Europe’s Lost Memory and Ongoing Struggle with Identity

Cameron Sen

This week’s readings highlighted recent and ongoing issues occurring within Europe, that have of resulted in the targeting of minorities, notably Muslims, LGBTQ+ individuals, and Migrants within European society. Many of these issues, at least from a personal observation, can be easily correlated back to a collective memory which the far-right in Europe has been able to shape, that showcases an abillty to manipulate the past.

As defined by Dan Stone collective memory refers to “the images and representations of the past that circulate in society and shape a group’s self image.” As Stone points out, countries such as Poland and Hungary and their collective responses to the lessons of the Second World War showcase what happens when collective memory is interpreted in a context that fails to properly acknowledge the past. These misinterpreted narratives have allowed for far-right populists to further a message that aligns with the present societal or geo-political challenges or crisis of the times, which has enabled for ”othering” to happen. Is it really any surprise why both these two respective countries have instilled policy’s which has coincided with the targeting of societal groups such as Immigrants and LQBTQ+ individuals?

This abillty to shape collective memory and manipulate the past equally showcases how much influence America has had on shaping the present-day identity of European countries. This is incredibly apparent through Turkey’s attempt to change the dynamic of race, and what it means to be a “Black” Turk vs being a “White” Turk. Such attempt by the country to redefined what is means to be what, trying to instil a message of societal elite’s vs the common, underrepresented working class, showcase just how much power and how the attempt to re-write a narrative as an anti-colonialist player, can be directly traced back to American influenced narratives. Even the Qanon popularity throughout countries such as German and France, has showcased the abillty for American inspired beliefs to shape the identity of Europe’s overall self.

Ultimately, no matter what the country, regardless of the specific target, the abillty by far-right movements to reinforce a false sense collective memory on European society looks set to further continue societal division. Until this is changed, Europe will seemingly continue to struggle with its overall sense of identity.

European Myths

Emma C

I think that one of the myths surrounding European identity might buckle when faced with the challenge of colonialism and mass migration as the image of Europe being this ideal place to live and continent that we should look up to is broken. We can look at the issue of mass migration, as Stone mentions in their reading about how collective memory is used and how it differs based on who is invoking it. Many people compare the European mass migration issue to concentration camps. Collective memory is then invoked as all of Europe knows closely the history involved, but depending on who you are asking, some may agree or disagree with the statement. A survivor of concentration camps may have a different view than an everyday British citizen as they each remember the event/history differently.

The way in which populists reinforce European identity is through the idea of nation building and national identity. As mentioned in the POLITICO article, many far-right groups are gaining popularity in Europe as they are filling a gap that people are missing. They are using their theories and platform under the guise of rebuilding the greatness of said country and are working to debunk myths that are harming the national identity, when in reality these groups are more often than not, at the root of many of the problems themselves.

Dan Stone, “On Neighbours and Those Knocking at the Door: Holocaust Memory and Europe’s Refugee Crisis.” Patterns of Prejudice 52, no. 2/3 (May 2018): 231–43.

 QAnon Goes European       https://www.politico.eu/article/qanon-europe-coronavirus-protests/

The ‘Others’ Enter Europe – How Populist Leaders Legitimize Their Arguments

Wesley M.

Europe is full of many cultures and in our contemporary era there is much ongoing debate over which culture will be predominant or whether all these separate cultures can actually coexist peacefully. The far-right European populist groups do not want to see that happen, rather they would want to see their own version of a culturally homogenous Europe be fulfilled. The populist playbook for uniting and vastly diverse populace is quite simple set them up against an enemy, in this case, the far-right chooses to target a wide variety of ethnic migrants that are of the Muslim faith within Europe as a threat against European hegemonic culture.[1]

            The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 left a power vacuum in Europe, in terms of an enemy to fight as well as issues reconciling supposedly defunct claims of European cultural superiority, in turn leading to tensions over the next three decades. Part of this tension has to do with the growing number of Muslim migrants that are coming into Europe and are seen as a threat to the formally Christian European culture. The modernity that Europe has traded itself is bringing to the Middle East appears to be no longer applicable as the transnational network the migrants have as a result of their Muslim identity uniting them across borders has led to religious and secular tension, a debate over religious clothing, and in the view of the Nilüfer Göle’s article from 2012, she believes these cultural tensions could possibly be resolved through Turkey serving as a mediator to unite the Middle East and Europe into a state of cooperation and coexistence.[2] Suffice to say given Turkey’s current political issues and in general a serious democratic backsliding within the Middle East as a whole, it would appear that Göle’s theory has been proven currently inapplicable.

            Part of the reason for the cultural tensions of course is far-right nationalism. Dan Stone argues that Eastern Europe’s issues coming from them not reckoning with their Nazi collaborating past has allowed for populists to blame inherent state problems on an influx of migrants as a result of the European crisis, which he argues is somewhat legitimized by the fact that Europe as a whole doesn’t actually want to take in refugees.[3]

This reticence by Europe to accept Islamic culture allows far-right beliefs into acceptable mainstream politics by portraying themselves as being against what many Europeans see as being a legitimate target: such as QAnon adopting the blood libel myth within their conspiracy theories.[4] In a more straightforward example, Ivan Kalmar’s article argues that Viktor Orban’s use of Anti-Anti-Semitism (helped by Netanyahu’s support for him) against claims of him being an anti-Semite for his campaign against George Soros has allowed Orban to legally promote Islamophobia and anti-immigration policies against Muslim migrants, as well as anti-Semitism, without the resulting negative fascistic label such actions would normally receive.[5]


[1] Somewhat like a very early seasons Game of Thrones parody: A fringe and crazy Night’s Watch guard Westeros against a disbelieved cultural threat (the ‘Others’), given how the legitimacy of populists is questioned: what will happen in the next few years will be crucial to the overall result.

[2] Nilüfer Göle, “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam” New Literary History, Volume 43, Number 4 (Autumn 2012): 665-685.

[3] Stone, “On Neighbours and Those Knocking at the Door:”: 234-240.

[4] VICE News, How This TV Chef Turned COVID Truther Helped QAnon Boom in Germany, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1yOqtbWrdg.

[5] Kalmar, “Islamophobia and anti-semitism:”: 185-194.

Bibliography:

VICE News. How This TV Chef Turned COVID Truther Helped QAnon Boom in Germany, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1yOqtbWrdg.

Göle, Nilüfer. “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam.” New Literary History 43, no. 4 (2012): 665-685. doi:10.1353/nlh.2012.0041.

Kalmar, Ivan. “Islamophobia and anti-semitism: the case of Hungary and the ‘Soros Plot” Patterns and Prejudice Vol. 54 (1-2) (2020): 182-98.

Stone, Dan. “On Neighbours and Those Knocking at the Door: Holocaust Memory and Europe’s Refugee Crisis.” Patterns of Prejudice 52, no. 2/3 (May 2018): 231–43.

Does neoliberalism erode or reconstruct the boundaries of the 20th Century?

By Ali Yasin

Mass migration has influenced and often driven the politics post-Cold War Europe. With the collapse of communist regimes across the continent through the early 1990’s, there was a widespread belief that Europe was now inevitably on a path towards an integrated post-national future. In reality however, the neoliberal politics of contemporary Europe have largely failed to erode the social and cultural barriers associated with the nationalism of the 20th century, as well as the anxieties it was rooted in. Neoliberalism has instead redefined these boundaries, establishing both a new “model citizen” and “threatening Other” in the process.

The development of neoliberalism in the 1980’s can be seen as the political expression of the emerging globalized economy. The needs and challenges of a globally interconnect and interdependent marketplace require increasingly post-national forms of governance which pass over the protectionist tendencies of the nation-state. It also requires a new model of citizen, namely the cosmopolitan consumer, who likewise lacks the traditional attachments associated with both civic and ethnic citizenship and facilitates the ever increasing transnational flow of capital. This reconstructed model citizenship is most clearly visible when looking at the boundaries which neoliberalism has successfully diminished. Significant and even historic progress has been made by the EU in diminishing the social barriers faced by women and members of the queer community. Furthermore, this commitment to the protection of gender equality and the free expression of individual sexuality/gender orientation, have become integral aspects of a growing post-national European identity. Despite these progressive achievements, neoliberalism does not erase the need for a threatening Other which stands in inherent opposition to the model citizen, vital the nationalistic worldview it attempts to supplant. While cosmopolitan consumers whether they take the form of international investors or upper-middle class tourists, serve the needs of a global marketplace regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, the same cannot be said about impoverished migrants and refugees who lack capital and struggle to integrate into a service orientated post-industrial economy. As a result, immigrant populations (1st, 2nd and even 3rd generation) are increasingly confined both spatially and socially to the margins of the community.

Rather than addressing the underlying socio-economic causes for this isolation, both liberal and populist governments have chosen to focus their attention on the alleged cultural incompatibility of certain immigrant populations (often those with a Middle Eastern or North African background) with the norms and values of modern Europe. Immigrants are characterized as unwilling to shed their illiberal practices and beliefs, despite wanting to receive the benefits of a liberal European society, leading to their inability to integrate and concentration isolated communities. In addition to being portrayed as an unproductive burden on the social welfare state, the characterization of migrant communities as inherently unwilling to accept liberal values implies that they are intrinsically subversive and threatening elements present within, while remaining perpetually separate from, the European community. Given that poor non-European migrants fundamentally represent the same threatening Other to both cosmopolitan liberals and right wing populists, it’s doubtful whether neoliberalism will be able to address the growing political mobilization of the far-right around the issue of mass immigration.

Works Cited:

Fatima El-Tayeb, “”Gays Who Cannot Properly be Gay.’ Queer Muslims in the Neoliberal European City” European Journal of Women’s Studies 19/1, (2012): 79-95.

Dan Stone, “On Neighbours and Those Knocking at the Door: Holocaust Memory and Europe’s Refugee Crisis.” Patterns of Prejudice 52, no. 2/3 (May 2018): 231–43.

Ivan Kalmar, “Islamophobia and anti-semitism: the case of Hungary and the ‘Soros Plot” Patterns and Prejudice Vol. 54 (1-2) (2020): 182-98.

Multi-Dimensional Muslim Identities

Alison Miller

Some of the readings this week deal with the concept of right-wing groups using minority groups that they had previously discriminated against as tools to further the oppression they impose on, especially, Muslims. Both the Hungarian case and in El-Tayeb’s article, far-right groups were willing to put their homophobia and Anti-Semitism on the back-burner in order to fight against a larger threat, that of Muslims. This seems to be the one thing that a lot of far-right groups are able to coalesce around, and one that European politicians and bureaucracies often explicitly or tacitly endorse.

I found the El-Tayeb article particularly interesting. These ideas of white gays being able to be multi-dimensional as long as they are multi-dimensional within the single framework of being a consumer. One of the things that wasn’t necessarily in the article (and that I wouldn’t insist upon because I think the article addresses what it needs to address) but that I think would be interesting is how the issue of class plays into all of this. The article notes police interaction with Muslim, Brown, and Black communities, as well as how people from these communities often provide the cheap labour necessary to support wealthier white LGBTQ people’s lifestyles. I would be interested to see (again in a different article), how those concepts, along with things like gentrification removing the liveability of neighbourhoods in exchange for stores that are essentially tourist destinations for those not living in that area of town, work with the intersection of class, race, and Islam.

Creating A New Other

Declan Da Barp

The question of modernity is central to the European neo-liberal description of itself. And while this description of modernity rests on the claims of secularization, rationality, and the embrace of enlightenment ideals Europe also characterizes itself against that of Islam. This is no truer than in urban settings, the heart of the neo-liberal world. To use El-Tayeb’s terminology, cities are comprised of consumers, and it is the transformation of the citizen to the consumer that is the true mark of modernity within European society (82). Establishing this dichotomy through the ostracization of an underclass of labour migrants, largely from Islamic Global south countries, cannot achieve this status of the consumer. Their retention of piety is understood and presented as a lack of loyalty to the west and a failure to assimilate into Western culture; often resulting in the characterization as a fifth column (Göle, 672). This only serves to reinforce previous historical narratives.  

One that looms particularly large is the Ottomans and the 1683 siege of Vienna. Presented as a moment of pan-European victory over an invading Other. These powerful historical narratives continue on today when aiming to define who is and who is not a European but also where the geographical boundaries lie. The inclusion of Turkey in the EU is described by Göle as a “forced marriage” (676). Moreover, the liberalization of women’s rights in Western society is routinely contrasted with those in the Islamic world. The hijab, niqab, and burka have all been weaponized by Europeans to characterize Muslims and oppressive to women and thus living in a pre-modern state and thus the incongruity between Europe and the Muslim world (El-Tayeb, 83). In creating these narratives, Europe is not only defining itself but defining what it is not.

Europe is not always what it wants to look like

Kathleen McKinnon

The refugee crisis and rise of far-right “news” sources like QAnon show very much that Europe still struggles with its identity. There is a very clear image of it being the promoter of liberal democratic values as it says in the Stone article (pg. 234), however that image is grafted on to a deeper feeling that on the outside seems to have been let go of in the years just after WWII. As can be seen in previous weeks the far right, fear, “othering,” etc. has never gone away and this is made clear over and over as different circumstances occur such as the refugee crisis but also in the rise of populist regimes as a result of the crisis, not just outspoken people making a point about them. That means that it is not just a few people making noise but enough people are feeling the effect of fearing the “others” to vote in parties that question brining in refugees.

Another theme that occurred in the readings is the US’ influence on race in Turkey (Ezgi Güner) and also the influence it has had on delegitimizing institutions through the Trump administration’s “draining the swamp” ideals and the rise of QAnon not only being in the US with the deep state terminology but spreading in Europe as well (Mark Scott). The international aspects of the far-right are always surprising because they impose an ideology on different circumstances and make them fit. The deep state is exchanged for the European elites, for example, and therefore shoehorns a different culture and different circumstances into wherever it can find relevance because the basic principles are the same.

Fear and “Othering” in Post-War Europe

M. Guthrie

Following the upheavals of 1989, the role of memory became an increasingly useful tactic in building support for populist movements. Evoking (and often, completely revising) collective memory of recent political and economic strife allowed for populist parties and their leaders to instill not only a belief in a collective national identity (“the people”), but also a deep-seated fear of the “Other” in a society experiencing rising levels of immigration.

As Christopher A. Molnar notes in “Greetings from the Apocalypse: Race, Migration, and Fear after German Reunification,” the use of fear has long served as a powerful agent of change. Whether this change can be labelled as productive or otherwise has been the subject of intense debate, however, in the case of Germany in the 1990s this growing fear of the “Other” (most often due to fears of migrants and the “over-foreignization” of the German nation) became widely-perceived as a in the public sphere (493). In some cases, even leading to a resurgence in targeted violence by the far-right.

Likewise, Anna Cento Bull’s “The Role of Memory in Populist Discourse,” examines the ways in which fear and creation of the “Other,” worked in furthering Italian populist movements in the Italian Second Republic (from 1992-2011). By affirming the characteristics of the national identity and drawing on recent historical memory, which Bull aptly terms as “empty signifiers,” populist movements likewise created a portrait of those who posed a threat in this national identity (214). At times using the controlled media in the creation of such memory politics – with Italian leader Berlusconi using his ownership over media channels to spread messaging warning against leftist (or communist) corruption (224).

Interestingly enough, the discrimination and violence towards migrants did not evoke memories of another recent atrocity in Europe: the Holocaust. Molnar notes that distaste towards migrants in Germany could often be pinned on either religion or pseudo-science, although one must also question how much the fear evoked by populist movements played into reactions towards immigration (500-502). Did swathes of Germans really believe that it was God’s will for people to stay in their designated region? Or that different races had vastly differing biological makeup? (Remember, this was only in the 1990s, not the distant past.) Or was this acting in self-interest and protectionism? Perhaps providing a way for Europeans to explain away their racism in the wake of populist, fear-driven hysteria – no matter how fringe those movements may have been.

Works Cited

Anna Cento Bull, “The Role of Memory in Populist Discourse: the Case of the Italian Second Republic” Patterns of Prejudice, 50:3 (2016): 213-231.

Christopher A. Molnar, “Greetings from the Apocalypse”: Race, Migration, and Fear after German Reunification” Central European History, (2021), 491-515.

Post 1989 Challenges

Europe after 1989 has two very common themes: the ‘othering’ of groups of people and rapid capitalization. On page 218 in the Don Kalb reading, he mentions two types of social Darwinism that sprouted in the 1990s, one through neoliberal means vs the other through national-socialist means. What both types of ‘Darwinism’ have in common is that people of the Visegrad countries where these systems were implemented believed that neither one of these constructs was real capitalism and that governments are still run by the corrupt bourgeoisie. This would set the stage for years of unrest and division to come. In the Anna Cento Bull reading, she speaks about how memory is used by populist movements in order to justify scapegoating a group of people, while at the same time classifying supporters as the “real people”. By doing these two things, post-1989 populist governments can restructure historic events to radicalize people and delegitimize their political opponents. In the Christopher Molnar reading, we talk about letters written to President Weizsäcker about how the German people feared immigrants or seeking asylum in their country. Ranging from extreme to concerned, the letters still exemplify the ‘othering’ of minorities to scapegoat them for the country’s problems. Within the ‘Actually existing’ reading, we learn about how and why populism is supported by an increasing population of those involved in agriculture during a modern and industrial age. By clinging to the past and ‘othering’ the left, people in European agriculture find solidarity in populist movements that swept the EU after 1989. In conclusion, all these readings highlight how populism riles up one group of people, by marginalizing another.

Deconstructing Fear, a Vital Step

D.Khaznadji

For some reason, I want to start this week’s post by talking about the Godwin law, which states that any online debate that goes on for too long is bound to have a Nazi analogy at some point. This is clearly a testament to the omnipresence of Nazi horrors in the memory of people, but the readings this week, especially Molnar, are careful not to have such a simplistic view. 

Molnar traces the history of fear in postwar Germany and places it within a larger timeline that goes back to pre-World War II times. Fear, for Molnar, is what sustained democratic stability in Germany (495). The determination not to have the rise of a fourth Reich is what drove that fear. When it came to finding a scapegoat for that fear, asylum seekers were seen to be ideal candidates. The whole point of such high emotions in the hearts of Germans is the protection of the fatherland. Molnar interestingly points out that not unlike Nazi times, postwar Germans victimized themselves, and saw their very survival threatened by foreign invaders. 

Considering that Western states have been using that fear when conducting policies, I was able to better understand the context behind the emergence of the great replacement theory. Molnar makes it clear that those sentiments did not come out of the blue. When speaking of German attitudes toward Turkish laborers, he highlights the influence of the post-Ottoman world in shaping those attitudes. The influx of Turkish migrants becomes reminiscent of Ottoman expansionism into Europe. We saw many times this semester that right-wing ideologies are built upon particular historical moments, that are then twisted and used for a specific political agenda. 

Another thing I wished to discuss was the idea of “Racism without race”. I thought it was interesting how racism itself adapted to a post-war world, which once again resonates with what we saw about fascism evolving according to changing world order. The new form of racism that Molnar proposes focuses less on biological differences, but on cultural ones that are deemed as too fundamental to be reconciled (502). What surprised me is that it was even framed as a law of nature, in the sense that humans tend to gravitate towards similar individuals or groups of individuals, and that the addition of an alien individual to a homogenous group would only create problems. 

Despite this reformation of racism, the underlying fear remains the same. That is, barbarian foreigners, coming to disturb the peace of a civilized country. I would say the mistake that the majority of those fearing people make is the automatic association between religion and culture. Religion (at least the Abrahamic faiths) by definition are not bound by the concept of nationality. Someone can be Muslim and “white” at the same time. The likes of Le Pen or Zemmour believe that being Muslim necessarily means being Arab or non-European. The deconstruction of that fear is thus a priority.