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Be aware of freedom populism

Author: Santiago Zabala

Affiliation: Professor of philosophy at Pompeu Fabra University

Organization/Publisher: Al Jazeera

Date/Place: June 25, 2021/Doha, Qatar

Type of Literature: Opinion Article

Word Count: 1896


Key Words: Populism, COVID-19, Freedom Populism


Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, and other right-wing populists worldwide proved how deadly their rhetoric and policies could be at a time of crisis. According to the author, in the post-pandemic era things are about to get worse as there are signs in Europe pointing to the emergence of a new type of populism. Populists across the continent are now seeking support by claiming to be fighting for “liberty” in the face of various COVID-19 restrictions imposed on European populations since the emergence of the novel coronavirus in early 2020. All parties across the political spectrum, both in government and opposition, have tried to politicize the pandemic to a certain degree, but these attempts have mostly been unsuccessful. As the virus spread among communities, overwhelmed health services, and killed tens of thousands of people, most European citizens sought only caution and responsibility from their governing authorities. In recent months, as vaccination campaigns across Europe started to contain the crisis, voices against pandemic restrictions began to gain more and more public support. As a result, populists now have a new opportunity to increase their political power by rallying people against a new rhetorical enemy: the authorities trying to ensure a controlled and safe return to normalcy. This “freedom populism” scored its first electoral victory in the recent election for the president of Madrid, one of the seventeen autonomous communities of Spain. Freedom populists claim to be fighting against establishment politicians, experts, and public institutions “using the pandemic as an opportunity to curtail liberties.” They promise not only to curb funding for global and local institutions working to protect populations from public health threats, but also to privatize as many public services as possible in the name of “freedom.” If they gain enough public support to form governments and shape public policy, they will destroy the safety nets that have saved countless lives since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic era may be slowly coming to an end, but, unfortunately, the period of “freedom populism,” which could be equally deadly, is only beginning.

By: Maryam Khan, CIGA Research Associate



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