Spotlight Populism: Stop Using the Word

Societies slide towards those who give simplistic explanations and promise easy solutions. Thoughts of a member of political party „To Potami“.

Europe in Greece: A man checks bags in a kiosk at a market area in Athens Foto: ap

Having lived my whole life in Greece and being a journalist for the last twenty years I think I am entitled to have an opinion on the issue of populism, as in my country we have blessed ourselves with certain unfortunate privileges

We have a government of both left- and right-wing populists. We have elected far-right MPs who have their bodies covered in nazi tattoos. We even have an active shady organization with 200 local offices in Greece, owned by someone arguing that he has 600bn euros available to payoff the Greek debt. Obviously the guy is penniless, but still, with two hundred offices all over Greece, he has enough power to be considered dangerous enough – a strange cult fugure.

In Greece, there is also an ever-evolving anti-european sentiment. Its advocates are trying to make people forget the positive impact the EU had on their lives. They claim that political isolationism and a national currency will solve all of our problems.

They all rely on dishonesty, deceitfulness and demagogy. They all try to offer magic solutions to those most in need. However, all of them have different ways to express themselves and eventually different agendas, which makes the threat they pose, an asymmetric one, difficult to deal with.

In December 2016 the European Academy Berlin invited 20 journalists from Southern Europe to visit Berlin. taz was part of their official tour programme. The meeting quickly turned into a talk about our shared need for international cooperation, aiming to find a media counterbalance to current crises in Europe. To start with, we decided on a question that concerns us all: How will we survive populism in Europe?

What I describe are all aspects and expressions of populism. Although the term has been used analytically in the past and is widely-used today, it doesn’t help the public debate much. In my view, it even causes mis-interpretations and deadends.

Today, populism cannot be defined with the tools political science and analysis used in the past. Today, the issues at hand are raised in a different way, so we need different and novel answers as well. Using the term “populism“ for any “easy solution“ is oversimplifying and not enough to explain our era. The very fact that our era is a critical one, makes analyses even more difficult, thus finding a solution is more difficult in itself. We cannot take explanations for granted. We live in an era of such great changes and technological advances, that we cannot even fully realise, let alone interpret.

Auf Einladung der Europäischen Akademie Berlin besuchten 20 JournalistInnen aus Südeuropa im Dezember 2016 Berlin und die taz. Schnell wurde deutlich, wie groß das gemeinsame Bedürfnis nach internationalen Kooperationen ist, einem Medien-Gegengewicht zu den aktuellen Krisen in Europa. Wir haben uns zum Auftakt für eine Frage entschieden, die uns alle gleichermaßen umtreibt: Wie überleben wir den Populismus in Europa?

So, unfortunately, societies slide towards those who give simplistic explanations and promise easy solutions. All in all, we are in a vicious circle: there is inability to comprehend, there is inability to explain and describe, and there is inability of the elites to confront populist interpretations that have the upper hand.

I am not optimistic and I do not have an optimistic message to share. The battle against anti-rationalism will be a long one. However, the first step we should take is stop using the word “populism“.

Christina Tachiaou lives in Thessaloniki, studied Law and since 2000 has been working as an editor, reporter, columnist and presenter of radio broadcastings in Greek media. She was elected Member of the Greek Parliament in January 2015 and served until September 2015 with the political party “To Potami“.

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