Social Division in Populism – Marta Kotwas & Jan Kubik

UCL School of Slavonic And East European Studies

“The key feature of any kind of populism is the idea that the society is divided into two sharply separated groups: ‘good people’ and ‘bad elites’. Both left and right-wing populists are anti-elite – the difference between them lies in whom they identify as the enemies of the people they claim to represent. For left-wing populists it is usually the governing elites alone who are responsible for the woes of the country. For right-wing populists the enemies are additionally identified as all types of ‘aliens’, for example migrants and racial, sexual, ethnic or religious minorities. When populists endorse nationalist ideology, as it is currently the case in Poland, the category of nation-ness gradually becomes the overarching identity trumping all other bonds and is used to discriminate between the friends and the foes.

We have asked ourselves the question: how do right-wing populists, particularly the more extreme groups, symbolically represent nation-ness and what are the consequences of such representations? Having analysed the visual language of the celebrations of the Polish National Independence Day (11 November), we conclude that this originally state-run holiday has been symbolically hijacked by the far right groups that are using it as the main vehicle of constructing and publicizing their identity. Their recent performances are symbolically aggressive and portray a narrow, exclusionary understanding of the Polish collective identity, contributing to the social polarization in Poland and bolstering the illiberal image of Poland abroad.”

– Marta Kotwas & Jan Kubik, UCL School of Slavonic And East European Studies