Fear and Anxiety within the Collective Memory of the Far Right

By Ali Yasin

When discussing the role of collective memory within populist movements there is a tendency to over-emphasize its nostalgic forms, namely the desire to return to a glorified and imagined past. This neglects the fact that similar nostalgic narratives are frequently adopted by anti-populist liberals, as well as the importance of fear and anxiety to the collective memory of the far-right. Several of this week’s articles examined the impact of this more angst inducing form of collective memory on the European far-right following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union. Through his analysis of primarily source documents, Christopher Molnar effectively demonstrated how the language of crisis, disorientation, and collapse prevalent within German historical narratives of the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, and the Holocaust, were used by the far-right to characterize fears of “over-foreignization” and immigration following German reunification. Terms such as “annihilation” and “liquidation”, taken directly from the nomenclature of the holocaust, were used by both East and West Germans to characterize the peril uncontrolled immigration contained for the interchangeable German nation and people. Allusions to the both the historical collapse Weimar Republic, and the more recent case of Yugoslavia, were presented as empirical examples of societal and political collapse which Germany risked through its asylum and social policies. In both instances, deeply ingrained cultural memories of crisis and upheaval are reappropriated by populist to integrate contemporary political conflicts into their collective and often polemic historical narratives.

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 Molnar, “Greetings from the Apocalypse”: Race, Migration, and Fear after German Reunification” Central European History, (2021), 1-25.

The Media and The People

Declan Da Barp

The “people” has been a topic that has come up time and again throughout the class but is central to the understanding of both the Italian Second Republic and a reunified Germany. This definition of the people had the inverse outcome of creating an “other” that the people are cast against. In the case of Germany in 1989, those people were the Turks and other asylum seekers and immigrants of non-European descent (Molner, 499). In the Italian case, it depended on the political party but central to Silvio Berlusconi’s Discesa in campo was the exclusion of communists and the political left (Bull 220). What the two have in common was the centrality of an in-group and out-group that allowed for as Bull describes “a chain of equivalence around key empty signifiers” allowing for the recreation of national myths (220). In so doing, aiming to redefine the nation around new shared ideas.

Berlusconi’s control of Italian media poses an interesting question that I believe needs to be explored much more deeply. While it is by no means true to say that he had complete control over the media Italian’s consumed, given the importance of a revisionist representation of Italian history to his political movement, Berlusconi’s media empire allowed him to broadcast his message into the homes of Italians. The “onslaught” of Berlusconi’s media empire on the Italian left must be understood within this greater idea of rewriting post-war Italian history. As seen in the German case with the war in Yugoslavia (Molner, 508), the images and narratives broadcast into their homes affected their outlook on current events; one that I believe has been overlooked for too long.  

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 Molnar, “Greetings from the Apocalypse”: Race, Migration, and Fear after German Reunification” Central European History, (2021), 1-25.

1989 Redefinition: The Far-Right’s Return To Legitimacy – Demonizing The Other

Wesley M.

This week’s readings look at how the European far-right was able to use the momentum of 1989 involving the reunification of Germany as well as the overall collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to redefine their own position and use the resulting chaos of those two events throughout Europe to slowly regain the public perception of their own legitimacy by channeling fears of authoritarianism against the far-right’s enemies; the chosen ‘Other’ instead of against themselves in order to legitimize themselves, helped by criticism.

In Professor Bull’s article, she discusses how populists utilize and redefine popular memory in order to clarify  the notion of who is considered ‘people’, specifically arguing constructing of ‘people’ involves “developing empty signifiers but also constructing powerful myths that draw on a collective memory of an imagined past in order to define who belongs to ‘the people’.”[1] Using examples of Italian populist leaders from the Second Republic: Silvio Berlusconi, Umberto Bossi, and Antonio Di Pietro, Bull demonstrates how all three used strategy of rejecting elites and constructing people so as to “redefine the polity in terms of legitimization and de-legitimization of friends and enemies.”[2]

The Molnar article expands on this issue of redefinition and legitimacy by relating it to the reunified the German state and how they inadvertently allowed the reunification to stoke fears of either a societal collapse or a civil war, against minority groups such as non-European Germans or foreigners, resulting in vast scepticism about the governments policies towards immigration and migration, despite the fact that a significant amount of the violence during this period was not caused by migrants at all.[3] This demonstrates that the German government’s policy of allowing migration actually weakened their own legitimacy in the eyes of their people, thus directly correlating to an expansion of the far-right’s influence.

The Kalb reading discusses how following 1991 conciliation of the former Soviet bloc territories was not evenly done thus the economic devastation of the 2008 crash created a widespread way for populist rejection of liberal influences within those devastated countries (such as Viktor Orban), resulting in the far-right gaining legitimacy through targeting minority groups, as well as setting up their own version of Europe as being against the liberal EU, with the EU’s weaknesses becoming the far-right’s strength.[4]

The Mamonova article discusses how due to the failure of neoliberalism, a capitalist crisis involving farmers and agriculture, and COVID-19 resulting in major rural alienation, the far-right populists have been able to use resulting rural dissatisfaction as a powerbase: with German villages seeking to revive the Nazi concept of Volksgemeinshaft, with Spain the far-right party Vox gained support due to the massive rural depopulation, the UK’s Brexit has allowed for claims of people against elites in a rural vs. urban argument, in the Ukraine the far right’s capitalized on all of the land reform issues in order to assist their use of selective memory; claiming democratic weakness, inequality and emptiness result in stagnation.[5]


[1] Anna Cento Bull, “The role of memory in populist discourse: the case of the Italian Second Republic” Patterns of Prejudice, 50:3 (2016): 217.

[2] Bull, “The role of memory”: 219.

[3] Christopher Molnar, “Greetings from the Apocalypse”: Race, Migration, and Fear after German Reunification” Central European History, (2021), 1-25.

[4] Don 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). 208–26. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvr7fcnz.17.

[5] Natalia Mamonova, Jaume Franquesa, and Sally Brooks, “‘Actually Existing’ Right-Wing Populism in Rural Europe: Insights from Eastern Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and Ukraine,” The Journal of Peasant Studies 47, no. 7 (2020): 1497–1525.

Bibliography:

Cento Bull, Anna. “The role of memory in populist discourse: the case of the Italian Second Republic” Patterns of Prejudice, 50:3 (2016): 213-231.

Mamonova, Natalia, Franquesa, Jaume, and Sally Brooks, “‘Actually Existing’ Right-Wing Populism in Rural Europe: Insights from Eastern Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and Ukraine,” The Journal of Peasant Studies 47, no. 7 (2020): 1497–1525.

Molnar, Christopher A. “‘Greetings from the Apocalypse’: Race, Migration, and Fear after German Reunification.” Central European History 54, no. 3 (2021): 491–515. doi:10.1017/S0008938920001090.

Kalb, Don. “Post-Socialist Contradictions: The Social Question in Central and Eastern Europe and the Making of the Illiberal Right.” In The Social Question in the Twenty-First Century: A Global View, edited by Jan Breman, Kevan Harris, Ching Kwan Lee, and Marcel van der Linden, 1st ed., 208–26. University of California Press, 2019. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvr7fcnz.17.

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.

Migration and the “Other”

Emma C

The readings this week discuss the ideas of immigration and the idea of the “other” and how ideas about these can change depending on demographic and geography. The far-rights ideas about immigration are still relevant today. As we have discussed previously the way in which these groups build their support is around the idea of nationalism. 1989 and onwards there was an increase in immigration in Europe, making populations more diverse. Far-right groups were able to use the increase in immigration to garner more support for their cause through “othering” immigrants.

The idea of the other is still seen today as far-right groups have strict ideas around migration, typically known for not supporting it. Limiting migration assists these group in building a stronger sense of nationalism and there are less foreigners entering their country and not taking the focus away from the national culture. The “other” was a tactic used in the us versus them attitude in regard to migration where if you are not born in the country or have roots there, you are considered an “other”, an outsider. Groups feel that democratic liberal institutions and ideas around migration are harming their country as the increase in diversity of the population, harms a country’s national identity.

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 Molnar, “Greetings from the Apocalypse”: Race, Migration, and Fear after German Reunification” Central European History, (2021), 1-25.

New “othering” tactics

Kathleen McKinnon

In the 1989 transition period, many challenges came out of myth construction and trying to “other” people (Bull, 215). Not that these are new ideas but they lead to the eventual push from the right on the new more democratic governments. Using a national myth and “othering” tactics leads to the delegitimization of government, intending that a new illiberal type of political structure is needed to save the population from the “outsider”. For this to be done, there needs to be some common background established and this is where a myth being used is important. It is clear that this is a method used in the past, however, here this is more of a push back on acceptance of outsiders and liberalism that has been used in later decades. After the ‘80s there was a push to restore countries to the more “pure” way that had once been without so many outsiders being brought in as a result of liberalism. As Molner in his work points out in the case of Germany (Molner, 495), the Western German case saw that the bringing in of foreign workers to rebuild was met with hostility from the East in reunification. This points to the unique challenges of different histories and national myths coming together and clashing, a western liberal background with a less democratic east that has challenges accepting circumstances which they did not create. Although admittedly this anti-outsider attitude is not new, even before the ‘90’s asylum seekers were met with hostility, however, it increased in the ’90s with political discourse on the subject (Molner, 496).