his views. He continues: The truth is that dishonesty and a low intellectual level united under a common cause have spread through the whole educational sector, from basic education to university […]). This process has been ongoing since the middle of the 1980s and is partly connected to a general worsening of the study and working conditions of the teachers, to the loss of prestige of the profession and to the enrolment of an important number of teachers by movements, trade unions and parties linked to the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, “Workers’ Party”) that thus became politically instrumentalised. I loathe generalisations: I am not saying that every single teacher is a party militant or a supporter, nor am I saying that every politically active teacher is ignorant or tends towards intellectual dishonesty. 18 Fausto, Sergio. 2012. Visão crítica a serviço de um Partido. Escola sem Partido blog, 25 May. Accessed 28 February 2020.



[…] Sometimes because of deficits in their professional education, sometimes because of ideology, sometimes because of both, knowledge leads the way to political indoctrination and gradual distortion. This problem manifests itself particularly in the field of humanities, because this is exactly the field of knowledge that provides the concepts necessary to understand history, politics and society. They thus provide a fertile ground for people’s indoctrination.19

The arguments put forward in this text can be understood as an accusation that teachers are responsible for indoctrination “[s]ometimes because of deficits in their professional education, sometimes because of ideology, sometimes because of both.” This strategy, followed by rightwing populists in their discourse, points toward a tendency to demonize those held responsible for the so-called indoctrination. They further point out that the supposed “indoctrination process” led by the PT and their power are not confined to state-run schools but extend also to private institutions. Finally, it is important to stress that the title of the article was changed when it was re-published on the ESP website, and there is a strategy of demonization behind this title change. As mentioned above, the article originally had the title “Linhas tortas” (Curved lines), on the ESP website, before being retitled “Visão crítica a serviço de um Partido” (A critical vision in the service of a party). ESP thus reduced the meaning of the text to only one of the multiple aspects of criticism put forward by the author, linking the article directly to the alleged indoctrination by the PT. The claim that this “contamination has long been present from basic education to university” also suggests a climate of constant threat. Once again, the author fails to provide concrete examples to substantiate this claim. It is clear that the whole discourse is organized on the basis of a common-sense rhetoric, without any attempt at justifying the claims made with facts or data to corroborate them. Similarly, other texts in the Livros Didáticos section present the same kind of common-sense rhetoric about the risks of “indoctrination” in the Brazilian educational sector, for instance the following text, warning

19 Fausto, Sergio. 2012. Visão crítica a serviço de um Partido. Escola sem Partido blog, 25 May. Accessed 28 February 2020.



about a Bolivarian socialist revolution similar to the one that has occurred in neighboring Venezuela: In the Brazilian case, the aim is to ideologically align all Brazilian universities and state-run schools with a total of 56 million students. This would serve the purpose of instrumentalising their minds in order to support a permanent and consensual socialist government to be put in place in the country. Thus, currently, the seeds of socialist revolution in a Gramscian sense is being planted in our educational system in order to implement an allegedly peaceful revolution, should no accidents occur under way”.20

The so-called “gender ideology” and ethno-racial questions, subjects considered by ESP as symptoms of left-wing contamination in schools, are also treated in ESP posts. The post with the title “MEC de Temer book notices commit the MEC until 2023” (Editais de livros do MEC de Temer comprometem o MEC até 2023) is a good example of this. Dilma Rousseff’s former vice-president Michel Temer replaced her in 2016 after a successful impeachment; Temer held office as Brazil’s president until December 2018. The post is from November 26 2018, after the election of Jair Bolsonaro, and also features demonizing rhetoric. The text states that despite the end of the PT administration in 2016, ideological indoctrination still continues in Brazilian state-run schools, even under President Temer’s administration (2016–2018). The educational materials mentioned in the post consist of textbooks and literary works approved by the PNLD, and will be used in schools for 4 years starting from 2019. The analysis presented in the post is a preliminary estimate of “about 10% of the books approved by the PNLD.”21 This rate was considered to be representative of the contents present in the rest of the approved books. The analysis of the school textbooks is organized into three sections: (1) “Gender ideology”—comprising only one sample of the books approved by the PNLD and to be used in schools for a period of four 20 Orley José da Silva. 2014. Livros didáticos para a revolução socialista bolivariana. Escola sem partido blog, 22 March. Accessed 28 February 2020. 21 De Olho no Livro Didático. 2018. Editais de livros do MEC de Temer comprometem o MEC até 2023. De Olho no Livro Didático blog, 26 November. Accessed 10 February 2020.



years, starting from 2019; (2) “African and Native Brazilian cultural hegemony”—comprising one sample of the books; and (3) “Left-wing political and ideological prejudices.” In all sections, some fragments of the books are presented with the contents highlighted; the book cover is shown together with a short commentary on the contents. There is no broader analysis on the contents of the books and thus no clarification as to whether the contents highlighted are present throughout the books or whether it is only an isolated passage. The section “Gender Ideology” features a number of fragments from different school textbooks from the Natural Sciences, Portuguese language, Geography, and History, containing texts, images, and activities illustrating the so-called “gender ideology.” Sexual identity is addressed as a social construction, non-traditional family arrangements in Brazilian society are presented, as well as a discussion on traditional male and female roles. In order to illustrate the presence of “gender ideology” in school textbooks, passages, and images discussing social and identitarian roles of males and females from the Portuguese language textbook Vem voar. Língua Portuguese: quinto ano (Come on flying. Portuguese Language. 5th grade) are discussed. The ESP post describes these textbook contents as a deconstruction of masculine and feminine roles, as the text, it claims, seeks to “urge boys and girls to perform activities that were formerly assigned according to sex. For example, they urge girls to play football and boys to dance ballet.” In the ESP’s view, it is an attack on the authenticity inherent in the traditional concept of the family, an affront to what ESP considers a morally acceptable family model. The same strategy can be observed when it comes to the treatment of ethno-racial questions. Under the heading “African and Native Brazilian cultural hegemony,” a series of fragments from Geography, History, Natural Sciences, and Language textbooks are listed that together suggest a domination of Afro-Brazilian and Native Brazilian history and culture over other ethno-racial contents. The ESP post criticizes that “Native Brazilians and Africans are excessively highlighted in textbooks that even bring links for further research concerning only these two types of social representation.” Further, they bemoan the “emphasis on the effects of slavery on Native Brazilians and black people. Their intention is to attack white culture as being repressive and slavocratic”; another point of critique is “the treatment [of the ethno-racial question] that overemphasises the intersection of class, race, gender and cultural diversity as factors that can strengthen prejudice.” Right-wing populists claim to have



identified a “discourse of victimisation of minorities” as well as an “overestimation of cultural diversity and the emphasis on multiculturalism” in school textbooks. According to the assessment in the ESP post based on fragments of the book Aprender juntos história: terceiro ano (Let’s learn history together. Third grade), the book presents “African religions and culture as an object of persecution by white occidental culture” and places “emphasis on the necessity of exploring Afro-Brazilian culture.” These perceptions seem to clearly contradict the democratic advancements according to which gender and ethno-racial questions have become a fundamental part of modern citizenship. They contain traces of antiintellectualism, a characteristic aspect of right-wing populism that manifests itself in the denial of academic research on African, Afro-Brazilian, and Native Brazilian historical experience, as well as of the advancements made in the social sciences toward understanding gender as a social and political category. According to ESP, therefore, these texts suggest an ongoing left-wing conspiracy with the purpose of indoctrinating the new generation, even after the end of the PT administration in Brazil. ESP adopts a discursive strategy aiming to foster a constant feeling of vigilance, monitoring and the exclusion of certain groups considered dangerous to the established order. The contents of school textbooks are presented in a fragmentary manner without contextualization as “evidence” of ideological contamination of educational media. This points to two fundamental aspects of how the persons responsible for disseminating the ESP posts understand the nature of educational media: (1) Texts distributed through educational media are bearers of absolute truth and (2) these texts are not the results of a broad participation in a discussion process on, for instance, the editorial market, the state as the implementing agency of official curricula, civil society, scientific associations, and so on. The legal, economic, and logistic aspects of the production of educational materials are generally disregarded in the ESP posts. In this context, an important question, unwittingly or intentionally ignored by those propagating the idea of “indoctrination” in educational media, is the presence of large multinational corporations in the Brazilian editorial market. The growing presence of international editorial groups in the production and distribution of school textbooks in Brazil is a trend observed since the last decades of the twentieth century. According to Cassiano (2013), in present-day Brazil the editorial market is seeing a growing focus on educational material, particularly school textbooks, in the hands



of large corporations of the transnational culture industry. Thus, the idea supported by the present-day Brazilian right-wing sector in their populist rhetoric about the presence of left-wing ideology in the educational media distributed by the federal government but produced in an editorial market controlled by such corporations is fragile and contradictory. It ignores the entire production process of pedagogical materials and it fails to take into account the fact that the books are published by private corporations without any links to left-wing political perspectives. Finally, the authors of the ESP posts seem to ignore the PNLD in their analyses. This program is of central importance for the organization of contents transmitted in educational material purchased by the federal government to be distributed to basic schools, as it forms the legal framework to justify publicly the acquisition of this material by the state. As already mentioned, the different resolutions published by the PNLD on the quality of educational material have contributed to improving evaluation mechanisms, so that books containing any kind of political indoctrination, religious proselytism, or other discriminatory perspectives are eliminated from the program. This can be seen in a passage from Annex IX of the resolution PNLD/2007. Among the criteria defined in this document, it sets out the following “ethical principles”: In respect to the Constitution of Brazil and in order to contribute effectively to the construction of an ethical framework necessary for social coexistence and citizenship, a school textbook must not (1) transmit socioeconomic, ethno-racial, gender- or language-based prejudice or any other kind of discrimination; (2) practice political or religious indoctrination that ignores the secular and autonomous character of public education; (3) use educational material as a vehicle for publicity or for diffusing trademarks, products or any kind of commercial services. Apart from these criteria, each subject can establish its own eliminatory criteria. (Brazil 2006, 35)

The small number of educational media mentioned in the ESP posts and on their blog in order to supposedly provide a significant sample of the extent of the danger of indoctrination in educational media represents only an insignificant portion of the total volume of educational media currently circulating in state-run schools in Brazil. Apart from this numerical shortcoming, the analyses in the ESP posts further overestimate the role of educational media as a space of unilateral construction of realities, ignoring all kinds of mediation during the actual use of these materials.



In other words, the analyses presuppose that teachers and students fail to reflect critically on the contents of educational media and are mere recipients of these contents. This, however, seems highly unlikely.

Final Considerations Jair Bolsonaro’s victory at the presidential elections and the rise of the number of right-wing and right-wing extremist parliamentarians grant initiatives like ESP a wide communication channel and a means of entering political institutions. In this context, authenticity discourses such as that propagated by ESP and particularly opposed to educational policies in favor of certain groups (black population, homoaffective persons, and women) tend to proliferate. During the first six months of the Bolsonaro administration, attempts to institutionalize the ESP program and prevent the propagation of allegedly indoctrinatory contents in educational media could not yet be legally implemented. Despite the adverse political context, rejection of and opposition to ESP populist proposals seem to be gaining traction, especially through civil society groups such as the counter-movement Professores contra o escola sem Partido (Teachers Against ESP).22 Nevertheless, the right-wing populist agenda of ESP may still be put into practice, bringing about another blow to the Brazilian democratic experience. Such a retrograde step would affect the freedom of teaching, education as a universal right, and the respect of gender and ethno-racial diversity.

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Escola sem partido. 2012b. Flagrando o doutrinador. Escola sem Partido blog, 4 February. Accessed 10 February 2020. Escola sem partido. 2015. Notificação Extrajudicial: arma das famílias contra a doutrinação nas escolas. Escola sem Partido blog, 25 June. Accessed 10 February 2020. Escola sem partido. 2019. Objetivo. Accessed 10 April. Escola sem partido. 2020. Livros Didáticos. Escola sem Partido blog. http://esc Accessed 10 February. Faganello, Marco Antonio. 2015. Bancada da Bala: Uma Onda na Maré Conservadora. In Direita, Volver!: o Retorno da Direita e o Ciclo Político Brasileiro, ed. Sebastião Velasco e Cruz, André Kaysel, and Gustavo Codas, 145–162. São Paulo: Editora Fundação Perseu Abramo. Fausto, Sergio. 2012. Visão crítica a serviço de um Partido. Escola sem Partido blog, 25 May. Accessed 28 February 2020. Franco, Aléxia Pádua. 2014. Uma Conta de Chegada: a Transformação Provocada Pelo PNLD Nos Livros Didáticos de História. In Ensino de História: Usos do Passado, Memória e Mídia, ed. Marcelo de Souza Magalhães, Zhelenice Aparecida Bastos Rocha, Alessandra Ciambarella, and Jayme Fernandes Ribeiro, 143–164. Rio de Janeiro: FGV Editora. Luca, Tania Regina de. 2009. Livro Didático e Estado: Explorando Possibilidades Interpretativas. In A História na Escola. Autores, Livros e Leituras, ed. Helenice Aparecida Bastos Rocha, Luis Reznik, and Marcelo de Souza Helenice Rocha Magalhães, 51–172. Rio de Janeiro: FGV Editora. Macedo, Elizabeth. 2017. As Demandas Conservadoras Do Movimento Escola Sem Partido E A Base Nacional Curricular Comum. Educação & Sociedade 38 (139): 507–524. Macedo, Elizabeth. 2018. Repolitizar o Social e tomar de volta a Liberdade. Educação em Revista 34. Mattos, Hebe. 2003. O Ensino de História e a Luta Contra a Discriminação Racial no Brasil. In Ensino de História: Conceitos, Temáticas e Metodologias, ed. Martha Abreu and Rachel Soihet, 127–136. Rio de Janeiro: Casa da Palavra. McCann, Bryan. 2018. Brazil’s New Right. Dissent 65 (2): 114–121. Miguel, Luis Felipe. 2016. Da “Doutrinação Marxista” à “Ideologia de Gênero”: Escola Sem Partido e as Leis da Mordaça no Parlamento Brasileiro. Direito e Práxis. Rio de Janeiro 7 (15). Miranda, Sonia Regina, and Tania Regina de Luca. 2004. O Livro Didático de História Hoje: um Panorama a Partir do PNLD. Revista Brasileira de História 24 (48): 123–144.



Moraes, Luciene Maciel Stumbo, and Wallace dos Santos Moraes. 2014. A revolta dos Malês nos Livros Didáticos de História e a lei 2003. In Pesquisa em Ensino de História: Entre Desafios Epistemológicos e Apostas Políticas, ed. Ana Maria Monteiro, Carmen Teresa Gabriel, Cinthia Monteiro de Araujo and Warley da Costa, 209–226. Rio de Janeiro: Mauad X/Faperj. Moura, Fernanda Pereira de. 2016. “Escola sem partido”: Relações entre Estado, educação e religião e os impactos no ensino de história. Dissertação (Mestrado em Ensino de História) – Instituto de História da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. Disserta%C3%A7%C3%A3o%20Fernanda%20Pereira%20de%20Moura.pdf. Nagib, Miguel. 2019a. Quem somos. Accessed 10 April. Nagib, Miguel. 2019b. Sobre nós. Accessed 10 April. Penna, Fernando de Araujo. 2017. O Escola sem Partido como chave de leitura do fenômeno educacional. In Escola “Sem” Partido: Esfinge Que Ameaça a Educação e a Sociedade Brasileira, ed. Gaudêncio Frigotti, 35–48. Rio de Janeiro: UERJ/LPP. Professores contra o escola sem Partido. Roza, Luciano Magela. 2017. Approaches to Racism in History Textbooks (2008–2011). Educação & Realidade 42 (1): 13–34. Silva, Orley José da. 2014. Livros didáticos para a revolução socialista bolivariana. Escola sem partido blog, 22 March. ros-didaticos-para-a-revolucao-socialista-bolivariana/#more-445. Accessed 28 February 2020. Silveira, Sergio Amadeu da. 2015. Direita Nas Redes Sociais Online. In Direita, Volver!: o Retorno da Direita e o Ciclo Político Brasileiro, ed. Sebastião Velasco e Cruz, André Kaysel, and Gustavo Codas, 213–230. São Paulo: Editora Fundação Perseu Abramo. Tatagiba, Luciana, Thiago Trindade, and Ana Claudia Chaves Teixeira. 2015. Protestos à Direita no Brasil (2007–2015). In Direita, Volver!: o Retorno da Direita e o Ciclo Político Brasileiro, ed. Sebastião Velasco e Cruz, André Kaysel, and Gustavo Codas, 197–212. São Paulo: Editora Fundação Perseu Abramo. Velasco e Cruz, Sebatião André Kaysel, and Gustavo Codas (eds.). 2015. Direita, Volver!: o Retorno da Direita e o Ciclo Político Brasileiro. São Paulo: Editora Fundação Perseu Abramo. Villazón, Julio Córdova. 2015. Velhas e novas direitas religiosas na América Latina: os evangélicos como fator político. In Direita, Volver!: o Retorno da Direita e o Ciclo Político Brasileiro, ed. Sebastião Velasco e Cruz, André Kaysel and Gustavo Codas, 163–176. São Paulo: Editora Fundação Perseu Abramo.

Populist Pulp in a Democracy: Propagandist Textbooks of the Hindu Right Anil Sethi

This chapter1 examines two kinds of Indian school textbooks for History, both developed under state aegis. In doing so, I ask what are the links between school histories produced by right-wing governments, rightwing populism, notions of “authenticity,” nationalism, construction of heritage, and democracy. My response develops an argument that distinguishes between cognate concepts while creating an interplay among them. It is preceded by some basic information about government agencies responsible for developing school textbooks in India. In India, education is a “concurrent subject,” with both the federal as well as the state governments of the country responsible for its 1 This chapter has enormously benefitted from the comments of the editors of this

volume and the eagle-eyed editing of Dr Wendy Anne Kopisch. I wish to thank the educationalist, Professor Farah Farooqi of Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, for rewarding dialogues regarding that rather hydra-headed creature called Education; and Dr Umesh Jha of Ramanujan College, New Delhi for insightful political conversations. I am also beholden to Dr Nishtha Gaur Singh, fellow historian at the Pokhrama Foundation, for useful criticism.

A. Sethi (B) Pokhrama Foundation, Hyderabad and Pokhrama, India e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 C. Kohl et al. (eds.), The Politics of Authenticity and Populist Discourses, Global Political Sociology,




planning and provision. Perhaps the most significant of all institutions and publishers producing school textbooks is the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), a think-tank of the federal government, and an apex body in school education. Its books are prescribed by the all-India Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) for use in schools affiliated to this board. The CBSE holds public examinations at the end of Classes X and XII. The NCERT and the CBSE have all-India scope. In addition, most states have their own State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) and their own examination boards. The textbooks published by a given State Council (or related body) are prescribed by the examination board of that state. At times a state may not develop its own curricular materials and may decide to use NCERT ones. The NCERT publishes textbooks in English, Hindi, and Urdu; the states in English and their own official language.2 The NCERT does not control or direct the SCERTs, although the curriculum frameworks it produces are seen as “guidelines” for the whole country. Similarly, provincial bodies are likely to treat NCERT’s textbooks and other educational materials as “model media.” In theory, both the NCERT and the SCERTs are “autonomous” bodies; in practice, they are fairly firmly controlled by governments, the federal government in the NCERT’s case, and the state governments in the case of the latter. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance first formed a federal government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. The approach of this Hindu right-wing populist government, the BJP, the Hindu nationalist organization, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)3 —from which the BJP draws crucial sustenance and direction—and of other affiliates to curricular material has been complex. The

2 Until now, most chapters in NCERT’s textbooks have been first written in English and then translated into Hindi and Urdu. Many SCERTs and related bodies may first produce typescripts in the official language of their state and then translate them into English. 3 “Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)” or “National Volunteer Corps” is a Hindu nationalist organization, formed in 1925. Its raison d’etre is to establish the definite dominance of Hindus and “Hindu culture” in Indian society and polity. In so doing, it creates a strident Hindu nationalism that often depicts non-Hindus, especially Muslims, as dangerous others. Several scholars have found it to contribute to religious antagonisms and the suppression of Muslims. See, for instance, Basu et al. (1993), Jaffrelot (1996), and Chatterji et al. (2019).



Hindu Right is ideologically smitten, speaking as it does of “exclusion” (while practising it itself), “authenticity,” the “glory” of India, “characterbuilding,” and the like (Vidya Bharati 2010; Batra 2015; 2016).4 Even so, it has not as yet replaced History and other Social Science textbooks of the NCERT that were produced between 2006 and 2008 by the Congressled federal government of that time. In Haryana, a BJP government has been in power since 2014 and in Uttar Pradesh since 2017. These governments are yet to produce their own textbooks. The examination boards of these states continue to prescribe textbooks developed by the NCERT after 2005. In contrast, the party has ruled Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat for much longer spells where its governments have presided over the development of school textbooks. While this chapter seeks to probe issues and approaches connected to History Education in India, specifically, it is about two types of History textbooks, both produced under state aegis, and both in current use. I first examine the Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh textbooks, produced during the rule of the BJP. I then compare the perspective of these books with that of textbooks developed by the NCERT between 2005 and 2008, but still in use today. In evaluating these perspectives, I construct an argument about populist pulp in a vibrant democracy even as democratic forums and practices are sought to be curtailed by right-wing populist governments in the Indian states and at the federal level.

The Textbooks of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have been taken up as case-studies rather than other BJP-ruled states because the BJP, and indirectly the RSS, have been so firmly entrenched in power in these provinces. In Gujarat, the BJP has had a strong presence since 1990. The party has ruled the state on its own from 1995 until now except for some eighteen months during the years 1997 and 1998. Narendra Modi served as Chief Minister of the state from 2001 to 2014, until he became Prime Minister of India. The

4 See, for instance, Tejomaya Bharat: Jeev, Jagat, aur Jagadeesh ke Gyan ka Strot

[Glorious India: The Fount of Knowledge of Living Beings, the World and God] (Kurukshetra, 2010). Originally written in Gujarati, the edition of Tejomaya Bharat cited here is a Hindi translation, authored by activists of Vidya Bharati, an affiliate of the RSS. The names of the authors have not been given. It will be cited in this chapter as “Vidya Bharati 2010.”



BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh from 2003 to 2018, having come to power after ten years of Congress rule, and was firmly in the saddle from 2005 to 2018 under the leadership of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. It is notable that many ministers in these states have been active members of the RSS, deeply committed to its ideology.5 What has been the record of these long-serving right-wing Hindu populist governments with regard to curricular material? What follows is an examination of the History portions of the Social Studies textbooks of these states for Classes VI to XII. While Gujarat’s textbooks were published between 2014 and 2018, those of Madhya Pradesh were published between 2005 and 2008. These textbooks are poor-quality material in every sense: physically, linguistically, visually, content-wise, and in terms of pedagogy. The paper used is rough, the print poor— at times illegible—and the pages lack decent margins. At best, their sense of narrative is mediocre. We encounter the disease of facticity, a jumble of names, dates, places, or thoughtless lists of “causes,” bulleted and thus rendered discrete, such that it would be virtually impossible for teacher or learner to make any interconnections. “Weak” or “intolerant” rulers, “languishing in luxury” figure in the recitation, without much regard to analysis of context or ideographic particularity.6 The chapters offer no scope for reflection or even formative assessment. They do not nudge the learner toward constructing nuggets of history from the primary material. They are designed to coax the child into cramming the text and dutifully regurgitating it in the exam. The material is so shoddy and flawed that at times direct quotations are either unfaithfully rendered—i.e., the words changed—or even perhaps invented. And the text does not reference the quotations. Take, for instance, this quotation ascribed to Mahatma Gandhi in a chapter on the Indian freedom struggle and mentioned in the context of the famous Dandi (Salt) March of 1930: “I, by this event, am applying salt to the 5 Official website of Vijay Rupani, Chief Minister of Gujarat, https://www.vijayrupani. in/en; and official website of Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Chief Minister, Madhya Pradesh, Both sites accessed on 6 November 2018. A Congress government under Kamal Nath ruled Madhya Pradesh from 17 December 2018 to 22 March 2020. Shivraj Singh Chouhan of the BJP again took over as Chief Minister on 23 March 2020. 6 For instance, the treatment of “Causes of the Decline of the Mughal Empire” in the Class 7 Madhya Pradesh textbook, Chapter 22 (Social Science, 7th class, Madhya Pradesh, 2018, 127–128).



foundation of building in the form of British Empire” [sic] (Social Science, 9th class, Gujarat, 2018, 32). Firstly, the English is so garbled, it is difficult to grasp the meaning of this sentence. Secondly, those familiar with Gandhi’s accurate, crisp, and grammatically correct English, and, invariably, dignified use of language, will realize that he could not have uttered or written such a sentence. Thinking this sentence to be a translation from Gujarati or Hindustani, I tried to trace its origin by looking through several books and websites, including Gandhi’s collected works. I could not find it. Thirdly, some engaging questions about the topic at hand, the Dandi March, have been bypassed by a drab and defective account. Civil disobedience at Dandi involved 80 non-violent marchers who traversed 388 km in 24 days, culminating in the picking of salt from the sea. Several other marches were staged in other parts of the country in sync with this one in a concerted attempt to oppose colonial rule. The events received outstanding international coverage. Dandi was high drama, spectacular stuff, something that can and should fascinate teacher and pupil alike. Why did Gandhi choose to agitate on the salt issue? Why was this issue socially unifying rather than divisive? What was the social composition of the movement? How large was it and how can we establish its size? Why was it launched at that specific time? Good questions that can guide the child into deep thought, push her toward the rudiments of the historian’s craft. But they are not asked in the book, and a great pedagogic opportunity has been lost. These books fail to introduce learners to “doing History”: evaluating sources, evidence, and facts, interpreting them, creating arguments, grasping and weighing viewpoints, developing perspective, defining and distinguishing between categories. They neither pose problems for analysis nor, indeed, analyse anything. They only make shallow statements about complex historical processes without explaining the processes under discussion. A case in point is Madhya Pradesh’s treatment of the policies of Viceroy George Curzon, the Partition of Bengal in 1905, and the Swadeshi Movement (1903–1908) that sought to boycott foreign goods. The text tells us: Subsequent to the partition of Bengal, [the] British started dividing Indians on the lines of communal differences, they were successful to a great extent in their objectives [sic]. [The] British Government provoked Muslims again and again, in order to weaken the national movement. On the suggestion of [the] British Government, [the] Indian Muslim League was formed. The



Nawab of Dhaka, Salimullah, protested against the Swadeshi Movement on a suggestion from the British. (Social Science, 10th class, Madhya Pradesh, 2016, 153–154)

Categories such as communalism are not explained, neither in this passage nor anywhere else in the book. No evidence is offered for the claims made. The text holds, without substantiation, that the colonial state sought to divide the people along communal lines. The manner or nature of the government’s “provocation of Muslims” is not clarified. And the “fact” that Salimullah, founder President of the Bengal Muslim League, opposed the Congress movement on the “suggestion of the British” is presented without proof. To what extent are these textbooks vehicles of Hindu nationalist virulence? The answer to this question is not a straightforward one. Communal biases as well as the glorification of India, especially of early India, exist in presentation as well as elision. For instance, in listing the “causes of the decline of the Delhi Sultanate” in the sixteenth century, the Class VII Madhya Pradesh textbook mentions “ill-treatment of the Hindus and revolt by local rulers” as a factor: “Most of the Delhi Sultans followed the policy of religious intolerance. The local rulers did not tolerate it and revolted against the Sultans” (Social Science, 7th class, Madhya Pradesh, 2018, 70). When no specific policy or Sultan, local ruler or revolt is mentioned, the text becomes flat, ahistorical, and banal and will have to be read as prejudiced.7 In another instance, this time from Gujarat, the separatism of the Muslim League, circa 1940 and later, is confused with “Muslim communalism” and the latter as well as Partition are reduced to the introduction of separate electorates and the formation of the Muslim League in 1906. We are told that “many writers believe”—no names or other pieces of evidence are offered—Lord Minto, Viceroy of India from 1905 to 1910, to be the “father of Muslim communalism.” The text then makes the preposterous claim that the “real founder of Pakistan was Minto, not Mohammad Ali Jinna[h]or Rehamatullah” [emphasis mine] (History, 12th class, Gujarat, 2017, 62). While no details are cited for the encouragement that the colonial authorities may have provided to the early League, this account takes away all agency from the politicians who had 7 For a nuanced argument regarding the Delhi Sultans, their several commitments, and their reliance on different centers of social and political power, see Kumar (2010).



taken the Simla Deputation to Minto in October 1906, seeking separate electorates. More importantly, its tunnel vision sights Pakistan in 1906, some four decades before its foundation. Historians know there was nothing inevitable about the creation of Pakistan. Most concur that Partition resulted from the tortuous politics of the last decade of colonial rule, not from the formation of the League or other happenings of a much earlier period (Pandey 2001; Jalal 1985; Inder Singh 1987). Therefore, in being blind to context and contingency, this chapter fails to practise the historian’s craft. The utter lack of historicity is evident from the way these books treat and teach “Indian heritage” as well. Educationalists and teachers, perhaps the world over, have long seen “heritage” as an important concept in school education. Since independence, Indian schools have been keen to introduce students to “their” heritage, at whatever level this is conceived of: the world at large, the nation, region, or locality. “National heritage” has been an especially enticing category for legislators and governments. A sense of “national heritage” must be taught, dinned into the students so that some (official) conception of national identity can be forged among the young: a die-hard patriotism that commits citizens to celebrating the nation, if not dying for it. Contemporary right-wing regimes have taken the matter to unprecedented levels of un-criticality. The Class X Gujarat textbook devotes seven chapters to the “heritage of India,” this being a third of the entire Social Science textbook (Social Science, 10th class, Gujarat, 2018, 1–58). Class X is the last class of secondary school, the last year when all students would be taught all subjects. The government obviously wants learners to graduate with a firm grasp of its version of the country’s heritage. These chapters cover topics such as “natural heritage,” visual arts, handicrafts, performing arts, literature, architecture, science, and technology. Again, problems abound: chronological imprecision, anachronisms, disregard for context and contingency, unsubstantiated claims, absence of specific detail, use of pronouns without any reference to a particular subject, and worshipful glorification. Consider the following howlers: 1. They had knowledge of plastic surgery as well as joining nose and ears. They showed keen interest in teaching students the method of surgery, by doing surgery on the dead body or the wax statue. They



conducted risky operations during delivery. They were expert gynaecolosists [sic; they mean gynaecologists] and paediatricians (Social Science, 10th class, Gujarat, 2018, 38). 2. Acharya Nagarjun, a learned Buddhist of Nalanda University is known as Acharya in the field of Chemistry.8 He had written books like “Rasaratnakar” and “Arogyamanjari.” Acharya Nagarjun advocated the use of Al[l]opathy along with herbal medicines. It is believed that the use of mercury ash as a medicine was initiated by him (Social Science, 10th class, Gujarat, 2018, 37). Categories such as heritage are seldom problematized by Indian managers, head teachers, and teachers. So is the case with these texts. It is simply assumed that History (with an upper-case H!) has handed down heritage to us—and that we must celebrate, conserve, and pass it on to succeeding generations. Heritage is seen as the un-problematized, “authentic” “Voice of History,” as something objective and flowing from our past. For, in most Indian schools, History itself is seen as something fixed, objective, based only on facts. But our ideal today is not the “Voice of History”; it is heteroglossia, the representation of “varied and opposing voices.” As Peter Burke argues, “such a device would allow an interpretation of conflict in terms of a conflict of interpretations” (Burke 1991b, 289). Thanks to Eric Hobsbawm, Terrence Ranger, and others, we are long familiar with the idea of the invention of tradition (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983). The invention of heritage is a similar concept that emphasizes selectivity, construction, and analysis in the use of this category, and in the teaching of history and culture. In so doing, it emphasizes inter alia the interplay between past inheritances and present concerns. We may value sites, buildings, things, material forms, practices, symbols, and ideas because of our contemporary positions and concerns, and the concomitant politics, not simply because of some innate importance attached to them by “History.” We may thus invent a sense of heritage—at least in part. So, where and how do these Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh books locate heritage? The accent is clearly on early India. In the Gujarat book for Class X, “scientific heritage” is a gift of ancient India alone; fifteenth-century

8 Acharya means a person of distinguished learning; preceptor, guide.



vastushastra,9 clearly a non-Muslim item, receives a passing mention only because the children have to be told that foreigners are now adopting it! (Social Science, 10th class, Gujarat, 2018, 40–41). As the RSS and its educational affiliate, Vidya Bharati, hold, India is jagadguru, namely, guru to the world (Vidya Bharati 2010). In general, lip service is paid to medieval times and “Muslim Rule.” Themes such as medieval literature are discussed but Mughal architecture is given short shrift. Furthermore, for this textbook, “heritage” has nothing to do with modern times. The past three centuries, defiled by colonizing British yavanas (foreign barbarians), could not have produced heritage—thus runs the subliminal message. In order to get to the heart of the BJP discourse on heritage, the nation and the people, it is useful to focus on how the relationship between different forms of authenticity is constructed. Referring to a distinction emphasized by Achim Saupe, we can differentiate between personal authenticity (or subject-related authenticity) and historical authenticity (or object-related authenticity). The latter is seen to be “materially genuine or verified as genuine” while the former refers to the “expression of being true to yourself” (Saupe 2016). If I may build on Saupe, subject-related authenticity is constructed by populists and supremacists at individual but also at collective levels. In the BJP’s view, if Narendra Modi is the “authentic saviour,” Bharat (or India) too is an “authentic” subject that has to remain “true to itself” and must seek a “true history.” Implicit, therefore, in my analysis of the BJP’s projection of heritage and history is the Hindu Right’s desire to recover the “authentic” “national” past, a singular past that is singularly “correct.” This object-related authenticity is fuelled by the subject-related authenticity of the nation. In this unbridled, nativist understanding, Hindu culture is the fulcrum of the Indian nation, Judaic cultures are seen as alien, and Muslims as invaders or as being transplanted. Muslims are demonized as bigots to create an eco-system of hate. Textbooks can be used to forge civilizational glory and crass egotism by getting ancient sages to invent aeroplanes, plastic surgery, modern gynaecology, and allopathy.10 Obviously, “appropriate” 9 Vastushastra, “science of architecture,” is the traditional “Hindu” system of architecture. 10 Harari (2018, 181–196), makes a similar argument. Stanley (2018, 3–23), offering examples from various places and times—including the BJP and the RSS—shows how fascist politics create mythical pasts.



narrative matters more to populists than factual accuracy. Thus, an interesting tension may be discerned here. On the one hand, these right-wing school histories are positivist; they think of both history and tradition in “objective” terms. On the other, they invent “facts” rather than merely presenting them. There is one aspect of the Gujarat and MP textbooks that may surprise the reader. Both speak of Hindu communalism although their narrative lacks chronological correctness, clarity, and attention to detail. Gujarat’s account of high politics and communal tensions from circa 1920 to 1947 in its Class XII textbook mentions the early Muslim League as a “secular and conservative organisation” (History, 12th class, Gujarat, 2017, 77) and describes attempts of the Hindu “reform” organization, Arya Samaj, to reconvert neo-Muslims to the Hindu fold as a possible cause of the communal violence of the 1920s. It recognizes that the anti-landlord rhetoric of the Congress in the late-1930s may have alienated Muslim landlords. It acknowledges that the Hindu Mahasabha, a precursor to the RSS, fared poorly in the 1937 elections. It categorically states: “The Hindu organisations like the Hindu Mahasabha were also getting communal just like the Muslim League [emphasis mine]. They also accepted the dual nation policy. Thus both the parties continued to accept communalism. Therefore the dispute intensified between them [sic]” (History, 12th class, Gujarat, 2017, 77). The Social Science textbook of Madhya Pradesh for Class VIII speaks of “national integration” and “unity in diversity” in ways reminiscent of Nehruvian positions: There are two types of National integration. One is that which is based on unity, common language, mode of living, rites and rituals, religion and common mode of worship. The other type of national unity is unity in diversity, i.e. the language, mode of living, rites and rituals, religion etc. may be different but their outlook on National security is the same. On national issues like national unity and integrity, sovereignty, the emotions and feelings remain the same. Integration of India is represented by the second type of unity. (Social Science, 8th class, Madhya Pradesh, 2018, 35)

This can be read as an intriguing formulation, coming as it does from a Hindu nationalist group that negates civic nationalism, a category discussed below. How do we understand this formulation? How do we



understand the statement of the Gujarat book on the Hindu Mahasabha as being a carrier of Hindu communalism? We will return to these questions later.

The Curricular Revolution of 2004–2008 It is hard to periodise the ascendancy of contemporary Hindu rightwing populism. A possible starting point could be the demolition of the Mosque of Babur in 1992 and the rise of Narendra Modi in the early 1990s. Clearly this populism, intertwined as it is with Hindu hypernationalism, has been a powerful force in Indian politics in the twenty-first century. And yet, this period has also witnessed what should only be described as a revolution in Indian textbook development. This happened from 2004 to 2008 in the NCERT. The bedrock of this break with the past is the National Curriculum Framework of 2005 (NCF-’05) (NCERT 2005). The NCF-’05 urges teachers to discourage rote learning, go beyond the textbook, connect their classes to the world outside, raise problems for analysis and not teach to the test. It advocates that History and Social Science Education should seek to promote democracy, equality, human rights and social justice, values enshrined in the Indian Constitution (NCERT 2005). Textbooks that follow these recommendations11 do not seek to disseminate India’s constitutional values as givens but to demonstrate why they ought to be upheld. They also point to the historical processes through which the modern Indian Republic has arrived at them. This means these books treat heteroglossia—entirely ignored as we saw by the Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh textbooks—both as a pedagogic tool and as an aim of history education. This is also in conformity with the best practices of doing History and Social Science, a matter discussed above. Each event, historians and pedagogues concur, has not one but several overlapping histories. Events and historical processes are amenable to different narratives, all of them partial, speaking from their own vantage points, while some may be clearly prejudiced. Since events, institutions, and social processes are multifaceted, so is the truth about them, and a balanced judgment on them can only be formed in a conversation 11 I was a member of the development committees of four of these textbooks. Furthermore, I wrote for three History textbooks: for Classes 8, 11, and 12.



between different perspectives. A particularly instructive study in this regard has been Richard Price’s book on eighteenth-century Suriname. Price writes his book in the form of a narrative with four “voices” in four typefaces: those of the black slaves, the Dutch administrators, the Moravian missionaries, and of the historian himself. The object of the exercise is to depict the differences in perspective between past and present, church and state, black and white (Price 1990). The current textbooks of the NCERT are based on a similar strategy. These textbooks are far less linear in their narrative than any before them, including the outstanding nationalist–Marxist school textbooks of the second half of the twentieth century.12 More acutely aware of the danger of single stories (Adichie 2009), these books practise multi-vocality with much greater self-confidence. This is why the textbooks for Classes VI to VIII are called Our Pasts, the plural being used to emphasize that not everybody in India experienced the same moment or time-period the same way (Our Pasts, 6th class 7th class 8th class, 2006, 2007, 2008). History should teach us to listen actively, to empathize with others, to recognize that they too suffered, whether these others are Indian or not. This is why the chapter on the Partition of British India (in 1947) in the Class XII History textbook, for students aged 17, does not begin with the political bargains of 1945–1947 between the British, the Congress, and the Muslim League,13 but instead with three testimonies about the trauma of the times—different, but all Pakistani. Recorded in 1992, one of these is from a Lahore librarian whose father was able to escape during Partition from the fury of Hindu hoodlums by the skin of his teeth:

12 These History textbooks were authored by Romila Thapar, Satish Chandra, Bipan Chandra, and Arjun Dev, and published by the NCERT. First written in the 1970s, they were in use in schools until 2000, and then again from 2004 to 2008. They were phased out between 2006 and 2008. Informed by Marxism in their method, these historians were committed to the Nehruvian project of creating a democratic, secular India and to Nehru’s perspective of India being “a unity in diversity.” Their critique of colonial rule built on the nationalist one, both critiques according primacy to the economic. Dipesh Chakrabarty first used the term, “nationalist-Marxist” for these historians. See Chakrabarty (1986, 364–376). 13 The negotiations for Independence and Partition, the high politics of the 1940s, and the role of the British during this period—these themes—are discussed in the chapter. But this is combined with an analysis of what happened to ordinary people in 1946–’47 and beyond. See Sethi (2007).



My father belonged […] to a small village in Jammu district. This was a Hindu-dominated village and Hindu ruffians of the area massacred the hamlet’s Muslim population in August ’47. One late afternoon, when the Hindu mob had been at its furious worst, my father discovered he was perhaps the only Muslim youth of the village left alive.[…] Remembering a kind, elderly Hindu lady, a neighbour, he implored her to save him by offering him shelter at her place. The lady agreed to help father but said, “Son, if you hide here, they will get both of us. This is of no use. You follow me to the spot where they have piled up the dead. You lie down there as if dead and I will dump a few dead-bodies on you. […]” My father agreed to the proposal. […] Father lay on the ground and the old lady dumped a number of bodies on him. An hour or so later a group of armed Hindu hoodlums appeared. […] Fortunately, […] they left and my father lay there in that wretchedness the whole night, literally running for his life at the first hint of light. (Themes in Indian History, 2007, 377–378)

The chapter does not talk of any state-sponsored “line”—Indian, Pakistani, or British—and does not drill any “India-line” into the students’ heads. It is written without certitude and brings multiple perspectives into play. Through the use of several primary and secondary sources, it encourages students to construct a sense of the Partition on their own. For example, unlike earlier textbooks, it does not tell young people what kind of Pakistan or political entity the Muslim League demanded in 1940 through its Lahore resolution; it shares with them the relevant extracts of this resolution, nudging the students to interpret it in a valid manner. It is important to note how the chapter deliberately foregrounds Pakistani experiences of the Partition. What larger function does the chapter perform? Doesn’t the insistence that in this 16-month civil war, “people’s holocaust”, tumult or catastrophe, there were no national victories or losses subvert Indian and Pakistani nationalisms? Hindutva formations are likely to criticize much in this chapter as anti-national and some school teachers have indeed expressed a similar opinion. Is the writer trying to replace a shrill patriotism with “cosmopolitan citizenship,” a citizenship of the world community?14 While this may be true—the chapter questions stereotyping and othering—it is also true that it seeks to inspire its readers to become 14 On citizenship of the world community, see Oster and Starkey (2010).



humane citizens, empathetic young people who understand the making of genocides, who grasp that all three communities and both nations had their share of perpetrators and victims in 1947 and that there cannot really be any by-standers in pogroms. In attempting to influence the youth in this manner, are we not creating a better nation-state, a patriotism that is consistent with the broadest good of humanity at large? Isn’t seeking to create a democratic, a relatively equal, and a relatively just nation-state at the heart of patriotism/nationalism, provided we do not understand these categories as the Hindu Right understands them?

What Is Nationalism? “What is nationalism?” is a vast subject but let me make four important points. Firstly, this question is a burning issue today because the aggrandizing neo-nationalism retailed by the present Indian regime has led a large number of people, including intellectuals, to forget nationalism’s typologies and reduce all nationalisms to one form: exclusivist, narrow, glorifying. Today “nationalism” has become another name for hatred, intolerance, animosity, sectarianism, and vigilantism. I refer to the present peddling of “nationalism,” including its propagation in the Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh textbooks, as neo-nationalism because the “national” of today is very different from the anti-colonial Indian nationalism of the first half of the twentieth century or from Nehruvian nationalism of the first three decades of Independence. Similarly, the “anti-national” of today is the antithesis of the “anti-national” of yesteryear. Secondly, right-wing populist myth-making seeks to locate the Indian nation in early India and glorify both “Hindu history” as well as the Indian nation. It propagates that “Hindu values” and “Hindu culture” are the very fulcrum of Indian nationhood. The links between (Hindutva) populism and neo-nationalism are examined further below. The question I wish to raise here is: how can populist myth-making in History texts or classes, whether of the Hindutva type or any other, be effectively countered? Here we need to remember a significant meta-objective of History Education, namely, perspective-building with regard to temporal change. As John Dewey (1915), Peter Stearns (1998), Peter Burke (1991a, b), and several others remind us, an education in History ought to foster among both students and non-students alike an informed and considered understanding of societies, past and present; of roads taken and not taken; of temporal continuities, changes, and conjunctures that shape



societies; of dominance and subordination; of inclusions and exclusions. The fight against mythic narratives masquerading as History can never be won through facticity, i.e., by merely “correcting the facts.” It can only be won by creating alternative perspectives. Perspectives, as we all know, go well beyond facts, being acquired by what I have described in this paper as “doing History” and by questioning prejudice and stereotypes. This brings me to my third proposition. Although the nation-state and nationalism have received a great deal of flak in recent decades, sovereignty—the right to self-government and non-interference from external agents in the running of the state—continues to be pegged to the nation-state. The latter continues to be the key player, not just a significant actor, in decisions that hugely affect our lives—in areas as diverse as military spending, trade, taxation, demonetization of currency, health, food security, and education. It has become customary to see nationalism and world-cosmopolitanism as two opposed poles. Even so, as Michael Ignatieff argues, the law and order mechanisms that help maintain the cosmopolitanism of the world’s great cities is the responsibility of the nation-state (Ignatieff 1993). Or as Benedict Anderson observed, serious nationalism and internationalism are tied to each other (Anderson 2016). Given the summary dismissal of nationalism by Partha Chatterjee15 and others, we need to remind ourselves that, broadly speaking, its history has witnessed the development of two types of thought and movements: those of the ethnic nationalist and of the civic nationalist.16 The latter ideal, aspects of which first emerged in Great Britain, France, and America in the eighteenth century, is based on a civic definition of belonging: shared attachment to democracy, to consensual or publicly debated modes of governance, political practices and values, and to the rule of law. While all modern nationalisms arise from doctrines of popular sovereignty, civic nationalism vests sovereignty in all the people regardless of creed, race, color, gender, language, or ethnicity. It seeks to create a community of 15 Partha Chaterjee has called nationalism “a dark, elemental, unpredictable force of primordial nature threatening the orderly calm of civilized life”. See Chaterjee (1997, 4). 16 For a discerning analysis of ethnic and civic nationalisms, see Ignatieff (1993). I rely in this paragraph on Ignateiff and on my own understanding of the changing contours of nationalism in India. I have written about issues mentioned in this paragraph and the two that follow in Sethi (2005, 12–14). Maurizio Viroli offers a classification of nationalism similar to that of Ignateiff except that he uses the category “republican patriotism” for Ignateiff’s “civic nationalism” and the category “nationalism” for Ignateiff’s “ethnic nationalism” (see Viroli 1995).



equal rights-exercising citizens and defines nationhood in terms of citizenship, not ethnicity or religion. It was to this kind of nationalism, inspired by the ideal of working for an unsegregated citizenry to which founders of the Indian Republic such as Gandhi, Ghaffar Khan, Nehru, Ambedkar, the communist leader Namboodripad, and many Bollywood actors of the 1950s and ’60s subscribed. These actors believed that Bombay films could be used to create a better, more egalitarian, secular India.17 It is illuminating that, for a long time in his career, Benedict Anderson too described himself as an “Indonesian nationalist” (Anderson 2016). It was in the sense of civic nationalism that the Indian Left consistently used the language of patriotism until just a quarter of a century ago (for example, the C.P.I. supported newspaper, The Patriot ).18 Currently, reworked forms of civic nationalism are beginning to stage a comeback: for instance in the open-air lectures delivered at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, when its students were tormented by outmoded “sedition” laws (Azad et al. 2016); in speeches delivered in the Lok Sabha over the lynching of Akhlaq on 1 December 1915 (Bose 2015); in the recent newspaper articles of public intellectuals19 ; and most forcefully during the recent Shaheen Bagh protests of Delhi and elsewhere, where Muslim women, asking the state to uphold the Indian Constitution, have most creatively used the symbolism of the national flag and the language of civic nationalism/republican patriotism (Farooqi 2020). Last but not least, what is the relationship between nationalism and populism—in theory and in the case of the Hindu Right in India? Nationalism and populism may be tied to each other in several ways, yet they are distinct concepts with two distinct discourses. Benjamin Cleen grasps the empirical links between (radical) right-wing populism and exclusionary ethnic-cultural nationalism, while he also shows these 17 See, for instance, Vir Sanghvi’s particularly perceptive obituary of Sunil Dutt (Sanghvi 2005, 1; 13). 18 This is not to say that “nationalism” and “patriotism” are identical concepts. “Patriotism” would refer to the sense of attachment to territory, realm, custom, local institutions, and public benefaction, continuing in changing forms from pre-modern times. The contrast with nationalism, a modern consciousness, should be apparent. Unlike patriotisms, nationalisms were built on the notion of popular sovereignty, itself a modern idea. Yet various people have used these terms interchangeably. 19 For instance, Yogendra Yadav asks whether the RSS is anti-national (Yadav 2018); and Pulapre Balakrishnan on the Modi government’s attempts to stopping academics from criticizing it (Balakrishnan 2018). Also see Patnaik (2016).



categories to be theoretically distinct. This helps de-clutter the conflation of populism with nationalism as concepts. The discourse of nationalism is organized around the core idea of nation, “envisaged as a limited and sovereign community that exists through time and is tied to a certain space, and that is constructed through an in/out (member/non-member) opposition between the nation and its outgroups.” Populism, on the other hand, is a discourse structured around “the (ordinary) people” and “the elite.” It is constructed “through a down/up antagonism between ‘the people’ as a large and powerless group and ‘the elite’ as a small and illegitimately powerful group.” Populism, then, “is the claim to represent ‘the people’ against an (some) illegitimate ‘elite’ and it constructs its political demands as representing the will of ‘the people’” (De Cleen 2017). In consonance with this line of thinking, I submit that Narendra Modi’s BJP projects and propagates a religio-cultural (Hindu) nationalism whose broad history goes back to the late-nineteenth century even as the RSS was formed in 1925. This nationalism, also known as Hindutva, has constituted the raison d’etre of the BJP and other Hindutva formations. Once the party realized that Modi’s populist appeal works, it used populism as a strategy to acquire and perpetuate its power. Populists have preceded Modi in the BJP; and yet no other Hindutva populist has had the sort of appeal that Modi has enjoyed since 2014. While strands of not just religio-cultural nationalism and populism but also of authoritarianism and conservatism can be discerned in the Hindu Right, we must distinguish between all of these different threads. The textbooks produced under BJP regimes seek to discursively construct Hindu nationalism and doctor history accordingly. And this nationalism attains a certain potency precisely through the assertion that the BJP’s take on history is in fact the ordinary Hindu people’s take and that a small, out-of-touch elite of journalists, academics, public intellectuals, and liberal as well as leftist politicians is incapable of grasping this “reality.” In other words, while the end is to convince Indians and the world alike that India is a Hindu nation and that the Indian people cannot be divorced from Hindu nationalism, the means to that end are populist.

Sewing It Together What, then, is the larger argument of this chapter? Firstly, I hope to have demonstrated that textbooks discussed here are poor-quality material. Flat



and essentialist, these ahistorical “histories” have been written without a sense of context. Their doctoring of history is inextricably linked to the one antagonism that Hindutva sees as the primary one: the myth of a long and continuous struggle of the “oppressed Hindu” against his or her “oppressor” and “tormentor,” the Muslim. This antagonism provides the structuring framework of these histories. This means that right-wing populists work with notions of otherness, inclusion and exclusion, and have a “double-faced and ambivalent link” with exclusion.20 While populism claims that the “majority” has been excluded, it is itself the major architect and prime protagonist of communal exclusion. Secondly, Hindutva populists are successful with their perspective because they use the language of patriotism with considerable deftness. They claim to speak for the people but construct “the people” along majoritarian lines. Furthermore, their constructions of “majority” and “minority” operate along a single axis: that of religious community. In fact, however, there can never be any permanent “majorities” and “minorities” in a democracy. On the other hand, today several liberal and left-leaning Indians shun the language of nationalism. In giving up on the notion of “civic nationalism,” they have had to pay a heavy price. In rejecting all forms of patriotism—and thus throwing the baby out with the bathwater—they have contributed to conditions in which right-wing populist Hindu nationalism prospers. Thirdly, the NCERT’s post-2005 textbooks (and in use until today) operate with, and help deepen, the paradigm of civic nationalism. By according appropriate space to a multiplicity of voices from within the country and without, they seek to promote respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, and pro-people policies—the cornerstone of popular sovereignty and civic nationalism. The Partition chapter and several other pieces in its Social Science textbooks have certainly subverted ethnic or religious nationalism or the excesses of civic nationalism itself while simultaneously upholding the core features of the latter. Hence, in its current textbooks, the NCERT has reconstituted—recast—nationalism in its older, civic form. It has shown that civic nationalism will carry considerable resonance so long as popular sovereignty continues to be pegged to the nation-state. It has also demonstrated that if identities are constructed through several overlapping, cross-cutting, or concentric 20 See the introduction to this volume by Barbara Christophe, Heike Liebau, Christoph Kohl and Achim Saupe.



factors, civic nationalism can comfortably sit with the idea of “cosmopolitan citizenship,” derived as the latter is from the equal entitlement of all to human rights, justice, equality, and sustainability. Fourthly, despite the communal tone and tenor of the textbooks produced under BJP regimes, they show some continuity with past curricular paradigms. They too speak of “unity in diversity” even as they exclude the Muslim mleccha from this construct.21 At times, they too make a mention of Hindu communalism and are forced to concede that it progressed during the last decade of British rule: once the NCERT textbook demonstrated the advance of Hindu communal forces during the 1940s, it became difficult for the Gujarat book examined in this chapter to ignore or deny this. This is the advantage and structuring principle of democracy: it sets up dialogue, becomes the fount of heteroglossia and of a plurality of resources. It weakens centralized control and offers at least some agency to even those who write for authoritarian populist regimes. It can thus provide inbuilt antidotes to the dominating tendencies of populist ideologues. Democracy also ensures that wide-ranging consensuses be built for the production of curricular material under state aegis, and this even in a situation where the present BJP regimes have placed their own people in key positions. This is not necessarily the case with privately produced curricular material, which is why textbooks developed by state-supported institutions, such as the Gujarat State Board of School Textbooks, have to somewhat tone down their ideological rhetoric. In comparison, the moralizing literature of RSS affiliates is far more unabashed in its formulations (Vidya Bharati 2010; Batra 2015). It cannot be forgotten that the RSS has an all-India reach and provides the BJP with much of its organizational cadre. Its “family” of organizations looks to a day when their real agenda, Hindutva hard-line pulp, can replace the soft pulp of provincial textbooks just as they desire to modify or replace not only many of India’s political institutions but also the contours of its public life. It is for this reason that Modi’s populism, built on hate politics, must be revealed for what it is.

21 Mlechha: barbarian; foreigner; polluting agent.



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Gender and Patriotic Education: Populist Discourses and the Post-Colonial Condition in School Media Yuliya Yurchuk

Introduction In this chapter I trace how populist discourse penetrates the education sector in Ukraine by focusing on textbooks. Empirically, I look at the textbooks for the subject “Defence of the Homeland” (Zahyst Vitchyzny) published before the start of the Euromaidan protests and the conflict with Russia in 2014 and since, as well as examining a book for the subject “Family Values” (Simeini tsinnosti), which was a topic of controversy in 2016 because the authors put forward, very much in line with populist discourses, the construct of an “authentic” family with “historically inherited” gender roles. Critics raised concerns about the exclusion of groups that did not fit into those stereotypical roles. As a result, the Ministry of Education withdrew its approval for the textbook. Although the textbooks for “Defence of the Homeland” also reproduce “traditionalist” views and descriptions of “authentic patriots,” they were not subject

Y. Yurchuk (B) Department of History and Contemporary Studies, Södertörn University, Huddinge, Sweden e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 C. Kohl et al. (eds.), The Politics of Authenticity and Populist Discourses, Global Political Sociology,




to debate. It seems that this vein of populist discourse is currently considered acceptable due to the specific threats to the security of Ukraine. This leaves us with the impression that populist discourses can be closed down in specific cases while functioning as unquestionable public transcripts most of the time. The presentation of results is preceded by (i) an overview of the peculiarities of the Ukrainian situation, understood as a post-colonial context, (ii) a conceptual reflection on populism, and (iii) a brief discussion of methodological issues.

Ukraine as a Postcolonial Society My analysis focusses on post-2014 Ukraine and deals with a country which experienced a period of mass protests caused by the decision of the then president Viktor Yanukovych not to sign the association agreement with the European Union. The protests, which came to be known as the Euromaidan revolution after the main square in Kiev, ended with unprecedented acts of violence and culminated in state security forces killing about one hundred protestors. However, when the protests did not end even after such violence, Yanukovych left the country. The protestors’ joy at their victory was short-lived because their country faced another problem: Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and the beginning of an enduring military conflict in the east of the country between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian government (Grant 2015; Wilson 2014; Yekelchyk 2015). In May 2014, Ukrainians elected a new president, Petro Poroshenko, who was associated with the ideals of the Euromaidan protests and the values of European integration. In the next presidential elections in 2019 many voters felt disappointed because the war did not end, promised reforms were not all implemented and life did not improve. They voted for Volodymyr Zelenskyi, a successful comedian. His political style can be described as populist (see Mashtaler, this volume) and his victory therefore demonstrates Ukrainian society’s readiness and willingness to believe in populist rhetoric. An important factor in understanding the Ukrainian context is to appreciate that a significant section of the Ukrainian intellectual elite, such as writers and scholars, usually portray Ukraine as a post-colonial society where issues related to suppression by a former imperial power—Russia— easily strike an emotional chord with the public (see e.g., Zabuzhko 1992, 1999, 2007; Riabchuk 2009). Some politicians employ anti-colonial



rhetoric as well. In 2014, when Russian aggression proved not to be imaginary but very real, anti-Russian arguments shifted as the issue was now directly connected to questions of state security and sovereignty. In general, as argued by Riabchuk, “Ukrainian society shows a remarkable similarity to other colonized societies, in terms of the patterns and syndromes already described and elaborated at length by Frantz Fanon” (Riabchuk 2009, 8). One of the fundamental characteristics of colonization is that the imperialists try to convince the colonized of the superiority of their (the imperialists) own culture and ideology. Russia viewed its own culture as superior and central while viewing Ukrainian culture as peripheral and inferior (Thompson 2000). This perspective was internalized by Ukrainians, leading the Ukrainian elite to adopt the Russian language and seek education and careers in Moscow or St. Petersburg (Shkandrij 2001, 2009, 2015). Even since Ukraine gained independence, Russia has maintained its cultural influence in Ukraine (Riabchuk 2009, 2012). For this reason “Ukrainian emancipation from the grip of the Russian empire is as much about politics and economy as about culture, including first and foremost the language and narratives of the past, seen as crucial for the formation of Ukraine’s own identity” (Törnquist-Plewa and Yurchuk 2017, 4). The aim of the textbook analysis and discussion is to enrich our understanding of how the country deals with the challenges of overcoming colonial Soviet legacies at this critical point in its history without succumbing to the exclusionist nationalism which is often employed under post-colonial conditions.

Populism: Theoretical Considerations In line with Mofitt and Tormey I consider populism to be a discursive style; referring to an approach which draws scholarly attention to how messages are communicated. The material chosen for this analysis has influenced my choice of concepts of populism. As recommended by Gidron and Bonikowski, if the units of analysis are texts—the textbooks in this case—the “stylistic” approach to populism is most appropriate (Gidron and Bonikowski 2013, 15). I understand the stylistic approach to mean dealing with the texts as special discursive units that use meaning-generating structures and pursue the aim of rendering manifest elements characteristic to populism. Within the bulk of literature on populism there is a general consensus that the characteristic elements of populism are anti-elite/anti-establishment



statements, appealing to “the people,” and a worldview that divides society into “us” and “them” (Mudde and Kaltwasser 2013, 500). In the Ukrainian case, populist discourses intensively evoke “traditions” and hark back to a golden past, be it the Soviet era (for the left-inclined populists) or the pre-Soviet era (for the right-inclined populists). “Traditionalism” is therefore one element of populist discourses in Ukraine. These “traditionalist” references are especially prominent in the populist discourse on family, which is constructed as an authentic, romantic myth with “historically” inherited gender roles where the father is the breadwinner and the mother keeps hearth and home. It is worth noting that the supposedly authentic role of women in the family is defined by a special word in Ukrainian—berehynia (literally: the one who preserves)—which demonstrates how deeply rooted the specific view of the woman’s role is in Ukrainian society (Kis 2013). As we will see in the analytical part of the chapter, these traditionalist views on family and gender roles are permeating the content of the textbooks used throughout the country. The stylistic approach allows us to avoid the theoretical confusion between populism and nationalism (De Cleen 2017, 343) and to see in practice that different ideologies can in fact bear stylistic features of populism. Thus, there can be nationalist or radical right-wing populists as well as communist, radical left-wing, or multiculturalist populists. As argued by Mudde and Kaltwasser populism “necessarily appears attached to existing ideological families” (Mudde and Kaltwasser 2013, 499). This chapter uses textbooks as units of analysis. As a genre, textbooks are designed as instruments to educate and to form citizens and members of a nation. Thus, they are articulations of nationalism viewed as the process of nation building. On the other hand these texts use a populist style, as will be argued below where I will address texts which articulate a specific ideology (nationalism) in a specific manner (populist style). Populism can be merged completely with nationalism (Mudde and Kaltwasser 2013) and this is true in the Ukrainian case. The country’s past experiences of oppression by different foreign powers has left a deep-rooted sense of victimhood and suffering in the present, which has created fertile ground for nationalism and subsequently for building a political agenda. But it does not mean that all populist discourse in the Ukraine is necessarily an articulation of nationalist ideology. It is interesting here to see a concrete example of nationalist and populist discourses merging within one specific genre. Moffitt and Torney emphasize that “populism gets its impetus from the perception of crisis, breakdown or threat” (Moffitt and Tormey



2014, 391). My examination of the period 2014–2018, when Ukraine faced the dramatic situation of the annexation of Crimea and the war in the east of the country, reveals that a society is indeed especially vulnerable to populist tendencies in such moments. Certainly, “populism is not ‘normal politics’” (Moffitt and Tormey 2014, 393) hence in turbulent times its effects are even more visible and pervasive.

Methodological Considerations The textbooks I selected for analysis were those for the courses “Defence of the Homeland” and “Family Values,” in addition to documents accessible on the Ministry of Education website and the Conclusions of the Gender Committee of the Ministry of Education on the “Family Values” course. I also added articles published in the media that discussed the “Family Values” course to the analysis. Using the methodological approach of discourse analysis, these statesanctioned texts were viewed as public transcripts (Scott 1990) that is to say, as part of a discourse driven by the elite which aims to present the worldviews of that elite as publically accepted and popular. Through public transcripts elites thus both exercise power and establish themselves as bearers of that power. At the same time elites are not only producers of these transcripts they are also “consumers of their own performance” (Scott 1990, 49). Hence, the concept of “public transcripts” underlines the performative role of discourse and thus easily aligns with the “stylistic” approach which serves here as a theoretical framework. This chapter not only shows how the elites in power use a populist style in their discourse, it also sheds light on how populism consequently turns into an established and generally accepted “game.” In the Ukrainian case we see that the content of textbooks published under the rule of Viktor Yanukovych does not actually differ from that of those published under the rule of Petro Poroshenko. Although Yanukovych and Poroshenko belong to opposing political camps, the public transcript in the textbooks remains the same. As will be argued below, the transcript is questioned by the public but even with mass public support it is very difficult to change the script propagated and maintained by the elites. By focusing on gender, my analysis reveals the complexity of power struggles, but it also points out the possibilities to change the public transcript that have been created. As the gender historian Joan Scott argued, gender is an indicator of the system of power (Scott 1986), and, as in this case, points to the rigidity of the system.



Education and Formation of a Nation Schools and universities are important channels for disseminating the public transcript. Whereas in the Soviet Union education was used to establish a Homo Sovieticus, in independent Ukraine education is used to establish a Homo Ukrainicus (Richardson 2004, 114). The Swedish historian Johan Dietsch argues that in independent Ukraine “‘nationalization’ became a lens through which all education was to be filtered and with which it was possible to rid the educational apparatus of Soviet remnants” (Dietsch 2006, 80; see also: Kasianov 2012). The First Deputy Prime Minister responsible for Education in the newly founded (in 1992) Ministry for Education of Ukraine, Anatoliy Pohribnyi, stipulated that “education in Ukraine has to be fully and unconditionally subordinated to the building up of an independent Ukrainian state” (Kuzio 2000, 62). Ukraine was by no means unique in changing its approach to education from Soviet to national. The same process took place in all the countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union (Pääbo 2011). In many cases, the former Soviet republics reacted to each other’s educational and cultural politics. The shift has become especially vivid since the 2000s when Russia started to move away from Yeltsin’s politics that stressed the suffering and trauma inflicted by the Bolshevik Revolution (Malinova 2014) toward Putin’s politics that emphasize the triumphs and greatness of the Soviet Union (Kangaspuro and Lassila 2017; Astrov 2012). In the Russian “triumphal” narratives the role of other former Soviet republics is downplayed and often neglected. For instance, in one of his speeches as Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin declared that the Second World War could have been won without the participation of Ukrainians simply because “Russia is the country of victors” (Censor 2010). This declaration disregards the fact that millions of those in the ranks of the victorious Red Army were of nationalities other than Russian. In response to such declarations Ukraine constructs its own historical narratives (Yurchuk 2017a, b). The Ukrainian education system is centralized and the Ministry of Education lists the main disciplines that should be taught at each year in every school in the country. The Ministry also has to approve the textbooks used to teach all courses. After five years each book is reevaluated and its approval is either extended or revoked. Textbooks can be published (and written) in one of two ways: either in response to a bidding contest announced by the Ministry or as an individual private



project by the authors. If the state announces the availability of a grant to write a textbook for a specific course, the authors submit their propositions and a special state commission chooses which textbook will be published. Alternatively, the authors can publish a textbook on their own initiative and then present it to the Ministry for approval. If the book is not approved by the Ministry it cannot be used for teaching in school or listed as main reading material in the curriculum. Yet, in practice, teachers can decide to use unapproved books for additional reading. Indeed, the prescribed curriculum and practices at each school can differ considerably (Rodgers 2006, 2007).

Patriotic Education and Gender Many scholars dealing with questions of education in Ukraine have concentrated on history courses (Dietsch 2006; Rodgers 2006, 2007; Ivanova 2004; Marchenko et al. 2019). Notwithstanding the importance of historical education in societies which undergo processes of nation- and state-building, I decided to concentrate on courses where gender plays the central role. Thus, I examined the content of two courses through the perspective of how gender roles are constructed. Although it can act as a litmus test for the identification of populist discourses, gender is a largely understudied topic in literature on populism (Mudde and Kaltwasser 2013). How gender roles are constructed in a society usually tells us a lot about how power relations are constructed and maintained. By constructing gender and inscribing certain roles to certain people, the public transcript naturalizes systems of subordination. At the same time, gender works as a mobilizing topic. This is why it is regularly addressed by populists (Mudde and Kaltwasser 2013). Some scholars point out that dealing with gender issues is largely opportunistic and has the aim of gaining a greater number of supporters for the populist cause (Kampwirth 2010). Populists in different corners of the world use an overtly anti-gender and anti-emancipatory rhetoric, calling mainly for adherence to the “traditional” roles of women as caregivers. However, nationalists all over the world use gender in a specific way: the nation itself is often represented through a feminine figure (often the mother) which is pure and authentic and which has to be defended (Davin 1978; Mosse 1985). Indeed, constructions of a patriotic manhood and exalted motherhood became “icons of nationalist ideology” (Negel 2010) which usually gain popularity in the context of war. Whereas war is usually masculinized



peace is feminized. Men are called to be more “manly” and women are expected to be more “womanly” (Goldstein 2001). This last argument is especially relevant for Ukraine where there is an ongoing war. The topic of gender brings together the discussions on nationalism and populism, as both nationalism as ideology and populism as a specific style of political discourse invest a lot of energy in producing and reproducing worldviews on women and men; on who they are and how they must behave. Gender is a productive category of analysis in this respect as it helps to approach questions on how authenticity and tradition are constructed in practice. Hence, by concentrating on school courses whose central aim is to construct gendered subjects one can get access to more general questions of how a nation is constructed and, more importantly, what kind of nation is constructed. It is important to stress that gender in these courses is an implicit category. Gender roles are affirmed in this public transcript by concealing gender as a distinct category. Gender roles are presented as “natural,” “traditional,” or “given” without any hint that this order of things could be questioned. I broaden the theoretical discussion by referring to the concept of “patriotic education,” by which I mean the kind of education that aims to “produce” and shape loyal citizens. “Patriotic education” leads to broader theoretical questions about nationalism, patriotism, and the relationship of both with populism. I have already mentioned that I see nationalism as an ideology intrinsic to the nation-building process (as this process presupposes that there is an object envisioned for building). Populism is a political style that can be used by nationalism. My views on patriotism are inspired by Rodger Brubaker (Brubaker 2004) who differentiates between nationalism as an exclusivist process that aims to challenge the political order by claiming a polity of and for the distinguished ethno-cultural group and nationalism as an inclusive process that aims to create a sense of national unity in states whose populations are divided along regional, ethnic, linguistic, or religious lines (see Sethi, this volume). Nationalism in such an inclusive sense has a mobilizing and integrating potential. It can be called patriotism or national allegiance (Brubaker 2004). In the context of post-Euromaidan Ukraine, Anne Applebaum underlines that patriotism may be the “country’s only hope of escaping apathy, rapacious corruption, and, eventually, dismemberment” (Applebaum 2014).



“Defence of the Homeland” The textbooks for this course are an example of how the populist style has successfully penetrated nationalist discourse. “Defence of the Homeland” is a mandatory course with a unified curriculum for all schools throughout the country. It has been taught since 2002 to year 10 and 11 pupils. The texts have been, and remained, remarkably similar to each other right from the beginning. Apparently, neither the armed conflict with Russia nor the violation of borders had any profound effect on textbook content. The Ministry of Education, however, developed new guidelines for the course in 2017, according to which new challenges currently faced by Ukraine, such as a “hybrid war,” are to be included (Ministry of Education 2017). Furthermore, critical thinking and media literacy are described as effective tools in times of war because they enable pupils to deal critically with misinformation (Ministry of Education 2017). The authors of the books found a shortcut for meeting these new requirements. They added new chapters to the old textbooks, covering recent developments. The course description for “Defence of the Homeland” refers to the Constitution of Ukraine, according to which the defence of the Motherland is an obligation for all citizens. At the same time it states that personal safety as well as life and health are the highest social values in Ukraine (Ministry of Education 2017). The 2018 edition of the course description states: “The Army needs a prepared reserve, and it is the modern school that can fulfil this task because, during the Defence of the Homeland course, youth can develop a feeling of patriotic consciousness and national dignity and gain an elementary military education” (Ministry of Education 2017; this and all subsequent translations from Ukrainian in this chapter are mine). Such a description illustrates that this course is meant to provide training in patriotism and raise loyal citizens. “The aim of the ‘Defence of the Homeland’ course is to form vitally needed knowledge and skills to defend the motherland and take action during extreme situations, as well as to provide a military and patriotic education as part of a national patriotic upbringing” (Ministry of Education 2017). The course responds to four main topics which are defined as crucial in the new reform plans issued by the Ministry of Education: “Ecological Security and Sustainability,” “Civic Responsibility,” “Health and Safety,” and “Entrepreneurship and Financial Literacy” (Ministry of Education 2017).



In practice, however, the textbooks focus on the topic of civic responsibility, particularly on how to act in extreme situations when the safety and security of the country are under threat. This tendency was also seen in the old textbooks and cannot be exclusively explained by the military conflict. The explanation is rather that this course is influenced by Soviet-era education in which pupils had to take a course in “military training aimed at preparation for the army” (dopryzovna pidhotovka) that was designed to prepare the younger generation for military service (its literal translation is pre-recruitment training). This course was devoted exclusively to military issues and was part of Cold War discourses when everything was subjugated to the purposes of a potential war with the enemies of the Soviet Union. Although the new courses introduced in Ukraine in 2002 were originally aimed at overcoming Soviet heritage, the focus on military issues reveals a certain degree of continuity (Zahyst Vitchyzny, 10 clas 2010). The new books published since 2014 rely on old Soviet terminology which refers to “dopryzovna pidhotovka,” which means pre-military preparation. At the same time, new political realities are reflected, such as integration into the European Union as a long-term goal, or Russia becoming an enemy (Zahyst Vitchyzny, 10 clas 2018b, 10–12). In a way, we see simultaneous processes: moving away from Soviet Cold War rhetoric on the one hand yet on the other adhering to a style of military training course that had existed in the Soviet Union. Essentially, the name has changed but not much of the content. This renaming without making significant changes to content reveals the postcolonial character of the society at large, where legacies of colonial rule are much more persistent than the former colony would wish. Mimicry and reproduction of colonial practices and ideologies are intrinsic features of postcolonial conditions (Bhabha 1994; Deane 1990). When the war in Ukraine became reality in 2014, not much had to be changed in the textbooks, which focussed more on general military training anyway. What was new, however, was the nuanced information on the role of communication, media, and information in the country’s security. The fact that from the very beginning the military conflict in Ukraine was portrayed and discussed by media, politicians and different experts as a “hybrid” or “information” war influenced what was seen as necessary content for the course at that time. Yet, in practice little information was added about media literacy or criticism of sources that would



indeed help develop the skills needed in the context of an information war or to distinguish populist discourses. With regard to the difference in content between the textbooks published before 2014 and those that came after, it should be stated that new textbooks tend to reflect new realities only in the newly added chapters while the main bulk of the text remains the same (as in the case of the books Zahyst Vitchyzny, year 10 2010; Zahyst Vitchyzny, year 10 2018a). New textbooks stress the changes in Ukraine’s military doctrine. Remarkably, before 2014 this doctrine followed the Soviet narrative and defined the West as the main potential enemy. The 2018 textbook stated that the new doctrine, adopted on 2 September 2015, defines the “Russian Federation as the military counterpart of Ukraine” (Zahyst Vitchyzny, 10 clas 2018b). It also underlines that Ukraine seeks a Euro-Atlantic partnership. New chapters in the textbooks give information on NATO and vividly demonstrate the change of direction in international politics in this regard. The development of the army is stated as being pivotal to sustaining Ukraine’s position as a powerful country (Hnatiuk 2018b, 12). Some books take a dramatic new view, such as the book by Harahu et al. (Zahyst Vitchyzny 2018) which presents an especially interesting case. Explicitly addressing both boys and girls, General–Lieutenant Pavlo Tkachuk, Professor at the National Military Academy of Petro Sahaidachny, writes in an introductory remark: “The history and ideology of the Ukrainian military is changing, and we are getting rid of ideological labels from the Soviet past” (Zahyst Vitchyzny 2018, 3). Books for this subject do not generally address boys and girls together as the Ministry of Education usually offers a separate book for each gender. This fact itself serves to close down any discussion on the issue of gender. The gender roles are presented as given. While books for girls focus on medical issues, books for boys focus on weapons, the army, and the like. Even in practice, boys attend training activities in the “field” (zbory) while girls are trained in medical institutions. This division of gender roles has been carried over from the Soviet military training courses. There is therefore a huge discrepancy between the declared aim to rid the system of Soviet ideology (as typified by the gender division) and the implementation in practice. The Ministry’s guidelines state that girls may only take part in the training for boys if their parents give permission (Ministry of Education 2018). Boys, on the other hand, may only join the girls’ groups if they have health problems or religious



views that prevent them taking part in the boys’ training. Each lesson starts with tactical formation drills similar to those conducted in the infantry, the playing of the national anthem and a check to ensure whether everyone is ready for the class to be started. During the class, communication between the teacher and the pupils must follow communication rules applied in the Armed Forces (Ministry of Education 2017). Moreover, the boys’ teacher is advised to wear military uniform (Ministry of Education 2017). Separate classes address the young people’s moral and psychological training. In 2015 the working group of the Ministry of Education recommended that veterans from the military campaign in Eastern Ukraine should be invited into classrooms (Ministry of Education 2015). Lessons are sometimes organized by guest lecturers, who may even come from abroad (Ministry of Education 2018). The role of experts from the Baltic States, especially from Lithuania and Latvia, is most prominent probably because, due to their proximity to Russia and their fears of becoming the next target of Russian aggression, interest in security issues in these countries has increased. We can see that, even if the textbooks did not change much from 2002 to 2018, the recommendations issued by the Ministry of Education introduced significant alterations to the ways the discipline is to be taught. It is not, however, possible to say how these recommendations are implemented in practice. A further study would be necessary in order to analyse the practice; in the meantime, we can assume that some practical changes might be made if the recommendations are implemented.

“Family Values” Textbooks and the “Ethics of Family Life” Course This section contributes to the discussion on nationalist, populist, and patriotic discourses in education, illustrating how the public transcript can be challenged, at least to some extent. The subject of “Family Values” was approved by the Ministry of Education in 2012 as an optional course, which means that each school decides independently whether to offer the course or not. The main idea behind the course is to give some understanding of family life and prepare young people for the future when they have their own families. In the 1980s, during the Soviet era, a similar course aimed to provide sexual education in response to large numbers of abortions. Back in the 1960s sexual education in the Soviet Union



was deemed ineffective, sexology as a scholarly discipline was declared “unscientific” and the theme of sex was repressed in the public sphere (Williams 1994). To a certain degree, the “Family Values” course in independent Ukraine is a continuation of the later Soviet initiative. In both cases conservative family values play a significant role. However, such conservatism attracted criticism. In October 2016 social media in Ukraine exploded with a discussion on the “Family Values” textbooks that were edited by a collective of teachers (Simeini trsinnosti: navchalno-metodychnyi posibnyk do navchalnoii prohramy Simeini Tsinnosti 2014a, b; Simeini Tsinnosti Robochyi Zoshyt Dlia Uchniv 8–9 klasiv 2015). The furore started with dozens of Facebook posts in which people criticized a letter by the Deputy Minister of Education, Pavlo Hobzei, in which he claims that, based on the above-mentioned textbook, the “Family Values” course “contributes to the formation of family values based in the national cultural heritage of Ukrainian society.” There is an interesting “regional” twist in the case of these textbooks: they are published in two cities on the peripheries of the country— Ivano-Frankivsk in the west and Zaporizhzhia in the east. Ivano-Frankivsk has become a quasi-center of the pro-life movement since 2014, where annual “Marches for Family Values” are organized by the NGO “Christian Movement for Life” (Khrystyiians’kyi rukh za zhyttia), supported by the local Greek Catholic Church. The main author of the textbook, Oleksandr Melnyk, appears to be an ardent supporter of the traditionalist Christian ideology propagated by this movement. Across the country discussions on online media were a significant part of the controversy surrounding the course and its textbooks. The psychologist Olena Savynova criticized the mere concept of “family values” as an outdated notion (Savynova 2016). The gender studies scholar Dafna Rachok recommended that the Ministry employ professional historians and sociologists who could explain that there is no such thing as “traditional values” (Rachok 2016). Igor Sushenko, the director of the organization “Teachers for Democracy and Partnership” stated that the course “forms gender stereotypes and perplexes half the population because they do not conform to the ideals of a true man or a true woman … calling it ‘traditional Ukrainian national values’” (Sushchenko 2016). In general, the criticism was directed against the course because it overtly propagated only one “authentic” kind of family, where women have a passive role and are totally subjugated to the will of their husbands.



The special expert commission on gender issues in the Ministry of Education wrote a detailed report explaining why the book and complementary methodological material, and therefore the course as whole, were not appropriate for teaching in the twenty-first century (Gender Expertise Report 2016). As a result the Ministry of Education withdrew its approval for the book. According to the expert commission the course, which is taught separately to boys and girls, not only supports and promotes gender segregation, it is also contains unscientific statements presented as facts. For instance, the textbook states that “[s]piritual and physical attraction is not that important if the men have a desire to be real men and women want to be real women” (Simeini trsinnosti: navchalno-metodychnyi posibnyk do navchalnoii prohramy Simeini Tsinnosti (70 hodyn) 2014a, 24) or “[i]t is important for a girl to keep her chastity in order to retain her self-esteem and to have a chance of marrying in the future” (ibid., 50). It also legitimizes gender-based violence: “girls who do not draw boys’ attention feel humiliated and try to provoke boys to be rude to them simply to gain their attention” (ibid., 53). In response to this critique the Minister of Education, Lilia Hrynevych, recommended that the whole course be reconsidered and not only the book (Hrynevych 2016). The whole discussion on this course is perplexing. Why was this course the only one of its kind to evoke such discussions? Why did it happen precisely at that time, given that this subject has been taught under different names since the early 1990s and the textbooks have all conveyed more or less the same messages since the beginning? To my mind, the main differences between now and then are connected to the hope for change nurtured by the Euromaidan: Ukraine was then developing under a leadership that announced pro-European development and Ukrainians had won a symbolic victory in gaining the right to travel to the EU without a visa. Moreover, the country had announced reforms in all spheres of life. One of the initial reforms was the renaming of the old Soviet style “miliciia” to become “police.” The system of health care has acquired more “Western” features, such as the ability to book appointments and obtain prescriptions online. Considering all these facts, I argue that the timing of the discussion surrounding these specific books for the two courses can be understood only in the context of the reforms and public belief that change was underway. The example of the course being withdrawn from the curriculum shows that under specific conditions, and under pressure from the public,



changes can be made and the struggle against homogenizing tendencies can produce results. What specific conditions are needed then? In the case of this textbook, it was decisive that the textbook was initially criticized by the general public. The timing was also crucial as argued above: after the Euromaidan protests, a lot of people believed that change depended on them and they saw themselves as agents of change. Moreover, in some discussions the argument prevailed that the Maidan protests supported egalitarian values and opposed “traditionalist” conservative values. The legacy of the protests played an important role in the criticism of the textbook as did the new Minister of Education, Liliya Hrynevych, whose party came to power as a result of the Euromaidan protests. She personally embodied the belief in change that was prevalent in society. The Commission on Gender was working under the auspices of the Ministry and it was their report that put an end to the course. Furthermore, all the discussions in the media and among experts were framed in the context of anticipated reforms. But surely the withdrawal of the textbook from the curriculum would not have been possible without the experts from the Commission on Gender, who were interested in this case and followed all the correct procedures when dealing with the problem. One can wonder why a similar approach to gender contained in another course—Defence of the Homeland—continues to be tolerated and causes no discussion. There may be several explanations. I argue that the main reason is that in the context of an ongoing military conflict in the country criticism of topics related to military and army is not welcome within society. This attitude is conditioned by a fear of war and also through respect to the soldiers who are fighting at the front. In such a situation it is difficult to combine all aspects into one coherent pattern of behavior, for example being critical and showing respect for the army at the same time, or having existential fears and anxieties and expressing criticism on how society is homogenized. The war is a decisive influencing factor in the discursive field as it intensifies and strengthens traditionalist views. At the time of writing the Ministry of Education offers an optional course called “Ethics of Family Life” (Etyka simeinoho zhyttia). Interestingly, the course is presented as promoting gender equality and even equated to the current security problems: “One of the important conditions for ensuring political, social, economic, and ecological security today is viewing gender equality as the basis for social justice and the realization of human rights” (Institute of Pedagogy 2018). Despite such an inspiring



introduction provided by the Institute of Pedagogy, who developed the guidelines for the “Ethics of Family Life” course, the content reveals a different picture: Family life is presented in a rather traditionalist way emphasizing the “completeness” of the family (encompassing mother, father, and children), the “traditional Ukrainian family,” and “traditional Ukrainian norms of ethics.” In this way, the public transcript affirms one, restricted view of the family and conceals the fact that in reality there are many more variations of how people live and form their family relations. Divorced couples and families with one parent are presented as problematic. Heterosexual couples are presented as the only possibility for the formation of a family. This is a clear continuation of the views on family life propagated in the Soviet Union. While same-sex relations are legally permitted, they are still presented as abnormal in discourse. This “abnormality” is articulated through the concealment, if not total omission, of this kind of relationship. Moreover, the course description states that family values are considered from the perspective of “Christian values.” Taking into consideration that Ukraine is a multi-confessional society and that religion is separated from the state according to Ukraine’s constitution, the fact that family values are equated with Christian values poses a series of questions. This public transcript reveals that an exclusivist discourse is in play. It excludes non-Christians and LGBTIQ people. By reproducing such exclusivist logic the state-sanctioned transcripts disseminated by the education authorities pave the ground for a populist agenda based on black-and-white worldviews. Thus, we see that a course that propagates similar conservative, exclusive, polarizing, and dogmatic values to those in the Family Values course does not arouse great interest or concerns when offered under a different name. This confirms my argument that change comes slowly and is most often due to the fact that the “traditionalist” agenda, expressed by nationalist ideology and a populist style of rhetoric, is very pervasive in the fields of politics and culture and in society as a whole. “Patriotic education” seems to be the prevailing type of an education currently propagating “national purity.” Family and security present ideal arenas for such “purity” to be constructed discursively through the mechanisms of education.



Conclusion In the discussion of the school courses I have shown how exclusivist discourses are formed in a specific historic context and how a nationalist agenda is articulated through textbooks. I have argued that these texts bear the hallmarks of the populist style. Populist texts are not only produced by those who would call themselves—or who are described by others as being—populists. This chapter contributes to general discussions on populism and shows that elites take part in producing and propagating populist discourses. In the examples shown here the textbooks present traditional values and traditional gender roles as if they were the only possible option and in doing so they exclude and omit other options. As a result, a worldview is formed which presents only one type of behavior and one type of citizen as “correct” and thus acceptable. Such a clear-cut, binary division between what is acceptable and what is not can easily be exploited by populist politicians. Even if those politicians are not directly involved in producing the textbooks, the courses proposed by the Ministry of Education go hand in hand with populist claims that propagate conservative values and traditional family values. Since 2014, for the first time since its independence, Ukraine has seen large Pride parades supported by the state. At the same time, there were also large anti-Pride demonstrations by radical right-wing groups. Pro-life demonstrations, called “Marches for Family Values” have been held every year since 2015 in Ivano-Frankivsk, the city mentioned above as one of the two where the discussed textbooks for the “Family Values” course were published. This chapter shows how “patriotic education,” nationalism and populism go hand in hand and mutually strengthen each other. In the Ukrainian case, patriotism and nationalism draw on post-colonial resentment stemming from the fact that Ukraine was long under the rule of other powers and to which many problems are attributed. But, as this chapter has demonstrated, politics and education are not only influenced by Soviet legacies they also both active in reproducing these legacies. At the same time, shifts toward reform are becoming increasingly visible. In the presidential elections held in April 2019, Ukrainians were asked to choose between several candidates who could be broadly referred to as “populist.” Volodymyr Zelenskyi, a successful comedian and TV producer, was elected as president. Because he had no concrete ideological program and because of his style of communication, he can be



regarded as “the populist candidate.” His entire presidential campaign was built upon anti-establishment sentiments. Looking at the state’s approaches to education, discussed above, one can state that positive perceptions of populist discourses in society had been persistently reinforced by all previous elites in power. Instead of encouraging pupils to critique sources and develop critical thinking, the education system was constructing a one-dimensional world with only one “correct” way of living and also promoting “authenticity” and “purity,” on which the populists thrive.

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List of Textbooks Cited Simeini trsinnosti: navchalno-metodychnyi posibnyk do navchalnoii prohramy Simeini Tsinnosti (70 hodyn). 2014a. Melnyk, O., T. Kravchenko, L. Kanishevska, and O. Parhomenko. Ivano-Frankivsk: NAIR. Simeini tsinnosti: praktyko-orientovnuy posibnyk do navchalnoii prohramy Simeini Tsinnosti (9 hodyn). 2014b. Melnyk, O., T. Kravchenko, L. Kanishevska, and I. Bilotserkivets. Ivano-Frankivsk: NAIR. Simeini Tsinnosti Robochyi Zoshyt Dlia Uchniv 8–9 klasiv. 2015. Barlit, Oksana, I. Nazarenko, and Viktor Pryt. Zaporizhizhia: VD. Zahyst Vitchyzny. 2018. Harahu, Serhii, Vasyl Pavlov, Ihor Dziuba, and Evheniia Sahanchi. Lviv: Svit. Zahyst Vitchyzny, 10 kl. 2010. Herasymiv I.M., K.O. Pashko, M.M. Shchyrba Fuka, and P. Yu. Ternopil: Aston. Zahyst Vitchyzny, 10 kl. 2018a. Herasymiv, I.M. K.O. Pashko, M.M. Shchyrba Fuka, and P. Yu. Ternopil: Aston. Zahyst Vitchyzny, 10 clas. 2018b. Hnatiuk, M. Kyiv: Heneza.