Archive | December, 2010

>Culturomics: Count me in

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‘Denocracy’: 1800 – 2000
Between  Christmas shopping and some intense research on interest groups and welfare institutions, courtesy of The Economist, I come across the excellent Culturomics site. The idea is simple: to track and visualize mention of keywords in the digitized Google books in any time period from 1800 collect using a simple trendline. Feeding in some political science keywords priducing some interesting, but not totally unexpected – and, in truth not totally meaningful – results. “Democracy” produces a wave pattern rquite eminiscient of Huntington’s Three Waves, although suprisingly there is no big upward spike around 1989. 
Marxism, at least as a keyword, is in decline from 1980s, perhaps reflecting a cultural-intellectual climate that passes through the collapse of communism but continues to our time: plenty of anti-capitalist around these days but fewer Marxists and revolutionary socialists, I suspect. ‘Communism’ has a similar profile, although, interestinglt, here it’s all down hill after around 1968.
‘Marxism’: 1800 – 2000
You can also compare trends: running Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky against each other (citation wise) yields a few mildly interesting patterns with Vladimir Iliich and Josif Vissonarovitch closely running in parallel, but with some curious point where gaps open up. Stalin, as you might expect, does better in 1930 and 40s. Trotsky, unsurprisingly, bringing up the rear, but with a steady growth of interest from 1960s.
‘Stalin’ (blue), Lenin (red) and Trotsky (green): 1920-2000
How good a research tool is this? Certainly an interesting way of brainstroming cultural trends and – with sone tweeking –  literature reviews, although too broad brush to rely on that much. And, of course, for cultural tool it is hopeless insensitive to culture or, to be more precise, to contingent historical meanings: ‘democracy’ or ‘communism’ does not mean the same thing to different writers and may refer to fundamentally different ideas in, say, 1860 and 1960s.
Also available in Russian, German and Spanish.

>Space for the Czech far right, if I’m not far wrong

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A few weeks before the Czech elections earlier this year, I was asked if I wanted to write a briefing on the electoral prospects of the Czech far-right – given the economic crisis, a risk consultancy  analyst wondered, they might (as in Hungary) be expected to make advances. ‘Fat chance’, I said, ‘the Czech far right has been dead for more than a decade’. And, for once, my  prediction was right. While the liberal anti-corruption part Public Affairs did surge unexpectedly into parliament, the far-right was nowhere with somewhat over one per cent of the vote, all told. True, the recently banned and quickly re-reformed Workers’ Party (DS), whose paramilitary style street parades and confrontations with Roma – and connections with  organized racist violence –  have attracted much local and international publicity did manage the best Czech far-right result in parliamentary elections for more than a decade and does seem to have pockets of support among. young people in technical colleges, school mock elections suggested.

But 1.14 per cent is hardly the stuff of headlines and pales into insignificance with the hundreds of thousands of votes the late, unloved Republicans, whom I blogged about in an earlier post  managed in the 1990s (peaking at 8 per cent) when they seem to a fixture on the parliamentary scene. However, the DS’s obvious extremism, which has put in very much under the beady eye of the Czech police and security services, and apparent preference for street politics would seem to rule out put something of an obstacle in the way of electoral growth. In comparative European perspective, as the CR is an oddity because of the weakness of the far right/radical right.

Efforts to formulate some kind of united front of the Czech far-right –  capable of crossing the 1.5% and 3.0% barriers for minimal levels of state funding of electoral and party expense – of the kind abortively tried in the run-up to 2006 election seems not to have been attempted before this years elections. And the National Party (NS), which seemed a few years ago to be re-inventing radical right-wing populism with a smidgen of sophistication (more educated leadership and female leader) since folded due to lack of votes, cash and not being able to do the neo-fascist bootboy stuff well enough even to maintain a sub-cultural following in the manner of the DS despite some pretty foul rhetoric towards the end of its days about deporting Roma to India and the ‘Final Solution of the Gypsy Quesiton’.
So can we rest easily in our beds knowing that, whatever they think, say  and do in private, Czechs will stay out of the embrace of the radical right, at least in the polling booth? Not entirely, if polling commissioned by the Czech Interior Ministry on racism, extremism and radicalism and the Czech public’s attitudes towards them  is to be believed. Although operating with some rather blunt conceptual tools (radicalism = anti-government/establishment; extremism = anti-system etc) the findings make interesting reading.

The Czech radical right sub-culture and its organizations are comparatively unremarkable and very consistent in their views: collectivist, anti-capitalist, socially authoritarian xenophobic, racist with an especial animus towards Roma and ethno-nationalist. Some 8% of the Czech population are found to broadly share such attitudes with (interestingly) around 3/4of those willing (in theory) to actively support far-right organizations (the rest would potentially just vote for them). This, the report concludes, suggest a potential electorate for a putative successful far-right party of 8% – the peak level of electoral support actually attained by the Republicans (in 1996). However,  I would tend to see this a far bigger potential electorate than the 8% reported in the Czech media, since we seem to be talking about those ideologically very much in tune with the far-right.

Protest voters, we might conjecture could boost the 8% figure significantly in the right circumstances and, as the report depressingly confirms, much of the Czech public shares the ‘anti-Gypsyism’ (anticikánismus) that is the stock in trade of many CEE radical right groups: measures of the ‘social distance’ of respondents from minority groups finds that a whopping 45% of respondents take the ‘I would remove them from the CR’ option when asked about Roma, the most radical of the various statements of feeling offered (and not necessarily an actual policy they support).
There are also some indications that, as well as lacking the organizational and financial wherewithal to (re-)impact national politics – the far-right has so far miscalculated its strategy. The potential far-right electorate, the poll finds, is spread out across the age range, but radical right organizations ‘ activities are focused on the young, who, it seems often engage with it for the excitement, entertainment, esprit de corps without really buying in to its politics very much. In regional terms, the traditional ‘problem regions’ of East and North Bohemia are joined by traditional left-wing industrial region around Ostrava and, to a lesser extent, much of Moravia. Relatively prosperous South Bohemia also seems to be a region of electoral potential for the far-right.

Political Capital: Index of Welfare Chauvinism
However, if when and if it re-emerges – and in today’s political climate it is not beyond imagination – the radical right would not I suspect be a Czech Jobbik, drawing on traditional far-right sub-culture with a youthful Facebooking using leadership, as seemed to have occurred in Hungary – the kind of subculture well capable of building an organization in the long term as occurred with the Front national in France in 1980s –  but from a sub-strata of Eurospectic, economically populist ‘independents’  bubbling around the edge of the frayed Czech political system. According to Hungary’s Political Capital think tank Czech top the poll for welfare chauvinism, although I guess that may be in part

Watching the election lauch of Eurosceptic Sovereignty bloc, led by ex-newsreader and former independent MEP, Jana Bobošíková, this year, I couldn’t help wondered how long it might be  before the economically interventionist, nationalist and Euroseptic program of Ms B. might tap in to the Czech public’s darker moods” as she fulminated against “pseudo-humanist and so-called politically correct waffle about human rights and minorities” in her trademark yellow dress.

>British Tories’ Luxembourg allies slip in unnoticed

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As an occasional follower of developments in the British Tory-led European Reformers (ECR) group in the European Parliament, I was intrested to discover that  the latest addition to the ECR fold was Luxembourg’s Alternative Democratic Reform party (ADR) Actually, the ADR joined back in June, but as it has no MEPs and Luxembourg politics is not something that even I- with my penchant for small parties and small countries – don’t follow that closely, it passed me by. 

The ADR is, however, an interesting right-wing populist outfit, which has it origins in 1987 as grouping demanding the same level of pension rights for private sector employees and the self-employed  as for well looked after state employees. It later broadened out its politics into anti-establishment, anti-bureaucracy positions and is, of course, eurosceptic for these kind of reasons. Some Luxembourgois political scientists have seen it as a functional equivalent of a radical right party, which is unlikely ever to emerge in the Grand Duchy due to a rather distinct, cosmopolitan national identity; a great deal of wealth; and norm of having very large numbers of non-nationals (mostly West European EU-ers) as a fact of life. Still, the ADR has managed to raise concerns about immigrants it sees as less desirable, which seems mainly be have been a debate centring on asylum seekers and illegal migration – and some academic studies rather casually lump it in with the anti-immigrant far right on the basis of expert surveys.

The ADR has never been in government – considered something of dodgy outsider by the country’s political establishment – but has been a solid part of the Luxemboourg political landscape for more than two decades with around 10% of the vote. This leaves the ADR potentially well placed to to add an MEP to the ECR  (it missed out very narrowly in 2004 and by a slightly bigger margin in 2009) a grouping already not short of one-member national delegations.