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The rise of right-wing populism has emerged as one of the most significant threats to democracy and liberal values worldwide. While populism is increasingly viewed as a global phenomenon, it takes on many forms and has different causes and consequences in diverse contexts. This presentation addresses the potential of populist civilizationalism to transform political cleavage structures in the Baltic states, notably by downplaying and transcending deeply entrenched post-Soviet political cleavages (geopolitical, mnemopolitical and ethnic ones). Construing ‘self’ and ‘other’ in civilizational, as opposed to narrowly national or ethnic terms, expands the notion of ‘self’ to include various internal others, notably Russian-speaking minorities, and shifts the focus from historical grievances, the Russian threat and the demographic legacies of Soviet occupation to alleged current threats to the European civilization, such as immigration, Islam, and global liberalism.
This transformation of cleavages entails a significant shift in the position assigned to the European Union: instead of being seen as the guarantor of the (post-Soviet) national ‘self,’ the EU is construed as a liberal globalist threat to the civilizational ‘self’. These claims are supported with examples of rhetoric used by the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE). This analysis leads to the conclusion that, paradoxically, the rise of right-wing populism has rendered Estonian politics more global and less post-Soviet.
Piret Ehin is Professor of Comparative Politics and Deputy Head for Research at the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, University of Tartu. Her main research interests include democracy, elections and voting behavior, legitimacy and political support, as well as European integration and Europeanization. Her work has appeared in the European Journal of Political Research, Journal of Common Market Studies, Cooperation and Conflict, Politics, Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, and the Journal of Baltic Studies. Prof Ehin has been awarded the 2022 Short-Term Research Fellowship at Stanford University for Estonian Scholars, hosted by Stanford University Libraries’ Baltic Studies Program and co-hosted by the Europe Center/Stanford Global Studies.
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This event is part of Global Conversations, a new series of talks, lectures, and seminars focusing on the benefits and fragility of freedom. The series is co-sponsored by Stanford Libraries and Vabamu.