Anti-populism and “normality: from Greece to Chile

Curiously enough, the discursive repertoire of normality re-appeared in the discourse of SYRIZA, especially after the SYRIZA-ANEL government (2015-2019) signed a new agreement with the EU institutions. The recent electoral win of New Democracy in July was praised by politicians and opinion-makers once again as a step towards the desirable “return to normality”. The signifier of normality acquired in the above mentioned three periods, different content and various (political, economic, cultural and aesthetic) connotations.

Τhe Greek crisis was discursively constructed not only as an economic one but also as a moral and a cultural crisis. Schematically, the crisis was a result of Greece’s abnormality, of a multilayered economic, political, cultural failure and the main source of this abnormality was populism; populism as a political practice and populism as a generalized political culture that is supposedly dominant in Greece. Consequently, populism emerged in mainstream discourse as the condensation of everything pathological in Greek politics: irresponsibility, demagogy, immorality, corruption, irrationalism, statism.

Noticing the common patterns of mainstream political discourse in Greece and Chile, it is worthwhile to reflect upon the emergence of both anti-populist discourse and the signifier of “normality” in the two countries and to enrich, through this comparative look, our understanding of the populism/anti-populism cleavage and the discursive uses of “normal” in politics.

Indeed, the two cases are not identical but they present significant analogies. The comparative approach between Greece and Latin American countries, strange as it may seem, is a totally legitimate approach. As Nicos Mouzelis has shown in his Politics in the semi-periphery (1986): “Despite the geographical distance and the obvious differences in cultural and historical backgrounds, Greece and (to a lesser extent) the major northern Balkan societies before their post-war collectivisation show marked and significant similarities with the ‘advanced’ countries of Latin America’s southern cone”. Far more interesting for the purpose of this article is that Mouzelis chose to focus on three societies of the “parliamentary semi-periphery” as he called them: Greece, Argentina, and Chile.

A crisis event can lead to the dislocation of the social space, to the dismantling of previously established social and political identities, to the disruption of the previously hegemonic order. Amidst a dislocated social space conflicting narratives enter the public sphere trying to make sense of the crisis and propose possible solutions, new social identities, and collective political subjects are formulated and invade the political arena. This is a crucial precondition for the emergence of a successful populist mobilization.

Populism, understood as a political logic that aims to disrupt the established norm, provokes an anti-populist reaction that promotes its own crisis narrative, usually blaming populism itself for the crisis. This is particularly obvious in countries with a strong populist background as Greece and Chile.

Faced with the populist challenge, faced with a disruption of the order, the establishment resort in an anti-populist crusade, trying to defend the settled norms or even pre-empt their contestation by naturalizing them. Therefore, anti-populism should be understood as a particular political logic that aims to defend and reproduce the established order by discrediting the demands formulated in the name of “the people”. The ultimate aim of the anti-populist political logic is the defense of order, the preservation of the status quo and the normal, uninterrupted reproduction of establishment.

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