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THE SPECTER OF POPULISM

DOCUMENTARY   |   52 min.   |   2023

Populism has become one of the most debated political terms of the last decade. Beginning with the financial crash of 2008 we saw a steady increase in what many scholars called populist movements. In 2020 the populist campaigns of yesteryear have become the political reality of today. But to what effect? The Modi government, for example, has successfully tied Indian citizenship to the Hindu religion, Trumpian Republicans are openly kindling racial tensions in the US, and in Brazil Bolsonaro’s anti-science stance has led to a disastrous increase of Covid-19 cases. On the other hand, the politics of these and similar governments have sparked unlikely alliances of people from all backgrounds fighting against oppression. The Black Lives Matter movement, for example, unified a large variety of people to fight systemic racism. We are witnessing similar movements in France, Serbia, Israel, and Hong Kong.

In the light of these developments, should we still speak of populism as a political zeitgeist (Mudde and Kaltwasser 2012)? Or, would it be better to analyze current populists in power such as Bolsonaro, Duterte, Imran Khan, Modi, Netanyahu, or Trump by adopting some elements from theories of fascism? Should the masses of people taking to the streets in the US, in Serbia, or Hong Kong to protest against structures of oppression (even amid a global pandemic) be labeled as populist uprisings? In other words, is populism a reaction to democracy’s broken promises (Jörke and Selk, 2017), a threat to democracy (Müller 2016), or, a revitalization of the democratic process (Mouffe 2005, 2013)? Is populism supporting xenophobic politics, or is it, in fact, inherent in each political mobilization that invokes the will of ‘the people’ (Laclau 2007)?

With the help of experts from fields such as Political Sciences, Philosophy, Anthropology, and History this documentary film will shine a spotlight on the complex theories of populist politics and their significance for our current political nexus.

This film features interviews with Jodi Dean, Faisal Devji, Oliver Marchart, William Mazzarella, Chantal Mouffe, Kolja Möller, and Jan-Werner Müller

In co-production with: