The Adaptability of Populist Discourse: Greece and Finland in Comparison

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 3:45 PM
Room: Booth 45
Oral Presentation
Paris ASLANIDIS , University of Macedonia, Greece
Tuukka YLÄ-ANTTILA , Department of Social Research, University of Helsinki, Finland
Scholars commonly interpret populism along structural, cultural-historical, or economic dimensions. However, its emergence cannot altogether be reduced to this type of causal inference. Europe has recently witnessed populist triumphs both in the Nordics, previously presumed 'immune' to populism due to stable party systems, social cohesion and robust economies, as well as the South, where these 'preventive' conditions were traditionally absent, with the situation further aggravated by the Eurocrisis. Comparative research based on a most different systems design can provide clearer insight and improve our analytical framework.
We contrast two successful cases of populist mobilization in the Eurocrisis context: the Independent Greeks and the True Finns, which, while unfolding within different environments, present striking affinities in discursive produce. Our methodology comprises of a content analysis of party documents and speeches, within which we identify and assess 'populist frames' and their composition. We argue that, given the opportunity, populist discourse which pits the 'moral people' against the 'corrupt elite', can be constructed in countries with widely diverging political, cultural, and economic conditions, with equal success.
Populists in Greece and Finland may well understand each other as foes, with the True Finns portraying Southern Europeans as economically reckless recipients of undeserved aid, while the Independent Greeks argue against Northern Europeans who blatantly intimidate the Greek folk with cruel austerity demands. However antithetical these populist framings may seem, containing opposite constructions of 'the enemy', they are indeed identical in terms of structure, confirming the overarching significance of the moral distinction between 'people' and 'elites' when it comes to forming populist discourse. Having shown what dissimilar contents populism can accommodate, we contribute to the literature on the concept by comparatively illustrating the importance of this discursive structure. Thus, we argue for a focus on the form, rather than the specific content of populist appeals.