Populist Parties in Eastern and South-East Europe.

Case Studies: Bulgaria and Romania



LUMINA – The University of South-East Europe


Abstract: In the following article we make an analysis of populism in South-East Europe, taking Bulgaria and Romania as examples. In this regard, we present arguments in favour of the idea that the populist phenomenon has grown in the two countries, as observed by other researchers, with the difference that in the case of Bulgaria populist parties had already reached power in 2001, whereas in Romania, they had not reached the same level of access by then. Simultaneously, we account for the correlations between decreasing participation in elections and the growing number of votes for populist parties in the two countries in the framework of the severe economic crisis of the last decade. Finally, the article intends to clarify several aspects regarding forced classifications of parties in the South-East Europe area in general and in the two studied countries specifically, by certain researchers who are themselves involved in ideological partisan disputes on one side or the other of the political environment in the area. The article draws several basic conclusions and makes some proposals for diminishing the populist phenomenon among political parties in South-East Europe in the present and in the possible future.


Keywords: populism, populist political parties, people versus political elites, soft populism and hard populism.


Motto: “Sir, our Lord is the People:box populi, box dei! We have no other faith, no other hope than the people. We have no other policy than the sovereignty of the people; that is why in our political struggle, we have said and will repeat continuously to all citizens: ‘Either you all die, or we all are free!’”

(Rică Venturiano, main character in the play

“O noapte furtunoasă” (“Stormy Night”), by I.L. Caragiale





In the specialized literature, the populist phenomenon (originating from the Latin “populus” -  people) is ambiguous: some consider it a political doctrine, others, only as strategy or political style (for speeches) used by certain leaders who attack the existing multi-party political establishment (including the democratic system), others consider it only a socio-political movement with historical and cultural roots (some such movements reject democracy, others cultivate it and yet others ignore it)[1], and others see it as a meta-doctrine which acts as a parasite for classic doctrines.

The most invoked definition of populism as a form of democracy is the one given by Cas Muddle: “An ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, “the pure people” versus “the corrupt elite”, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the people”.

A more concise definition of populism as a socio-political movement employed by several researchers in the field investigated here is given by Robert R. Bar: “A mass movement led by an outsider or maverick seeking to gain or maintain power by using anti-establishment appeals and plebiscitarian linkages”[2].

Interpreting a famous Marxist expression, researchers Ghita Ionescu and Ernest Ghelner said: “A spectre is haunting the world: populism”. The two authors were referencing a different post-communist ideological behaviour of certain parties in Eastern Europe[3].

Isaiah Berlin speaks of a “Cinderella Complex”: “there is a shoe in shape of populism, but no foot that will fit into”[4].

The separation that populist parties make is between “we, the party that represents the people” versus “they, the other parties and representatives of those who are the enemies of the people”.

Usually, in political programs and speeches “the people” does not represent all citizens on a given territory but rather a selected part of them who support the acts of the proponents (specifically “those above” through corrupt governance and seeking riches through the results of “those below”). Additionally, there is also a “governance populism” and a “neo-populism”, but even these have confusing connotations in terms of terminology and organizational policy practice in the political speeches of those who employ it.

In short, at the political party level, populism is manifested as a defender of “the exploited people” against the “exploiting elite”. Regarded as such, populist parties can join – or are associated by others – various ideologies, left (communists, socialists, ecologists) but also of the right (nationalists, extremists).

Populism is then associated with charismatic political figures who appeal to the afore-mentioned antagonistic relationship. These figures can exist outside of populist parties, also being a part of different types of neo-populist parties (and as an effect, tend to be transformed or classified as such), or in other positions of power such as “presidential populism”[5]. But the reverse can also be true, in the sense that a certain populist leader determines the classification or perception of the entire party he/she leads as being populist: as was the case of the Labour Party in Great Britain under Tony Blair, Forza Italia under Silvio Berlusconi, United Russia under Putin[6].

In South-East Europe, the populist phenomenon has surpassed its post-modern phase (neo-populism) and is in full ascension, especially following the structural crisis that the countries in this region have undergone in the period following 2008 and up to the present. It has deeper roots, not only in the form of communism which has been endured more or less voluntarily but also with origins from the remote past (especially the Russian version which had a great influence in the region). Therefore, nowadays there is no South-East European version of populism, but rather a classification of what specialists refer to as “neo-populism”.



Slogans from the pre-capitalist period which sound like “we are the country” or “the country is the people not the prey of robbers” and the type of direct political communication of the communist period such as the “man to man work” (through “worker cells” from factories coordinated by the communist nomenclature which alternately served the “working class” interests or the “entire people”[7]), have represented very effective forms for manipulating the masses, being imprinted into the mass mentality specific to post-communism. Fortunately, such forms of non-democratic, manipulative communication efforts have diminished gradually in the countries of South-East Europe, however some of them have yet not been replaced with convincing democratic forms, promoted by real democratic parties, but rather by a “fake democracy” with parties without an ideological identity, with populist leaders, with or without parties to support them in the post-communist period.

The causes of the current expansion of populism (associated with left or right extremism) in South-East Europe have been examined especially in the last few years. Characterized by financial crises, these causes determine other phenomena, such as emigration from the East to the West, favourable to the ascension and even generalization of the populist phenomenon.

As such, Vladimir Tismăneanu observes that the post-communist man is rather a demagogue and a populist, who does not assume risks and responsibilities, simply refusing pluralist values out of a lack of political culture[8]. Jiri Melich considers that the legacy of communism resides in intolerance and hypocrisy, in the need of “the powerful state” having authoritarian behavioural rules in society[9]. Nationalist-communism has transformed itself rather quickly in national-populism. Ion Iliescu declared that Romania switched quickly from the indignation that “Ceausescu betrayed the noble ideals of communism” to “the opposition is trying to undermine the sovereignty of the people”.

A general cause of the ascension of populism is represented by ignorance as to current party ideologies or in other words their transformation into catch-all-parties which has led to a type of neo-populist catch-all-parties. Such is also the case of Romania where “it is impossible to identify any difference between ideologies or policies of major parties”[10]. It is also noteworthy the direct connection between the success of certain personalized parties and those derived from television shows on one hand and the populist ones on the other – the People’s PartyDan Diaconescu (PPDD) being such a case: personalized, highly televised (by proprietary television channel DDD TV) and populist[11].

Ex European deputy Adrian Severin will dissociate the populism in the entire area of South East-Europe from several existing myths in the area, more specifically: populism works hand in hand with a lack of education, with poverty, with aged populations (in the sense that young people are less vulnerable to populist messages), with nationalism or with extremism. In reality, the author demonstrates that there are populists with higher education, rich, young, non-nationalist and non-extremist. The conclusion of the author (himself a corrupt populist) is that the moral decline and lack of social cohesion would be the only causes that lead to corruption, this being at the origin of populism throughout South-East Europe[12], which is only a partial explanation of the particular populism in this area.

Andrej Skolkay (in the case of Slovakia)[13], Jacek Kucharczyk and Olga Wysocka (in the case of Poland) see even the existence of certain “sub-styles” of populism in their countries, in the sense that each country in this region has had a different experience of post-communism, although all have been confronted with the lack of a middle class and have favoured a small group of very rich people, a fact  which has led to a rapid break between the great mass of those impoverished and those few people who have become rich through questionable and fishy means, in most cases with the help of political decision-makers.

For numerous other specialists in the field, there are different “sub-styles”, such as: economic populism; radical anti-communism; anti-modern and “identity”, anti-corruption, agrarian populism, xenophobe, inclusive and exclusive[14].

There are also correlations between populism and economic development to be taken into account, with media implications favouring populists and the economic crisis, electoral laws, the role of parties and charismatic leaders in the life of South-East European society.

The primary causality of neo-populism in South-East Europe is represented especially by poor governance and generalized political corruption among a small number of party leaders who rotate to power, regardless of the organizations they represent (eventually migrating from one to another) and who have already been a part of the government versus the need for quality of life of the masses, of the impoverished population who feel marginalized. These are real phenomena which have imposed, even before the crises, the anti-elitist impersonal or tailored discourse, including in Central Europe[15].

Finally, there are also studies that find positive aspects in the existence of populism inasmuch as it provokes parties in the area to speed up the rhythm of authentic democracy, previously almost inexistent here, which is why populism is to grow among the population rather than sentiments related to the fear of lack of democracy (a-democracy), for which one must fight, rather than the fear of existing democracy as a danger (anti-populism versus democracy, so populism is perceived as being antidemocratic)[16].

In this case, populist parties should contribute to decentralize old party structures along the 20+ years in South-East Europe (see Annex 3 with the virtues and vices of populism). Ivan Krastev too shares the same opinion: “Populist parties are anti-liberal but not anti-democratic[17].

However, popular masses continue to invade the streets of capitals in South-East Europe under the leadership of new populists who speak in the name of liberty (such as in the case of ex-bodyguard Boyko Borisov in Bulgaria, who subsequently became a prime-minister or more recently, world boxing champion, Vitali Klitschko in Ukraine, who even agreed to appeal to paramilitary organizations so that he might participate in presidential elections after the “dictator” is removed). Therefore, popular masses do not seem to be happy with their quality of “agitated consumers, seeking a stock clearing sale”, as Krastev believes but instead are moving to direct action, simply ignoring parties, be they populist and occupying central zones of cities or entire countries.

Also of note here are the forced classifications of the so called impartial researchers of the populist phenomenon. Perhaps the most obvious example of classifying through publications (under the pretence of scientific study) certain parties in Romania and Hungary as populist is that of Michael Shafir who claims no more and no less that he does impartial political science from the position of a social-democrat[18].

In such a situation, which implied media scandals as the one related to the “Marga – Anti-Basescu case” of 2012, positioning himself against Basescu, Shafir categorizes parties from the conservative right, such as PDL (Romania) and Fidesz (Hungary), as being populists, just because these parties are or have been founded or led by a populist president, such as Traian Basescu, or a prime minister, such as Victor Orban respectively[19].

Michael Shafir is not the only case in Eastern Europe to preferentially classify certain parties as populist. Most political analysts in Romania and South-East Europe (be they political scientists, sociologists, engineers or journalists without studies in the field) declare themselves impartial despite the fact that their political analyses related to the populist phenomenon in political parties scale on the side of the parties they serve and are employed or receive a pay check from.


In the following pages we shall refer to two examples of populism in South-East European countries, also studied by other political science researchers, specifically, Bulgaria and Romania.

In both countries, the initial phase of populism manifested through a “declarative war” between the representative political organizations of the countries, namely between socialist parties (ex-communist) on the one hand and those declared as being anti-communist on the other (left-oriented parties, especially the Socialist Party in Bulgaria and FSN-FDSN-PDSR – today the Social Democratic Party, PSD in Romania – versus the right-oriented parties, mainly the liberals and conservatives). The former declared themselves as being anti-elitist (employing a part of the discourse of communists regarding “the working class”), while the others pretended to be the spokespersons of the millions of martyrs who opposed the rise of communism in their countries.

Populism entered a new phase and developed especially after all the “coalition between enemies” experiments had taken place. For example, in Bulgaria, The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MDL, liberals representing the martyrs of the Turkish ethnicity) always blamed the “communists in disguise as socialists”, therefore forming a coalition only with anti-communists from the right oriented parties only to later form a coalition with the “enemy” (first with the socialists and later with the “royal cabinet”) in 2001 and again with the socialists in 2013). Moreover, the socialists also experimented, during Prime Minister Stanisev’s term in 2005, a greater coalition with the liberals of the “Simeon the 2nd” National Movement and the liberals of MDL.

In Romania, the citizens have witnessed all possible combinations of “adversaries” who have fought ceaselessly after 1990: a). Partidul Naţional Liberal (National Liberal Party – PNL) with Partidul Democrat (Democratic Party – PD), Partidul Umanist Român (Romanian Humanist Party – PUR) and Uniunea Democrată a Maghiarilor din România (Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania – UDMR) (under the first Tariceanu cabinet in 2004); b). between PSD and Partidul Democrat Liberal (PDL) and Partidul Conservator (Conservative Party – the former PUR) (under the first Boc cabinet in 2008); c). between PSD, PNL, PC and then with UDMR (in 2012 and 2014 respectively). Each time, after having broken the coalition, these representative parties accused each other of the worst offenses, exposing corruption and undermining political life in their countries.

3.1. Bulgaria


Svetoslav Malinov marks the debut of populism in Bulgaria immediately after the country won her independence in 1879 with the discourse of Petko Slaveyekov (1827-1895), a strong opponent of the new constitution of that time, considered as conservative and through which a “barrier between the government and the people” would be instituted[20].

Current populism debuted in 2001, with the creation of the party of the ex-king Simeon the 2nd, a vehicle through which he would speak of the need for unification of the Bulgarian people.

Researchers Blagovesta Cholova and Jean-Michel De Waele use an “analysis matrix” imported from Richard Barr (see the aforementioned paper), according to which there are 3 differentiating elements between populist and non-populist parties in all South-East Europe, as follows: Location (the former are newcomers to the political scene, the latter are well structured either of the left or right which have ensured their political establishment); Linkages (the former are of a plebiscitarian linkage, not having solid institutionalized structures in the country, whereas the latter have these structures and therefore are of a client nature; Appeals(the former always mention the people in their discourse, which are presented in opposition to the elites, which are accused of representing the parties that have been at least once in power at the time of their establishment[21].

Applying this model, the authors identify 4 populist parties in Bulgaria: 1. “Movement Simeon the Second” – NMSS; 2. “Ataka”, after 2001 and more recently 3. “Order Law & Justice” (OLJ) and 4. GERB (Citizens for a European Development of Bulgaria).

Professor Daniel Smilov, of the Sofia University, considers that there are 3 waves of populism in Bulgaria: the first wave was in 2001 – represented by the return of king Simeon the 2nd in the country; the second wave was “the Ataka shock”, of the renowned extremist party; the third wave was in 2007 – represented by the new populist wave of the GERB party and the personality of its leader, Boyko Borisov, mayor of Sofia and then prime minister[22].

Other studies confirm the fact that in post-communist Bulgaria, there have been at least 2 stages of populism[23]: Stage 1Ephemeral populism (1989-2001), voiced by the businessman Gheorghi Ganchev, of the small party Bulgarian Business Block (BBB), who attacked the post-1989 parties which were branded as corrupt and disconnected from the people; Stage 2 – Populism in power (starting with 2001), represented by king-prime minister Simeon the 2nd and through his personalized party NMSS but also other “pretenders” to the status of populists such as extremist Volen Siderov from Ataka or Iana Ianev from Order Law & Justice (OLJ), as well as Boyko Borisov from GERB.

The electoral results after 1989 demonstrate the existence of these stages of populism proposed by researchers:


Table 1. Performance of populist political parties in Bulgaria after 1989



Participation in elections (%)

Results (%)























Total       28.62









Total        53.21









Voice of the People


Total          40.8

Source: Christiana CRISTOVA, “Populism: the Bulgarian Case”, Sociedade e cultura, Vol. 13, No. 2, Universidade Federal de Goiás Goiania, 2010, p. 228 [http://www.parliament.bg/bg/electionassembly] – accessed on 14 October 2013.

The smaller the participation in elections of citizens voting for traditional parties (which compose the political establishment), the more will be the votes for populist parties, thus increasing the risk for a real democracy in Bulgaria.

Figure 1. Correlation of results in general elections (parliamentary)

with votes given to populist parties in Bulgaria


Source:  [http://www.parliament.bg/bg/electionassembly] – accessed 14 October 2013.

3.2 Romania


If we take into account Giovanni Sartori’s ideas regarding “relevant parties”, namely that they can be regarded as such only if they affect the competition amongst parties and that the “ideological continuity of parties is a good predictor of governmental coalitions”[24] and considering that populism can be an ideology (of the centre or extremes), or if we use Richard Barr’s model used by the Bulgarian researchers, then we may say that Romania has not reached the second level of populism observed in Bulgaria (“populism in power”).

If we take into account the extremist populist parties, considered thus by specialists such as “Partidul România Mare” (PRM - Greater Romania Party), “Partidul Unităţii Naţionale Române” (PUNR – The National Romanian Unity Party) and “Partidul Socialist al Muncii” (The Socialist Labour Party – PSM), to which the recently created Partidul Poporului Dan Diaconescu (People’s Party Dan Diaconescu – PPDD) is added, all of these parties have not reached the level of governance parties in Romania (although the first two have participated to one of the PDSR governments but held insignificant functions of state secretary in the first Vacaroiu Government of 1992).

PPDD obtained in the last elections (9th Dec. 2012) 14% of the votes in the Chamber of Deputies (47 seats) and 14.58 % in the Senate (21 seats). However, out of the total of 68 MPs, the party  remained with only 22 deputies and 3 senators in February 2014[25].

In his discourses, Dan Diaconescu speaks of the “people’s dictatorship” versus the “elite”, of punishing the political class who have betrayed the people and judging the guilty of robbing the fortune of the people[26] (see also “the 20 points the People’s Party must impose upon coming to power”, in Annex 1.2.).

A politically reformed Romania with a ruined economy (the second poorest in the EU) but with a high degree of corruption (with 24 politicians and dignitaries in prison or under arrest and with 23 lawmen behind bars), has a small chance of diminishing populism during the next elections[27].

The diverse combinations between populist and extremist speeches (of the left or of the right-wing) of parties in post-communist Romania have gained throughout the transition to democracy unique undertones, especially during the economic and social crisis but also in radicalizing their own members in electoral campaigns with negative messages.

The president, Traian Basescu was often accused of populism through his public manifestations of counter-attacking the parties that demanded his resignation or suspension. The appeal to the people has brought him numerous supporters during his first 5 year mandate, but his image worsened during his second on account of the economic recession, a time when he was very active on the political stage.

However, as in the case of populist parties, presidential populism is rather “soft” (condemning only some aspects of the dysfunctional political environment through the exaggerated appeal to the people in an institutionalized framework). The rising extremism of the Attacka party cannot be found currently in Romania not even in the case of “Partidul Romania Mare”, which is politically decimated, including in terms of representation in the European Parliament.

The on-going decrease of trust in parties (Fig. 1) and political leaders, corroborated with the high level of corruption and poverty of the population have been key factors in the rise of populism in Romania and predictions are not optimistic in this respect, taking into account the continuing political crises determined by the endless conflicts between the president and the political leaders of the main 3 parties (PSD, PNL and PDL), on the one hand, and among these parties that cannot manage to build or especially effectively maintain governmental coalitions that can perform in governance.

The electoral results have constantly diminished in Romania, the loss of voters being greater than in the case of Bulgaria, though the results obtained by populist parties have been lower than in Bulgaria in the same electoral interval of 1989 up to today.

Table 2. Populist parties’ performance in Romania after 1989



Results (%)



7.7 (Chamber of Dep.); 8.1 (Senate)


3.9 (Ch. of Dep.); 3.9 (Senate)


3.0 (Ch. of Dep.); 3.2 (Senate)


14.6 (Ch. of Dep.); 15.2 (Senate)



4.5 (Ch. of Dep.); 4.5 (Senate)


4.4 (Ch. of Dep.); 4.2 (Senate)


8.9 (Ch. of Dep.); 8.7 (Senate)



19.5 (Ch. of Dep.); 21.0 (Senate)


1.5 (Ch. of Dep.); 1.4 (Senate)


21.0 (Ch. of Dep.); 22.4 (Senate)



13.0 (Ch. of Dep.); 13.6 (Senate)

Partidul Noua Generaţie – Creştin-Democrat (New Generation Party – Christian Democratic) – PNG-CD)

2.2 (Ch. of Dep.); 2.4 (Senate)


15.2 (Ch. of Dep.); 16.0 (Senate)



3.20 (Ch. of Dep.); 3.57 (Senate)


2.30 (Ch. of Dep.); 2.53 (Senate)


5.50 (Ch. of Dep.); 6.10 (Senate)



1.24 (Ch. of Dep.); 1.47 (Senate)


13.98 (Ch. of Dep.); 14.63 (Senate)


15.22 (Ch. of Dep.); 16.10 (Senate)

Source:  [http://www.roaep.ro/ro/], page consulted on 10.02. 2014.

Figure 2. Correlation of participation to vote of citizens after 1992

with votes for populist parties in Romania

Source:  [http://www.roaep.ro/ro/], page consulted on 10.02. 2014.

Note: The votes for populist parties were calculated as an average percentage taking into account the votes for the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

In any case, the latest results of the populists from the PPDD in Romania are smaller than half of those gained by GERB in Bulgaria which demonstrates that the magnitude of populism is itself approximate at the same comparative level.

Although ephemeral at the moment, populist parties in Bulgaria and Romania tend to multiply and obtain increasingly more support from confused, disappointed citizens, who are unhappy with the “fake democracy” in the two countries, and the hope in an increased quality of life as an effect of adhering to the EU through socio-economic and political integration can become in real life a chimera.


We support the conclusions of specialists in the field who have studied the phenomenon of populism in South-East Europe, especially in Bulgaria and Romania, conclusions which we shall present hereunder[28]:

ü  Populism is not synonymous with “radicalism” or “extremism” in the area but it is observed that there is a high potential for rapid association of these terms especially in times of socio-economic and political crisis (correlated also with the decrease of trust citizens have in parties and leaders “rotating” to power in the past 24 years of post-communism);

ü  There is a “soft” populism (condemning only certain aspects in a constitutional framework) and a “hard” populism (the threat of the entire constitutional framework); the former is more present in Romania (through PPDD and PRM, represented by journalists such as Dan Diaconescu and Corneliu Vadim Tudor) and the latter, more active in Bulgaria (through the extremist-photographer Volen Siderov on behalf of the Ataka party or through Iane Ianev from the “Order Law & Justice” party);

ü  Populism has grown massively after the adherence to the EU of South-East European countries (especially in Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus and Slovenia) as an effect of austerity policies in the period of economic crisis;

ü  The rise of populism was also due to the failure of a system of parties existing throughout the entire post-communist period reaching power in Bulgaria (after 2001), not the same though in Romania;

ü  Nationalist identity strategies are used by populists to increase their existing electorate, being also strengthened by the communist ideology which persists in the collective memory and especially in the old leaders now become “democrats”;

ü  Populism in South East Europe is mainly against new elites (those benefiting from the transition from the directed economy to the market economy, especially those who became rich through less than legal means) rather than against democracy itself;

ü  Populism focuses more on the media and pronounced political personalities in the area (and sometimes on issues of combating corruption and preserving an environment threatened by aging technologies);

ü  In South East Europe in general, but especially in the two analysed countries, populism continues to worry civil society, as well as the political environment (parties with well institutionalized structures), the minimum requirement being the isolation of populist parties through a “security barrier” instituted by democratic parties.





1. Discourse and Populist Programs in Romania

1.1. The Populist Discourse of Corneliu Vadim Tudor (PRM)

During his mandate in the 2010 Congress, he threatened that: “It is high time I repeat something I have already said several times: thieves should not delude themselves, they will ALL go to prison! And in some cases they will go to prison in order to be protected from the anger of the crowd. And we shall confiscate their fortunes, both those in the country, as well as those beyond the borders. And we shall keep them with bread and water for several weeks, a few ex-Secret Service and ministry leaders, to tell us everyone’s bank accounts, including those opened on behalf of relatives, lovers and friends. And we shall discover where the 140 billion euros we borrowed are gone but also the almost 700 billion euros that should have been received through privatization” (http://www.prm.org.ro/node/8, accessed on November 15, 2010).

1.2. “The 20 points that the People’s Party must impose upon coming to power”, from the program documents of the PPDD (http://ppdd.ro/content/20-de-puncte-ale-partidului-poporului, accessed on January 20, 2014):

  1. 20.000 euros for each Romanian starting a business;
  2. Increase of all salaries and pensions;
  3. Cancelling all current taxes;
  4. Introduction of a single income and property tax;
  5. Confiscation of illegal assets obtained through business with the state;
  6. Trial by a People’s Tribunal of all members of government who have robbed Romania;
  7. Reduction of the VAT to a quota of 10% (minimum for the EU);
  8. Outlawing financial support for political parties;
  9. Elimination of salaries for MPs, Ministers, Prime Minister and President;
  10. Evacuation of dignitaries from the Parliament, Victoria (governmental) Palace and Cotroceni (presidential) Palace;
  11. Establishment of the national “People’s Fortune” company. The leader of this company will be elected directly by the people;
  12. “The people’s fortune” will distribute equal monthly dividends to all citizens;
  13. The state will purchase abandoned agricultural properties and invest massively in bio agriculture;
  14. Simple citizens will become jurors in courts along with judges;
  15. Introduction of material responsibility for judges and attorneys who make mistakes;
  16. Citizens will not pay credit to banks for 12 months;
  17. Interdiction of preventive arrests (and handcuffs) with the exception of violent acts;
  18. Companies will be audited only once every year;
  19. The state will build 200.000 homes which will be rented to the poor;
  20. Outlawing the radio-TVR tax.



2. Populist Parties in South-East Europe in Studies by Specialists


Table  3


Populist Parties

Style of communication, including in elections (f)

Muddle (a)

Attack (Bulgaria);

Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS, Greece);

PRM and PUNR (Romania);

Serbian Radical Party (SRS);

Croatian Democrat Union (HDZ, Croatia).

ü  Alarmists;

ü  Exclusivists;

ü  Demagogues;

ü  (Over)simplifiers;

ü  Taboo proponents;

ü  Ultimatists;

ü  Opportunists;

ü  With speeches such as: “people versus elites”, “friends versus enemies;

ü  Negative campaigns.

Anastasakis (b)

PUNR (Romania);

SRS (Serbian Radical Party (Serbia).

Halikiopoulou & Vasilopoulou;

Doxiadis & Matsaganis (c)

Golden Dawn (XA), Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) & LAOS (Greece);

National Popular Front (ELAM – Cyprus).

Stoica (d)

PRM, PNG-CD, PPDD (Romania)

Smilov (e)

Attack, NMSS and GERB (Bulgaria)


Sources: Cas MUDDLE, “In the Name of the Peasantry, the Proletariat, and the People: Populisms in Eastern Europe”, East European and Societies, Vol. 14, No. 2, 2000, pp. 33-53; Cas MUDDLE, “Who’s Afraid of the European Radical Right?”, Dissent, 2011, pp. 7-11; Cas MUDDLE, “Radical Right Parties in Europe: What, Who, Why?”, Participation ,Vol. 35, No. 1, 2011, pp. 12-15; Othon ANASTASAKIS, “Extreme Right in Europe: A Comparative Study of Recent Trends”, London School of Economics & Political Science, 2000 [http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/3326/1/Extreme_Right_in_Europe.pdf]; Daphne HALIKILOPOULU, Sofia VASILOUPOULU, The Rise of The Golden Dawn [http://bit.ly/1bWcSzW], p. 124; Aristos DOXIADIS,  Manos MATSAGANIS,  National Populism and Xenophobia in Greece, Open Society Foundation, 2012 [http://counterpoint.uk.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/507_CP_ RRadical_Greece_web-1.pdf]; Gheorghe Lencan STOICA, “Populism in Romania”, in Hedwig GIUSTO, David KITCHING,  Stefano RIZZO (eds.), The Changing Faces of Populism Systemic Challengers in Europe and the U.S., FEPS – Foundation for European Progressive Studies, Bruxelles, 2013, pp. 191-206;  Daniel SMILOV, “Populism of Fear: Eastern European Perspectives”, in Hedwig GIUSTO, David KITCHING, Stefano RIZZO (eds.), The Changing Faces…cit., pp. 227-254; Karsten GRABBOW, Florian HARTLEB, “Mapping – Present-day Right-wing Populists”, in K. GRAOW, F. HARTLEB (eds.), Exposing the Demogogues: Right Wing and National Populist Parties in Europe, The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Bruxelles, 2013, p. 21.


Table 4. Virtues and Vices of Populist Parties



Populisms de-consolidate sclerotic partisan loyalties and dissolve collusive party systems opening them up for the entry of new political formations

Populisms undermine existing party loyalties and stable choices between competing partisan programs without replacing them with alternative ones

Populisms recruit persons who were previously apathetic & passive citizens and mobilise them to participate in the electoral process

Populisms recruit ill-informed persons who do not have consistent preferences and who seek “emotional” rather than programmatic satisfactions from politics

Populisms by raising and combining disparate and/or ignored political issues encourage the articulation of suppressed cleavages and expectations

Populisms raise expectations that cannot be fulfilled and pursue policies than are incompatible, both of which produce negative externalities for everyone

Populisms challenge “accepted” external constraints and call into question existing and often exploitive dependencies upon foreign powers

Populisms use foreigners an foreign powers as scapegoats for their own failings and weaken external linkages necessary for national welfare and security

Populisms replace out-dated and formulaic party programs and ideologies and replace them with appeals based on the personality of the leaders

Populisms by shifting attention from issues and policies to persons and personalities introduce an erratic and opportunistic element into politics

Populisms exercise “decisionism” replacing policy immobilism and expand the range of “politically possible” solution to collective problems

Populisms may be more decisive, but their decisions can have ill-conceived and disrespectful and long term effects that are passed on to the later generations

Populisms need  continuous popular ratification and are eventually defeated at the polls, leaving in their place a reinvigorated party system

Populisms may be capable of altering the rules and/or of gaining the support of military and security forces such that they cannot be peacefully remover from the power

Source: Philippe C. SCHMITTER, “A Balance Sheet of the Vices and Virtues of ‘Populism’ ” (unpublished article), European University Institute, Firenze, 2006, p. 124.





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[1] Philippe C. SCHMITTER, A Balance Sheet of the Vices and Virtues of “Populism”, European University Institute and Central European University, 2006, p. 124.

[2]Robert R. BAR, “Populists, Outsiders and Anti-Establishment Politics”, Party Politics, Vol. 15, No. 1, 2009, p. 44.

[3]Sergiu GHERGHINA, Sorina SOARE, “Introducere: Populismul, concept sofisticat şi realităţi politice diverse”, in Sergiu GHERGHINA, Sergiu MIȘCOIU, Sorina SOARE (eds.), Populismul contemporan: Un concept controversat şi formele sale diverse, Institutul European, Iaşi, 2012, p. 5.

[4]Apud Ivan KRASTEV, “The Populist Moment, New Presence”, The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs, Vol. 11, No. 4, 2008, p. 43; Sergiu GHERGHINA, Sorina SOARE, “Introducere…cit”, p. 10.

[5] Terri BIMES, Quinn MULROY, “The Rise and Decline of Presidential Populism”, Studies in American Political Development, Vol. 18, 2004, pp. 136-159.

[6]Matthijs ROODUIJN, Teun PAUWELS, “Measuring Populism: Comparing Two Methods of Content Analysis”, West European Politics, Vol. 34, No. 6, 2011, pp. 1272-1283; Mara MORINI, “Populismul vechi şi nou în politica rusă”, in Sergiu GHERGHINA, Sergiu MIȘCOIU, Sorina SOARE (eds.), Populismul contemporan: Un concept controversat…cit., pp. 463-472.

[7] We offer a single example here, specifically a 62 page document encompassing the “22nd PCR Congress directives with regards to the development of Romania for the five year plan spanning 1981-1985 and the perspective orientations up to 1990”. Reading it indicates that 25 of the 62 pages (40.3%) invoke ‘the people’, and the ‘party’ is mentioned 5 times (Editura Politică Publishing House, 1979).

[8] Vladimir TISMĂNEANU, “The Leninist Debris or Waiting for Perón”, East European Politics and Societies, Vol. 10, No. 3, 1996, pp. 504-505.

[9] Jiri MELICH, “The Post-Communist Mind: Socio-Psychological and Cultural Aspects of the Communist Legacy and the Transformation Processes in Eastern Europe”, in Ševic ZELJIKO, Glendal WRIGHT (eds.), Transition in Central and Eastern Europe, YASF-Student Cultural Centre, Beograd, 1997, p. 21.

[10] Jean-Michel DE WAELE, “Faces of Populism in Central and Eastern Europe”, in H.  SWOBODA, J. WIERSMA (eds.), Democracy, Populism and Minority Rights [http://www.socialistsanddemocrats.eu/sites/default/files/2632_EN_democracy-populism_ANTILOPE_1.pdf], 2008, pp. 49-56.

[11] Sergiu GHERGHINA, Sorina SOARE, “From TV to Parliament: Populism & Communication in the Romanian 2012 Elections”, Paper prepared for delivery at the XXVII Congress of the Italian Society of Political Science, University of Florence, 12–14.09.2013 [http://www.sisp.it/files/papers/2013/sorina-soare-e-sergiu-gherghina-1507.pdf].

[12]Adrian SEVERIN, “Romania: The Transition from Democracy to Populism” [http://www.socialistsanddemocrats.eu/sites/ default/files/2632_endemocracy-populism _Antilope_1.pdf, 2008, pp. 101-110].

[13] Andrej SKOLKAY, “Populism in Central Eastern Europe,” IWM Working Paper, Wien, No. 1, 2000.

[14]Cas MUDDLE, Cristobal Rovira KALTWASSER, “Voices of the Peoples: Populism in Europe and Latin America Compared”,Working Paper, Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies, No. 378, 2011.

[15]Marian L. TUPY, “The Rise of Populist Parties in Central Europe: Big Government, Corruption, and the Threat to Liberalism”,  Development Policy Analysis, No. 1, The CATO Institute, Washington D.C., 2006.

[16]André GERRITS, “Democratic Regression, Rising Populism and the pitfalls of European Integration”, 2008, pp. 57-66 [http://www.socialistsanddemocrats.eu/sites/default/files/ 2632_ ENdemocracy-populism_ANTILOPE_1.pdf].

[17]Ivan KRASTEV, “The Strange Death of the Liberal Consensus”, 2008, pp. 67-76 [http://www.socialistsanddemocrats.eu/sites/default/ files/2632_endemocracy-populism _ANTILOPE_1.pdf].

[18]The author simply affirms his implied social-democratic affinity in overt accusations of populism addressed to ideological adversaries on the right, not extreme right from the two countries, of which one (Romania) is his adoptive country: “In the social sciences there is no gender, which is why you can never be neutral. The last impediment can be reduced (not eliminated!) only through a pre-emptive act of sincerity. I underline, as a result, that the perspective of my analysis reflects the values of social-democracy, which to my eyes include relative egalitarianism and (political) liberalism (Michael SHAFIR, “Neopopulismul sub semnul post-comunismului”, in Sergiu GHERGHINA, Sergiu MIȘCOIU, Sorina SOARE (eds.), Populismul contemporan…cit., p. 430”).

[19] Michael SHAFIR, “Neopopulismul sub semnul post-comunismului”, in Sergiu GHERGHINA, Sergiu MIȘCOIU, Sorina SOARE (eds.), Populismul contemporan…cit., pp. 401-444.

[20] Svetoslav MALINOV, “Radical Demophilia: Reflections on Bulgarian Populism”, Eurozine, 22.01.2008, available at [http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2008-01-22-malinov-en.html], accessed on 03 March 2014.

[21] BlagovestaCHOLOVA, Jean-Michel De WAELE, “Bulgaria: A Fertile Ground for Populism?”, Slovak Journal of Political Sciences, Vol. 11, No. 1, 2011, pp. 25-50.

[22]Daniel SMILOV, “The Rise of Populism in Bulgaria”, in G. MESEŽNIKOV, O. GVÁRFÁŠOVÁ, D. SMILOV (eds.), Populist Politics and Liberal Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe, Institute for Public Affairs, Bratislava, 2008, pp. 13-36.

[23]Christiana CRISTOVA, “Populism: the Bulgarian Case…cit.”, pp. 221-232; Igor NOVAKOVIČ, “’European’ and ‘Extreme’ Populists in The Same Row: The New Government of the Republic of Bulgaria”, Western Balkans Security Observer, Year 5, No. 17, 2010, pp. 63-76.

[24] Giovanni SARTORI, Partis et systèmes de partis, Bruxelles, Editions de l’Université de Bruxelles, Bruxelles, 2011, p. 429.

[25]Collected from [http://www.machiavelli.ro/stiri.php?art=53867], accessed  12 Feb. 2014.

[26]Valentin Quintus NICOLESCU, Sabina BASIUL, Dan DIACONESCU, “The Politics of Bread and Circuses”, Challenges of the Knowledge Society, Vol. 3, 2013, p. 1142.

[27] Sam CAGE, Luiza ILIE, “Populism takes spotlight in Romania power struggle”, Reuters, November 22, 2012. [http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/22/us-romania-politics-idUSBRE8AL0IN20121122] (accessed on 22 Feb. 2014).

[28]Daniel SMILOV, Ivan KRASTEV, “The Rise of Populism in Eastern Europe.  Policy Paper”, in G. MESEŽNIKOV, O.GVÁRFÁŠOVÁ, D. SMILOV, (eds.), Populist Politics and Liberal Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe, Bratislava, Institute for Public Affairs, 2008, pp. 7-12; Sergiu GHERGHINA, Sergiu MIȘCOIU, Sorina SOARE (eds.), Populismul contemporan…cit.