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Uroš Prokić, Hovhannes Nikoghosyan
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PSIA Seminar on Populism and Democracy in Serbia, Hungary, and Armenia

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YEREVAN, Armenia — On December 10, 2021, faculty members of the American University of Armenia (AUA) Political Science and International Affairs (PSIA) graduate program, Assistant Professor Dr. Uroš Prokić and Adjunct Lecturer Dr. Hovhannes Nikoghosyan, presented their findings from a comparative research study of populism, nationalism and democracy-building in Serbia, Hungary, and Armenia in their relevant historical periods.

The seminar, titled “Unpacking Populism, Nationalism, and Democracy: Serbia, Hungary, and Armenia,” explored the paradoxical interrelationships between nationalism, populism and democracy using a comparative case study approach. The cases presented look into the factors that have entrenched nationalism in those societies and expound on exploring the adverse effects of populism on the democratic institutions of Serbia, Hungary, and Armenia. 

The speakers took the floor following a brief introduction by PSIA Program Chair Dr. Vahram Ter-Matevosyan of the seminar topic and the speakers’ academic credentials. Presenting first, Dr. Prokić provided a cautionary perspective, claiming that populism may be viewed as a reactionary “simplification of political life and the continuous polarization of political dialogue.” Analyzing the cases of Serbia and Hungary, he noted the manner in which populism has banalized a variety of political issues, disenfranchising the silent majority all in the name of the abstract “people.” Dr. Prokic also contended that populism can be curbed through an arduous process of institution-building. However, those institutions must not be removed too far from the people that have created them. After all, he maintained, liberal democracy is obligated to the people it represents, and on whose national partiality it depends. 

Dr. Nikoghosyan argued that treating populists in power as “drunk dinner guests” and turning a blind eye to cracking democratic institutions in the hope that those guests would soon learn the rules of good manners has adverse consequences. Such unassertive or indifferent attitude has resulted in unfounded optimism and has ultimately muted discussions of the adverse effects of anti-pluralist and populist governance in Armenia. 

The seminar concluded with the speakers offering options for creating ‘safety nets’ and guardrails for safeguarding from the foreseeable challenges and adverse impact of populist governance. The temptation to resort to using the populist toolkit to win votes is not expected to fade away worldwide.

The PSIA seminars will resume in the Spring 2022 Semester. 

The Political Science and International Affairs (PSIA) program of the American University of Armenia (AUA) equips students with advanced analytical reasoning, critical thinking, and communication skills through the study of political science and international affairs, emphasizing local and global perspectives and practical applications of theory. The program provides world-class teaching and research, producing graduates who can best contribute to the development of the nation.

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