What is the Future of Populism?

November 21, 2022

Professor Umut Korkut, Glasgow Caledonian University, discusses radicalization and populism on the International Horizons podcast.

Umut Korkut appears to the left in front of a faded image of protests in Hungary

The world's wealthier countries have in recent years faced challenges from right-wing populist parties and movements that may rejuvenate origins from relatively far in the past, such as in the case of Italy, or they may constitute new formations disturbingly reminiscent of earlier movements of their kinds, such as the Alternative for Germany. So where does populism go from here? 

Umut Korkut from Glasgow Caledonian University talks to Ralph Bunche Institute Director and Graduate Center Presidential Professor John Torpey about the goals and findings of the D.Rad De-Radicalization project in Europe and why and how people become radicalized from being alienated from the rest of society. Korkut also delves into other causes of radicalization, such as manipulation by elites and educational policies that widen the political literacy gap. He goes on to discuss the nuances of populism in Europe. Finally, he argues that, because of the trauma of recent events, voters are paralyzed and cannot see different political alternatives, a situation he sees in the United States, a number of countries in Europe, and Turkey.

International Horizons is part of the New Books Network of academic podcasts. Subscribe to the RSS feed or find it on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. A lightly edited transcript follows below. 


John Torpey  00:15

The world's wealthier countries have in recent years faced challenges from right-wing populist parties and movements that may rejuvenate origins from relatively far in the past, such as in the case of Italy, or they may constitute new formations disturbingly reminiscent of earlier movements of their kinds. So, for example, the Alternative for Germany, in Germany. So where does populism go from here? 

John Torpey  00:41

Welcome to International Horizons, a podcast to the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies that brings scholarly and diplomatic expertise to bear on our understanding of a wide range of international issues. My name is John Torpey, and I'm director of the Ralph Bunche Institute at the Graduate Center of The City University of New York. 

John Torpey  01:01

We're fortunate to have with us today Umut Korkut, a professor of international politics at Glasgow Caledonian University. Professor Korkut is an expert in Turkish and Hungarian politics, and has recently published an edited volume called The End of Cosmopolitan Europe? (that's with a question mark) Euroskepticism, crisis, and borders. He currently leads the EC European Research Council Horizon 2020-funded research project "D.Rad: De-radicalization in Europe and beyond", and "Demos: Democratic efficacy and varieties of populism in Europe", which will come to an end I guess this year. He also currently serves as vice president of the International Political Science Association. He's a graduate of Boğaziçi University in Turkey. Thanks for joining us today, Umut Korkut.

Umut Korkut  02:01

Thank you. Good morning, John.

John Torpey  02:03

Great to have you with us. So your current work is very interesting and revolves around populism and the de-radicalization of far right groups in contemporary Europe. So perhaps you could start by telling us about those projects and how your understanding of populism affects your approach to de-radicalization.

Umut Korkut  02:23

Yeah, thanks, John. So as you mentioned at the moment I'm leading a European Commission-funded project on de-radicalization, it is called D.Rad. So this is a project that has delivered across 15 states, all the way from Jordan to UK, from Finland to Israel; we're covering a huge big geography for that. In these countries we're leading this project for the next three years. And now we're looking into various forms of radicalization. 

John Torpey  02:23

Right. Interesting. So I mean, one of the things that strikes me about the literature on populism, and in the United States on Donald Trump, is that it's focused a lot on the divide in educational terms between the better educated and the less educated. And there's a lot of debate now about meritocracy in the United States, and whether that's a good thing or a bad thing and who benefits from it and doesn't benefit from it. I mean, could you talk a little bit about the place of education and educational divides in populist radicalization in Europe?

Umut Korkut  02:24

Yeah. Thanks for the question, John, I believe along with education, actually, you also need to question the quality of education. We, as university professors, I think every year, we talk about this thing with our various colleagues that while we're educating people, the level of education seems to be decreasing, unfortunately. The other thing, when it comes to education is that people, they are more and more losing their horizons. 

Umut Korkut  03:44

Our starting point is something what we call I-GAP spectrum [injustice-grievance-alienation-polarization], which is, we perceive, we consider that people, they travel from a non-radicalized to radicalized position based on their feelings of how unjustly they were treated. So that's injustice, which is leading to grievance (that’s the G in our I-GAP) which is leading then to alienation. And then finally, polarization. So in this case, I have to say that D.Rad is not the terror or a security kind of a project, it is more interested in understanding why people feel themselves unjustly treated. 

Umut Korkut  03:44

As you said, I moved to this project from the populism project. And in this populism project, we were also quite interested in when the relationship between the elite and the individual would break or breakup: when an individual would feel themselves alienated from the rest of the society, and what's the importance of justice and your feeling of unjust treatment to that extent. 

Umut Korkut  03:44

So when it comes to moving from populism to radicalization --actually, I just finished a paper with my graduate student, which is under review now -- we were looking into how come corruption and these feelings of injustice across a huge set of population can lead to people having disbelief of dissent, disenfranchisement, and then the elite doing things on their behalf. And at what stage that starts transforming to extremist views. We believe that justice and your feeling of unjust treatment once again plays a huge, big role. So that would be the starting point in terms of how I approach populism and radicalization research.

Umut Korkut  05:41

And I'm just comparing my background: I was born in Turkey in the 1970s, and then I was a student at Boğaziçi University, as you said, in the 1990s. And then as a student, some aspiring political science, my horizons were much wider. I was interested in the world; I wanted to know what was going on around the place. So this is the problem to my mind, because I'm not finding that people are not being educated, but also those who are educated are having really small lives at the moment. 

Umut Korkut  06:16

So along with this education gap, and it's a significant gap, let's say, between those with technical skills with limited language skills, in Europe at least, with an interest in the world, there are a huge bunch of people who have good intentions, but either they don't have an access to proper education, or else when they go to various colleges, they don't really get the kind of education that broadens their horizons. So for me that really becomes the discrepancy between those who are educated, and then those who don't really have a possibility for education. And then you're having people obviously, right, if they're not really educated, so they will be more prone to manipulation.

John Torpey  06:56

So you said something about people not having access to education? Could you talk about why that's the case? I mean, as you may know, there's a huge discussion about the unaffordability of higher education in the United States. But that tends not really to be the barrier, I think, in Europe, certainly in a place like Germany. So what creates the inaccessibility of higher education?

Umut Korkut  07:20

I mean, you see, I think when it comes inaccessibility in Europe, in the US as well, we're not only talking about nationals any longer, right, because these are the countries where you have a quite a significant number of people who are non-native, who are naturally born there who don't really have the language skills, etc. So this accessibility of education is, I think it's quite a complicated story. And it goes well beyond having enough resources to pay for tuition, because you need to have the linguistic skills and could be the case in Germany (I have to say I don't know too much about accessibility issues in Germany). But nonetheless, I would imagine that the language could act as a barrier, in terms of getting into the German higher education system. 

Umut Korkut  08:07

The other thing is, actually, you may have all the good systems, but people may not erally have the aspiration or the interest. And you just cannot do anything about it at that stage. Because you can induce people need to study, but you can't really force them to study. So for me this disparity issue is really complicated. And it goes well beyond having the means, as you also said, and it is a social issue in terms of how can you really integrate people into an education system? 

Umut Korkut  08:16

The other thing is that I don't know whether we can take education as something beneficial at face value. I mean, it also depends on what we teach these people, right? If these students are taught things that are really parochial, that does not really make them go too much beyond what they're used to, or else perhaps, that doesn't really make them question or doubt things that they took for granted. And I believe issues to do with nationalism is that they are the things that are taken for granted, then I don't know that you can question the value of education in terms of breaking this mass kind of dichotomy.

John Torpey  08:36

Right. I mean, the question of whether people want to go to higher education is an interesting one in the sense that, again, here in the United States, there's this, I would say push to some extent, or at least a discussion about the idea that not everybody has to go to university, and that many people would have perfectly nice and productive lives, if they got skills like being a plumber or handiwork kinds of things that they enjoy and that are rewarding for them and that don't pay that badly. But that there's come to be this obsessive emphasis on the importance of a university credential and indeed, more specifically of an elite university credential. 

John Torpey  10:00

And, again, back to the sort of political ramifications of this, I think there's been a lot of discussion, again in the United States about the extent to which the "elitezation", if you like, of higher education, the sort of obsession with elite credentials, has led to a situation in which working class people are kind of drifting out of the Democratic Party, which they see increasingly as dominated by people with elite educational backgrounds. And as therefore, sort of out of touch with the concerns and needs of sort of ordinary, less educated people who are, by far the majority in the United States. The proportion in the United States of people with university degrees is something like 36%, so that leaves two-thirds almost of the population without a higher education degree. 

John Torpey  11:00

So how would you say that is -- I mean, part of what's interesting about this is that, again, we're sort of arguing that we should follow the German model of apprenticeship training, and really ramp that up, and I guess, persuade people that that's a worthy kind of path to follow. But that already exists in Germany, and, I suppose, to some degree elsewhere, but it's not clear that getting a university degree in the United States also is a pretty strong insurance against being unemployed; the unemployment rate among people with university degrees is very low. So on the one hand there are a lot of benefits, I would say, to having university education, some of them, non-material and non-economic so to speak. But, there is this kind of effort to get people into other kinds of degrees or other kinds of paths, and also to persuade people that that's a worthy kind of thing to do. And that people aren't going to look down on them because they became a plumber or something like that. So, again, the basic question has to do with these, this educational divide, and its consequences for politics and for populism.

Umut Korkut  12:22

I mean, listen, John, when you're looking through our industrial revolution in the 19th century. It all originated from this kind of arts and crafts movement. So there was a case in Britain, I imagined, it also had some kind of a process in the US as well. So arts and crafts kind of education laid down are the first kind of path of our industrial revolution. So I don't necessarily think that there's something to be frowned upon, in terms of having those kinds of skills through the more vocational education, as you're saying, in the case of Germany. But the issue is that if you're going to put your emphasis too badly on the importance of vocational education, then what happens to humanities, because the most in most of the countries humanities, as it is, is not necessarily considered as a part of or as an extension of your vocation education, isn't it? 

Umut Korkut  13:20

However, if you don't really teach humanities to students, they start missing, they start lacking their very universal, very parts, kind of expansive horizons, because it's only through humanities degrees, people, they start getting interested in the rest of the world, in various languages in history, interpreted, etc. So I have a feeling that, for example, in the US you have this Black Mountain College. And Black Mountain College was this extremely interesting artistic movement, which brought together both arts and crafts people with various artists and with various poets with novelists, etc. So those kinds of environments can also operate in a way that in a very informal university, if you will, and that should not really demote the importance of having vocational education, but that also should not necessarily emphasize the fact that everyone needs to go to a university in order to gain certain life skills so that they wouldn't be necessarily lured to irrational ideologies or question various things that we should take for granted in our political systems. So, I mean, you're right, I hear you there, maybe not everyone should be doing this extremely expensive university degrees, at least in the US and people should have a chance to do vocational degrees, etc. But that should not really underestimate the importance of humanities and humanities' teaching and giving these kids an access to an arts kind of a curriculum. So that's what I would say.

John Torpey  15:04

Right. I mean, there's no doubt that it's important for people to get the kinds of education that you're talking about. And I could hardly argue against it, having gone down the path that I've gone down as a result, really basically learning a foreign language, in this case German. But in any case, let's shift gears a little bit. 

John Torpey  15:21

And I wanted to ask you about the consequences, basically, of the Ukraine war for right-wing populism in Europe. You know, Giorgia Meloni, in her campaign to become the first female president, and first far-right president, I guess, in the postwar period in Italy -- I'm sorry, I should say, Prime Minister -- but she was in a milieu has tended to be more sympathetic to Russia. But she made clear her own kind of support for Ukraine, and was kind of outspoken about that. So this is obviously a kind of source of contestation and controversy among people, of course across the political spectrum, but to some degree, more specifically, in the far-right kind of milieu. So how would you say the war is affecting this part of the political spectrum that you've been focusing on?

Umut Korkut  16:26

I mean, it's a very good question, John. And I think my feelings, my reflection on it has also changed over time. Because in the beginning, I thought that this is going to stir white supremacist movements, certain people from Europe, at least they were going to travel to Ukraine to fight on behalf of the Ukrainians. And then at the same time, there were going to be people with extremist views who are not in the Russian army, but they will be recruited from here and there. And it was going to be this kind of this fight that would involve various paramilitary groups, etc. And I suppose in the beginning, there was a certain tendency whereby various extremist groups, they started looking at this war in Ukraine almost as if it was the war against the East, in which Russians represented East. 

Umut Korkut  16:26

But this did not really happen. I mean, this was also a problem, or maybe a nice problem with the D.Rad Project, because for us know that this whole concept of radicalization has been always changing since we started the project. And we thought that this could be what we should expect. And then it evolved into Russophobia in the sense that even hearing people speaking Russian started to give you some kind of creeps in a way that if you speak Russian you would represent Kremlin, etc. So in this case, I'm not really too surprised that Georgia Meloni, after all, has shifted from a certain position to a more pro-Ukrainian position. 

Umut Korkut  18:09

But I mean, you may have seen in the news, perhaps it was a few weeks back, there was a huge big rally in Italy, which was against war. So the people who took part in that rally, they would not necessarily probably vote for Georgia Meloni, I don't know, because a huge chunk of the population voted for her after all. But I mean, I think having an anti-war position, I think, should not really be conflated into having a proper Russian or having a more radical political ideology in the beginning. 

Umut Korkut  18:44

The other thing is that the Italian far-right, show themselves extremely resilient in terms of fitting themselves into what is expected of them globally. So if you look into the trajectory of the Cinque Stelle [5 Star Movement] for example, or Salvini's movement and all that, you will see that as soon as they came to power, their kind of focus on Europe has shifted. Their reflexes on international relations have changed. So there is a trajectory here in the sense that whoever comes to power in Italy, considering how dependent they are economically on the European Union, they immediately see the remnants of their political strength. And they make a decision in terms of having more pragmatic -- which you don't see in Hungary. That's a country that I know a lot more than Italy for example, whereby politics have become way more kind of bogged into certain ideologies where pragmatism died. So I would say that I'm not too surprised with Giorgia Meloni coming, shifting to certain position after she started her tenure as a prime minister there.

John Torpey  20:00

So, I mean, this raises questions, it seems to me, about the kind of longer medium term future of far-right movements in Europe. I mean, in the United States, we've just had these midterm elections, which many commentators have seen as a case of Republican underperformance, particularly among those who follow Trump and who were supported by or endorsed by Donald Trump. And so there's a kind of sense that things in this area are kind of waning. But in Europe, I mean, the traditional working class parties have kind of been completely transformed, or the essentially in many ways disappeared, say, in France, in favor of new kinds of movements and parties that are absorbing this kind of working class energy and have come increasingly, as Donald Trump's Republicans in some ways have tried to do, have become a kind of representative of the working class. And so they seem more institutionally anchored in, in Germany and France, in Italy. And Hungary, of course, as you say, it's kind of an extreme case of this in a way. So, I guess the question is, do you see any medium, near to medium term likelihood that all of this is going to sort of become absorbed into more mainstream energy, and these organizations and movements will be sort of marginalized again?

Umut Korkut  21:45

It's a very good question again, thank you. I gave a book launch at American University in Paris a few weeks back. And my colleague, and my direct colleague as well, as Tim Sawyer asked me the same question. He said, "well, I mean, come on, you talk about all these far-right moments, and what's their impact? After all, they don't seem to be elected in office, even if they're elected, they don't seem to capture the role of prime minister. In Europe, at least, we get to know Swedish Democrats, they received a huge chunk of vote, but they can't even become the prime minister, etc." And the case that being Le Pen in the case of France as well, but the issue is that, and then we came across that more a lot in the Demos project, as you kind of mentioned. 

Umut Korkut  22:32

While populists or far right --and I don't really want to conflate populism and the far right. OK, I mean, the populist movements, they don't necessarily have to be far-right, they have various gradients being a populist political party -- their ideas and their policies, they one way or another get into power. And that is pretty much the centrist parties shifting towards the extreme flanks of politics, and then embracing various policies, various political ideologies from the far right movement. 

Umut Korkut  22:33

For example, for the Demos project, we were doing a certain task that looked into “the other” of the populists. They were negotiating their identity with the public discourse, because the populism itself, it has been taken on face value when we look into the discourse and narratives of political leaders from populist parties, but we don't really understand what the other thing, let's say in the case of Poland for example, what would gender activists or in the LGBT populations think? How do they feel themselves vis-a-vis the popular stereotypes?

Umut Korkut  23:45

So with certain focus groups there, we asked people a few questions, what they thought. And the task was delivered in Poland, in Hungary, in Turkey, in Greece and the UK under my leadership for the Demos project, and then we saw various levels of activism, various levels of people turning themselves into more kind of echo chambers, or being kind of cynical, or they want to leave, etc.

Umut Korkut  24:14

But when it came to Britain, it was very difficult for us to pinpoint what is the populist party because you may say that the Conservatives have become populist, right. But I mean, what made Conservatives populist was pretty much the emergence of Brexit party. So while Brexit party did not get into power, but thanks to Nigel Farage and his personality and his visibility, his eminence, his resonance, whatever he wants to say, his ideas were embraced by the Conservatives, or as at least Conservatives, they were made to be scared of what may come if they don't necessarily act on the EU issue. And then you have the results of Brexit in the end.

Umut Korkut  25:01

And, or else in the case of Hungary, for example, if you look into the course that FIDESZ has moved from a center-right party to where it is now, you will see that in order to somehow invade and consolidate its power in the whole right flank of Hungarian politics, FIDESZ simply started to absorb all the policy proposals of Jobbik, but mostly Jobbik and Magyar Garda and all those kinds of things, which made FIDESZ, turned FIDESZ into an extreme, radical right party. 

Umut Korkut  25:39

The other thing is actually, I mean, so far, we only talked about the politics as it is only happening in the national field. But more and more in Europe, I think, there's also a certain cross-fertilization between US and Europe as well: political parties, political leaders, their discourse, etc. They are not necessarily staying within the borders of their nation states any longer. 

Umut Korkut  26:03

And that's what we came across for another Horizon Europe funded project called "Response: Multilevel Governance of Migration in Europe and Beyond", I was leading a certain task that looked into conflict and conceptualizations of Europeanization, and we collected this macro-narrative from political leaders in Hungary, in Sweden, in Germany, in Greece and all that. And then we could see that whatever Orbán was saying was creating a certain resonance in Italy. Or then Jimmie Åkesson, the head of the Swedish Democrats, before he was elected into power -- this was delivered in 2017-18, he was saying that he was going to look for asylum in Hungary, because he thought that Hungary presented what Europe should be. 

Umut Korkut  26:54

So this brings me back to your question, which is, yes, perhaps far-right parties, they're not necessarily being elected, being voted into power with such force or strength, as we see that is their discourse would represent or the activism around these ideas that they represent. But nonetheless, these kinds of ideas are creating an audience that is finding kind of hospitable grounds in other kinds of political parties. And then they embrace these things. I mean, look at the new Swedish government, now, they canceled the environmental ministry, Now they don't have a feminist foreign policy any longer. 

Umut Korkut  27:34

Also, their ideas are going beyond the borders of their states. And then since, you know, politics have turned into a social media kind of mechanism. And now we can hear what Orbán says, or what Bolsonaro says, what Trump says, etc, like everywhere. And you don't necessarily need the language skills any longer, because most of the time, these politicians are very skilled in terms of putting a certain aesthetics to what they say, and there's a performative element to how they represent populism. 

Umut Korkut  28:09

Now, you asked another question, and I think if you'd like we can come back to that, and you said, "well, the Republicans did not necessarily succeed as much as the pundits would have imagined in the US." Did I understand that correctly, that very saying that perhaps, certain extremist ideas are not really as well received as the pundits would have imagined?

John Torpey  28:31

So I mean, but we don't need to dwell on that necessarily, but you've raised the example or the case of Britain, and I want to sort of go back to that if we could, and ask you about the significance of Britain in the far-right imaginary if you like. I mean, first of all --and many of these things started as anti-Brussels kinds of movements, right? That's part of the background to Alternative for Germany, originally was basically an anti Brussels thing -- But, so Nigel Farage and his followers lead the country out of the European Union, of course, that was seen at the time as potentially the first brick in the wall that then starts to fall apart. 

John Torpey  28:31

Well, I think the issue is, in the United States, at least the midterm election is widely being interpreted as a repudiation of Trump and Trumpism. And insofar as he's the standard bearer of many, many of these ideas that those kinds of ideas will be expected to kind of go into abeyance in part because the Republicans are going to say to themselves, and we want to go down this path again, and follow Trump into defeat once again. He has yet to win the popular vote in the United States, right? So the people who he endorsed did very badly in this election. 

John Torpey  29:59

And you look at Britain now, and what's going on there, and maybe not all the inflation problem is the fault of the people at 10 Downing Street (the many people of late at 10 Downing Street), but nonetheless, Britain seems to be facing severe economic difficulties that are making it looked like not a particularly great example to follow. Now, England, the UK, has always been something separate from the continent and all that, but nonetheless the path that they've taken does not seem to have led to the glorious days that Nigel Farage was proposing was going to happen. So I wonder, what you would say about the implications of the British trajectory for the kinds of politics that we're talking about?

Umut Korkut  30:54

Thanks very much. This is a very difficult question to respond because, first of all, we cannot really take Brexit out of what's going on, globally, in order to say that it is Brexit, or it's the failure of Brexit, or it is their failure to deliver Brexit (whoever that was going to be) that led to this current economic crisis in Britain. I mean, Britain had a decades-long productivity crisis. Because if you look into British economy, you'd see that since 2008, British economy did not really have much of real wage growth, or else productivity had been a problem in certain parts of Britain starting from deindustrialization in the northeast and parts of Scotland and the Midlands and all that. So you cannot really separate what happened only a few years back from a historical trajectory in terms of what happened to the British economy. 

Umut Korkut  30:54

The other thing is that in order for certain and as radical economic changes, such as Brexit to take shape, and then to create its outcomes and these results, I think we need to be more reflective. And we need a few more years to understand whether it was through Brexit or whether it was that because Brexit case happened in a situation where the pandemic has happened, the war in Ukraine has happened, etc., so it just becomes a bit difficult. 

Umut Korkut  32:28

However, considering supply chain issues and then considering how the borders have started to operate in the aftermath of Brexit, it was obviously it's a disaster, not for people to travel, perhaps, but for merchandise to come and go, because ultimately, when the Conservative Party pushed for this referendum, probably no thinking that they were going to lose. And that's why David Cameron just resigned that few days afterwards, which was a very bad idea, he should have delivered whatever he had in mind, and the country did not prepare so whatsoever. 

Umut Korkut  33:04

And the whole thing simply boiled down into what to do with Northern Ireland protocol, etc. But there are issues that are way more critical to how you're going to operate your borders for commodities in the aftermath of putting customs between your biggest trade partners and yourself. And that is a situation whereby you start to see inflation there. So to my mind, I mean, whether Britain really gave a wrong lesson, whether Britain just shows what happens to you if you leave the EU, etc. I mean, I don't even know, if you took this year using to referendum in other countries, people may as well as to vote for leave. 

Umut Korkut  33:59

I mean, don't underestimate the fact that there is very deeply embedded Euroskepticism in the Scandinavian countries that comes to effect when it comes to their accession to the Eurozone. They seem to be rather more comfortable with using their national currencies, and all kinds of referenda thus far to do with further expansion of the European Union in terms of its policies or much deeper integration, it seems to have evolved into some kind of discomfort. With the electorate in Ireland being -- I worked at UCD [University College Dublin] a few years back -- these referenda, everything has to be taken until the people, they vote yes on these things, etc. 

Umut Korkut  34:44

So I mean, I don't even know whether the British situation would have really taught a lesson to the rest of the continent that, well, "this is what happens to you if you leave the European Union," because the conditions under which the countries would have left the European Union -- although legally, there's a clause that says that you can leave -- but the political or economic conditions or the procedural conditions, if you will, in terms of pushing for referenda is not all that well set in other countries. And you may still have some countries wanting to leave the European Union, despite the British situation, considering the fact that people may not really have the same trajectory of the productivity problem or education gap if you want, or deindustrialization as Britain have had even before the British public starts to consider leaving the European Union. 

Umut Korkut  35:40

Now, you do not want me to comment too much about the American midterm elections. But I have something to say on that. And I suppose that can also relate a bit to Britain, because I believe that despite all, the Tories, they still have a chance to win the next election. And the reason why I think that is, at the moment, the electorate is going through a certain trauma. And this trauma started with the pandemic and then it continued, it expanded, let's say, with the war in Ukraine. And it looks very likely that when the electorate is traumatized, they're in paralysis, and they do not, they cannot think of an alternative. 

Umut Korkut  36:23

So while Trump didn't actually win as much as he wished, or the Trump-appointed candidates did not really win as much as some pundits would have imagined or Trump supporters would have imagined, a certain reason why that may be the case could be although, I mean, I don't have an opinion here, the fact is that people are so traumatized with the cost of living crisis, with inflation, with war, with pandemic, etc. That's while they may not really be too happy with the Democrats, in this paralysis, they just cannot do, they move on to another alternative, because if you're traumatized and paralyzed, you don't have the courage to think of an alternative. 

Umut Korkut  37:01

So my D.Rad colleague, Emilia Palonen from the University of Helsinki, she organizes these populism conferences every year in Helsinki, and she invited me to give a keynote and I gave this keynote about the Hungarian elections and why Hungarian elections did not lead to a change in power. And on top of everything, Orbán being elected with two thirds majority, with the sense that the Hungarian electorate had been traumatized to war and the cost of living crisis, etc. And then that put them in the paralysis that they could not even dare or have the courage to think about an alternative. 

Umut Korkut  37:36

So at the moment, I think the Democrats, they seem to have been lucky because while people are paralyzed, and while people cannot really bear to imagine an alternative that gives some sort of space for Democrats in order to perhaps talk better about their policies and reach out to electorates, etc, in various parts of the country. And I've been watching TV since I came to America, obviously, it seems like. For example, a newly elected person, Gabe Vasquez in New Mexico, I mean, he made it in a constituency which voted for the Republicans thus far, and he was very proud. So I think still the Democrats, they have the benefit of doubt, in the sense that they can still reach out to the electorate, while the electorate is in certain paralysis in the aftermath of all these big crises. And in the next two years, probably the electorate gave them the benefit of doubt, rather than shifting drastically to Trump camp. And I don't think that this will always be the case, in directions to come.

John Torpey  38:42

So one last question, which has to do with your country of origin. And as I've mentioned previously, I actually had the opportunity to teach there, in fact, at Boğaziçi, now almost 25 years ago, and it's a fascinating place that has been, I think, sort of utterly transformed since I was there (I mean, it's a quarter of a century in the meantime), but. And it might be characterized, Mr. Erdoğan's politics might be characterized as a kind of Islamic populism, you might say. I mean, a kind of reversal of the Kemalist orthodoxy if you like. And as sort of an attack on a kind of power base that came out of sort of overruling Kemalism. So I wonder, elections are coming up in the coming year, he seems to be facing rather difficult circumstances economically, but he's kind of made a place for himself in supporting negotiations, or at least talks, between the Russians, Ukrainians, United States, etc., Europeans in Istanbul and I mean, how do you see things playing out for Mr. Erdoğan and Islamic populism in Turkey in the next little while? 

Umut Korkut  38:56

It's a good question again, thank you. So the situation, whenever I talk about Turkish politics, I always reflect on Hungarian politics because that had been my education. The situation is not too different, unfortunately, and maybe fortunately, to what the Hungarian opposition had gone through because the Hungarian opposition is similar to Turkey's opposition right now. They brought together a coalition of various opposition parties, and then they appointed a leader who will look to be a moderate and will look to be well received, etc. 

Umut Korkut  40:38

So unfortunately, though, they could not really consolidate themselves against a years-long serving political leader. In the case of Hungary it was Orbán; in the case of Turkey it's Erdoğan, and they lost big time. Now, the Turkish six-party kind of opposition coalition is composed of the Republican People's Party, that is, as you said, it's the Kemalist Party, the centrist party that was the founding stone of the Turkish Republic, which is going to celebrate its 100th anniversary next year, and then various other dissenters from the Erdoğan party, as well as a big kind of nationalist party now, and they still couldn't even utter the name of who's going to compete against Erdoğan. 

Umut Korkut  41:33

And the Turkish elections are going to be probably next year in June, at the latest next autumn. And then, still, while there are some rumors, beliefs that the leader of Republican People's Party could be the next person to run against Erdoğan, it is still not settled. And then beyond their various discussions on who's going to be the opposition candidate for presidency, we don't know anything about what they're saying on other things. It could be that maybe they're saying it, but Turkish media is very much controlled by the ruling party and we don't really hear too much about these things. 

Umut Korkut  42:13

So politics has also become a competition of personalities. So in a way, they are telling us that they're going to have Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who's going to be the next rival to Erdoğan. And Kılıçdaroğlu has been in politics for decades now, and he never really won in any election against Erdoğan. When you when you bring this to the electorate, what you have is that a better mode like the AKP, which has been in power for so many decades, and then it has it all functionaries of the political party, and was recently a six-party coalition, which always faces issues, as they did in Hungary as well, because when it comes to campaigning, because it is very, very difficult to have one single voice if there are six different political parties. You started to confuse the electorate. 

Umut Korkut  43:12

So when you compare the visibility during the campaign period of a coalition of six parties, vis-a-vis the AKP party which has been in power in Turkey for the last two decades, and you compare the activity structure that they can organize in terms of reaching out to the electorate. In one case, you have six different parties who are trying to give like one one image, who are trying to consolidate one voice on the one hand, you have no AKP, which has been in power, it simply has invaded the Turkish state, and using the all functionaries of Turkish state and being in power for so many decades, it just becomes extremely difficult to run the campaign in order to win against the political party that has been in power for such a long time. 

Umut Korkut  44:10

And the other thing, once again, I come back to what I was saying about the benefit of the doubt, of the trauma, the perils, etc, when people are traumatized once again, I think that you also become paralyzed and you just lose the possibility to think that things could be any different things, could be better or you may have a different leader etc. So these are all stumbling blocks in front of the Turkish opposition at the moment. 

Umut Korkut  44:40

Having said that, Turkish opposition has succeeded in capturing the mayor, mayor's seat in Istanbul, the mayor's seat in Ankara it's called. The victory in Istanbul has been extraordinary in that the opposition has a very charismatic leader, someone who can talk to all kinds of political factions, all kinds of political beliefs, etc. And Ekrem İmamoğlu won in the municipal elections in 2008. I mean, Istanbul is a huge city. And as Erdoğan has said all throughout the years, whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey as well, and the opposition managed that. 

Umut Korkut  45:24

So I don't ever want to underestimate the resilience of Turkish democracy because Turkey has been a democracy since end of the Second World War, despite there is the ruptures, fractions, etc., to do with the military coup and to do with various political leaders that somehow questioned the strength of Turkish democracy, Turkish democracy has stayed. 

Umut Korkut  45:52

So there's a certain resilience in terms of how active the voters can become, how democratically guided the Turkish electorate is and that that kind of resilience can bring change. And you didn't have that kind of resonance in Hungary, for example, because in the case of Hungary, although, according to the Freedom House index, Hungary would have been a more consolidated democracy than Turkey, Hungary is in the European Union, etc. The history of democracy in Hungary is much shorter. So I suppose that kind of resilience and the length of democracy in Turkey could perhaps create the momentum in order to change the tide against Erdoğan and in order to replace him with the opposition candidate. So I don't want to be too pessimistic when I talk about the six party coalition, because I believe in the resilience of Turkish democracy and democratic credentials of the Turkish public when it comes to voting.

John Torpey  46:54

Very interesting. Well, and the Turkish-Hungarian comparison is also, I think, extremely intriguing and worth thinking about, but that's going to have to do it for us today. I want to thank Umut Korkut for sharing his expertise on populism and far right parties in contemporary Europe. 

John Torpey  47:13

Look for us on the New Books Network and remember to subscribe and rate International Horizons on Spotify and Apple podcasts. I want to thank Oswaldo Mena Aguilar for his technical assistance and to acknowledge Duncan Mackay for sharing his song "International Horizons" as the theme music for the show. This is John Torpey, saying, thanks for joining us, and we look forward to having you with us for the next episode of International Horizons.