The news media can provide up to the minute information. The special August 2017 online issue of Slavic Review does something else. We offer perspectives, contexts, and reflections that both deepen and broaden the daily news feed. The August online issue has two parts, one devoted to the Russian influence on 2016 US presidential election and the other, global populism. Both tackle the causes and consequences of political shifts nationally and globally.

The Trump government has been in power for six months, but nothing is certain except uncertainty. The unresolved question of Russia’s role in the Trump win looms large, especially in light of worsening US-Russian relations. The 2016 US presidential election, however, can’t be understood in isolation from politics in the rest of the world. Populism is on the rise in eastern Europe and elsewhere; what is especially perplexing is that post-communist countries that embraced democracy thirty years ago now turn away from it. The rise of populism in eastern Europe provides an uncomfortable mirror for the rise of populism in the US and elsewhere.

In the critical forum on the elections, Peter Rutland traces the contours of the controversy, both from the American and the Russian perspective, connecting Russian interference to broader questions about Putin’s goals for Russia’s enhanced role in global politics. Syria and the fight against ISIS in the Middle East are particularly important. Sarah Oates focuses on another dimension of the elections scandal—the Russian government’s use of kompromat, compromising information, and whether and to what extent US political actors relied on similar tactics. While differences between US and Russian political culture and media significantly weaken the effectiveness of kompromat in this country, it will be increasingly important to pay attention to the role of media in electoral politics.

One topic key to both questions discussed in this online issue: to what extent the welfare state failed to live up to the electorate’s expectations. In the critical forum on global populism, Abby Innes shows how reforms designed to improve the economy made it more difficult for states to provide benefits to citizens. Dissatisfaction with the government, the economy, and with less tangible cultural trends proved significant in the Trump victory. Julie Hemment sees a connection between the hacking scandal and the broader “crisis of liberalism.” Even though the “mischief” perpetrated by Russian political actors is significant, the US used similar tactics. Hemment urges caution in the new cold war. Brian Porter-Szűcs brings the case of Poland to bear on the question about Putin and the US, arguing that the rise of antiliberal politics in Poland, buttressed by economic problems was far more important in electoral outcomes than Russian interference.

Agnieszka Pasieka’s essay on Polish populism takes a different tack. Even though right-wing politicians make claims for the mono-ethnic nation, they use transnational technologies to circulate and exchange ideas. Venelin Ganev shows that not all populisms are right-wing. In Bulgaria, populism takes on left-wing characteristics. Anna Grzymala-Busse points out that the protean nature of populism makes it all the more appealing to politicians and all the more challenging to analyze. Populism in power presents a serious threat to democratic institutions, in part because populists argue for an allegedly direct and unmediated “voice of the people,” with the result that formal rules and the culture of transparency are eroded, all in the name of more democracy. Eastern Europe has important lessons for the US, not only as a mirror for the rise of populism, but also, and even more uncomfortably, for its consequences for democracy.

You can access the entire Special Online Issue of Slavic Review (SLR) free of charge until October 1, 2017 here.

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