Contemporary Southeastern Europe
Authoritarian Populism and Hegemony: Constructing ‘the People’ in Macedonia’s illiberal discourse
This paper is a theoretically driven case study of the authoritarian populist reign of VMRO-DPMNE and its leader Nikola Gruevski in Macedonia since 2006. At the beginning, I assess the strengths and identify the pitfalls of the dominant approach to studying populism that sees populist politics as democratic illiberalism. Then I argue that this approach should be complemented with a discourse theoretical methodology that renders us more sensitive to the diachronic dimensions of the rise of Gruevski’s populism and its origins. The crucial concept I use to account for the durability of Gruvski’s reign is hegemony, which helps us to understand two important aspects of his populism. The specificity of his populism is in managing to change the political imagination of the majority of ethnic Macedonians, to create ‘the people’ and allow it to reclaim its place in history by providing channels for material, symbolic and emotional incorporation into the system of social classes that were traditionally excluded from society. This ‘democratic’ move came at a price: the nascent liberal and institutional channels for political participation in Macedonia’s young democracy were dismissed and new subalternity created. In demonstrating my findings, the paper includes a historical perspective of how the conditions allowing the rise of populism in Macedonia were created, as well as a discourse analysis of five paradigmatic speeches given by Gruevski.