Populist Pressures, Policing and the Pandemic

Lessons and Challenges for Police Management

  • Eszter Kovács Szitkay Ludovika University of Public Service Doctoral School of Law Enforcement/Centre for Social Sciences Institute for Legal Studies, Budapest, Hungary
  • Andras L. Pap
Keywords: populist political rhetoric, policing, Roma, pandemic


The paper focuses on challenges that are brought to police management and leadership by populist and racializing political rhetoric (often coming from government or local government) connecting the virus and minority communities through a discourse that identifies ethno-culturally rooted reasons for higher infection rates and disobeying curfew and social distancing measures. The paper has three parts: the first begins with mapping out four distinct scenarios in how the COVID-19 virus may affect certain groups incommensurately, arguing they lead to systemic and institutional discrimination. This is followed by an overview of how - in socio-economic terms - Roma are impacted throughout Europe, and have been targeted by racialising and securitising populist political rhetoric and law enforcement measures during the first wave of the pandemic in Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain. The third part investigates whether the legal framework for policing multicultural communities could be used as a procedural basis for such a targeted action – and argues that, in theory, the answer is affirmative. Therefore, a special vigilance and resilience is required from the police leadership.
An example from the Hungarian framework for policing multicultural communities illustrates the aforementioned possibilities. Although Hungary is not among the countries from where anti-Roma political rhetoric had been reported, its legislation on policing multi-ethnic communities arguably fits within the more encompassing model reflecting European and international standards and rhetoric. The paper introduces the concept of benevolent penal populism – endowed with a potential to be turned into malevolent action – to characterise this phenomenon and explain the respective threat in it.

How to Cite
Kovács Szitkay, E., & Pap, A. (2022). Populist Pressures, Policing and the Pandemic. European Law Enforcement Research Bulletin, (SCE 5), 279-288. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.7725/eulerb.v0iSCE%205.473
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