10. Cities of Populism (ENG)

This session explores performances of populism, approaching cities as the landscapes for populist articulations. Following a populist logic, urban (quasi-)public spaces and landmarks are regularly used to generate hegemonic identifications with statehood and power holders, but urban spaces can also serve counter-hegemonic purposes and offer conduits for us-building by and for the people. The multifarious urban repercussions of the Covid-19 situation are the most recent case in point. Seeing that populism is about form, not content, is instructive for analyzing the entanglements of populism with ideologies such as nationalism, masculinism and neoliberalism, manifested and made tangible in the city. In the session, we are particularly interested in the intertwined articulations of materiality and representations in urban encounters, be these enacted in everyday, festive or ‘state of exception’ settings. Further, by drawing from Walter Benjamin and other relevant urban and discourse theorists, we conceive time as a multi-layered ingredient of urban populist formations, comprising of selected past, ‘now-time’ and future moments central for populist articulation. The session aims to bring together scholars with background in philosophy, political theory, geography, urban and regional studies, and so forth. We explore, in which formal and informal ways, cities are shaped by (1) populists in power, and (2) how populism as a wider logic of (counter-)hegemonic articulation (whether or not being explicit labelled as populism) is enacted in and through urban spaces.

Session chairs:

Emilia Palonen, Senior Lecturer in Political Science, University of Helsinki.

Jani Vuolteenaho, University Lecturer, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki.

Esitykset / Presentations:

1. Us-building through sports in illiberal Hungary: How national-historical narrativization, masculinist self-aggrandisement and neoliberal clientelism intertwine in the Arena Pancho?

Emilia Palonen and Katinka Linnamäki, University of Helsinki

2. The Visible Virus: Andrej Babiš’ Response to Covid-19 Reflected in Prague

Ilana Hartikainen, University of Helsinki.

3. Commemoration and Amnesia: Performing State and Nationhood in Hungary and Kosovo

Emilia Palonen, Senior Lecturer in Political Science, University of Helsinki.

Marina Vulovic, Doctoral student, Doctoral Programme in Political, Soci­etal and Regional Change, University of Helsinki.

Agnés Eörss

4. Event spaces and fan cultures as the epicentres of populist-emotional attachment: Three cases of football-related ‘us’-building in ex-GDR cities

Jani Vuolteenaho, Univeristy of Helsinki & Matthias Wolny, Heidelberg University

______________________________________________________________________________________________

1. Us-building through sports in illiberal Hungary: How national-historical narrativization, masculinist self-aggrandisement and neoliberal clientelism intertwine in the Arena Pancho?

Emilia Palonen and Katinka Linnamäki

For long, monumental sports arenas have formed a mainstream for “us”-building, including normative masculinity and gendered encounters. While a surge of contestations of this tradition has surfaced, events and event spaces for football and other competitive sports continue to epitomise a historically masculine activity, which not just signify the neoliberal competition between nation states and cities, but also a material-discursive domain of reclaiming traditional masculinities, combining national pride and heroism. A very salient instance of all this is the Hungarian Arena Pancho, an authoritarian enactment of a spatial logic that constitutes illiberal logics through merging a selective national-historical narrativization with masculinist self-aggrandisement. Located in the hometown of the Fidesz leader Victor Orbán, the new stadium is eponymous to the famous 1956-match hero Ferenc Puskás. Our analysis focuses on how the Arena Pancho as an eventscape and a spatio-temporal articulation constitutes the illiberal “us” through connecting masculinities, nationalist politics of the past, clientelism and performative practices by the hegemonic Hungarian regime around this particular space.

2. The Visible Virus: Andrej Babiš’ Response to Covid-19 Reflected in Prague

Ilana Hartikainen

The Czech government issued one of the fastest and harshest responses to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, closing the borders to leisure travel, enforcing a quarantine across the entire country, and mandating that no one left home without a mask. This had an immediate visual impact on the Czech capital of Prague, where streets normally packed with tourists were suddenly emptied. This situation briefly reversed in the late spring and summer, when first locals began utilizing the reopened city space, and then the Czech government opened the borders to tourism. Partly spurred by this opening, however, the pandemic roared back for a second wave beginning in September, and the openness of the city space has since been in flux; while tourists are gone and lockdowns continue, the national unity that the city’s emptiness represented has disappeared, and protests have emerged contesting the lockdowns. The city’s fullness has thus become a reflection of Czech PM Andrej Babiš’ response to the pandemic. While the nation rallied around the government early on, this unity has disappeared, and Babiš’ popularity has plummeted. Relying on a methodological framework of post-foundational rhetoric performative analysis, this paper will use data gathered from social and traditional online media to explore how Babiš’ Covid-19 response has been articulated in the city space, and how perceptions of his success or failure are directly tied to the emptiness or fullness of the city in imagery shared online.

3. Commemoration and Amnesia: Performing State and Nationhood in Hungary and Kosovo

Emilia Palonen and Marina Vulovic (and Agnés Eörss)

In Central and Eastern Europe, symbolic urban landscapes are sites of struggle, where those in power seek to manifest their visions. In these symbolic performances, past, present, and future entangle, and become concretized spatially. Through critical theory, combining the work of Walter Benjamin and Ernesto Laclau, we particularly explore the performing of a political “us” in memorials, often casted as the nation but also symbolizing the state and the people as a counter hegemonic articulation. We explore two different sites where statehood is performed and contested, Hungary and Kosovo, in order to unveil mechanisms of the spatio-temporal and political interventions in materializing the state and its chosen historical underpinnings. The traditions of statehood are not uniform but we witness similar performative mechanisms: memorializations, dealing with trauma, and taking over symbolic landscapes and the homogenization of space into a historical yet frozen vision by drawing political frontiers. Politicized places in the urban centres perform the nation through a demand for sovereignty, even superiority. Their spatiality is multi-layered, conflictual, even as some of the constitutive conflicts of statehood are hidden in the memory of the previous lives of the same places. Our rhetoric-performative analysis of the centres of power in the urban articulations, explores the main bridge and the memorial of Prince Lazar in North Mitrovica, Kosovo, as well as the surroundings of the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest where the interwar period is reinstalled. These exemplify processes of commemoration and amnesia in the intersection of statehood and nationhood cast in stone.

4. Event spaces and fan cultures as the epicentres of populist-emotional attachment:  Three cases of football-related ‘us’-building in ex-GDR cities

Jani Vuolteenaho and Matthias Wolny

This paper explores three urban variants of populism associated with prominent football clubs, facilities and fan cultures in eastern (ex-GDR) Germany. We start with a short contextualizing account of the cultural history of large-scale event facilities, focussing on their aspects as urban landmarks, social event spaces, and more or less explicit ideological statements. Based on literature and pilot data, we present a plan for investigating populist discourses and formations that have emerged around: Stadion An der Alten Försterei in Berlin, Rudolf-Harbig-Stadion in Dresden, and Red Bull Arena in Leipzig. The aim of the triangulation is to reflect on diverging paths taken by these event spaces as the epicentres of populist-emotional attachment. How the studied ‘stadium cultures’ have been (counter-)positioned in relation to socio-historically inward-looking nationalistic and local pasts? How is the ‘subalternity of the East’ in the post-Wende context present in the rhetoric-performative constructions of these populist formations – as stadium-specific counter-discourses, or otherwise? To what extent and in which varying ways have the stadiums been commodified in line with neoliberal, brand-based, entrepreneurial and consumerist populist rationales? Through these questions, the paper develops a tentative conceptualization of the frontier-drawing and us-building mobilizations in the German post-socialist urban contexts of widespread football enthusiasm.