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Populist Parties and the Failure of the Political Elites

The Rise of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ)


Göran Adamson

The author analyses the reasons behind the electoral success of European right-wing populist parties. Using the Austrian Freedom Party under Jörg Haider as a case study and with a richness of primary material, he argues that their success is only partly caused by «racism». It is also, and more prominently, the result of populism – i.e. a critique of the «elite». These parties and their voters should not, then, be labelled as arrogant insiders attacking downtrodden outsiders like immigrants, workers, and minorities. Instead, the right-wingers are more justly portrayed as outsiders and underdogs, raising their anger and frustration against the insiders: the «media elite» and the «leftists and the artists».
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Author’s Preface: What’s wrong with the people?


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Author’s Preface What’s wrong with the people?

Modern history is constantly unfolding. Since the publication of my Ph.D. in 2010 – The Spectre of Austria – Reappraising the rise of the Freedom Party between 1986 and 2000, the European right-wing landscape is no longer the same (Adamson, 2010). Marine Le Pen took over Front National from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, trying effortlessly to give the party a more polished look. The Anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) made significant breakthroughs – both in local election and in the EU election, raising concern that England might in fact leave the European Union. Under the leadership of Heinz-Christian Strache, the Austrian Freedom Party has radicalized, while retaining a stable support of around twenty per cent. In the 2010 National election, the Sweden Democrats were only supported by 5.7 per cent of votes cast. In a survey on November 13th 2015, it recieved 26.8 per cent – the biggest party with a margin. In mainstream media, few seem interested in the fact that the Swedish political landscape has changed. Outside party politics, things were as dramatic. Only 2015 saw an attack against Charlie Hebdo by Islamists, killing 12 people; a terrorist attack in Copenhagen; a terrorist attack against a Russian Airlines over Egypt resulting in 224 lives lost, followed by a terrorist attack in Beirut, killing around forty people – all taking place against the backdrop of a serious European refugee crisis caused by the IS-terror in Syria.

In academia, these...

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