Preying on the Past

M. Nagy

How do you build a nation?

The simple answer is that you start with the people, but there is more to it than that. A people need something to believe in, something to strive towards, something to rally behind. They need symbology, iconography, and a future; but most importantly, they need a history. When looking at Bull’s analysis of the Italian Second Republic, there is a stark emphasis on the manner in which “the First Republic behaved as mnemonic warriors, collapsing the distinction between the Second Republic and its predecessor, and constructing their opponents as corrupting the ‘foundations of the polity’, to which end they did not shy away from utilizing the label of ‘terrorist’.”1 In Molnar’s recounting of the reunification of Germany, they rely on marking how, “Germans insisted, in often apocalyptic terms, that the arrival of foreigners in large numbers would lead to death, war, and perhaps the destruction of the German state and people.”2 Kalb maintains the mould through their dictation of the Visegrád Four’s political unity, admitting that, “In some areas in the 1990s, a majority of actually employed or self-imagined working people, the working poor, were coping with household income levels around two hundred to three hundred euros per month and were structurally dependent on benefits, remittances, and in natura support from kin.”3

In each of these cases, there is a strong underscoring of how these groups relate the fears of the past into the modern perspective. These actors distance themselves from their contemporaries by emphasizing these key aspects of their national histories. They are creating their national antemurale myth. Antemuralism is the use of both contemporary and historical relations to establish a precedence for developing a national character around being a bulwark, shield, or wall against an ideology.4 It is derived from the Latin of ante, meaning before; and murale, meaning wall. Much in the same way as antemuralism was developed following the chaotic and turbulent times of the early modern period; it is now being used to relate a generational past and the fears associated with it. The authoritarian parties of today have made effective use of the historical correlations in contemporary events to develop a cohesive ante-mural myth of what the nation and the national identity stand for. They are using a politics of fear to drive their national discourse into admitting them the power to stop these events from transpiring again. They are establishing themselves as the bulwarks against a chaotic and uncertain future; and they are doing it well.

1Anna Cento Bull, “The role of memory in populist discourse: the case of the Italian Second Republic” Patterns of Prejudice, 50:3 (2016).

2Christopher Molnar, “Greetings from the Apocalypse”: Race, Migration, and Fear after German Reunification” Central European History, (2021).

3Don Kalb, “Post-Socialist Contradictions. The Social Question in Central and Eastern Europe And the Making of the Illiberal Right” The Social Question in the Twenty-First Century: a Global View edited by Jan Breman et al. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019).

4PålKolstø, “Antemurale thinking as historical myth and ethnic boundary mechanism,” Rampart nations: Bulwark myths of East European multiconfessional societies in the age of nationalism (2019): 347-373.

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