An intriguing question pops up in my email inbox. Can I think of two or three examples of parties in CEE that might plausibly resemble the ‘radical right wing populists’ (as opposed to old-style neo-fascist or integral-national extreme right) that have had a star billing in West European comparative politics for the last two or three decades? In truth I can’t. Plenty of successors to blood and soil national traditions, now somewhat tamed by post-1989 realities of liberal democracy and European integration – and yes, bucketsloads of economic populism some styling itself right (Hungary’s Fidesz), some left (Slovakia’s Smer) and some just down-the-line militantly anti-establishment (Poland’s Self-Defence) but even allowing for the rather flexible nature of the ‘radical right populist’ label and similar categories in Western European political science, the honest answer is that there really aren’t (m)any.
The political trajectories/opportunity structures of the two regions are just too different- national and historic minorities rather than multi-ethnic/multi-cultural societies resulting from migration are the key target and preoccupation in CEE. And, to take up the analytical framework of Herbert Kitschelt, any putative Western style radical-populist right in CEE lacks a libertarian-left against which to react (important post-1989 tendencies towards social liberalization, notwithstanding. True n some countries (Hungary, Poland) there a sort of revived historic conservative/national/Christian vs. liberal divide).
The best approximation I can think of is the Czech Republicans – in parliament 1992-8, now defunct – who had no close ties to the historic far right and were a recognizably welfare chauvinist party with an albeit with a dose of paranoid anti-communism thrown in. The party had electorate of young working class ‘transition losers’ in declining industrial regions They loosely identified with the Western radical right (logo borrowed from the German Republicans, contacts with French FN), but on the other hand were anti-German and anti-Romany in the best old style nationalist traditions. Led by the erratic Dr Sládek, who lacked the polish and political nous to build on his 1992 breakthrough and ran the party has a personal fiefdom of cronies, relatives and hangers, the party was blown away by the resurgent Czech Social Democrats, who do a more respectable (non-racist) form of economic populism, in 1998. There is a useful little article on the Republicans in Czech Sociological Review online here.
Since the late 1990s, the fragmented and marginalized Czech far right has been trying to come up with a more sophisticated form of the same formula. The most media savvy of the various groupuscules seems to be the National Party (Národní strana),
which rather unusually for CEE is led by a woman, Petra Edelmannová. However, in the run up to the 2006 elections, the Czech far-right’s ambitions were limited to crossing the 2% barrier needed for state funding and the proposed National Forces coalition collapsed before it had even got off the ground.
In the longer term, I guess as CEE societies move closer to the West European ‘model’, – and relatively successful transformers like the Czech Republic should do so quickest – one might see the emergence of Western-style radical right parties if and when parties drawing on historic extreme nationalism flounder, that is. My guess though is that where exist they will not and will merely adapt fusing old Hungarian Justice and Life Party style sub-cultural anti-Semitic nationalism with something in the vein of Gianfranco Fini, Pim Forteyn or the Scandinavian Progress Parties.