>Drowning in Berlin


The last few days have found me at a workshop on populism and democracy in Europe and Latin American at the Wissenschaftzentrum in Berlin, trying to see what the (politically) late and unlamented Dr Sládek and his far right Republican Party can contribute to debate about comparative populisms. It’s been a mixed experience from the outset: a smooth train journey to Luton is followed but a hellish two hour Easyjet check in queue and stressful sprint across the airport to get to the departure gate; Berlin’s Schonefeld seems to be the Luton airport of Germany, but after a long trek to the station all is redeemed by a fantastic Wurst with lashing of mustard at a down at heel kiosk and a soothing Russian fairy story my Ukrainian fellow passengers on the train into town are reading their small son.

The academic side is similarly mixed: I take my hat off to Kevin Deegan-Krause’s superb discussion of populism and democracy, which somehow slipped into his paper on Slovakia, and watch him editing his powerpoints only to discover that he is, in fact, doing an on the spot analysis elegantly integrating the diverse mix of cases. If I still had a metaphorical hat , I would need need to take it off again.

Dr Sládek and his party, however, seems to be a less than useful addition to proceedings: too small to have much influence on Czech democracy and too defunct to be very interesting. My discussant helpfully suggests there might be some kind of legacy stemming from Dr S, but the contemporary Czech far-right is so marginal – and so varied – that it must at best be a micro-legacy and More generally, it is hard to avoid the impression that European and Latin American cases, as too often with inter-regional studies, are passing like ships in the nights: superficially united, like the city itself, but with a host of underlying differences. I am dog tired.

Early the next day I get a yellow double decker and watch an odd mix of 19th century, state socialist and ultra-modern buildings drift by until we pass the Bundestag and get to the Hauptbahnhof. Right platform, right carriage, right seat and go sleep. When I wake up we are Dečin. There is no border control now, but the train has broken down. and a locomotive needs to be rep[laced (it is, 20 minutes later) There is torrential rain. Outside the river Labe looks fit to burst its banks (it does two days later).

Despite the dire weather and the black skies, as sometimes happens, I really am glad to be in the Czech Republic.

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