Left Wing Populism and Feminism: For Who and At What Cost?

By: Julia Aguiar

Understanding populism is the political equivalent of trying to hold a fistful of sand. As you tighten your grip, it begins to slip through your fingers. Put another way, definitions of populism are widely debated making it almost impossible to derive its exact meaning. In general, populism can be characterized as malleable. The shape shifting ways of populism account for why it finds a place on both sides of the political spectrum. 

In an interview with Zack Beauchamp, populism expert Cas Mudde offers several definitions of populism. Mudde holds that populism builds itself on the notion that society is made of two opposing yet distinctly homogeneous groups — the elite who are inextricably corrupt and “the people” who are pure and often downtrodden. Where left and right wing populism diverge is in their understanding of “the people.” In right wing iterations of populism, conceptions of “the people”are based on race, class, and nativism in relation to a hardlined notion of national identity. How populist movements on the left define “the people” is generally perceived as more inclusive and based on the principle of anti-establishment.

Due to the unmistakable undertones of race and class imbued in populism, it is no wonder that more overt conversations on gender and sexuality have been pushed to the periphery. Swept under the populist rug as it were. 

For many, the adoption of left wing populism is promising for the way that it offers to advocate for the downtrodden in decidedly progressive terms. As with the example of Podemos in Spain, left wing populist movements are picking up on the current discourse on feminism which is increasingly entering the mainstream. But how feminist can the politics of populism ever be if operating on a bedrock of binary, opposition, and homogeneity? Principles that are the antithesis to meaningful feminism. While Podemos invokes the language of feminism, they adopt a type of mainstream feminism that is woefully benign and unproductive. Superficial as the feminism that Podemos espouses is, it is revealing of an inherently misogynistic political order and the general discomfort towards a more dissident type of feminism.

The left wing populist party, Podemos (We Can), was founded by Pablo Iglesias Turrión in 2014 in reaction to the anti-austerity movement that swept through Spain in May of 2011.

Podemos as a political party and member of the left wing alliance, Unidas Podemos, has not shied away from a discourse on gender and sexuality. In fact, they openly declare themselves a feminist political party. But Podemos’s embrace of feminism is revealing itself to be increasingly loose. Its limited understanding of feminism and perpetuation of toxic mainstream feminism suggests that maybe Podemos uses feminism as a buzzword to bolster its progressive image.

In an interview titled “A Feminist Movement For Us All,” Jacobin Magazine sat down with the Secretary of Intersectional Feminism and LGBTI of Podemos, Sofía Castañón. When asked critical questions of Podemos’s feminist stance, Castañón offered vague responses. She spoke of the supposed “feminist perspective” that Podemos utilizes without deconstructing exactly what that means. Most unsettling is that in the interview, and in the platform of Podemos more broadly, there is a profound absence on the LGBTQ community in Spain. This contradicts the supposed intersectional feminist approach of Podemos. They claim intersectionality, but the intersectionality they practice is for the benefit of cisgendered women. Podemos seems to have capitulated to the perception that Spain is accepting of the LGBTQ community. However, the very presence and support of the vitriolic anti-LGBTQ campaigns of Vox desperately require a response from a political party. In this regard, Podemos is failing. 

More troubling still is the fact that Castañón’s is posited as representing the whole of Podemos’s feminist politics. Here we can point to the highly criticized masculine makeup of Podemos. At the top, Podemos is filled with men of large personalities. That would be less a problem if leaders such as Turrión were more vocal and clear in their supposed feminist perspectives. Instead, we see that the discourse on feminism is shouldered almost exclusively by the female members of Podemos and is lacklustre at best. What’s more, in a series of anonymous interviews conducted by Johanna Kantola and Emanuela Lombardo, it was revealed that female members of Podemos feel politically disempowered in the party and practice self-censorship amongst their male counterparts. 

As was demonstrated in the results of the Spanish General Election earlier this month, the shortcomings of Podemos to even keep its seats has made way for the rise of Vox which almost doubled its seats. The failings of left wing populism provide a significant global lesson: not all progressive politics aid in the liberation of marginalized peoples.

Leaked documents from the Chinese Government Show How They Orchestrated the Mass Detention of Muslims; Are You Surprised?

Very recently, 403 pages of internal Chinese documents leaked to the New York Times show the severity of the clampdown on the ethnic minorities of the Xinjiang region. President Xi Jinping ordered the mass detention of Muslims under the pretext that it is for the struggle against religious extremism and terrorism. The targeted population are a Turk-speaking mostly Islamic population in Central Asia called the Uighurs, an ethnic minority. However, even he was quoted saying “round up everyone who should be rounded up.” This is indeed extremely vague and makes it easy to target Muslim communities as epicenters of “religious extremism”, even if they are not. It offers a great opportunity for marginalization and oppression from the Chinese authorities, and they have used this simple definition to detain the masses of Islamic peoples.

These detainees are sent to prison and internment camps that are described by the state as “job-training centers” that will allow the minds of those who have contracted the “virus” of religious radicalism to become healthy again and rejoin society. International and local students whose families have disappeared are being threatened to silence about matters of imprisonments on the basis that what they say and their behaviours will impact what happens to their families. This has been happening incessantly over the past three years. One cannot overstate the severity of the generalization of Islamic communities in the detentions made by Mr. Xi’s government.

How surprising is it that China organised the mass detention of Muslims? Surely, the Chinese government has committed many crimes against basic human rights, but this is not the point I am trying to make. I should rephrase the question: how surprising is it that Muslims are the ones being detained? Is China the only country doing this? The answer is no. There is an increasing global trend of “Othering” the Islamic community. Just last week in India, a massive student protest occurred because a professor was hired to teach Sanskrit in the faculty of Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vijnan at the Banaras Hindu University. There was a student walkout and the protest is still going. All this simply because this professor identifies as Muslim and the students found it inappropriate that a Muslim was teaching Sanskrit, even though he was fully qualified to do so. So, China is definitely not the only one persecuting Muslims. However, the Chinese instance this is a very explicit oppression, while others, like Europe, take a more subtle approach to the othering and oppression of the Islamic community.

It has become more pronounced in the recent years that the historical tradition of the “east” as the “other” has become focused as Islam as the “other”. The EU devoting itself to the unifying of Europe under the prospects of humanism, equalitarian values and tolerance, yet this does not apply to Muslims inside Europe and to those that are wishing to come to Europe. Fatima El-Tayeb of the University of California outlines this issue in her article ‘Gays who cannot properly be gay’: Queer Muslims in the neoliberal European city. El-Tayeb shows that after the fall of the Soviet Union, Europe struggled to reunite the opposing sides of the eastern and western bloc in an increasingly interconnected world. There was a need to define a common identity for unification. How could they define what it means to be European, when Europe is so diverse? Surely it is easier to define what is not European. Thus, the “othering” became a unifying factor. So, the slogan of the European Union “Unity in diversity” becomes “Unity of the Eastern and Western European states against the Islamic Other.” Why? Because, as El-Tayeb argues, Islamic communities are viewed as a threat to the “European values” mentioned above (equality and tolerance) even though by adhering to the othering of Muslim communities, Europe is breaching its promise of the same equality and tolerance they vowed to protect.

So, I ask again: is it so surprising that China is also taking a blow at the globally marginalized community?

Reinforcing the “Global Islam” Enemy: Western populism’s influence in the Iranian protests

Western populism is influencing the events in Iran and thus reinforcing a “global Islam” as the enemy. The definition of populism is complex as it is not fixed; it shifts and adapts according to the region in which it arises. Thus, it is difficult to specify a homogenous definition of Western populism, but as Cas Mudde writes, “the key enemy has become Islam.” What links Western populism is the distinct “us” versus “them” of the Islamic population.

The current government in Iran is theocratic. This theocratic state was a result of what can be considered a populist uprising, also known as the Islamic revolution of 1979. The elements of populist tactics are seen in the call for a referendum to decide the fate of the Dynasty previously in power, or to call for the establishment of an Islamic Republic government, the mobilization and protests by primarily the population’s youth. Though the protests that Iran is currently facing seem to be influenced by the prominent “us” versus “them” discourse of Western populism.

The protests began as reacting to economic problems, though this does not deter from the fact that the protests show prominent Western influence. Mudde distinguishes populism as the corrupt elite versus the pure people. This is a rhetoric that has taken hold by the protesters. Recently, the Islamic republic in Iran caused an internet blackout in what prominent human rights activists are calling a means to control the mobilization of the people. It has also been claimed to be a tool to isolate Iran and the events from the rest of the world in the face of intense violence. This discourse is populist in nature, as it features the corrupt elite versus the pure people. As the government is an Islamic theocracy, this narrative of the corrupt elite paints corrupt as Islam against the people. It portrays this system of governance as violent, against the people, and representative of an archaic people.

This notion that Islamic culture is archaic is used to ‘other’ Muslims minorities in Western populism. It is also being used to mobilize the people against the theocratic regime in Iran. It can be seen in the discourse surrounding the #whitewednesday movement, where women challenge the mandatory wearing of the hijab. Masih Alinejad, founder of the #whitewednesday, is very active on social media platforms and is very critical of the Iranian government. As she has been exiled, the internet gives her access to critique and challenge the Iranian government, a trait that has become increasingly important within populism – to deter from the fake news by controlled media outlets. This critique is reliant on the hijab as a signifier of the oppression of women. This #whitewednesday movement illustrates this Othering of the theocratic corrupt government in repressing the pure people. It is a way for Alinejad to “[give] a voice to voiceless people.” It is playing into the idea that the Islamic government is oppressive, thus feeding into this Western populist narrative of the Islamic Other.

This is not to say that these women are rejecting Islam or that these women should not be critical of their own autonomy. What this movement shows is that it is greatly influenced by populism; critiquing and challenging the authority of an Islamic theocratic regime, thus consciously or unconsciously challenging and reinforcing the Islamic Other. There is significant lack of discussion around the voices of women who do not oppose the mandatory wearing of the hijab. This then shows the influence of Western populism, as the hijab has been a physical identifier of the Islamic Other. Therefore, a lack of focus on the desire does not fit into this dichotomy of the western “us” versus “them” narrative.

It is this challenge of Islamic authority that rose to power through populist means, being challenged by Western populist discourse, such as the notion of archaic Islamic culture oppressing the people, that allows for the Othering of Islam in an Islamic state. This in turn reinforces a global Islamic enemy.

Op Ed #2: Patterns of Populism

By Daniel Williams

For all the show, for all the fuss, of individual populist groups often maintaining nationalistic views and policies, there is a silent overarching factor to these various groups.

In fact, Pew Research Center has recently released a series of excerpts from their findings regarding populist groups and their views on various issues important across the EU. And, wouldn’t you know it, these groups maintain notably similar stances on many issues. For instance, support for Russian President Vladimir Putin is markedly high among all right-wing populist groups throughout Europe, with small geographic variations.

But perhaps more interesting are the cases where these groups do, in fact, disagree with each other. Limiting our analysis to right-wing populists, we can find that there are differences that exist on several critical issues to populist platforms among the right. Confidence in the EU, views on Muslims, and even positive opinions of their own culture, are all points of dissonance among Europe’s various far-right populist groups. The question then is why?

Geography seems to be an element of this. Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary seem to be the nations that most commonly buck the trends set by other nations. Eastern Europe seems to have notably different ideas of what populism means, despite being some of the most fervent right-wing bases. Poland especially is known for an exceedingly far right government, yet Poland’s populist supporters are confusingly more likely to be favourable of Muslims than the average population of Poland. This is a rather bizarre trend when looking at the far right in Western Europe, but is mirrored by Slovakia’s right-wing members too.

This could be due in part due to a difference in othering within several Eastern European nations. While in Western Europe the ‘other’ is Islam and Islamic refugees, in Eastern Europe it seems that there is instead a different, resurgent threat: Russia.

Remember when we analyzed the approval of Putin among right-wing European populist parties? Well, something absent from the data on this particular issue is, you guessed it, Poland.

Further missing from the data is the influence of populists within Ukraine. Ukraine, having fought a bloody war against both separatists supporting Russia and against Russian clandestine forces, is not present on this list. Nor is Belarus, or the Baltic States.

The issue that is being seen here is one that has for a long time plagued Europe, the sense that the part of Europe that truly ‘matters’, politically and economically, is the West. Eastern Europe is, within the western world, still underrepresented, and as such trying to define patterns for ‘Europe’ as a whole results instead in defining patterns for Western Europe.

While it is not unimportant to maintain analysis of Western Europe and its influential political sphere, we must still attempt to move beyond the scope of Western Europe and instead try to encompass the true whole of the picture. Only then can we attempt to define real patterns for populism and the far-right throughout Europe.

Is Spain Backsliding to Its Dictatorial Past?

BY Vadzim Malatok

Spain, the country that has been regarded by many to have an immunity against the omnipresent rise of populism, finds itself making the headlines amid the insurgence of the right-wing populist Vox party in the November general elections. An unexpected outcome has led to much debate on the future of Spain amid fears that the country will eventually backslide to its dictatorial past of the Franco era. 

The snap elections called by the Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez were held on November 10, 2019, in an attempt to break the political deadlock that arouse due to the Sánchez’s refusal to form a left alliance. What was seen as an opportunity to consolidate power, in fact resulted in an unfavorable outcome for the leftist parties that lost a substantial number of seats to the conservative Popular Party (PP), which gained over 20 seats, and the far-right Vox, which won 52 seats – doubling its seats since it first entered the Parliament in April.

“Today a patriotic alternative and a social alternative has been consolidated in Spain that demands national unity and the restoration of constitutional order in Catalonia,” said Santiago Abascal, a 43-year old leader of Vox, in his celebratory speech on Sunday night.

These results, however unexpected, shouldn’t come as a complete surprise given that most of the issues that Spaniards worry about such as corruption, unemployment, and Catalan and Basque separatism, remain unresolved.

Formed in 2014 by the former members of the PP, who were dissatisfied with the leadership of Mariano Rajoy and the party’s policies that landed it too far to the center, leaders of the new party pledged to defend Spanish national unity, restore central power, respect Spain’s cultural diversity, and bring immigration under control.

Despite the fact that Abascal himself does not place Vox to the right of the political spectrum but rather insists it is a party of “extreme necessity,” most experts seem to agree on striking similarities with other right-wing populist parties, especially on issues such as immigration.

What sets Vox apart, however, is the fact that it does not necessarily seek support of the working or “economically marginalized” classes but appeals to the middle-aged, middle-class males who has voted previously for the PP or Ciudadanos, according to Spain’s National Research Centre (CIS). In addition, the party’s uniqueness stems from the fact that it does not seek Spain’s break from the European Union (EU) but advocates for curbing illegal immigration and strengthening border security.

At home, Vox is seen as an alternative that the voters hadn’t had since 1975 when a predominant two-party system was established. Campaigning for tougher controls on immigration, a roll-back to the Gender Violence Laws, and economic liberalism, places the party between the PP and Ciudadanos, and thus helps attract supporters from both sides and foster sense of belonging. In fact, the losses suffered by Ciudadanos, which saw its numbers decrease from 57 to 10 in the Parliament, are believed to have gone to Vox.

“Unity is one of the things that needs to be very strongly defended in Spain. And the other is freedom — we defend the free market, we defend the freedom of Spaniards, we defend certain traditions. We defend things that nobody has been defending for the past 50 years,” told Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, Director of International Affairs at Vox, to CNBC back in April.

However, with its vows to “Make Spain Great Again,” the party’s promise to revoke a Historical Memory Law of 2007, which condemns Franco’s regime, and opposition of the government’s decision to exhume and transfer the body of the late dictator, many question the party’s stance on the Spain’s fascistic past. 

Abascal claims that he is not a supporter of the late dictator despite the fact that his party is advocating for the upholding of tradition – the policy that was championed by Franco. In his response to opposing the exhumation of Franco’s body, Abascal said that “Spain should look to the future not the past.”

It is evident that an absolute absence of right-wing nationalist and populist parties since 1975 has resulted in the accumulation of issues that are emerging all at once and Vox is seizing its opportunity to emerge as a powerful force by addressing these concerns in a pragmatic manner. And if the incumbent Pedro Sánchez and his Socialist Workers’ Party fail to form a majority alliance and leave the divided nation in limbo during the lengthy Catalan crisis, Vox will continue to capitalize on these shortcomings. However, no one is sure how far will Vox go.

Hacer España Grande Otra Vez

Borrowed from across the Atlantic, in 2016 Spain’s far-right populist party Vox used an all too similar slogan to broadcast its message. “Make Spain Great Again.” While this message immediately brings to mind similar far-right populist movements occurring across Europe, and in particular the United States, Vox embodies quite a unique character. Vox is a breakaway political party led by Santiago Abascal that removed itself from Spain’s conventional rightwing People’s Party in 2013. In its pursuit of anti-Muslim, nationalist, anti-feminist and Eurosceptic policies, Vox is gaining traction amongst the Spanish electorate. Just today, Vox captured the attention of headlines around the world for its refusal to sign on to a resolution commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, instead shifting the focus towards violence against men. Vox wields this amount of power because it managed to achieve nearly double the number of seats it holds in the Spanish parliament between two elections held in April and November this year, up from 24 to 52 seats, making it the third largest political party in Spain. What differentiates Vox from similar movements across Europe, and largely explains the recent upswing in support, is their firm position on territorial integrity and opposition to Catalan nationalism. However, for all its differences, Vox still gains much of its legitimacy from international support and far-right populist movements around the world, much like its slogan.

Ironically, for all of its anti-Islamic rhetoric, Vox owes much of its origins to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which donated almost 1 million euros to Vox between December 2013 and May 2014 leading up to the European Parliamentary elections. The NCRI is an organization with close links to the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK). MEK assisted in the toppling of the US-backed Shah of Iran, and is ideologically driven by Marxism, feminism and Islamism. However, MEK was cast into exile following the Iranian Revolution of 1979 due to its popular support within Iran. Owing to their exile, MEK supported Iraq’s war with Iran from 1980 to 1988, which is how they managed to fund themselves. However, since Saddam Hussein’s demise following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and his subsequent execution in 2006, it is speculated that MEK now receives funding from Saudi Arabia. This external funding was primarily linked to Alejo Vidal-Quadras, one of the founding members of Vox and a longtime supporter of the MEK. Nonetheless, whether the 1 million euros came from Iran, Iraq or Saudi Arabia, it is fascinating to consider that a bigoted political party relied on an Islamic nation to contribute to their Islamophobic ideology.

Another example of international support that has provided Vox with legitimacy derives from CitizenGO. Uncovered by openDemocracy (an independent media platform), CitizenGo is a campaign group that helps to coordinate far-right parties across Europe through petitions and events. The campaign group has been compared to a US-styled “Super PAC,” which aims to influence elections. openDemocracy displayed close coordination between CitizenGo and Vox leading up to the parliamentary elections in April, along with other far-right populist parties across Europe. This is of particular interest when considering the broad support and congratulatory remarks that Vox received from France’s Marine Le Pen, Italy’s Matteo Salvini and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, each of whom hold far-right populist views. What’s truly astonishing about these developments, such as the funding from the NCRI, campaigning of CitizenGo and broad support for one another, is that they are inherently contradictory to the very ideologies that these movements profess to lead. Vox, along with other right-wing populist movements claim to be the will of the people or nation against a corrupt elite, and yet they rely heavily on international funding and networks in order to achieve their aims.

The Changing Wills of the British Public

3 years ago Britons went to the polls in an election dominated by the idea of Brexit and the future of the UK in Europe, there were many other aspects of society that were at play among the parties. Now three years later

3 years ago, Britons went to the polls in an election dominated by the idea of Brexit and the future of the UK in Europe, there were many other aspects of society that were at play among the parties. Now three years later, Britons return to the polls with many of the same themes dominating the public discussion, and in the case of Brexit tempers have continued to run high with all parties wanting to “fix” Brexit in their own way. 

However, while the themes that dominate the discussion primarily remain the same the platforms and policies that are being discuses have changed in the slant, with all major parties promising significant increases to social services, especially the NHS, and to national infrastructure.  A stark difference to 3 years ago when even Labour only promised minor increases, and all other parties pushed for further austerity in the uncertainty.  

During the 2017 election the centre-right conservative party enjoying a surge in popularity in fringe voters on the wave of a receding UKIP, saw in their manifesto and policy a more heavily right leaning angle than seen in previous elections.  During the election they promised to increase police powers and funding and review state control and the reach of both mass media and social media platforms as well as to reduce the influence and power of social services, such as state pensions.  They also joined one of the major points found among right wing parties during the Brexit campaign of the idea that Britain was suffering from out of control immigration, and on this they promised caps and more restrictive legislation on immigration and for a period refused to comment on the future of EU nationals in the UK. 

Now in 2019 with Brexit remaining the headline issue all 3 of the major parties have taken a turn for the left on the backs of labours major gains in the 2017 election and the resurgence of the right wing anti-EU parties in the last EU general election in this summer that saw the Tories loose a significant number of their seats to the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party. 

Through there manifestos and campaign promises all of the major parties have announced tax raises major increases to social services, engaging almost in a bidding war on how much more funding and staffing would be added to the NHS.  Two of the major parties have also increased calls for greater nationalisation of utilities and transport something that was in many cases a pipe dream last election.  It has also seen the Lib Dems more confidently positioning themselves as a reasonable middle ground opened by the moves to the extremes on both sides of the aisle, as while the Tories pledge greater social services, they also continue with plans of restrictions on immigration and lack of commitments on dealing with common social issues, such as poverty and education.

While Brexit remains a major issue for all voters, and the shifts in party support and attempts to gather more voters will result partially in some of the shift the three years of protests and discontent over the policies or inaction that has been seen to address social issues by the government has forced all of the parties to pledge greater and more significant welfare state policies. 

Therefore while the Conservatives seem to demonstrate a comfortable lead in the polls the last election proves that such a lead is no guarantee and the effectiveness of the labour to run their campaign or the campaigns run by fringe parties who claim that the Tories have failed the will of the people on Brexit may have interesting effects on the final result.  It can be definitely said though that all of the major contenders for the Prime Ministers office have been forced to adopt the social questions that, barring exceptions such as Margret Thatcher, have become a comfortable part of British life and society. 

3 years ago Britons went to the polls in an election dominated by the idea of Brexit and the future of the UK in Europe, there were many other aspects of society that were at play among the parties. Now three years later

How the Vox Party Slowly Solidifies Its Presence in the Spanish Political Landscape

What do the last general elections in Spain tell us about the rise of the far-right party Vox? That question is on many people’s mind as another call for election divides the country one more time. Four elections in four years seem to represent the inability of the present government to secure the stability needed for the country to maintain a credible status among the European nations. The questions I am trying to answer is how Vox managed to rally the citizens . What are the possible catalysts that generated such a surge in the number of seats occupied in the government after the last election? Although there are far more possibilities, I came up with five points under which Vox possibly scored.

Discourse

Like many far-right parties, Vox uses a specific rhetoric in his discourse. With words such as “restoration of national unity” and “patriotic alternative” Vox embraces the tenets of populist ideology. Drawing on immigration, Islamophobia as well as “gender ideology”, Vox uses  themes that for some observers and politicians remind of the former Francoist ideology , although the political and global context are different. For Pedro Sanchez to use such analogy in his exhortation to vote, is significant enough to be mentioned.

Political alliances

The weaken socialist party and its failed alliance with the liberal Ciudadanos did not manage to secure an absolute majority in the parliament. The PP (conservative popular party) refused to ally with the socialists giving the opportunity for Vox to claim more seats and to become the third most important party. Furthermore, the PP symbolically with Ciudadanos decided to support Vox in his demand for banning the separatists parties all together. I find shocking that the freedom of expression whether it is political or not would be prohibited in a liberal democracy and it certainly leans dangerously toward the authoritarianism practiced under the regime of Franco.

Economic power of Catalonia

 Catalonia has the status of autonomous community since 1979 but recent events starting around 2010, have triggered the more pressing push for independence. Catalonia represents roughly 20% of the GDP and resents the taxes imposed to support the rest of Spain. If separatist movements were to succeed, it would be a severe hit for the national economy. The violence that surrounded the protests for separatist movements is then an easy instrument to use in support of national unity.

History of claims for independence

The actual government has suffered from instability for some years. Spain , a constitutional monarchy since 1975, faces the misfortune to have been affected by the global economic crisis. As mentioned earlier, many elections and the threat from Catalonia to leave, fragilized even more an unstable socialist government. It is important to note that Catalonia is not the only province to ask for separation. The Basque Country, which is divided between France and Spain, also manifested the intention to become independent in the past but the violence has stopped since it received its autonomous status in 1979. It does not mean that if Catalonia succeed in becoming independent that the Basque Country will not follow in the same footsteps. That situation would most likely trigger a desire to separate as well, even though it would be more complicated due to its division with France.

Multicultural past

  Spain has a history of tolerance and multicultural acceptance. During the Middle Ages [especially under the occupation of the Umayyads in Al Andalus]  and until the Reconquista that started in 1492, co-existence of cultures and religions has been pretty peaceful and fruitful in many domains. Spain is now facing another migration crisis and this time the spectre of islamophobia is at the centre of the debate which plays in favour of right-wing parties.

Did all these points explain why Vox challenged the leading party at the last election? I believe so but other factors can weigh in and this is the case of external support such as other far-right movements in France, Italy and the Netherlands . It is doubtful that the Catalonia crisis will resolve anytime soon , which makes me wonder how Vox will play in the near future in a country that has to deal with chaotic internal politics and a migration crisis that is seen as a threat to the national unity .

#NousToutes and the limits of populism

In September 2019, protestors took to the streets of France using the hashtag #NousToutes (All of Us), to call attention to the domestic violence that women face in the country. Thousands have voiced concern about the rate of femicide – the killing of women by their partners, ex-partners or family. In France, the number of femicide deaths have reached 128 this year. Today the French government is expected to unveil new measures to combat domestic violence and protect the lives of women.

Prior to the unveiling of these new measures it is worth considering how a populist movement might seek out change from the state. Populism as Cas Mudde a scholar of the European far right has framed it, divides populations into “two homogeneous and antagonistic groups”. There is a criticism of the ‘elites’ who have used ‘corrupt’ means to deprive the ‘ordinary’ people meaningful recognition by the state. The popular belief that the allocation of resources serves the ‘elites’ and forgets the rest, evokes calls to deliver for “the people,” “the real people,” and “the silent majority” as political scientist Jan-Werner Müller has argued. It is also important to note that while populism is often associated with the alt-right, it exists on both the left and right side of the political spectrum.
Unlike a populist movement, the #NousToutes does not evoke the ‘common’ or ‘ordinary’ terminology used by populists to rally people to their cause. Instead, women are critical of the state while remaining outside the ‘common’ folk. Women challenging the structural norms that permit abusive partners to kill their spouses are undermining, in much needed ways, the day to day business of the French state.

#NousToutes unites a caucus of people that would otherwise not have come together under the pretense of shared domestic threats. #NousToutes calls out the state and those in positions of power for turning a blind eye to the horrific consequences of structural norms. In many ways, these are components of populism. Yet, #NousToutes is not a populist movement as those who band together remain outside the ‘common’ French people.
While #NousToutes much like the ‘common’ people call to renegotiate their position in France they remain Othered. The Other is a group that does not get to renegotiate their position within the state but must rely on pre-established rules of the ‘common’ people to do so. A reliance on the pre-established rules to achieve new ends is homonormativity for French women. Gender scholar Lisa Duggan termed homonormativity to refer to “a mainstreamed gay discourse that attempts to expand rather than dismantle heteronormativity by internalizing a conceptualization of LGBT identity that constructs legitimacy and rights along established lines”. In France, women of #NousToutes must advocate for change within the heteronormative structure established by the ‘common’ folks. Professor of Ethnic Studies Fatima El-Tayeb argued that this offers the Other “protection” within the heteronormative structure and acceptance as a part of the ‘common’, at the exclusion of diverse groups such as refugee women to France.

For the structural changes desired by women of the #NousToutes movement to be achieved within the current heteronormative system in France the ‘common’ must embrace their objective as well. Thus, social change driven by the Other goes only as far as the ‘common’ folk will allow. Following the study of Anti-gender campaigns by social scientists David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar, support by ‘common’ folk may be hard to obtain. In their review of common opposition in Europe to structural changes that would combat domestic abuse they noted that there were fears of the Other extending their reach beyond what the ‘common’ folk were willing to tolerate. Such as the institutionalization of sexual and reproductive rights, international recognition of abortion, additional attacks on traditional motherhood.

With populist movements leaving no room for the Other, those like the women of the #NousToutes movement and other minority groups are left unacknowledged by both ‘elites’ and the ‘common’ folk. To minority groups, the ‘common’ folks are elite, and the ‘elites’ are even further out of reach. In France, populism can no longer deliver for women at the margins and it is perhaps time to think about what new forms populism will take; a neo-populist agenda may reposition minorities in the heteronormative structure within and outside France.

Framing Populism

This week’s readings were unified by examining the spectrum of right-wing populist movements in Europe. Rather than trying to draw broad conclusions that link these movements together, they dissected specific issues that were dealt with by right-wing populist movements in order to distinguish differing positions or frames of these issues. Specifically, the articles by Gattinara, Pattermotte & Kuhar and Schmidt illustrated these differences well by examining specific issues or events to display varying reactions to them, with the goal of portraying a more comprehensive picture.

Gattinara utilized the reaction of Italians towards the Charlie Hebdo cartoon and the following attacks to display the broad spectrum of reactions within Italy. He analyzed the reactions of three specific groups: populist radical right actors, extreme right actors and ultra-religious actors. What he found was that ideology led to differences amongst these three groups, however there was a trend to include liberal democratic principles within a narrative of exclusion based on cultural differences. This highlighted the pragmaticism of far-right groups as they converge on a single issue from differing perspectives.

Pattermotte & Kuhar focused on the anti-gender campaigns frequently associated with the far-right, but sought to unpack these movements beyond the simple label of the global right. Instead, they divided the anti-gender movements between the historical Catholic narrative and rightwing populism. By differentiating the two campaigns, it became more apparent how they interact and mobilize their followers. This provided more context within concrete settings in which these campaigns are occurring and enabled a deeper understanding of the phenomenon.

Finally, Schmidt examined the PEGIDA movement that occurred in Germany, which opposed Islamization, and found two key attributes at its core. These attributes were autonomous nationalism and ethnopluralism. These two attributes fulfilled two differing needs for the PEGIDA movement. On one hand, autonomous nationalism fulfilled the practical side of the movement, including its mobilization, communication and cohesion of the movement. While on the other hand, ethnopluralism satisfied the ideological underpinnings of the movement, creating a theoretical framework and a unifying cause.

These case studies are interesting, as they illustrated the pragmatic nature of far-right populist movements across Europe, as well as display the diversity across them. While it appears as though they are unified in their cause for a homogenous society, a large variety of perspectives lead to quite unique framings of events and issues. Ultimately, these case studies provide a more comprehensive understanding of far-right populist movements beyond generalizations.